Time for an education reset

IN the Sesi Khas in Jakarta, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad used the word "usang" (archaic) to describe our education system. This columnist cannot agree more, when it used "weird" (My View, Jan 17) to sum up the situation.

In the Jakarta session at least two things long considered as "sacred cows" were boldly questioned by the audience. One is the issue of multi-streamed education system and the other on values. Both are intimately linked in defining what education in Malaysia is all about. When the two elements are not well aligned with each other in the context of the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan (FPK,1996), it gives rise to the notion of education without soul. Namely, education that is not inspired by values stipulated in FPK as a truly unified and consolidated national framework of education. After all, "education" (pendidikan) is about nurturing better Malaysian's first as citizens in all its human dimensions including the IQ, EQ, PQ and SQ in a balanced way. Short of this, education is anything but "education", and this is a point of prevailing contention that must be dealt with in order to move forward as a nation for all Malaysians.

Much of what we see and experience in the world today point in the same direction, namely the failure to "balance" education in the environment that is increasingly "dehumanising" (read: mechanistic and technocentric). Schools and universities are likened to factories that churn out "unthinking" products; no different from the produce delivered through assembly lines. And this is expected because schools were modelled on the paradigm of the first (archaic) industrial revolution some 300 years ago in provincial Europe. Nothing much has changed despite the phenomenal technical advancements.

In essence, it is still an assembly line model even though it has undergone so much automation and sophistication in terms of efficiency in a robot-like fashion (read: dehumanised). It only belabours the point that education is becoming more mechanistic with lesser human interactions as technology "takes over" the process of education. In fact education is gradually being reduced as training and skill development intended for the "market" as its endpoint is mostly for the purposes of "employability". Total human dimensions as being "holistic" and balanced beings are compromised unintentionally or otherwise. Should we be surprised then if white-collar crime is on the rise where the so-called "educated professionals" get immersed in unethical activities in the most blatant way? More than this, an entire government could be infested with similar activities as it welcomes even more technologies in education (think 4IR, TVET) without embracing the education values with the same rigour and commitment.

In this respect Mahathir is spot on when he advocated the Look East Policy for values in education. Japan, despite being among the most technologically advanced countries, is looking to the future not through the lens of technology per se, but rather from a societal (read human) perspective. They term it as Society 5.0, an initiative that is driven by the business and industrial community in figuring out what education for the future is all about for the Japanese. In other words, while technology is a necessary tool for the delivery of today's needs, it is insufficient to nurture the set of human values aimed at the future needs of humanity as a whole.

One value that comes to fore time and again is trust, let alone ethics. It is not only confined to human-human interactions but is also associated closely with technology and the natural environment. Research shows that as the use of technology increases so too must the level of trust on the part of users. This is because advanced technology can take on a life of its own and often remains barely supervised as it becomes more and more autonomous (even predaceous). Without the corresponding level of trust and integrity the outcome can be very risky and manipulative to say the least.

Just think of what happened to facebook (FB) recently involving more than 85 million innocent users worldwide. Allegedly FB exposed the data of its users to one researcher linked with a controversial political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA). Eventually, CA was forced to shut down, highlighting the overarching concern of how much users can trust FB with their data. So much so that loopholes were being exploited not only against those who used the technology (trustingly) but "all their friends – without them knowing." Of late, the Norwegian Consumer Council brought to light other tech giants "nudging" users through "dark patterns" to share personal data, as reported in a newly released study.

The message therefore is very clear as to what and where the relevance of "values" are in the context of technology what more for the purposes of education. As it is, technology is already linked to so much "deceit" among students ranging from copyright abuses to rampant cheating. It is truly a wake-up call in warning us how vulnerable education could be when technology is poorly conceived and misunderstood under the superficial guise of 21st century learning without the essentials of values to stand on.

Add to this, trust-building has equally suffered in a multi-streamed education system especially when it is race-based. The state of trust-deficit cannot be more apparent as time goes by. In fact, it is most ironic to deplore race-based politics but at the same time favours it when it comes to education (as a lifeline to racial politicking).

Even then the reality is disastrous as shown by the bickering and finger pointing among members of a race-based political coalition when it lost the privilege to govern recently. It only goes to demonstrate how shallow the level of trust and ethics has been despite sharing the same coalition for more than 60 years. So what can we expect of school-going children in a multi-streamed school system modelled on the (archaic) architecture of divide-and-rule?

The time has come to pluck up similar courage for change as we did in electing a "new" government for a "new" Malaysia. To be sure, in order to sustain the hard-earned change, the education system must be reset anew.

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