Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Blaming Malaysia's Problems on Education

Written by johnleemk on 11:47:09 am Jun 19, 2005.

Note: The following article is actually a response to the thread at HeavenGames Forums entitled Civics studies in different countries.

Uh...getting this thread back on topic, Civics was taken out of Malaysian schools a decade or two ago. It was reinstated this year for seventh graders beginning secondary school. In the period when there were no such classes, we took moral education classes, which frankly, were a load of bullshit (for example, they insist there can only be one specific definition of each moral value, with specific wording. How well you memorise these definitions counts a lot towards your final grade.)

Now the seventh graders take both civics and moral education. I've seen their textbook and it looks like a load of bullshit (again). There is absolutely nothing on real citizenship. Oh, yes, there's the usual "Don't do drugs, go to school, vote often, etc.", but there is absolutely no real substance on how government works, what stake we have as Malaysians in our country, and all those other vital things. Instead, we get dumbed down rhetoric that even a child would puke at to read.

This contrasts a lot with the last time we had civics classes. I've seen my father's textbooks from the 60s and 70s (still have them, actually; even used them as visual aids in a talk to my class about Malaysian education) and they simply blow anything we have today away. They actually relate to things you have to do as a citizen, such as obtaining licenses and permits, voting, how the government works, why we have the national anthem, and all that.

The textbooks from those days didn't dumb things down either. Of course the language was simple, but there was no taking away from the substance of the topics at hand. Instead, the presentation was actually strengthened, due to the meaningful examples provided; for example, to demonstrate voting, the textbooks told the story of a girl joining the geography club at school. The seventh grade textbook tells the story of how and why she votes in the club's elections for leaders. The eighth grade textbook continues by demonstrating her campaigning for a seat on the board of the geography club.

You'd be lucky to get such striking examples in moral education or civics classes these days. I remember my eighth grade textbook's chapter on democracy. Oh wait, I don't. But I remember it was so childish and trite, none of us paid attention to it. None of us pay attention to these classes at all. At least to what we should be learning from them.

Some of the most immoral, backstabbing and essentially devoid of any positive qualities as a citizen can notch perfect scores in moral examinations. It's all meaningless; students can spew out, word for word, the exact definition of a "moral value" such as rationality, but how many students actually take that definition to heart?

If you've been wondering what effect(s) such an emphasis has created, well, I know of a lawyer who has remarked that Malaysia is practically an anarchy now. There is no enforcement of law and order as long as you know somebody, and practically everybody knows somebody. And if you don't, you can always escape. The police officers watching you only get reprimanded instead of fired, so they don't really care.

Vigilante justice is how we take care of most criminals. Stick-ups at traffic lights result in the thieves being bashed to death with steering wheel locks. Middle class neighbourhoods hire private security guards to patrol the area, but are having trouble surviving because our civic-minded citizens won't bother contributing towards the pot where the guards draw their pay from.

Everywhere you go, there is an utter disregard for being a good citizen. The civil service is a joke, as the civil servants don't even bother to do a decent job (while their backyards get trimmed by the Public Services Department). People park indiscriminately, turning a two-lane road into a one-lane. The only reason people don't double-park is because they'll find their tyres will have been slashed by the time they get back.

Accountability in the government isn't just a joke, it's a 24-hour circus for the public's amusement. The government's screwed more than a few major public works projects up, and every time, the Works Minister walks away scot free. Every few months, we read about prisoners escaping from a badly designed jail and incompetent guards (who are immediately reprimanded and let off the hook). Even the government-owned (through a proxy company) newspapers acknowledge that parliament is a rubber stamp. Civil servants spend time sucking up to their superiors instead of doing their jobs, because doing the latter is more liable to get them fired.

In short, in Malaysia, there's no such thing as citizenship, let alone being a good citizen with a sense of civics. (Did I mention there are some people suggesting that the Chinese and Indian citizens of Malaysia should shut their trap when it comes to public money because the Malay citizens are the real owners of Malaysia?) And where can the fault be laid? Squarely at the feet of the idiot who came up with that bullshit known as Malaysian education. If you have a bad government but fundamentally good people (albeit with a few kooks, as every population does), the country can still struggle on. The US proves this quite nicely. But when both the people and government are fucked, it's downhill from now on.

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