Side Views

Making History a pass subject: Why we must not agree to it - Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim

When the Minister of Education, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, launched the National Education Blueprint, he claimed that it would result in students with world-class knowledge and skills, strong moral values and capable of competing with their peers from other countries.

This has now been revealed to be an empty boast and a lie. Worse, it is a cover up for the greater politicization and stultification of our national education system which Umno, the main component of the BN, is seeking to ensure so that it will continue to rule the country for the next 50 years.

Amongst the first measures to be introduced as part of this self-pronounced 'revolutionary' change in our educational system is the requirement that students will need to have a pass in the compulsory subject of History before they can obtain their SPM. The reason advanced by the Minister and his Deputy Minister for this requirement is that they want our students to be loyal.

The question which arises is loyal to whom?

KemSMS wishes to place it on record that with this decision, the Barisan Nasional government is knowingly and wilfully acting against the interests of our young population.

Firstly, they have deceived our younger generation and the larger society by pushing through this requirement arbitrarily and behind closed doors using their dominance of the civil service.

Whatever consultations or reviews conducted before arriving at this new requirement have been concealed and hidden from the public. All attempts made by KemSMS to engage the authorities in dialogue on major controversial issues relating to the history syllabus and text books used in the schools have been met with bureaucratic foot dragging and resistance showing that the authorities have made up their mind about this decision a long time ago and are not willing to entertain any change.

Secondly, the National Education Blueprint (NEB) makes no mention about this new requirement which has been sneaked under the table past the noses of our Parliamentarians and other stakeholders. We challenge the Minister to reveal to Malaysians how this new requirement will make for world class knowledge and skills or to state how this is in keeping with the NEB's vision and objectives.

Thirdly, the BN is doing a disservice to our educational system and our youth with this new imposition. As pointed out by others, no advanced country in the world in this present era has such a requirement. Already our educational system is failing to provide students with the proper skills and knowledge especially in Science and Mathematics and in analytical and problem solving skills that can enable them to compete globally.

KemSMS does not see how the rote learning and reproduction of politically and religiously skewed answers required for students to pass the history examination will serve our younger generation well.

In fact we have strong fears that this new attempt to politicize education through the history syllabus will have disastrous consequences on inter-racial and inter-religious unity and tolerance through the propagation of a predominantly Malay and Islamic version of history which will form the major content of the curriculum. Instead, what is required is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious view of Malaysian history, one that unfortunately this government continues to deliberately ignore for its own short-sighted partisan interests.

Fourthly, the worst affected by this decision will be the parents and students who will believe that a strong performance in the history examinations is a pre-requisite if their children are to successfully complete their secondary education. It is our opinion that students from poor backgrounds will be the main victims of this backward and regressive measure which will damage minds by instilling a warped version of the country's true history. The teaching of a ketuanan Melayu and ketuanan Islam history may appear to be a victory for Umno supporters but in fact it will only make the community more unprepared to deal with the reality of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious Malaysia, as well as a multi-civilizational world.

There is still time for this policy decision to be reversed. But it can only happen if other stakeholders who have been hitherto silent, or passive join KemSMS in objecting to this hasty and unjustified measure and call for its rescinding or minimally, to demand its delay in implementation until there is a full public and transparent review of the new requirement, and informed guarantees on its educational quality and integrity. - November 17, 2013.

* Datuk Thasleem Ibrahim is the chair of KemSMS, a civil society movement comprising academicians, professionals, parents and NGOs seeking reform towards a liberal and progressive school history syllabus and textbooks.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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