Survival Comes First: This is how Malaysia’s education system should be improved.

Survival comes first.

This phrase above is one many of you have heard of. I believe Malaysia’s education system should be improved based on these three defining words.

Lately, our government has been coming up with many changes in the KSSM syllabus, which, although fortunately has nothing to do with me as I have just started university, is having a great impact on my younger brother. He is quite unluckily studying Form 4 this year – the year subject to much excited experimentation ever since he was in his primary school years. This batch were always freshmen when it came to their studies; they would struggle to familiarize themselves with the new implementations, and whoops, new changes to your syllabus again, sorry about that. You’ve just got to deal with it.

For my SPM last year, the second last year of the old syllabus KBSM (I am two years older than my brother), already had had a few unnecessary subjects. I took 10 subjects, which includes Mandarin in my case. But there were a few subjects such as Moral, Sejarah (history), and certain elements in the Malay and Chinese subjects such as KOMSAS and “ancient Chinese” (Malay and Chinese literature) that… when I have ascended to university and look back at, now, I find it difficult to understand why we ever had to study those subjects. Now, there is apparently a new addition to the KSSM syllabus, which is the translation of classical Malay to modern Malay.

Sure, it’s important to learn good morals and values. Indeed, education about the body is imperative. Yes, learning languages and its evolution is always useful, may even be interesting. True, if history is not taught and remembered, how will we learn from past mistakes? How can we effectively culture in our children curiosity about the future if we have zero knowledge of the past?

However, as I do more reading and exploration in this unique time of Covid-19, I see less and less purpose in keeping ourselves learned scholars of ancient text and reading textbook graphics on how to do gymnastics with balls and ribbons. Is it more important that we memorize our riddled past until we can recite it off the tops of our heads, or that we learn what will help us survive now?

What are our priorities now, right NOW?

~~~

You are taking a walk with your child and they are going to step into a hole that might twist their ankle badly. It’s happening now! Any moment now! One more inch! Will you warn your child of the hole and how to avoid it in the future, or begin telling the story of when their great-grandfather stepped into a similar hole many decades ago?

Your child steps into the hole and sprains their ankle. You chastise them furiously. Next time, read more stories about your great-grandfather! You demand, and thrust a great book into their hands filled with his ancestor’s mishaps. A heavy book, too big for the child to see where they are going.

“And of course,” you go on, ignoring your exhausted young son or daughter, weighed down by the enormous book, “it will also be highly useful if you could learn ancient Greek, the language your great-grandfather happened to be using when calling for a lady nearby, when he cried for her help, to get him out of the hole he fell into – “

Your child steps into another hole and breaks their leg.

~~~

This is why, chase the future first before you pursue the past. It’s difficult to live without past memories, but impossible to survive without future plans.

It is now the hype of our era, with Covid-19 impeding life activities, the worst global warming in the last five years, and far too many of the trouble human beings bring upon themselves are due to not knowing or not realizing basic things. Yet our politicians now bite and snap at each other while the children of our future cramp their tired minds with our ancestors glories and mistakes.

Instead, teach our new generation how to avoid the online and phone call scams that are so easy to fall for. Teach them how to fight for their own entitlements, and the rights of others. Educate them on the importance of personal and medical insurance. Allow them ample opportunity for observations of anything and everything (of good nature), and let them take away the lessons. Teach them the perils of the “real life out there”. If the situation leaves us no choice but be “quanranteens” in primary and secondary school education until our syllabus finally becomes what really matters at university, by which time most of our youth is lost, then show us what real life is, in the confines of your home. Instead of implying that “real life” is a curtain that only opens when we leave high school or even beyond university, tear down the drapes and guide us in imagining real life. It is, in fact, the very age of global digitalization.

Answer our questions on why things happen. When your child, teenage son / daughter, or young student asks questions, don’t brush them aside. Understanding why is the key to improving tolerance of strange environments, tolerance of people who look and sound different, tolerance of complex issues that are difficult to solve. It is also the key to setting curiosity and motivation on fire.

Most of all, teach our new generation how to make their own choices. The right choices. And they will be able to do that, based on their understanding of why it is the right or wrong thing to do.

We will then automatically culture good moral values, exercise more for our own health and learn from past mistakes based on critical judgment.

Humans need not and should not be constantly only told what to do – it may very well have the opposite effect. They need to be taught how to know what to do.

Although this write up is also an object of my frustration with the education system, but here is the real message I want you to take away: learning anything of good nature is beneficial, to some extent. However, it is not about which are the correct subjects to learn, but about which subjects are more important.

Especially in this very moment, we don’t have time for marginally useful things. We need the cure, now.

Survival comes first.

~Rachel Tan Hui Xin, 11 September 2020.

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