The country takes the “Malaysia Boleh!” motto seriously, be it when it comes to scaling the highest peak or jumping into the cold waters of the English Channel.
However, what the country has never been big on is on nourishing critical thinking among its people, emphasising only on academic excellence.
What is just as pathetic is the government’s meddling and deciding for the rakyat what books they should and should not read, alleging that certain books “threaten national security”.
The most recent incident saw the Home Ministry seizing New York University professor and author Irshad Manji’s “Allah, Liberty and Love” book which has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia because the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has concluded the book contains “elements which could confuse the public and against the syariah as stated in the Quran and Hadith”.
But then when it comes to educating the young on sex education, the Education Ministry can never muster the guts to once and for all implement it in schools and keeps looking for excuses to avoid its teaching.
What is happening today is that the nation’s young minds are having problem engaging in critical thinking.
They often break out in cold sweat and are hampered by their embarassment and lack of confidence to put forth their thoughts or simply share their observation in a tangible and intelligent manner.
What the country has at present is minds that are focused on outdoing one another and making an impression, for that is how the education system has succeeded in brainwashing them.
Does it perturb the country’s leadership that most Malaysians score miserably on the topic of “critical thinking”? Or are our leaders too suffering from a “critical thinking deficiency”?
The nation commemorates its 55th independence this year. And for that long a time, slowly but surely, Malaysia’s education system took a turn for the worse – it became mechanical.
Damage cannot be undone
Has the irreversible damage made the government realise the folly of the education system when it announced that the education system will undergo a revamp?
Deputy Prime Minister-cum-Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin says a restructure of the system is in progress.
For starters, a national education dialogue was launched on April 29 to gather feedback on reviewing the education system,.
“We will use the feedback to come up with an education blueprint for the next 10 to 20 years,” Muhyiddin had said.
Muhyiddin perhaps has reasons of his own to re-look at the education system, which many complain has been on the “haphazard” track for a long time.
One can only pray that the minds offering feedback are aware of the damage the current education system has done and are capable of finding the antidote. It would be an exercise in futility if the restructuring, like most revamps, is cosmetic in nature.
Is Malaysia ready for critical thinking?
To Irshad Manji, it is time Malaysians dropped their passivity and serve society.
“The thriving economy in this digital age requires a population that is able and willing to think creatively and critically. And as I understand it, the education system in Malaysia is not so big on critical thinking.”
“So this message is not just about faith. If Malaysians are apathetic because they don’t want to rock the boat and lose their material comforts, then they need to understand that their children may not have those same comforts if they have been raised in an education system that does not encourage critical thinking,” was her frank message to Malaysians made during her trip here to launch the Malay version of her book “Allah, Liberty and Love”.
But then the big question that looms is: dare the Education Minister put in place mechanisms that will facilitate critical and “out of the box” thinking among the younger generation?
Or will the country’s education system continue to serve as a “means to an end” with no thought for critical approach?
Critical thinking has become the agenda of the day, regardless of whether the “powers-that-be” like it or not. Trying to silence critical voices is not going to work, as more and more Malaysians begin to open up to honest and no-nonsense minds.
In October last year, when Professor Aziz Bari, constitutional expert at International Islamic University begged to differ with the decree made by the Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, the university slapped him with a suspension, the excuse being that Aziz’s actions had tarnished the university’s image.
Aziz was made to pay a price for speaking his mind, of being critical and honest. His comment that the Sultan’s decree on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church on Aug 3 raid that turned controversial was “uncommon and inconsistent” ruffled many a feathers.
Even Parliament turned agog with the Barisan Nasional MPs pressing for action against this law professor.
And for being critical, the professor had at least five police reports lodged against him, the work of mediocre minds out to curry favour.
Thankfully, the outspoken academician decided against apologising for what he said, making it clear he was in no way challenging the Sultan and decided to leave the university instead.
In hindsight, whose loss has it been? Surely not Aziz’s.
Then there was Aziz’s colleague, Dr Shamrahayu Abdul Aziz, who during an “intellectual” forum on “Homosexuality: Crime or Right” held in April found it “embarrassing” to speak about homosexuality because “I am a lady, what more sitting in between two men”.
“As a Muslim, I will say it’s sinful, but as an Islamic criminal law lecturer, I will say that it is punishable under hudud law. I am not a liberal. For me it’s a sin and crime. I disagree protecting the right of homosexuals. In any case, Malaysia doesn’t have the framework to do this.”
Was the university singing praises of Shamrahayu who by the way has not the slightest understanding of what sexual orientation is all about and went on to make a laughing stock of herself through her senseless remarks?
Such is the paradox: on the one hand, the nation’s leaders speak of the need to propel Malaysia to greater heights while, on the other, they endorse judgmental and vindictive mindsets, making sure critical thinking finds no escape, simply because the truth always hurts.