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Sunday, September 07, 2008

51 Ideas for a better Malaysia

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Walski's more-than-51-word descriptive forenote: Remember Walski's contribution to Nizam Bashir's brilliant blog project last year, 50 Posts To Independence? The time has come for another contribution to another brilliant initiative of Nizam's: 51 Ideas for a better Malaysia. See the first of the 51 ideas here to get an idea of what this is all about. What you will read in this post is idea #2.

Background to Idea #2
Image hosting by PhotobucketMalaysia just celebrated its 51st Independence Day exactly one week ago. But 2008 has been an unprecedented year for a few reasons. As we witnessed on March 8th, 50 years of BN (and Alliance, prior to the 70's) 2/3 majority representation in Parliament was broken. But of more concern is that we've seen the race card being played by certain quarters more fervently, unlike any other time in recent memory. We've also seen more and more reports against Biro Tata Negara (BTN) surface, accusing it of being blatantly and unabashedly racist in its programs - nothing new, really, Walski witnessed this first hand back in the 80's, and he reckons it's only gotten worse since then. 

In 2008, it would seem, we're becoming less of one nation, and more of race-compartmentalized communities unwillingly stuck together by a flimsy adhesive called citizenship. And even that is being questioned by some. It's no big secret who the some are. But that's beside the point of this post, so it's really not necessary to mention who. 

This is the impression Walski gets, anyhow, going by the political rhetoric in the press, mainstream or not, online or off. And that impression, before it becomes stark reality, has to be put to a stop. But it's not an easy process, and therefore the idea is not of the short-term quickie fix variety.

The Idea: Overhaul the entire Malaysian Education System 
Not just the ad hoc fixer-upper changes, like the ones over the years that have themselves contributed to the decline of the system, but a complete, unemotional, rational, potentially politically unpopular and painful overhaul. Strip the entire system apart, remove the gunk that's built up over the years, re-tool and replace the parts that are damaged, then finally put the system back together, from scratch.

And in rebuilding, the following 3 foundational concepts must be kept in mind:

  • Instilling the love for Pursuit of Knowledge
  • Solidarity as One Nation
  • Mutal respect regardless of creed or color

(foundations slightly expounded, and more, in the full post)

Instilling the love for Pursuit of Knowledge
Pursuit of knowledge is more than just learning facts for examinations. What Walski proposes goes beyond the system of rote learning - it will be more experiential in nature, and while it should teach our kids something befitting of their age at the time (incorporating Idea #1, by Nizam Bashir, of course), it should also instill the love of learning for its own sake. The pursuit of knowledge is a life-long journey, and it should not end with paper qualifications in hand, something we see more often than not.

For this to happen, however, what's also needed are a qualtiy teaching force. Not merely the civil-service minded teacher who goes into the profession because there is no other viable choice (may not be true today, but certainly was the case when Walski finished his education some 20+ years ago). Teachers need to also be individuals with a thirst for knowledge and a love for teaching. We need teachers who teach because teaching is their passion, and not because they have to.

From an aptitude point of view, because no two students are wired the same, the current strictly age-based system needs to go. But the minimum age should be set at 5 years-old - Walski's not proposing to rob children of their early childhood - and admission of those 6 and below should be based on a simple learning aptitude test.

Another thing is that learning needs of a child should also be taken into account by the curriculum - some have accelerated learning abilities, and some diminished. Having a lowest-common-denominator system only produces a lowest-common-denominator product. The curriculum needs that sort of flexibility.

Solidarity as One Nation
And this perhaps is the most important attribute of the revamped system. 

Walski is of the opinion that racial polarization starts in school at a very early age. The fact that we have a national+vernacular+religious parallel system means that polarization begins with the decision of what or which school to send our kids to. Walski thinks that there should be one, and only one type of school - the Malaysian National School.

The characteristic of this school? Firstly, the medium of instruction will be in English. Now, before you start screaming Language Imperialism at Walski, hear him out. English, in as far as Malaysia is concerned, is a neutral language, apart from being a worldwide language. English is a language that does not potentially give one racial group or religion exclusive claim, unlike Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin, Tamil or Arabic. Yes, Bahasa Malaysia is the National Language, and so it should remain, and therefore should be made compulsory to learn in the proposed revamped school system.

So here's the deal - language of instruction shall be English, with Bahasa Malaysia a compulsory subject for all, and in addition, a third language shall also be compulsory (the third language can be any useful language, by the way). Command of language should be viewed from a skills point of view, and should not be politicized or stigmatized. The more languages a person has command of, the wider his or her scope of opportunities becomes. It is that simple.

Then, a common Civics education for ALL should be reintroduced. One big source of polarization in schools today, in Walski's opinion, is the separation of Muslims from the Nons. Too many times Walski has been told of how Muslim kids are taught from early on to distrust persons of other religions, through the process of Ugama class. Sure, it's not part of the "official" curriculum to instill hatred and distrust for others, but happen it does indeed. More often than not this distrust, based on religion, is naturally extended to race as well. This has definitely got to stop. It won't be a politically popular thing to do, but it must be done, lest we want generation upon generation of indivuals to come inheriting this dark side of the Malaysian education system. Sure, there have been a minority who are the product of the current system who do not have the sense of deep distrust and innate hatred, but Walski thinks it is too small a minority.

Any other religious or spiritual needs, over and above a universal civics curriculum, should be catered for by the respective parents and guardians of our school kids, and not have that responsibility relinquished to the state, and definitely not to our national school system. It is only then can we cease to have instances of parents complaining that their kids are being imposed with religious or spiritual beliefs contrary to their own belief system. 

The role of parenting should remain with parents. The school system has many purposes. Acting as surrogate or replacement parents is NOT one of them.

Most importantly, the schoool curriculum must instill the notion that we are all equal citizens of this nation, and therefore equal stakeholders of our nation's future. Then, and only then can solidarity, as a nation, truly be achieved.

Mutual Respect regardless of Creed and Color
Related to the second attribute is the third - that we are all human beings, and that we all bleed the same color red. The root of all evils that exist in our society today, as Walski sees it, is the absence for respect, both for self and for others.

Respect is a funny thing - the more you demand of it, the less of it you get. Instead, the more you give, the more of it you receive in return. Walski has no clue why, but that's how it happens to work.

When we put barriers of exclusivity around ourselves, based on a perceived belief that we are somehow "special", and then demand that our "specialness" be respected, you cannot rationally expect others to suddenly kow-tow to your demands, just because of your say-so. Especially when there are no signs of sincere reciprocity.

The idea of revamping the entire school system proposed here is in no way comprehensive - it's impossible to lay out all the details in one single blog post. It does, however, lay a broad basis for us to move forward. But for any revamp to succeed in its objective, a strong will is required - a willingness to look beyond political popularity or narrow communal interests. This willingness must be strong enough to resist any steering away from objectives, simply for the sake of expediency and political correctness.

The framework Walski proposes here is definitely not going to be a popular one, but one that Walski feels is for the betterment of our nation as a whole. It is an education system based on the principle of nationhood and solidarity, and one that tries very hard to move away from a worldview seen through the tint of race/religion division - something that Malaysia, after 51 years of independence, seems to have found itself mired in.

~ ~ ~ o O o ~ ~ ~

Many thanks to Nizam Bashir for selecting Walski as the second poster for this excellent blog effort. Rather than rely on the usual suspects, the next idea, due in 7 days (on September 14, 2008), will come from someone whose writing Walski holds in high regard. It comes from someone much younger than Walski, and stands as a living example of why Walski is a firm believer that youth is not always wasted on the young, and at the same time gives Walski hope for a better Malaysia in the future. This person is none other than Michelle Yoon, the bright young writer behind I Am Malaysian