PETALING JAYA: The lack of a democratic education in Malaysia where students receive diverse points of view and acquire understanding of how democracy functions has contributed to them having a low level of awareness and expressiveness on various issues, an academic says.
Prof Tajuddin Rasdi of UCSI University said the failure to effectively expose students to their rights and responsibilities as free citizens under a democratic system of governance, had also caused many to become subservient.
“I have interviewed many students who got high CGPA and average CPGA. Among them, I also came across many who did not know the responsibilities and opportunities of being a citizen in a democratic country,” he said.
Tajuddin, who is a lecturer on architecture, said universities did not seem to be encouraging forums that allowed discourse with opposing views.
For instance, local universities have organised anti-Christian seminars as well as those that touched on “kafir harbi” (infidels to vanquish) and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) community. However, many have viewed these seminars as trying to impose a single perspective on students.
“They need to have opposing views. How can you open the minds of people if they only invite speakers with one view?” he told FMT.
He said this was unlike what he had seen in Indonesian universities where students asked a lot of questions.
On July 26, Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin Tuanku Muhriz, founding president of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) said he had observed that Malaysian students at educational institutions, were not confident enough to speak up, particularly in English. The students in question were from government secondary schools, as well as public and private universities.
He said when he tried to engage them on issues of importance such as on having independent check-and-balance institutions, they displayed a worrying level of knowledge and expressiveness.
He said it was a problem that could persist throughout the entire educational journey of a young Malaysian.
Tajuddin said universities needed to also expand the syllabus taught to ensure students were aware of their democratic rights.
He said although undergraduates were taught Malaysian studies, Islamic civilisation and Asian civilisation, most regarded these subjects as nothing more than common history lessons, no better than what was taught in secondary schools.
“To me, a democratic education means teachers must inform students that the country is their own, that the responsibility of changing the country lies with them.
“How are students to speak up when they do not know their rights?” Tajuddin said.
He added that focus should also be placed on improving the quality of lecturers too.
He said when he spoke with local academicians with PhDs, or examined their works and those of their students, he found their thinking and concerns to be narrow.
“I ask them about the bigger picture and question their research work relating to society, community, the environment and government policies.
“However, neither the students nor their supervisors are able to answer,” he said.
Tajuddin said many students were just going through the education process like “filling up holes in the wall without knowing what the wall is for”.
For example, he said, some students were of the opinion that the government needed to build mosques, but were unable to answer what role these mosques should play in the modern world.