The education dilemma

It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

—  Frederick Douglass, American activist

It is no secret that government has taken control of the content of education from primary to the tertiary levels. It is said, and believed, by awakened souls that governments prepare the young for lifelong servitude so that affordable labour (read: cheap) can be translated into profits in a capitalist persuasion.

Parents have no choice and neither do the students when it comes to what should and should not be included in the school syllabus. Subjects are forced down the throats that require rote power. Albert Einstein summarised it aptly when he remarked that “education is not the learning of facts; it’s rather the training of the mind to think”.

The American Constitution does not contain the right to education. Article 12 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution (FC) stipulates “rights in respect of education”. The authority to select and elect a school syllabus is brilliantly stipulated in Article 12(2) using religion as the basis absent discrimination.

Diversity being the hallmark of Malaysian heterogeneity, Article 12(2) offers unlimited opportunities for religious leaders representing all creeds to use Hindu, Sikh, Islamic, Christian, Taoist, Buddhist and Jain educational modules and models to train the young using the right techniques. A theologian remarked that “if a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn”.

Holistic education where the rudiments of mathematics, science and the humanities are offered with a religious grip on morals, ethics and beliefs cannot be faulted. Positive peer pressure from home and school is a great benefit and advantage despite the bad and ugly things that cannot be avoided in this instant information age.

American author and innovator of educational methods, A J Juliani, cautioned that “our job is not to prepare students for something, but to prepare them for anything”. That is where the school curriculum and syllabus become relevant.

Curriculum is the set of courses, coursework and their content offered at a school or another educational institute.

Syllabus is the focused outline of a subject. Therefore, the main difference between curriculum and syllabus is that curriculum is a set of guidelines set out for educators whereas a syllabus is a more descriptive list.

Subjects that improve students’ ability to think, to innovate, to reason and to give utterance to their learning is the preferred coin of the education realm. Subjects that require memorising and parroting the answers in examination papers will not make the cut.

It has been said that institutions of higher learning are established to prepare the uninitiated for passing written examinations and not for a future profession, vocation, calling or occupation. This is not unusual where billions are reaped as pecuniary profits from students and government funding.

Speed reading and mind mapping are exceptionally rewarding modules. Learning the basics of psychology, economics, law, politics and government cannot be detrimental to 14-year-old students’ mental development.

American education has been celebrated in the US Supreme Court in 10 principal cases. Most pivoted upon discrimination due to race and religion. Cases involving a challenge to the syllabus and curriculum are almost non-existent.

Merdeka University v The Government of Malaysia in 1981 brought Article 152 FC and the National Language Act onto a collision course without reference to section 7 and section 8 of the Education Act. The apex court rendered a judgment which was perceived as supportive of Bahasa Malaysia, but the court reasoned that since Merdeka University was seeking public authority status, the medium of instruction in “Chinese” would be unconstitutional. The word “Mandarin” would have made a huge difference.

Ultimately, the question pivots on who decides the right to an uninterrupted and preferential education — the government, parents or the supreme law of the land read in conjunction with other relevant Acts of Parliament germane to untrammelled education.

Teachers, educationists, parents, government officials and other concerned citizens must do their utmost to produce a teaching module that appeals to a heterogeneous society to prepare the future generations that should become oblivious to race and religion.

G K Chesterton observed that “education is simply the soul of a society at it passes from one generation to another.” We must keep our souls intact. We must be vigilant.

The wise know that “education makes people easy to lead but difficult to drive: Easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.” Therein is the end-all and be-all of a holistic education when mirrors become windows.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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