With a new PM, it's time for education to undergo a real change
Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - New Straits Times
November 29, 2022
NEW Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was a student leader-cum-activist long before he entered politics.
Students in the 1970s know this well, because that period was the height of student activism post-Merdeka.
Student activities and movements then were unrestrained compared with the present day.
Universiti Malaya, which Anwar graduated from, was the hotbed where students led by
Anwar battled the establishment.
The students fought over issues such as the use of Bahasa Malaysia, poverty and economic imbalances, particularly among the rural poor.
This alone was enough for the nationalist Anwar to focus on issues of exploitation and discrimination in the context of colonialism despite Malaysia's independence.
This narrative had much support among students, cutting across ethnicities and religious beliefs, unlike today.
Anwar was the de facto leader. The peak was the Baling demonstration in 1974.
This was the turning point for varsity students.
They lost their space for expression and assembly when the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) 1970 was amended.
Campuses were raided and student activists were arrested and confined under the Internal Security Act for two years (1974 to 1976) in Kamunting.
These not only heightened students' awareness about their role as citizens, but also that their education had made them academically sterile and compliant.
When Anwar was education minister (1986 to 1991), he introduced the National Education Philosophy 1988, which was renamed Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan in 1996.
Bahasa Melayu Baku was also encouraged.
He rightly changed the use of pelajaran to pendidikan, which is more comprehensive and holistic, indicating that he understood what education as pendidikan is all about, as spelt out in the Falsafah, which is now part of the Education Act.
This was not surprising as he was associated with the development of educational endeavours, such as Yayasan Anda Akademik, and Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, in his early days.
He was also the president of the International Islamic University Malaysia (1988 to 1998) when he helmed the Education Ministry, then the Finance Ministry from 1991 to 1998.
More recently, he was reportedly unhappy about the education system due to the lack of space for freedom of thought and expression.
Up to last month, he reaffirmed that the education system was "confused" and needed to be transformed.
One is optimistic that education will undergo a real change under the new administration.
The most recent education minister instituted changes that deviated from the purpose of education, even as we faced challenges like global warming, climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Yet, the responses have been limited to the mode of deliveries, not about content and context.
The need for the latter is reinforced by incidences leading to socio-emotional upheavals due to increasing cases of mental health issues among students.
The way forward is to be more empowered, flexible and innovative, but also accountable.
All of the above must be translated into living skills to solve problems.
There must be space for academic freedom and institutional autonomy to govern an educational institution so it isn't just a human factory for the market.
For this, it is imperative to humanise education by removing the UUCA.
Anwar waited a long time to get the top job, so it's time for education to get a break too.
Given that the voting age has dropped, the break is vital.
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector