Education — edification or deception

Te whetu Orongo

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.

— Malcolm X, American Muslim human rights activist

The core message of education is meant for your edification and empowerment, not to mess you up. It is there to massage and manage your intellect. Unfortunately, it has become a deception in schools and tertiary educational institutions.

The syllabus is designed by some crafty superpower to create another obedient student who will inevitably morph into a paid worker ready to become part of the formula and machinery of land, labor, capital and entrepreneurship.

The education we adults received during our academic days has prepared us to handle life’s struggles and joys with, tragically, only one instrument.

That instrument was supposed to sharpen our intellect which in early school and tertiary education means developing a good memory to be able to invoke total recall and parrot out written answers to questions in order to pass examinations which will ultimately earn you a degree.

It is no different for our children, and that which the coming generations will receive to prepare them for the rewards and vagaries of life with just one instrument.

The word education comes from the Latin root word “educatio” which means a breeding, a bringing up, a rearing; from “educo” which means I train, I lead forth, I take out, I raise up, I erect, I lead and I conduct. But, do our educational institutions prepare us to be independent thinkers, or do they prepare us as mugging parrots who graduate with superior memory power?

Memory power is great, but memory does not, and cannot, sharpen your thinking powers because it is, admittedly, an indispensable aid. Something sinister is going on in the minds of those who design and tailor our educational syllabus for kindergarten, primary, secondary and tertiary education.

I remember learning mathematics, chemistry, physics, botany and biology as science subjects being an Arts stream student always wanting to be a lawyer. I did very well in the Cambridge School Certificate Examinations with zero knowledge of philosophy, ethics, economics, politics, law and government.

Thank God for our history and literature classes which were perfect windows to the humanities. And then in law school, we students were skulled with textbooks strictly designed primarily to pass written law examinations.

We became parrots and memory wagons rattling off Latin doctrines, tenets and maxims. Once out of law school, we had zero idea of advocacy and court procedures which we had to learn through the university of hard knocks, slaps, kicks, insults and jeers until we became “seasoned senior lawyers.”

So much for spending almost RM200,000 for earning a law degree.
Looking at our present education system with Internet-aided online learning and studying techniques makes me wonder if the age of artificial intelligence will do all the work for us with a series of taps and clicks. I remember “learning by heart” the multiplication tables as a kid.

But, Internet or not, how does the present education system sharpen one’s intellect including the power to reason and rationalize? I am not aware of any school, except the one I started years ago, which teaches students how to study, and how to apply acquired knowledge to problematical situations.

Axiology (the study of value and valuation) and praxeology (study of human behavior, conduct and action) must be included as two indispensable and precious parts of any professional careers’ syllabus.

Secondary school students should be taught these subjects to prepare them for an unforgiving world out there.

A graduate often becomes a jobber or a career seeker. Colleges and universities seldom conduct courses on how to present yourself at an interview – what to wear, how to sit, how to address the interviewer(s), what to say, and not to say, etc.

These tips are usually the domain of self-help books written by some pseudo-gurus. The fact that some potential employer has taken the trouble to read your resume and summoned you for an interview is a great start at self-confidence. But, can you make it with your school syllabus as your only head knowledge?

Does your degree conferring institution to which your parents paid six figures prepare you for this eventuality?

Our present education system is in the horns of a dilemma caught between Article 152 of the Federal Constitution (Bahasa Malaysia is the national language of the Federation), section 17 (exempts vernacular schools from using Bahasa Malaysia as a medium of instruction), section 28 (empowers Education Minister to establish national and vernacular schools) of the Education Act 1996, and the National Language Act 1963/67 (Bahasa Malaysia to be used for official purposes).

Language is the dress of thought, and yet it has played a peculiar role for young minds coming to grips with acquiring knowledge to sharpen minds. Language has become a contentious issue when those concerned know that you simply cannot go through life with one intellectual tool, device, contraption or weapon.

We must re-think our arrogance and diffidence which we have no right to pass on to the coming generations.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.