The threat of terrorism is as good as any other factor to alert Malaysians to the importance of having members of society who are critical and inquisitive in their thinking.
A high-ranking officer from Bukit Aman recently warned that our national education system does not encourage our students to question and instead makes them accept things blindly.
This, the officer added, could go a long way towards producing certain individuals who unquestioningly absorb the dangerous ideologies of terrorists.
The officer was referring to yet another arrest and imprisonment of a Malaysian, Ahmad Mustakim Abdul Hamid, in Somalia on terrorism charges.
Prior to Mustakim’s arrest, about 100 Malaysian men had gone to Syria to join the now defunct Islamic State terror organisation in its so-called divine-inspired war.
Over the years, learning by rote has been the preferred approach to education, which is reflected by the emphasis – by the education system, teachers and parents – on getting good grades.
Such an educational approach deprives students of the opportunity to widen their intellectual horizons through a sense of curiosity. It also hampers a better and holistic understanding of certain aspects of the world.
A questioning mind would help students stand their ground or hold on to their principles when they think something is amiss in their surroundings. At the very least, a situation that is considered improper would be challenged.
That is why, for instance, teenager Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam’s questioning of rape jokes allegedly made by her male teacher was not taken kindly by certain other teachers and her fellow pupils.
Obviously, Ain Husniza is not the sort to be led by the nose, especially in a society where blind loyalty and following is largely favoured. Dissent sticks out like a sore thumb, and, in some cases, to differ is more daunting for women.
Similarly, there are a few reasons why questioning among university students may not be encouraged.
Some university students have the misfortune of having lecturers who do not encourage critical thinking as though challenging the conventional or the status quo is considered almost criminal.
Here, there is also a factor of conservatism by certain academics that disallows inquisitiveness among their students, to the extent the latter may be penalised in some ways for having a progressive mindset.
As if to overcome this problem, critical thinking has been made a university course. This approach, however, gives the wrong impression that students need to engage critically with other courses offered on campus. Put another way, university courses should provide space for young minds to question.
An elitist approach towards the acquisition of knowledge may have informed a few of the lecturers who deter questioning, much to the chagrin of their inquisitive students.
That said, there may also be an element of insecurity among certain academics who fear immense questioning by their students that may inevitably reveal their inadequate grasp of the courses they teach, their general knowledge or their knowledge about a particular issue.
In many ways, the situation in our education system mirrors the larger society.
Politicians, particularly those in the government, seem inclined to prevent and penalise ordinary citizens from questioning them through certain wide definitions in such laws as the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act.
That is why critics of the government, particularly one that is politically insecure, are often frowned upon or, in extreme cases, muzzled, if not arrested. A similar fate befalls a critical press. This affects government transparency and accountability.
What’s more, the truth that inquisitive citizens seek may be buried under a rubble of racism or a red herring, which may give rise to inter-ethnic fear and tensions in a diverse society like ours.
For example, criticism of the recent proposal to impose a ruling on local freight forwarders to have 51% bumiputera ownership if they want to be involved in international services, has been conveniently attributed by certain quarters to the so-called dark agenda of a particular non-Malay community.
Such an argument would short-circuit a much-needed objective discussion of the controversy while deflecting the assertion that this policy may only benefit the well-connected and already rich Malays.
This is aside from the counter argument that it is unjust to radically change the ownership structure of companies that have been built with the owners’ blood, sweat and tears over a long period.
A questioning mind among the ordinary people is as critical as the nation’s progress and democracy. – The Malaysian Insight