July 27, 2018
Education and Schooling–What’s Our GPS?
By Dr. Azly Rahman@ Columbia, NYC
COMMENT | Education, that gentle profession, that conveyer belt of social reproduction, that process called schooling, and that idea of “educare” (from the Latin) or to draw out human potential is again, a main topic of concern for us Malaysians these days. A very serious journey, often treacherous, requiring good stewardship.
Where is our global positioning system (GPS)? Where are we heading? What is our reading of the global sustainable development goals and how do we use that understanding to plan for mega-structural changes?
What areas must we focus on in order to see these five years as ones where we make drastic changes to renew prosperity in education – beyond this current political-economic malaise, the World Bank report, at times disheartening results of PISA or TIMSS surveys, fragmented and divisive schooling, pursuit of trivialities in maiden-steps of reform, and endless ethnic and religious politicisation further threatening the hope for national reconciliation (if not “unity”)?
What would be the nature of the systemic change and renewed philosophical orientation we need, in order to capture the nobility of multiculturalism/pluralism as the best way to include all Malaysian citizens in this gentle journey called ‘education’?
How do we bring back learning into the classroom and put the child back in the centre of attention so that we may again see human self-flowering and flourishing?
I have addressed these issues in the past through the seven volumes of writing published over the last five years. My passion for translatable concepts in education, critical consciousness, and “cultural action for freedom” (borrowing the Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire’s words) has made me become worried if we are indeed seeing Malaysian educational leaders asking the right questions, let alone attempt to focus on systemic, structural changes that would bring the desired measurable sense of equity, equality, and equal opportunity to our children, regardless of race, religion, color, creed.
I wrote an open letter to Malaysia’s future education minister the week the new government assumed power. I wasn’t sure if the opinions were what leaders and policy makers were interested in paying attention to, but that was not my concern. I wrote out of deep passion and concern of what we have gone through in trying to find meaning in education and national development, and the shape of what we will continue to chart.
What are we to do with our educational mission, philosophy, ideology, paradigm, pedagogy, process, passion, and the possibilities of a truly progressive and reflective nation? We must reconstruct, rejuvenate, and reconfigure the entire gamut of learning and teaching, from each brain cell/neural connection to the collective building of a civilisation based on the principles of cosmopolitanism, from the womb to the grave – in order to affect radical changes.
These considerations are not new, but to translate into sustainable effort of seeing progress through and through will be a novel agenda.
Essentially these are the considerations that are missing in the Malaysian education system, albeit the grand and elegant language of systemic change and yes, the world ‘systemic’ needs to first be reconstructed, as in any work that needs to be done on the reconstruction of philosophy.
The big questions by way of a ‘backward design’ or with the end in mind, are, “what will be the shape of society we envision collectively as Malaysians”, and “what kind of cognitive, emotional, and spiritual evolution do we wish to see in each child”, and how must schooling respond to these twin demands of a vision.
In the late 80s when I started this gentle and passionate profession called “teaching”, I was fortunate to be involved in an effort to create a highly engaging environment and cultural context of learning, working with other dedicated educators day in, day out to prepare determined and dedicated youth to secure places, by their own achievements, in top-ranking institutions in the United Sates, the UK, and other countries.
These are some the places they were accepted into: Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Wharton School of Business in U Penn, Stanford, University of Paris – Sorbonne, Carnegie Mellon, Monash, Australian National University, London School of Economics, Warwick, Royal Institute of Surgeons in Ireland, Australian National University, and many other places of academic repute – an effort worth replicating should one know the proper ingredients and recipes of educational success framed evolvingly and contributing to the idea of “human and social engineering”.
Greedy Rosmah Mansor– Product of a Malaysian Failed Education System
In short, how do you design a system that will bring bright and eager-to-learn children from the rubber estates, the city slums, the kampungs, into the classrooms of the most prestigious universities in the world? This is not a simple task of parroting the rhetoric of “world-classism” alone that we must all work together in crafting.
Highest quality for all
There has to be a renaissance or a rebirth in the way we conceptualise the schools we wish to build for children of all Malaysians. Many are asking this question: Why must parents be made to worry about the future of their children by way of economic worry?
Why must good and safe schools that ensure learning happens be prohibitively expensive and reserved for children from parents whose major worry is when to get a new Bentley, Maserati, or the latest Jaguar or a private jet in the way they move around and about in this world?
Or even worse, to get a US$20 million diamond ring or a US$30 million apartment in New York in the way they consume themselves whilst the poor are not just neglected, but asked to think positive about price hikes and to be less lazy.
Our brainstorming session on such hope in educational renewal must begin with these simple questions:
“What kind of schools does each Malaysian child deserve?” And, “how must we be true to ourselves in making sure that our children have the best teachers, technology, and tender loving care, as soon as they enter schools?”
“How do we turn them into the everyday geniuses and make them love the country, be productive enough to care for their fellow men and women?
These are philosophical, political, and psychological questions we must address if we are to build schools that will not turn out to be “successful failures”.
This should be our topic for the great national school debate for this new regime we have some hope for. Otherwise we will, again, be lost and be fighting endlessly for the directions to get out.
AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books. He grew up in Johor Bahru, and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in five areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, and creative writing.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.