New education council: Real change or just ubah sikit saja lah?

Many have hailed Maszlee Malik’s new appointments to the National Education Advisory Council (MPPK) as a positive effort to right the wrongs of our failing education system. I, on the other hand, still have my reservations on the appointments although I agree that in some ways, they “seem” like a “fresh start”.

Why this reservation, some may ask. The answer is simple: if we lose RM100 billion from the corruption of the previous government, we could make it back in under a decade. But if we mess up again with our education system, we will have almost the same problems for the next 10 decades.

I have two main concerns about the new appointments.

Firstly, it is under-represented in terms of non-Malays and minority membership. Another concern is that all of the appointees have only an elemental understanding of education or compartmentalised concerns. Not one comes off as a person with the philosophical construct to create an education system that would produce individual human beings that could honour Malaysia as a “family concept” and the world as an “extended family concept”.

So far, what our education system has produced, from Standard One to PhD level at local universities, are simply nuts and bolts to fit on a machine. The education system does not encourage robust thinkers and compassionate individuals who dare to explore new ways of living.

To my mind, the education system must undergo a total revamp. I hope the new appointees will not be wishy-washy and only lighten schoolbags or change shoe colours. They must overhaul the entire system and review what kind of citizenry we will have 20 years down the road after the young pupils of today graduate with postgraduate degrees.

If the appointees simply shift the wardrobe from one corner of the room to another, it will be a waste of the people’s money. What we need in this country is a new wardrobe or a concept of clothing system that does not need furniture at all.

The appointees should address three important attributes of our future students. The first and most important attribute is that our future students must be educated in a value system that looks at differences in culture, faith and lifestyle as a positive thing.

Our present education system is divisive, especially with Malay-Muslim racist and bigoted ideas, compliments of our narrow-minded and ethnocentric religious teachers, officials and so-called scholars.

Having only one non-Malay appointee does not give me confidence that this council will be any better than previous ones. I would be happier if non-Malays representing different ethnic, religious and minority groups make up 40% of the council members. Too many Malays in the pot gives me the shivers and reminds me of the “ketuanan Melayu” and now “ketuhanan Islam” syndrome.

The council has to re-look the teaching of Islam and moral studies in a totally different construct because clearly, it does not work. Period.

When we have MPs shouting “Tanah Melayu” in the face of Malaysians, I think we must also rewrite the history book to show a more shared experience between races instead of the Malays being made the heroes and others shown as the enemies or simply bystanders. Is this council up to the task?

If there was someone like Anas Zubedy, professor Farid al-Attas, Professor Denison Jayasooria or even Dr KJ John, I think these concerns would be addressed. These are people with vision, compassion and the courage to stick their necks out while others sit in their plush offices nursing their academic or honorific titles.

The more Tan Sri’s there are in a committee, the more doubtful I am of any real success. To me, Tan Sri’s are people who have a proven loyalty to powerful people and an autocratic system. I want people who are loyal to their ideals and a universal principle of mutual acceptance.

Secondly, we must produce students who can imagine a different lifestyle based on sustainability. Our education system is geared towards producing graduates in a repetitive and imitative trade mindset of professions like engineers, doctors, lawyers and architects. Screws and bolts, nothing else.

Science and technology are part of the necessary knowledge to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. But they can also completely destroy these. What we have in Malaysia is too much science and very little “sense”.

Dr Robert Oppenheimer, the lead scientist in the creation of the atomic bomb, struggled in a moral conflict over a technology which he thought could end mankind itself. He distrusted mankind because those of his generation were taught according to the same education construct that we in Malaysia have inherited.

Alvin Toffler, author of the book “Future Shock”, was able to visualise with pinpoint accuracy how the internet and technology would disrupt society, culture and, thankfully, autocratic regimes. He was not a scientist but he understood the impact of science and technology.

We keep shovelling science and technology but never the how and why and what-if questions that come along with it. Most of the time, having “academic scientists” is not the solution to science and technology as their training is too narrowly focused on test tubes and Bunsen burners. Malaysian “scientists” lack Oppenheimer’s philosophical vision.

Thirdly, our students must be imbued with ideas and the courage to pursue entrepreneurship as a lifestyle, not an option. At the moment, our education system produces one-line thinkers and single-salary earners who look at buying cars and houses and travelling to exotic or religious places as the ultimate goal in life. Our education system feeds into an outdated rat-race that would make figures of hypertension, depression and anxiety sufferers a fact of life.

What are we teaching our students? To fit into an outmoded practice of professions and work. Why must we commute every day, wasting time and money and polluting the environment when we have the technological means for telecommunication? The new students must be familiar with the possibility of a totally different way of living in new city-villages or isolated and sustainable living encampments.

Imagine a life where you do not pay water bills, electricity bills, wireless bills or even home mortgages. These basic amenities can be redefined and redesigned. Food production and consumption should be different for health and economic reasons. Working to make a living must change to living to do meaningful work, to advance mental, physical, social and spiritual wholesomeness.

Will the new MPPK overhaul the outdated, outmoded, irrelevant and bigoted education system or only busy itself with simplistic window dressing? Is the MPPK ready to take on the challenges of a changing world? We can wait and see, but personally, I have my doubts.

Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is a professor of Islamic architecture at UCSI University.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.