Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Politicising Education

No, this isn't about the issue of teaching science and maths in English — an issue where I slightly disagree with Kian Ming's take, by the way — but more on that later. This is about the authorities cracking down on opposition politicians who participate in events organised by students in their schools, colleges and universities. The government claims to recognise that to nurture the freedom of thought and inquiry necessary for a good education, academics and students need the freedom to explore a variety of different viewpoints, but then why does it persist in throwing up all kinds of obstacles when students invite opposition politicians attend their events?

A couple of days ago, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad — a PKR state assemblyman in Selangor who, for the sake of full disclosure, is a friend of mine — was invited by the Persatuan Mahasiswa Islam Universiti Malaya (Muslim Students Association of the University of Malaya) to officiate at an event they sponsored. Of course, Nik Nazmi ran into all sorts of difficulties when he tried to attend, and eventually had to be smuggled into the campus riding on a student's motorcycle. You can get the full story from Nik's blog and Malaysiakini (Malay).

This is of course not anything new. Not too long ago, it was DAP state assemblywoman Hannah Yeoh who complained she couldn't even attend an event held by her old secondary school's Prefects Association — when she herself had been head prefect once.

The government often claims it just does not want education to be politicised, but the way this implicit policy is enforced, it often seems that the government really wants education politicised in its favour. When I was in school, the administrators never shrank from inviting local politicians — always Barisan Nasional politicians — to attend and officiate at school events.

What's obvious is that when you give people in power the authority to ban people from campuses because they are political, you basically give them the power to ban almost anyone they like. Unless you have perfectly unbiased human beings in power — people who actually honestly want to keep education depoliticised and are completely just about doing it — bad things will happen.

And what's often overlooked is that education is itself political; there's no running away from this. We as a society collectively have a stake in how we bring up our children and what kind of citizens our schools create. And you don't need a political scientist to tell you that when society has a collective stake in something, you need some sort of political system to work things out.

So I think exposing students to politics is actually a fantastic thing; what's important is that they get the full picture, and not just the picture which one interest group wants them to see. Schools and student societies should be free to invite just about anyone to their events. The important thing is to promote a culture of questioning and critical discussion; students shouldn't blindly accept whatever any politician tells them. I would hope that at the event he attended, Nik Nazmi got peppered with questions from students about why he believes what he does. That should be the whole point of organising events with politicians.

There is no reason to arbitrarily depoliticise education, when education is supposed to make you a good citizen, which requires you to know something about politics. If you're worrying that your students will be misled by politicians because they blindly accept anything they hear, then your real problem is that you haven't nurtured the right values in them. That's what we should be trying to fix, instead of worrying about politicians speaking to the students who will one day themselves be voters, if not politicians.


Anonymous said...

one of the characteristics of being a teacher is that we should be able to lead our children. teach them that as human beings we are open to many options in life. they should know what to choose. in guiding them towards making the right decision, we should avoid being bias, but at the same time able to provide them with as much information as we can of the matters at hand.

Anonymous said...

In todays Star:
UM medical degree not recognised by EU!
It tells a lot abt our standard..
I wonder why last time our degree recognised but not now....hehe

Anonymous said...

i cannot find the article in the star

Anonymous said...

ur reading the past a the new copy

Anonymous said...

Our unioversities now qualified to produce modern bomohs but not doctors?

Gwen said...

EU were and are always bias against Asians..