What Should ‘Genuine Education Reform’ Look Like In Malaysia? – OpEd


The idea of culture and education and economic evolution of a nation, framed within Malaysia’s evolutionary stage, is key to answering the question in my heading.

Let us not dwell yet into the comparative aspects of successful countries and how they frame the process of genuine educational change, from crafting philosophy to framing paradigm, to structuring classroom daily practice right until assessing what students need to know and if they already know, understand, and can create new artefacts, as perhaps what Benjamin Bloom’s ‘Taxonomy’ or Howard Gardner’s ‘Multiple Intelligences Theory’ suggested. That’s the depth of what ought to happen in Malaysian education.

But first things first. I’d suggest a simple idea, for those in the Ministry of Education: begin by having, as American academics would say, “brown bag discussions” on the exact philosophy Malaysian education needs – multicultural sensitivity. Philosophy guides practice, just as corporate vision and ethos drives organisations. I have written about this.

What changes, thus far?

Thus far, what sort of “genuine changes” have been at least articulated? What brand of philosophy has been trumpeted at least to appease voters who voted for genuine change because they wished their children can no longer be left behind, in a country problematic in terms of race relations and religious rhetoric gone berserk.

The above – prelude to first and second order changes as educational futurists would say – has not been articulated enough right from the start of this hurrah of “genuine reform”.

Wherein lies the mistake of our cultural evolution? Education, I’d say. In this enterprise of “drawing out of human potentials” lies that gentle profession the politicians have emboldened with the lava of racial prejudice and the myth of the expansive economic pie.

Is there hope? We must begin with the amber, of what’s glimmering and what’s promising, but we cannot twist the arms of politicians if their bodies are wrapped with the straitjacket of wealth and power made by-capitalism, insisting that the only way forward is to traverse the path suggested by Niccolo Machiavelli and Sun Tzu.

Maintain power by whatever means necessary, use deceit, use strategies to outdo the enemy, kill if you must, play with numbers, make statistics lie, and go to war with each other perpetually. Use education as a tool of apartheid, mental oppression, so that we may produce more myths, while the rich watch the numbers go up and down in the ticker-tape of the stock exchange. Where global poverty is the gold standard of the one percent of the new imperialists.

What Malaysians want

What do we want? Today the myth is recreated, reconstructed, and rebranded, as if we are living in an amnesiac society, ruled by leaders who are plagued with selective dementia.

It does not make sense to turn our politics and policy-making into a ghoulish carnival of the living dead, the ghosts of yesteryear being perpetually resurrected and used to instill fear in a new generation of Malaysians of each other – as if they must be forced to carry the burden of Malaysia’s violent episodes of history, crafted by the powers that want to maintain hegemony and the master-slave narrative.

That is what is happening now and since independence, and the purposeful reluctance to accept sane and logical solutions to our racial and religious ailments – like the debates over the United Examination Certificate (UEC), all-Malay elite boarding schools such as the MRSM system, proliferating tahfiz schools, the English-language in instruction, and the ketuanan educational-philosophical orientation.

Now we have the aftermath and bad after-taste of the ignoble work of a Mumbai preacher worshipped by some Malay-Muslims and their gang of religious bigots wherein the rock-star fame accorded to that man with a microphone spewing his half-baked truths is as big as one accorded the late Freddy Mercury of the rock group Queen.

We all want the best for our society, especially for the young ones struggling to make sense of the world. It is their future we are entrusted to craft. Hence, educational visioning must be undertaken as soon as a new government takes shape. But it has been almost a year and a half, and a brand new vision statement on multicultural education is nowhere to be seen. What happened?

Leadership needs philosophy, process, innovation, and management of change. It needs empathy in the case of educational leadership, so that we may not discriminate and turn this gentle profession of educating into a system of apartheid. This is what is happening – a continuation of unclear vision and a rabid hanging on to racial and religious dogma. We cannot continue to harp on the idea that schools are “medan dakwah“/ sites for proselytisation.

What we’ll gain

We have a lot to gain if we understand education for mental liberation in all its complexity in a multiracial society. One avenue to begin our restructuring is to learn from the diaspora who have seen what education looks like in diverse settings, and why advanced countries continue to advance and outlaw racial discrimination.

We should stop believing and supporting politicians who wish to continue to divide us through their rhetoric. We must wage an ideological battle with those who still call this and that race ‘lazy’, ‘greedy’, and ‘dirty’, and all kinds of demeaning and derogatory representations of these peoples’ pride and dignity.

These are the politicians who thrive on wealth, wilfully blind to the fact that poverty cuts across race and religious lines, that extremism is in all religions, and that the future generations need not be punished with the sins of their fathers and be made to feel helpless and hopeless with all kinds of unkind misrepresentation.

We must, especially through our educational philosophical and pedagogical design, shape a more peaceful, productive, and collaborative future amongst the races. So that we will not produce more amnesic politicians who will continue to sing us more lullabies about the ‘lazy, greedy, and dirty’ natives.

We have a lot to work on to achieve the goals of the political rhetoric of ‘Vision 2020’. But first, we must educate for peace, progress, and prosperity that “makes the many one, and the one many”.

Where to begin

It must begin with a grand design of our educational future. A truly Malaysia future. No child left behind. Just look into the eyes of the children of Malaysians on their very first day of school. Do they tell us what discrimination means and will turn them into? Will they be in chains, when they are born free? Every child is a “child of Merdeka.”

Let us hope and demand for “genuine reform” to happen. Let us be made known of the process. Or at least give an announcement of a new philosophy that will honour our diversity and the future of children of all Malaysians.

Genuine reform must begin with a genuine interest to dismantle all forms if injustices, so that this land shall be the land for all Malaysians rightfully.

Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman is an academician, educator, international columnist, and author of nine books He holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in international education development and Master's degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies, communication, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Columbia University chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here. His latest book, a memoir, is published by Penguin Books is available here.

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