Monday, April 1, 2013


I asked a bunch of my Form 5 students regarding the history of our nation.... stuff like the Straits Settlement, Federated and Unfederated Malay States. And I think our education system has failed them. When I saw baffled looks on their faces, I asked whether they knew what I was talking about. Many shook their heads. Some even admitted that they had no idea what Negeri-Negeri Selat stood for.

History is a compulsory subject in Malaysian schools. The students were supposed to have learned about the history of the various states in Malaysia and how the British started the colonization of Malaya with the Straits Settlements and then the Federated Malay States. Unfortunately, after 4 years of learning History, it feels like many have failed to learn anything.

de Tocquiville once said that history is a gallery of pictures where there are few originals. In failing to instill an understanding of our history as well as others' history, we also lose a great opportunity to develop thinking skills in our young. In viewing history's gallery of pictures, we learn the folly of those who come before us. We also learn to see that the ink that records history can be very fluid. Prejudice is fluid, like many things in our lives. Learning history is supposed to give our young the opportunity to learn to think and identify the fluid prejudices. But unfortunately, we have failed to do just that in many of them cos many are leaving school clueless about our nationhood.

In the first place, I think our interpretation of nationhood is already skewed. We teach our kids that ketuanan is okay. Did we not oppose apartheid in South Africa? Or was it just for show? It's not affirmative action to right an imbalance but lordship which seems to be promoted... a return to the feudal ways?? We do not teach our young to question the practices of our leaders. We imply that we should defend certain institutions to the death even though those institutions might be bleeding us dry. History equals subtle propaganda? What I learn from history is everything is a tool to perpetuate power... from religious institutions to laws. Man made so that man can retain influence.

While there are some questionable historical perspectives in our textbooks like the use of the Ketuanan Melayu terminology in the Form 5 textbook or the issue of slavery which got Birch killed in Perak and some others, the inability of our students to recall or understand the history of our nation also indicates that the effort to plant certain ideas in the heads of our young is also not working out very well. Our delivery system is just not working very well. So, either way... we're not making much headway. Ironic, isn't it?

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