Our great school debate of 2014
I’d like to end my writing for 2013 on a topic of critical concern to us - education. What areas must we focus on in order to see 2014 as the year we make drastic changes to renew prosperity in education - beyond this current malaise, depression, World Bank report, PISA or TIMSS surveys, and endless politicisation.
How do we bring back learning into the classroom and put the child back in the centre of attention so that we may again see the human self-flowering and flourishing? I have addressed these issues in the past through the two volumes of writing published this year, 'The Allah Controversy' and 'Dark Spring'.
What are we to do with our educational mission, philosophy, ideology, paradigm, pedagogy, process, passion, and the possibilities of a truly progressive and reflective nation? We must reconstruct, rejuvenate, and reconfigure the entire gamut of learning and teaching, from each brain cell/neural connection to the collective building of a civilisation based on the principles of cosmopolitanism, from the womb to the grave - in order to affect radical changes.
These considerations are not new, but to translate into sustainable effort of seeing progress through and through will be a novel agenda.
Essentially these are the considerations that are missing in the Malaysian education system albeit the grand and elegant language of systemic change and yes, the world ‘systemic’ needs to first be reconstructed, as in any work that need to be done on the reconstruction of philosophy.
The big questions by way of a ‘Backward Design’ or with the end in mind, are “what will be the shape of society we envision collectively as Malaysians”, and “what kind of cognitive, emotional, and spiritual evolution do we wish to see in each child”, and how must schooling respond to these twin demands of a vision?
In the late 80s when I started this gentle and passionate profession called “teaching”, I was fortunate to be involved in an effort to create a highly engaging environment and cultural context of learning, working with other dedicated educators day in day out to prepare determined and dedicated youth to secure places, by their own achievements, to top ranking places in the United Sates, the UK, and other countries.
These are some the places they were accepted into: Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Wharton School of Business in U Penn, Stanford, University of Paris - Sorbonne, Carnegie Mellon, Monash, Australian National University, London School of Economics, Warwick, Royal Institute of Surgeons in Ireland, Australian National University, and many other laces of academic repute - an effort worth replicating should one know the proper ingredients and recipes of educational success framed evolvingly and contributing to the idea of “human and social engineering”.
In short, how do you design a system that will bring bright and eager-to-learn children from the rubber estates, the city slums, the kampongs into the classrooms of the most prestigious universities in the world ? This is not a simple task of parroting the rhetoric of “world-classism” alone we must all work together in crafting.
Highest quality schools for all
There has to be a renaissance or a rebirth in the way we conceptualise the schools we wish to build for children of all Malaysians. Many are asking these question: Why must parents be made to worry about the future of their children by way of economic worry?
Why must good and safe schools that ensure learning happens be prohibitively expensive and reserved for children from parents whose major worry is when to get a new Bentley, Maserati, or the latest Jaguar or a private jet in the way they move around and about in this world?
Or even worse, to get a US$20 million diamond ring or a US$30 million apartment in New York in the way they consume themselves whilst the poor are not just neglected but asked to think positive about price hikes and to be less lazy.
Our brainstorming session on such hope in educational renewal must begin with these simple questions: “What kind of schools does each Malaysian child deserve?” And how must we be true to ourselves in making sure that our children have the best teachers, technology, and tender loving care as soon as they enter schools? How do we turn them into the everyday geniuses and make them love the country, be productive enough to care for their fellow men?
These are philosophical, political, and psychological questions we must address if we are to build schools that will not turn out to be “successful failures”.
This should be our great national school debate for 2014.