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Education philosophy for the future

Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - New Straits Times
January 13, 2019

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IT looks like with the dawn of the new year, education has been given a new lease of life after so much of muddling through recently. This is certainly so at the global level where Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) is taking the lead, and there is a need to grasp this notion soonest and not be “misled” ‎by what education used to be.

Let me summarise the discussion on the 10 Hs. The first three Hs describe the essence of what “education” is all about. They include honesty, humility and hard work. Honesty is vital because it is often said education is predicated on the “search for truth” based on knowledge — both revealed and reasoned.

As such, intellectual honesty and integrity is a must before one can claim to be “educated”. To be so is also to be humble — which truly has been a badge of honour of all great teachers since time immemorial cutting across cultures and civilisations. They’re dedicated, sincere and walk the talk.

They are not hypocrites who are more interested in popularity by subjugating truth through dishonest means and behaviours, as often seen today. Last but not least, this calls for hard work — the discipline, openness and courage to say things as they are and call a spade a spade so that truth and justice prevail at all times.

This is where debates, dialogues and dissent become the key operational words in the drive to make education the leveller of society. Education as it is today is sterile due to the culture of compliance and fear that numbs the mind.

Education must also embrace another set of three Hs, namely, humanity, hope and hi-touch.

The higher purpose of education (which is often unwritten) is to become a better human being. In the words of Unesco on the latest articulation on the future of education, it is about learning to become. In other words, how to humanise education above all.

It is also to bring back human dignity in a dehumanising world, to realise humanitarian (read universal) values that bind humanity as one, and harmoniously living on one planet through shared values that enable shared prosperity and partnership to be translated into reality. Without shared values, the shared outcome remains a pipe dream.

Instead, the world becomes even more divided in all ways and manner because education has been reduced to a “factory” model where everything is mechanised, thanks to the mindless and unintelligent (mis)use of technology and economic goals and ambitions.

Ultimately, there is diminished hope to go on, especially for the younger generation. In short, hi-touch must balance out hi-tech and ‘hi-income’ to arrive at a just, humanised and equitable world ‎for all humankind. Simply put, education must nurture a “complete human person” (not mere human capital) as envisaged by Unesco’s four pillars of learning for the 21st century inter alia ‎with the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan — both revealed independently in 1996 with several synergistic common aspirations and platforms that have been neglected for the last 30 years.

The time to bring this back is now! The last set of three Hs is the nexus of heart-head-hand‎, in that order. Heart is about spiritual and emotional intelligence (spiritual quotient and emotional quotient); head, human intelligence (intelligence quotient); while hand is the remaining skills (including vocational), or physical quotient. Today’s education must cover the domain of multiple intelligence and thus transdisciplinarity to connect as many dots as possible through holistic education.

The current preoccupation with so-called “artificial” intelligence symbolised by the mechanical Sophia will only create a massive disruptive force for the future if it is not counter-balanced by our “natural” (primal instinct) intelligence of the “living” Sophia  that is unknowingly falling into oblivion, thanks to the overwhelming influence of the industrial (inhuman) revolutions. This is the current state of education that is fast losing its grip and purpose.

Unesco director-general Audrey Azoulay, who was recently quoted as saying:  “Our deeply humanist DNA cannot let us reduce education to a technical or technological issue, nor even an economic one.” Period.

In short, it is time to reflect on the nine Hs for a new vista of education for the future. Interestingly enough, her profound words were shared in conjunction with a Unesco initiative called “Futures of Education: Learning to Become” on Oct 11.

It is, therefore, hoped that this will set the stage for a truly new discourse moving forward where the final H, harmony (read peace, sustainability and balance), is the main thrust of learning, together with the other four pillars mentioned earlier. Not forgetting Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan in our own mould.

The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times