Education without wisdom

By Stanley Koh, Free Malaysia Today

The needlessly complex Malaysian education system has been drawing criticism and ridicule for decades. It deserves the bad press, for it produces curricula that bore students, it overworks teachers, it emphasises rote learning and downplays critical thinking, and it is geared towards producing citizens looking for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Still, this is not to say that everything about the system is bad. Perhaps, though, some things that are bad need not actually be.

Some say the system has just been plodding along with few meaningful modifications since it was inherited from the British.

Students are herded into barns masquerading as classrooms and are kept behind their desks for 10 to 15 years, learning what the authorities want them to learn. Little thought is given to dealing with individual needs and perhaps even less to encouraging individual creativity. Students are churned out like factory products to meet manpower needs in the demand and supply equation.

Everyone knows that education deserves all the attention it can get. That is probably why every new education minister wants new reforms and new approaches, as if students are guinea pigs.

The hard-hitting question should be: what good does the system do to our young? Is it enough that it should convert boys and girls into factory and office workers or, if they go through tertiary institutions, into bureaucrats, teachers, doctors, engineers, cyber troopers and other professionals?

Or should the system ensure that education, besides preparing citizens for gainful employment, also enables them to seek and recognise truth in all its manifestations?

Unfortunately that is a tall order.

Material world

Drug and chemical abuse, criminal misconduct and sexual irresponsibility have been increasing over the years.

Between 2000 and 2004, the number of juveniles in Malaysian prisons increased from 2,308 to 2,964. Statistics for 2005 showed that on average seven schoolchildren were arrested every day, three of them between the ages of 13 and 15.