August 23, 2007

The purpose of education

"So what is your project about?' I asked the boy 'interviewing' me for his school project. He became really busy noting my details down while asking his friends to tend to my query. There was some confusion amongst them and they finally concluded that they had no idea what it was about. One boy commented that even their teacher did not know what it was about.

These kids, smelling of a day's sweat, were obviously collecting data simply because they were told to, without knowing what it was for. Allowing them to embark on a project without knowing what it was really about was a worrying sign. They left me in disbelief until I recalled how I never knew what my high school project was about and how I don't remember my teacher trying to explain it to us. Perhaps our big class of 40 had something to do with it. School was about being obedient and quiet in class. A teacher's attempt to encourage us to speak up in later years were no match to our years of serious training to blend in; it was a culture whereby those voluntarily speaking out were branded 'gila glamour' (glamour seeker/crazy) or something to that effect.

My conclusion was that I didn't learn much during my school days here. Fortunately I (and many others I hope) did at later years that led to my development of mind-set and world-views. I was left wondering what the purpose of education is in our malaysian context, and if our current education system is succeeding in achieving them?

We often talk about education in terms of literary statistics but the reality is that in many countries its purpose ends up being to feed the capitalist machinery. Is education merely the teaching of certain specific knowledge and skills to create a stable workforce? If so, a workforce for whom and towards what? Or, should education also be for something less tangible but to empower individuals to be a force for positive social change? Aside from earning a living, I am inclined to include the latter definition as to the real purpose of education. According to this purpose and definition, an 'educated person' will not be a scientist from who uses science to perpetuate sexism, and certainly not an oxford graduate who speaks in a racially divisive manner. Perhaps an educated person should include her or him as one who is able to perceive and treat others to be equal to itself. Most of us would fall short by that standards, but it is nevertheless an ideal we should strive for.

No one denies that our education system plays a major role in shaping Malaysia's future. Apart from what seems like a system to churn out an obedient and unquestioning workforce, our education policies seem to be reactionary to different demands from different groups in our society, rather than what should be a cohesive plan towards nation building.

As much as our education system produces the minds that shapes our society, it is in itself a reflection of our society. So how do we push for changes in our education system? Do we have a say on how things are run? Does our media reflect the real concerns of our people? How do we present our concerns to those who can make those changes? Perhaps it all starts in the actions of each and everyone of us to influence each other and our decision makers.

1 comment:

Praveen said...

Side note: in addition to Gila Glamour, we had Gila Pangkat (GP). How we got through such silly taunts baffles me!