Remember, we voted for a better education system

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A progressive education system allow students to think for themselves and teaches them how to do so, says Adrian Lee.

The euphoric celebrations of the past seven months of a new Malaysia are being replaced with the excuse rationalisation that “it has been only seven months, give them more time”.

It appears that the ball is falling into the court of those had screamed about being given the chance to govern – and now suddenly they face a herculean task.

But the rakyat remain clear about what we want: a country moving forward in the right direction and a government that prioritises the rakyat. We also know that a sound education system sets a strong foundation for building a progressive society.

A good education system doesn’t just teach arithmetic or reading skills – not is it about achieving 20 A’s in exams. A progressive education system educates and prepares students for life. It allow students to think for themselves and teaches them how to do so.

As it stands, the Malaysian education system teaches students how to study to pass their exams instead of how to enrich themselves with knowledge and how to use this knowledge.

Take, for example, our driving lessons. Were you taught how to pass your driving testor taught how to drive ethically and safely in order to become a good driver? Many Malaysian drivers feel that it is more important to get to their destination as quickly as possible and not as safely as possible.

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At the SPM exams, moral education remains a core subject. Have students been taught how to score an A for the subject? Or have they been taught how to actually practise and uphold values such as tolak ansur, bertimbang rasa, hormat-menghormati, kebebasan, kesederhanaan and berterima kasih?

Are these nilai-nilai murni (noble values) actually practised seeing that thousands pass and score As for their ‘Moral Education every year with flying colours? Has this subject in particular or the education system in general actually made our society more progressive?

A good education system goes beyond memorising facts, essays or figures that later might go unused. Students need to know how knowledge learned can be applied in their daily lives. A sound education system blends both theoretical and practical knowledge that transcends the walls of schools and universities.

A successful education system allows children to think and to do so critically. The focus should be about formulating a progressive education system that enriches young pupils with life values and prepares students to become useful, contributing members of society.

Useful members of society would care, respect and treat others – including the marginalised, the forgotten and the oppressed – with equality. Does our education system teach us about caring for the weakest members of society – or is it instead all about how to pass an examination about caring for one another?

Return the responsibility of teaching to the teachers. Teaching and educating should be done by properly trained teachers and without political interference. We have after all entrusted and tasked them to be at the frontline of our education system.

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Also return to teachers the duty of disciplining. No need for lawyers and politicians to tag along with parents to strong-arm teachers who have been trying to discipline students.

Such sort of behaviour is openly telling students that a teacher can be bullied into subservience. And then we wonder why society finds itself in such a lurch when we have set by example that it is OK to waive the discipline and spoil the child.

Rethink the attempts at quantifying the quality of education. The role of a teacher is to educate students into being useful members of society and not about achieving KPI targets. Leave the administrative duties to the administrators.

This also applies at the tertiary level. Universities are where characters and minds are further moulded and it should not be just about KPIs either. The university is a platform for academics and students to challenge ideas and theories for the betterment and advancement of society, to enable it to compete globally.

Speaking of the global level, do not discount the importance of learning a second language. While a mastery of Malay is important so is the capability of communicating in a second language, whether it is English, Mandarin or even Spanish.

The task of rebuilding for the future is about educating and re-educating Malaysians through an education system that focuses on what is needed by the rakyat and for the rakyat.

Schools and universities are places where the characters and minds of students are moulded so they they can become useful, contributing members of society. So enough debates about whether politicians should or shouldn’t be allowed there.

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Sure, students need to know about current the political context and climate. But why is there this incessant hankering by politicians to attend functions in schools or universities?

If politicians truly are concerned about students and academia, they should be advocates and champions of academic reform and freedom.

Schools and universities aren’t places for political appearances or to “turun padang”. If “turun padang” is indeed needed, please do so by rebuilding the many underequipped, understaffed and underfunded schools and universities.

Academic reforms cannot take place until and unless students – and academics – are unshackled from the fear of being reprimanded. Along with academic freedom comes the ability to think critically.

The task of rebuilding our society is long and needs to begin at re-educating Malaysians from all walks of life. Imagine a country where Malaysians truly practice the nilai-nilai murni taught in school or where students are able to think freely and critically.

As utopian as that may sound, it certainly doesn’t hurt to begin the rebuilding of a new Malaysia with thinking Malaysians who are actually warm towards one another.

So, have you tried being pleasant to someone else today?

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The problems faced by pupils at this present situation are much more complex. As the education system emphasizes on passing the examination, students dilemma are often not paid attention. There must be a mechanism in schools to identify problematic students and find ways to approach them and give a helping hand. In most cases pupils don’t come out voluntarily to ask for help from teachers as they are uncomfortable to do so. Teachers are busy with KPIs. As such there is always a significant group that are neglected. They are the ones who later have many social issues. Schools must have a mechanism to handle pupils like this. There must be more time spent on enhancing human values in schools.