|Let’s de-segregate our schools|
“School is not preparation for life, but school is life,” wrote American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey.
We need to begin a national project of desegregating schools. I propose that all schools and educational institutions now catering to one particular race - be they Malay, Chinese, Tamil, Kadazan or Iban - must be integrated systematically and reorganised along the principles of multi-cultural education.
We must create a new breed of bumiputera - the neo-bumiputera class.
I do not see any other way we can become a truly multi-cultural nation and create an egalitarian society based on the way we currently organise our educational institutions. We may have a grand design that will take to the year 3000, but without a conscious effort to educate students to become critical, creative, ethical and futuristic radical human beings, we will drown in the wave of globalisation.
We may have a hardware worth RM23 billion and a software plan in hand, but without a mind-ware powerful enough to help develop governors of a future republic of virtue and social justice, our schools will continue to be better camps for totalitarianism.
However, as the great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire might say, there is a philosophy of hope, we can all explore.
I want to share the beauty of an effective philosophy of education that ought to now be experimented at a different level - true to our nation's commitment to create a Bangsa Malaysia.
It is a system that has benefitted many and produced excellent individuals that are now the movers and shakers of our economy. We have great professors, politicians, scientists, lawyers, corporate figures, surgeons, entertainment gurus, and even rocket scientists from a system that has helped the poorest of the poor ‘bumiputeras’. I am talking about the Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM) system.
I believe that education is not all about following blindly but making changes and creating alternate realities. I believe that we must put the best resources we have into creating a new breed of Malaysian who will destroy the barriers of race and class.
Education at all levels must be desegregated and all forms of protectionist policies and strategies of racial containment must be abolished. If we fail to do so, we will see increasing erosion of race relations. I believe, too, that education is about extending a helping hand to those less fortunate.
The MRSM of the 1970s especially was a good experiment in human capital revolution and social engineering. It had great dedicated teachers - Malays, Chinese, Indians, Americans - who served selflessly. May God bless them.
Not only was I a child of the MRSM ‘experiment’ and a ‘product’ of the New Economic Policy (NEP), but I went on to teach in the college for several years, consulted for it when I went on to teach in university, and wrote papers on it. Twelve years ago, I even went on write a Ph D proposal for Stanford University on MRSM and I still keep in touch with friends from the college. It is a good system that worked in the early years but lost its essence decades later.
MRSM taught its early students how to think critically and creatively, not to kowtow to leaders who abuse power and who are corrupt to the core. The philosophy was to create leaders, not followers. It was meant to transform the nation into an ethical polity, not destroy it beyond repair.
Because it is such a good system of education, because my interest is in the colour-blind profession of education, because education knows no discrimination based on colour, creed, or racial origin, and because the NEP and MRSM, in their hidden curriculum taught me about humanism more than racism, I think I have a better perspective now.
I believe the early MRSM philosophy can and should be used to educate the nation toward economic advancement and racial tolerance. MRSM should promote radical multi-culturalism, and produce great thinkers and doers and movers and shakers of all who call Malaysia their home and motherland. It should create leaders who are ethical, life-long learners, lovers of wisdom, and who will work for the poor of all races. After all, the government that funded MRSM is one for all races.
Not an elitist enterprise
We can no longer have segregated schools if we are to survive as a nation. This is the reality I have learned as I explore further the meaning of education. Looking at poverty and economic development in America, especially in New York city (Harlem, the Bronx, etc,) has taught me what is possible, humane, and socially just for children of all races.
Our children and grandchildren must be taught that education is not an elitist enterprise that only serves the rich and the privileged. The children of all races, especially from families of the abject poor must be taken out of their dehumanising condition, given the privileges of the bumiputera, educated by the best and brightest teachers who do not hold any prejudices, and groomed to become the ‘new bumiputera’ who will be committed to establish a new republic of virtue and social justice.
Imagine children of the poor of the newly arrived immigrants of different ethnic groups and faith, coming together in a system that teaches them what a living democracy means and about religious tolerance and peaceful solutions. Dare we create this new breed of bumiputera, with the mind of a 5th century BC Athenian?
I believe Islam and all religions do not approve educational apartheid. We need to ride the wave so that we may not be drowned in a tsunami of our economic contradictions. Therefore, let the successes of MRSM be replicated to help children of all races succeed.
In the early 1970s, MRSM had great teachers of all races who taught many what humanism means. In a similar vein, we must work together to gradually but surely dismantle schools and educational institutions that perpetuate the hegemony of one race over others.
Let us think of declaring educational segregation as unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court ruling of Brown versus Board of Education taught Americans what humanism in education means.
Dare we create a new Malaysian social order?