The pen is mightier ...?

HOW is it that marking "X" against a symbol on a ballot led to an avalanche of change that transformed the political landscape of Malaysia? Is this what is meant by "the pen is mightier than the sword"?

As an educator, that this took place in a school where I chose to vote made it even more meaningful. Imagine if we can move the status quo each time we "jot" down our thoughts as matter of choice as part of education. Yet this seems to be the most difficult part of schooling (learning) often made worse by the challenge of "screen addiction" prevalent among students today. Why I am not sure but it must be related to what we take "education" to mean for us – individually and collectively. As for the former, it is about enhancing our self-awareness (know thy self), whereas the latter it is about embracing that collectively for humanity. The two need to connect immediately to give a deeper meaning so that it can be used to navigate our lives consistent with our surrounding including the natural world and other life forms. This takes more than isolated intellectual class-bound activities targeted for standardised assessments (be it PISA or TIMMS or the ranking games). Instead it should be at once spiritual, emotional as well as physical – all set in a balance harmoniously (sejahtera). After all this is what education truly is about – "learning how to live a life with dignity" rather than about "making a living without one" – the way it is generally phrased today.

In other words, education has lost its original purpose ("soul") hoodwinked by the neoliberal slant as it creeps in insidiously thanks to "free market" forces. In essence, it defines what is educationally desirable or marketable and what is not. It aggressively skewed "education" at a tangent to the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan (1996). The "pen" so to speak is no longer as mighty, blunted by "false" targets set by the marketplace. Worse it distorts the falsafah and undermines it the moment we set foot onto the schoolyard.

The evidence was obvious at the school where I cast my vote. It is of "premier" status, in an upper middle class area with impressive facilities, structures and location. One cannot ask for more. It was well decorated with motivating words and phrases, the frequently asked questions on the Education Blueprint and, there was even the Rukun Negara (surprise! surprise!). There is even an inspiring mural entitled "MalaysiaKu".

What is sorely missing, however, is the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan (FPK). It was no where to be seen whereas this is what schools are supposed to instil and live by – the very basis of nation-building and national aspirations as detailed by Wawasan 2020 (which was also absent). My suspicion is that a good majority are oblivious to what the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan is. So what?

Not much except that the FPK was ahead of its time by more than 30 years. It even preceded Unesco's four Pillars of Learning by a decade. We had a gem in our hands but did not do much about it. Worse, we are not in tune with the depth of its meaning relative to the global agenda. So we keep on looking at what others have and try hard to emulate them disregarding our own context, values and of course FPK (and W2020) – even long after Unesco had released its own version that mirrors closely that of the FPK.

Succinctly, we missed an opportunity to give a whole generation an education far superior, intentionally or otherwise. And we are now paying a high price for it as the neoliberal agenda seeps in deeper and deeper – STEM and 4th Industrial Revolution (to name the two latest "dehumanising" craze) making our education system WEIRD. That is, westernised (neoliberal); economic-centric; industry-led; reputation-obsessed; last but not least, dehumanising (see MyView Jan 17).

We have lost the proverbial pen to the sword, and the onslaught is not difficult to see and experience. This must be urgently attended to at all cost.

When is this better to do if not during the auspicious day of Hari Guru. Aided by FPK, teachers are that reservoir where the "pen" derives its vital forces to be mightier than the sword. If by marking "X" against a symbol can cleanse an entire nation; why not its education system. Provided we are equally determined to put an "X" against the "real" meaning and purpose of education as inspired by the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan to create an alliance of hope for a "new" Malaysia. Unless this is done in earnest it is inconceivable to chart a course based on an "archaic" 19th century worldview. The time to do so is now!

We wish all teachers Selamat Hari Guru 2018. Education can be the new fountainhead of hope for Malaysia.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: letters@thesundaily.com