Danial Rahman has education close to his heart and welcomes feedback at danialrahman0330@gmail.com.

by Danial Rahman

WHAT an exciting year 2018 has been for our nation.

In previous year-end columns, I had done wrap-ups on the progress and achievements within Malaysia’s education ecosystem and various initiatives moving forward. This column has also touched on various topics from technology and the civil service, to policy reform and fake news.

For this year’s final piece, I would like to look at the future of our education system and prompt some questions we should be asking ourselves for 2019 and beyond.

First, should Malaysia see herself as a leader in the internationalisation of higher education?

Last week, I was a speaker at a British Council event in Kuala Lumpur titled “Higher Education Horizons 2025” which discussed challenges and trends impacting education regionally.

Far from things being all doom-and-gloom, Malaysia’s higher education system was spoken of in high regard.

It was encouraging to hear from education representatives around the region on how they looked up to Malaysia’s education growth over the last decade – the creation of Malaysia’s research universities since 2007, improvement in rankings, increase in research output, and country’s ability to attract renowned international branch campuses had not gone unnoticed.

I spoke about the growing need to leverage technology to provide quality educational access and student mobility, (which is expected to grow by 200 million by 2030) as well as the creation of friendlier Asean student cities.

A common theme was the need for greater international collaboration and for education organisations in the region, from Seameo (South-East Asian Ministers of Education Organisation) to the British Council itself, to leverage on each other’s strengths, competencies and resources.

This topic has been something close to my heart for the longest time – being proud of our (im)perfect but improving higher education system.

I believe for 2019 and beyond, we have a lot to share and can be prouder in spreading Malaysian higher education.

Second, what do we really do about unity education? We should look not just at school children but also adults.

Realities on the ground struck me during my drive home. Radio deejays were discussing the unrests of the Seafield Temple rioting and Icerd (the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) protest rally.

Malaysia is indeed at a major crossroads in its history.

The (dis)unity that we see and feel is not a new phenomenon. It’s been growing for a while now. It isn’t even an issue of who is or isn’t in power – though politics doesn’t do the narrative any favours.

If anything, the GE14 results indicated that Malaysia has bucked the populist trend that has swept across Europe, the United States and most of the world.

However, Malaysia isn’t immune to this phenomenon.

Education, therefore, plays a crucial role in compassing our future.

We often look at our school-going children as subjects of the unity discussion – and it’s not wrong.

According to UC Berkeley psychologist Mendoza-Denton, schools are an important place to fight against prejudice and interventions aimed at improving social relationships are most effective in earlier grades … before prejudice becomes too entrenched.

Therefore, it seems a no-brainer to encourage intergroup friendship in schools.

On the other hand, we often forget about educating adults.

I’ve seen my friends and family, raised in multiracial neighbourhoods and educated overseas, develop somewhat racial and misguided thought processes.

It’s baffling, but there’s enough research to suggest that economic anxiety coupled with the rise of social media and (mis)information influx recondition the mind.

The flurry of WhatsApp messages beating the conspiracy drums that “they” are out to get “us” has certainly exacerbated the situation.

Thus, providing lifelong learning opportunities that promote unity education for adults is vital.

We need to actively promote that bond of Malaysian-ness – and fast!

The words of our first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj ring true even today: “We are all Malaysians. This is the bond that unites us. Let us remember that unity is our fundamental strength as a people and as a nation”.

If Malaysia wants to continue as a model nation for unity, moderation and multi-culturalism, we must accept these challenges and introduce solutions, as difficult as they may be.

Third, perhaps it’s time for a single national school system?

Speaking of difficult solutions, often and unfortunately associated when one mentions unity and education, is the thorny issue of vernacular schools.

Earlier this week, the Perlis Mufti, Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin aka Dr Maza, an individual with a colourful history on race issues, issued an open letter to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik, calling for a single school system with options for vernacular and religious education after national schooling hours and supported by local communities.

Under normal circumstances, such a letter would spark furious debates.

However, it was overshadowed by another piece of important news, the “Warkah Cordoba” (an amusing episode in our political news making – Google it).

This is, I believe, symptomatic of a bigger issue – the inability to discuss serious issues seriously, or that we get too easily distracted.

Fourth, what about an education system that fosters political maturity?

Speaking of serious discussions, in November, the Parliament passed an amendment to the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which now allows students to partake in politics within their campuses (previously only off-campus was allowed).

Related to this is the Undi18 movement, which is about lowering the minimum voting age from 21 to 18.

These two things could have a profound impact on our nation’s development and progress – either very positively or very negatively.

Done right, these freedoms could spur the nation’s growth unlike ever before. Done wrong, it could lead to societal unrest. (When I was a budding lawyer, I came across many international cases of student politics leading to deaths due to political differences).

While we grapple with unity and mature discourse, the UUCA amendment and Undi18 raises the urgency to ensure that our youth are equipped with the right critical thinking skills and exposure to contemporary issues to enable them to analyse, process and express information in a constructive manner.

Today’s 13-year olds could possibly be voting citizens come 2023. And with the youth demography being the biggest in Malaysia, their vote will have a profound effect on Malaysian politics and national development in time to come.

As such, the race to properly educate critical thinking citizens with the right values and ethics has to start today.

Conclusion

This article may seem a bit “jumpy”. I’ve gone from the internationalisation of higher education to educating adults on unity, to political expression among 13-year olds.

To me, this is both the beauty and the beast of the journey our beloved nation is currently on.

While one part of society marches on towards fostering international collaboration, other basic bread and butter issues and nurturing an empowered citizenry continue.

Ultimately, it all comes back to education (a line I think I’ve used multiple times before). 2019 is not just another year. There is a lot at stake, and we must plan for the Malaysia of beyond.

Wishing all readers a blessed new year.


Read more at https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/whats-your-status/2018/12/29/education-challenges-for-2019-and-beyond/#xpl0W7kxWTMDLAck.99

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