Side Views

What have our schools become? — Jahabar Sadiq

March 28, 2012

MARCH 28 — Last weekend, I went back to school for a memorial. This was the second time in three years that I visited St John’s Institution. While the memorial for Master Vincent Fernandez was sombre, it ended on an uplifting note when the school rally rang through the old school hall.

The school itself appeared to be a far cry from its glory days. The field was bare but the main building had ferns and other vegetation growing out of it, showing the neglect and lack of respect for the hardware required for the education of the young. I had no heart to even peek into any of the classrooms for fear of further disappointment.

As it is, the school that has produced a list of top Malayans and Malaysians since 1904 no longer boasts of a hockey or football team that dominate the Kuala Lumpur school leagues. We can only take pride that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak studied there, as did his cousin Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, Selangor ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, Perak regent Raja Nazrin Shah and a whole lot more others.

But a school is more than bricks and mortar. The Johannians past and present can and will chip in, as they did previously, to make our alma mater as good as new again and put the green in the right place — the field, not the building.

However, who will put education or the software right? For instance, my colleagues reported today that the Johor education authorities are having a weekend seminar for religious teachers to reinforce the Islamic faith, to counter liberalism, pluralism and the threat of Christianisation.

Really, that is a priority at a time when parents are hounding the government to reinstate English as a medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics?

What do schoolchildren these days learn in school? Do they have a field to even do physical exercises, let alone play football or hockey? What is our education system about? Staying in religious and racial silos? Or to acquire knowledge? To know more. To keep being inquisitive, that’s what I tell people.

My senior from St John’ Institution, Dr Farish A. Noor, wrote last week — What is Knowledge and why do I teach? where he elaborated his love for knowledge and teaching.

“Teaching is about that: It’s about encouraging and inviting students like you to think, so that we all build our knowledge together, and that our society will grow wiser in the future. That’s why your school books are the result of years of thinking and discussing and questioning, and that’s why you must always think and question in class; ask questions to your teachers, and to each other,” he wrote.

See, a whole lot of Malaysians are worried about their children’s future. Just as our parents were worried about us. But they trusted the school system, even the missionary schools to help us seek knowledge together without fear that our faith was brittle and unable to counter the onslaught of other religions. I think Najib, Hishammuddin and others are proof that Muslims can study in missionary schools or abroad and still remain faithful to their religion.

The irony is, both these gentlemen who studied in St John’s Institution and hold powerful positions were also once Education Ministers. And they have tried to shape the education system to produce men and women like them — knowledgeable and confident in their faith and abilities to rise to the top.

So why do we have such seminars for religious teachers? Why don’t we have seminars to make them teach better, like my teachers in St John’s Institution? Why do the authorities persist in chasing shadows of doubt to keep the sheep in the pen of a single-track mind? What do you hope to achieve with this? A nation of unthinking sheep?

I remember Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad outlining the nine strategic thrusts of Vision 2020 in 1991 and I wonder where it has gone.

Let me recap them —

    Challenge 1: Establishing a united Malaysian nation made up of one Bangsa Malaysia (Malaysian Race).

    Challenge 2: Creating a psychologically liberated, secure and developed Malaysian society.

    Challenge 3: Fostering and developing a mature democratic society.

    Challenge 4: Establishing a fully moral and ethical society.

    Challenge 5: Establishing a matured liberal and tolerant society.

    Challenge 6: Establishing a scientific and progressive society.

    Challenge 7: Establishing a fully caring society.

    Challenge 8: Ensuring an economically just society, in which there is a fair and equitable distribution of the wealth of the nation.

    Challenge 9: Establishing a prosperous society with an economy that is fully competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient.

Do you think we have even reached the halfway point for any of the challenges? Isn’t it a concern that we are nowhere near any of the challenges? Isn’t it ridiculous that we are suspicious of those of other faiths trying to proselytise? Isn’t it astounding that we don’t hear of emphasis on science, mathematics or sports in our schools?

Isn’t it sad that an education system that has produced thinkers, visionaries and sportsmen who once ruled the world in their time now worry about boys and girls going astray in their faith?

Seriously, please leave that concern to their parents and do your job - teaching and training your students to be the best that they can be.