Thursday, July 22, 2010

Have we been systematically reduced to an imbecile? Part 2: Today, the “best” of us have become “educated imbeciles

  1. We may be “experts” in some fields but totally ignorant of many basic things. Even the notion of us being “experts” is debatable since it is relative, subjective and time constrained. The “best-of-us” are equipped with diplomas, degrees, masters and even PhDs that “may never be useful” nor do these papers guarantee wholesome thinking capabilities. There are many reasons for this.

Firstly, our education objective seems to be geared towards obtaining a paper qualification per se for the sole purpose of obtaining employment – typically third world mentality. Since the main focus is to obtain the qualification and not learning, our education system priorities and emphasies an examination orientated values.  Learning values are absent. We sacrifice substance (content/knowledge) at the altar of form (the paper qualification). No one is denying the role of examinations but our policy makers have never sought to create a balance between examinations and learning.

Hence, it is unsurprising that today you have law graduates who lack basic legal knowledge, economics graduates who lack basic economic knowledge and the list goes on. It is frightening that these are the young people who will be the main group that will be in the decision making positions in society! We will go through a period of intellectual decline in our society for some time and maybe forever if the situation is not rectified.

Secondly, the focus on academic excellence is blurred and often overtaken by politics in this country. The debate on the effective medium of instruction in the educational sector is spinned into a “nationalistic loyalty” issue. I find it completely humorous that “karbon dioksida, asimilasi or injunksi” is considered more effective than “carbon dioxide, assimilation or injunction”.  These words and many more certainly do not sound like Bahasa Melayu from any State to me. Hence, the students will have to learn for the fist time these original popular words or the convoluted words created by some folks sitting in DBP.

The effective medium of instruction is vital because that will determine the opportunity for research and further reading. The more you read, the more information you have, the wider your perspective and hopefully, your understanding becomes broader and deeper. Your ability to think is limited by the amount of words or concepts that you have in your brain. We must nurture the brain’s thinking capabilities. This is how we nurture a culture of knowledge. However, our politicians lack such motivations only because it requires long term planning and is politically inexpedient.

Thirdly, the policy makers seem to prefer quantity over quality. None of us will dispute that we want more Malaysians to be educated. That is a foregone conclusion. However, our policy makers do not seem to realize that it is more important that Malaysians receive a holistic and quality education. Otherwise, we will be churning out technocrats or ‘worker ants’ for the economy who are totally devoid of humanistic qualities lacking in the spirit of citizenry. We must remember that much of the growing up period of our children are spent in schools or school related activities right up to the age of 17, at least and age 22, if they go to the Universities.  They pick up the ‘values’ that are floating in the schools and the universities. What kind of values are floating? Excellence or mediocrity? Humanistic or materialistic? Universalistic or racial/religious?

It gravely disappoints me that the Dewan Negara does not have senators appointed by the Government especially to monitor the primary/secondary education sectors and tertiary education sector. This reflects their priority or lack thereof towards the education sector in this country. On the other hand, we are fed with entertaining information on the number of “pelajar cemerlangs’, the number of universities that are sprouting in our country and such. Once again, things that should simply be a matter of fact are turned into grand achievements by our political leaders complete with their “lawatan ke sekolah” campaigns. When will they ever grow up?

Fourthly is our general feudalitic-peasant mentality or values that we have. We have become a nation of hand-kissing. The hand that is being kissed is better than the lips that do the kissing, so we are “taught”. This is a perfect practice of patronage and “sucking up” masquerading as “budaya sopan” (polite culture). The often overlooked fact of this hand-kissing culture is that it actually has inhibitive effects on the development of ideas, thoughts and intellectual development. I am not exaggerating. Let me explain.

I had the opportunity to do a degree in Economics locally and a law degree in UK. I experienced the vast difference in learning cultures. In our hand-kissing culture, it is considered rude or inappropriate if you disagree with your lecturer (especially if it is on the official religion!). In UK, it is considered disrespectful if you do not express your disagreement or alternative views if you have them! The English professors want you to argue with them. Generally, ours want us to passively agree with their expertise! Two different cultures have different views on what is “disrespectful” – one if you do, the other if you don’t!

We do not respect dissent, even if it just an intellectual dissent. In fact I doubt if our young people above the age of 21 even know what the term “intellectual dissent” means. However, this was not the case when I was in lower secondary. We were learning critical thinking in Form 4. Maybe the medium of instruction being in English helped. I do not know. Sometimes, with a language the “culture of the language” accompanies it.

Our hand kissing culture considers it rude and even treacherous to dissent with the views of whose hands you are supposed to kiss. Our culture does not understand that you can have differing views and yet have profound respect for the person whose views you disagree. Our culture does not allow for open, honest discussions and confuses it with an attempt to undermine the person you are arguing against. We are still in the feudalistic mindset. So, we just kiss hands keeping our thoughts untested and unannounced to ourselves! 

So I ask you: if such a culture and mentality is not addressed, what good will the finest teaching techniques or the best technology do? With respect, it will just be like giving flowers to monkeys. Politicians do not understand this because they do not spend time reading or thinking about this. They are short-term minded. They only depend on the views given by their respective sub-standard civil servants who have been conferred various honorific titles through years of faithful hand-kissing. Do not get me wrong, I have nothing against kissing the hands of those whom you love and truly respect – but the hands of strangers who happened to be in “higher positions” than you? That seems humiliating to me or at least pretentious.

Only in this country you may have a person with a PhD holding himself out as an eternal expert in his field (and if it Islam, then an absolute expert). While, if you understand the history of learning and knowledge, a “professor” or a PhD holder is a serious student of his field. He is an expert in studying his field or he has specialized in the study of his field…and still studying.

If we are serious about nurturing a culture of knowledge and thinking in our society, we need to radically arrest this hand-kissing culture of subtle subjugation in all its forms. A study must be done on this feudal-peasant mentality and how to reverse it.

The masses, however, considers these “imbecilic” experts and the not-so-best-of-us as capable of wholesome perspectives and indeed consults them on other matters in which the experts and the other are clueless. For example, we have people consulting religious “experts” on scientific or commercial matters and taking their views seriously. Likewise, politicians’ views on the economy or education are held believable. Likewise, we give important positions that can have damaging effects on our lives to civil servants who cannot think beyond uttering the phrase, “ kami hanya jalankan tugas” (we are only performing our duty). It never seems to dawn upon these civil servants who have great powers of discretion that “performing a duty” means “performing a duty effectively and efficiently”.

Once again I blame our failure collectively to create a value system that extols efficiency, thinking and knowledge.

Peace !


Mac said...

I absolutely love your last two posts as I can relate to it very well from the challenges I had when I was a student! Just for the sake of sharing, here goes:

1)I was in my final year in a local university and the faculty decided to introduce a new subject which is fundamental to the field of science but have been left out in many universities since it is by far the most difficult and not many would understand the concept as it is very abstract and mathematical (I realize not many Malaysians like mathematics). Throughout the semester, the lecturer kept “modifying” the mathematical equations such that the meaning became the complete opposite. When we questioned him, he would simply say “you don't have to read other books or the internet, just use my notes if you want to pass my exams”. I loved this subject, so I did quite a bit of reading on this (not his notes obviously) so I knew the equation was dead wrong. In my final year exam, the question relating to this equation came up. Dilemma, dilemma. Everyone decided to use his mistaken concept, but me. And I think you know the rest!

2)After my degree in chemistry, I wanted to do my masters in another area. I was keen to try physics. But I was told… “you are a chemist, stick to chemistry. You wont be able to do physics…”. By some fortunate turn of events, I went to the UK to do my masters instead. I went to see a physics lecturer to express my interest. And he said “well, you have a science background and that is sufficient for me. If you don't understand something, that's what I am here for…to guide you. As long as you are willing to learn of course. I am in no position to stop you from pursuing your interest. Its your decision!”

I have more to share, but enough for now.

Wake UP! said...

I totally despise hand-kissing culture. Only people who have no talent whatsoever will indulge in that low thing.

jon pour do care said...

Salam Bro. Jay,

Unless a 'miracle' or some sort of 'revolution' happens, this would go on for some period of time. Nevertheless, I believe, we still could salvage the situation, to a certain degree, by creating a learning culture at home and create our children to be learners. Once this happens, other changes would follow, just like the "Domino Theory" !

Jahamy said...


I think that experience seems uncannily similar to mine when I did my economics degree...also on equations ! It was the subject called econometrics. My disagreement with my lecturer almost got me to flunk the whole paper !


Agreed !


That's is an essential start.

Mac said...

It is very apparent to me now that this “superiority/hand-kissing” culture also existed during your university time, and I wouldn't be surprised if it started way before that, and it is still very common now. We have not really changed. But when others have moved on and we still remain the way we were, then effectively we are moving backwards… a “no improvement” in a continuously improving environment, is as good as deteriorating. Sometimes I feel that a lot of these self-professed intellectuals have too high regards for themselves that they fail to be a real intellectual. During my first few days in a local university, I remember calling a lecturer “Encik”, and some of my friends even called them “Cikgu”, and we were told off and were asked to address them as Prof, or Dr etc… it is as if the title is an important recognition, or a sign of respect. But really, respect has to be earned.

But that said, I do know of some very good Malaysian lecturers whom I have a lot of respect for.

I think we, Malaysians, need to learn that it is okay to disagree…and that will be the start of a matured intellectual discourse.

Rashid Embong said...

Very well analysed. What you are asking for is a long term effort to create opportunities/environment for a culture of knowldege to develop. I can understand and agree with that. But I do not see that happening in Malaysia for the next 20 years at least. For that to happen, we need visionary leaders with some depth of intelectualism - is there? Unless you are willing to go into politics and make the changes! But that wont be of any use unless you get a PM who allows you to do that!!!

I suppose as you often point out, the people who are aware thmeselves must start a movement towards creating that environment. Tough but can be done.

I am for it!!!