Sabtu, September 28, 2013

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Teks ucapan Pengerusi UiTM, Tan Sri Dr. Wan Mohd. Zahid bin Mohd. Noordin di ‘7th Education International Asia-Pacific Regional Conference’ di Federal Hotel, Kuala Lumpur pada 18 September 2013.

Recently, an eminent Professor from Stanford University, under whom I had the privilege of studying, sent me a copy of his commencement address. I went through the speech very carefully as I do not wish to miss out the gems of wisdom from this eminent scholar.

My eye caught a line from his speech which I would like to share with you all. He narrated a conversation that he had with a very bright Stanford undergraduate who came to see him for advice on what to do after she graduated.  His answer, in my view, was precise and right on. He said to the undergraduate: "Look, you are very smart. Do something really difficult. Go into education".

If you examined education closely you will agree with the good professor that indeed education is not an easy area to manage, unless of course one erroneously simplifies what is fundamentally a very difficult and challenging enterprise.

The reason why education is a difficult enterprise is because it is not, to begin with, an island unto itself, or, in today's hip parlance it is not a stand-alone entity. Education is intricately linked with a variety of social forces and settings. And therefore you cannot simply address education like mobilizing education for all without thinking about other aspects that impinge on education like ethnicity, demography, social structure, values, traditions, and mores, legal issues, politics and what have you. And in every society, Malaysia not excluded, it is a well known practice to heap the failure of society on to the doorstep of education to resolve.

This beast of burden that goes by the name of education is expected to solve a whole host of wide-ranging problems, from obesity to unemployment, from street crimes to domestic quarrels and divorces, from habitual traffic offenders like beating the red light to spitting on the street, and what have you. Indeed, these are by no means easy stuffs to get a handle on. As the good professor says, to cope with this kind of interaction is what makes education a mighty difficult area to manage.

The problems and issues besetting education are such that it summons the best and the brightest to join its ranks and make the profession a noble calling. In this regard the Minister of Education cum the Deputy-PM is spot on when he enunciated in the blueprint of education, among other things, that the best and brightest should be recruited into the education service. Indeed we need the best minds to address the many difficult issues confronting education.

Among the many pressing issues confronting education, in my view, is one that has been a continuous source of debate among educationists and non educationists alike. The issue is a fundamental one, namely the purpose of education. This matter brings forth the tension between two opposing perspectives which are poles apart: “is education about building the capacity of the memory or building the capacity of the mind”.  Most, in principle, would say it is the latter, but in practice they end up doing the former. The inclination is to dish out books upon books to the students to commit the contents to memory. Examination is administered so that students may regurgitate what they have memorised. Every year we hear students displaying impressive strings of As which is nothing more than a display  of how much they know and can recall. This approach is perhaps predicated on the mistaken assumption that the capacity to recall correlates with the capacity of the mind.  If indeed this was the case how come we are told time and again that our students cannot think, and cannot articulate their ideas coherently and analytically?

In this regard educationists would do well to invest a lot of their intellectual energies into thinking about building the capacity of the mind, that is, the skills of thinking, in the educative process. “Mobilizing education for all” usually means facilitating access to education. Pardon me for seeing it this way since you have not qualified what you really mean by such a theme.

As such this is simply a physical initiative. And of course it lends itself to empirical measurement rather easily and you can make much fanciful statistical analysis about access.

It is to be stated that “quality of education” is not advanced by simply providing access to education. While access to education is necessary, it does not mean the capacity of the mind is enhanced. The educative process may just be devoted to building the memory capacity of the students. Or worse the educative process may even be oppressive. I will come back to explain what I mean by oppression a little later.

I make bold to state that the teaching of thinking is the be all and end all of education.  As educationists a lot of effort should be put into thinking about this matter. Thinking, in essence, is liberation.  It’s like the old song “Horse and carriage, Love and Marriage, one cannot go without the other”. So are thinking and liberation, the two are consequences of each other. You cannot advocate thinking if you impose restrictions, or worse still, forbid thinking.  Thus you do not want to herd children into the classroom to achieve the goal of “Mobilizing Education For All” without giving thought to the consequences of the classroom process which, in most cases, are “oppressive”. I shall explain why.

Paulo Freire, the eminent and the consummate thinker, is spot on when he advocated for the liberation of the mind in the educative process in his landmark book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. He proposed a powerful pedagogical style to ensure (may I suggest guarantee) that the teacher does not oppress his or her charges in the educative process. He said that the general tendency is to oppress even if oppression is not intended. Saying “do you understand?” is oppressive, in Freire’s idiom.

Education is about the struggle for freedom against the colonization of the mind, no matter from whatever sources friendly or otherwise. Freire says that “ Freedom has always been dynamic and rooted in the historical process by which the oppressed struggle unremittingly to “extroject” the slave consciousness which oppressors have introjected into the deepest recesses of their being”.

Freire goes on to state that oppression occurs in the educative process involving the educator vis-à-vis educate. Educators all too often treat educatees as passive recipients of knowledge. For Freire education is the “practice of liberty because it frees the educator no less than the educatee from the twin thralldom of silence and monologue. Both partners are liberated as they begin to learn, the one to know self as a being of worth – notwithstanding the stigma of illiteracy, poverty, or technological ignorance – and the other as capable of dialogue in spite of the strait jacket imposed by the role of the educator as one who knows. The mark of a true educator is not the skill in persuasion – which is but an insidious form of propaganda—but the ability to dialogue with educatees in a mode of reciprocity”. Educators and teachers and do gooders, please take note.

I believe that Freire has the strongest concept of freedom and the educative process. He counsels great caution when taking unexamined approach for fear that good intentions can lead to oppressive consequences. This is because he fears that behind the practice of pedagogy there is an unconscious implicit ideology of paternalism, social control, and non reciprocity between the educator and the educatee.  Because of his strong conception of liberation in the educative process, Freire refuses to be cast in the role of a charismatic guru dispensing wisdom to willing disciples. Unless one can criticize him , one cannot exchange thoughts with him. He is ever prompt to “decree his own death as an educator”.  To me this is the hallmark of a true educator who finds complete fulfillment as an educator when the educatee that he has liberated can demolish him and regard him as their equal. This is indeed the true north of education. The goal of liberation of thought is achieved when the thought process of the educatee is fully liberated.

I have taken this approach in my speech so as to be in sync with the new, perhaps if I may call it as such, radical development in the education scene in Malaysia in the wake of the recent presentation of the Education Blueprint. Among the many educational goodies contained in the blueprint is the aspect on thinking. In this regard the Ministry of education is hot on HOTS. HOTS stand for Higher Order Thinking Skills.

In approaching the HOTS initiative educators are well advised to approach the matter with circumspect, lest the true virtues of HOTS would be lost. In this regard may I recommend Malaysian educators, if they had not already done so, to read the two splendid books by Paulo Freire, namely, “Pedagogy of The Oppressed” and “Education for Critical Consciousness”.

I would like to close my speech with one anecdote—a true one. At a seminar held for a group of academics I was invited to give a talk on THINKING. I recall preparing 10 slides for the occasion but the first slide is the most important. I said I would present the rest of the slides provided we got over the first one.  Well, we were stuck at the first slide until the end of the session!!

What was that first slide about? It reads “TEACH NOTHING ELSE BUT THINKING”.  I can still recall the lecture hall went silent for nearly a minute. I paced up and down, not saying anything. I was waiting for a reaction. The silence was deafening. Finally a participant tentatively raised his hand and said, "Surely you are not serious about this idea". I said I was dead serious about the proposition. This remark triggered muted murmurs which later grew into high pitch.

A barrage of questions then followed. "If we teach thinking, what about the subject matter like engineering, economic, accountancy". Another agitated participant stood up and tried a Kissinger type of negotiation, "OK, we recognize thinking is important, how about 30% thinking, 70% subject matter". The discussion then took on a bargaining mode, for which Malaysians are famous, "How about 40% thinking". Then another, "How about 50:50 that’s my final offer". To all these I said, "No! Thinking must be 100%. It must be total".

The lecture ended in a deadlock!!  It was the first time in my career that I got to present only one slide!!  As I was packing to leave the seminar room, a participant asked me, "Please tell us why you propose “teach thinking only". To which I replied, "That’s for you to think".

No one was pleased with that remark. There was a saving grace, though. A week after the lecture one of the participants posted a blog on the seminar. Upon reading the blog I felt a measure of vindication.

If you want to know about the matter read the blog. Well, as teachers what do you think? TEACH NOTHING ELSE BUT THINKING.