PETALING JAYA: A remark by Centre for Global Affairs Malaysia (ICON) president Abdul Razak Baginda about Malaysia’s education system creating followers instead of thinkers, drew mixed response from academic experts and a think tank.
IDEAS external manager Azrul Mohd Khalib concurred with Razak, that despite many young people participating in talks and rallies, the education system still does not encourage contrarian opinions or critical thinking skills.
He said that the education system rewards obedience, compliance and conformity, and often times, it holds very low tolerance for dissension.
“It is also hierarchical and feudal in nature, requiring those going through the system to not question educators, leaders and those considered more senior.
“It is hard to create and cultivate leaders of quality under such conditions,” Azrul told FMT.
On Thursday , at the “Post-politics: Malaysians’ hopes and aspirations” forum, Razak urged youths to formulate non-partisan opinions on matters pertinent to the nation’s development and to make those opinions heard, claiming this was the only way to bring about change.
“We are a nation of buffaloes, of followers,” Razak said, adding that the education system created followers who did not dare to speak their mind, claiming that those in power wanted to keep it that way.
UCSI University Prof Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi said that Education Minister Mahdzir Khaled should be brave enough to instruct civil servants to restructure the education system to allow for more critical thinking.
He said that when new educational materials are received, instead of restructuring the syllabus, the facts are just added in, thus resulting in an overload of data.
“It is more like a factory where they just keep inputting the data. It is just burdening them (the students),” Tajuddin told FMT.
Tajuddin said he agreed in a sense with what Razak said, but not on the point of the education system producing a “nation of buffaloes”.
He added that educators do not present students with the bigger picture, but to just the mechanics of working in the office.
During the forum Razak said he saw only three political options for the country’s youths, which is to first join a political party but run the risk of being ruled by the party whip.
“The second is to be a rebel outside the system, but then you run the risk of being harassed and your family harassed and, when that happens, have your supporters run away.
“The third is to remain indifferent, which I think is happening. And if this is true, we will never have progress,” he said.
Azrul, however, added a fourth option to Razak’s list of three political options, which is for young people to join a civil society organisation.
He said that political parties in Malaysia often limit the use of young people and are less effective at utilising their strength.
He criticised politicians for not knowing what to do with the youth and not recognising their tremendous potential as voters.
“The absence of youth in the recent Pakatan Harapan leadership structure is proof of that,” Azrul said.
The National Professors Council’s Zakaria Kasa however, disagreed with Razak’s comment, saying that the government had developed a proper curriculum that met with the 21st century needs of the current generation of youths.
“In the new curriculum, the focus is on the thinking at higher level or HOTS (higher order thinking skills) to develop young graduates who are creative and innovative.
“We are not far away from other countries in terms of education. With the advancement of technology, we have youths who can compete at the international level,” Zakaria told FMT.
He added that the country’s education system is one of the best in the world.