Malaysia needs education system rooted in equality and solidarity

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Equality is not merely about opportunities for education; it is also related to appreciating the diverse abilities of students instead of merely focusing on their academic credentials, writes Ronald Benjamin.

In the course of my work as a human resources professional, I have met quite a number of youths of various ethnicity seeking a job at my workplace who are either studying in school/college or have dropped out.

Many of them have lost hope of continuing their education due to financial reasons and family problems. Some of them are confused and do not know what their talents are.

Upon probing, I could detect a deep underlying issue of psychological weakness, social exclusion and a purposeless life.

For example, some of them tell me they enrolled for certain courses that they were not interested in. They accepted the course as it was the only option offered by the public university or college and dropped out mid-way when they could not cope with the subjects.

Some of them seek jobs that are out of the range of their academic qualifications; instead, they claim they are victims of ethnic discrimination in the particular profession in the public and private sectors.

On my part, I try my best to weigh their talents and strengths before offering them any options at work. I play a part in getting them reoriented in their thinking pattern and showing them options.

Reflecting on this state of affairs that has effected many Malaysian youths, I wonder how purposeful has been our education system in moulding youths especially those who are not academically inclined.

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Looking back at my school days in the 1970s and 80s, I recall how students were classified by tagging them from the top classes to the bottom ie from the A class to the F class, which was made up of weaker and indisciplined students.

Such segregation and tagging of students has led to less focus on weaker students, resulting in our overlooking the possibility that these students could be street smart and might be able to excel in other fields such as singing, music, drama, carpentry and even business.

This concept of tagging and segregation has continued and is still alive in many schools today. The school management and many teachers tend to focus on students with brilliant academic credentials so that their respective schools can obtain national publicity from the number of top students they produce in major exams.

The weaker students are neglected, and some of them feel so marginalised that they play games and interact more with friends from outside the school rather that participate in school activities. In doing so, some of them come in contact with criminal elements in society. They start indulging in drugs, cigarettes and alcohol at such a young age.

The system of segregation, tagging and inequality has resulted in the country losing out in terms of having a strong and diverse pool of highly talented and skilled workers.

No wonder some youths today feel the lack of equality and a sense of solidarity in their environment at home, school, college and university. Equality is not merely about opportunities for education; it is also related to appreciating the diverse abilities of students instead of merely focusing on their academic credentials.

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Remedying this would require a spiritual sense of solidarity in observing, engaging and identifying the talents of these youths. All those who are part of the education system should be committed in ensuring this happens. This would help youths to have a sense of purpose that is beyond the individualistic sense of self absorption we find among many youths today.

Solidarity also entails ensuring students are financially supported if they are from a poor family background. If such work is done, we would have fewer dropouts of the type that that I have encountered in my workplace.

Malaysia is in dire need of a revolutionary education system that is rooted in equality and solidarity.

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