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We must do what is educationally vital — to reflect and solicit the wisdom therein. - NSTP/Mohamad Shahril Badri Saali

The issue of a single or a split Education Ministry has surfaced again. Many opinions have been expressed.

It seems rather premature, going by the rule of thumb that “structure should follow function”. ‎ In other words, we must first agree what is the function of education in a complex world.

For the longest time, there has been a single Education Ministry until the early 2000s when it was split and the Higher Education Ministry was formed.

Then came the flip-flops until it ended with what it is today — a single ministry. Flip-flopping is an indication that things have not been thought through.

Thus, when the Higher Education Ministry was established, there was a number of aberrations that tended to “dislocate” the two ministries. For example, the creation of Institut Pendidikan Guru Malaysia, which, up to late last year, was reportedly facing an uncertain future.

Some are allegedly due to be closed, causing controversy. Others, like the implementation of English for Science and Technology, got deferred because of structural reasons, too. Another is Technical and Vocational Education and Training. So we are better known for good policies rather than implementation.

Adding to this is the tendency to regard education as an assembly line where parts can be changed midstream without affecting the total outcome. This is the 19th-century thinking that framed schools and universities as production houses. It‎ is no longer tenable for the 21st century post-Industrial Age. That briefly explains why Japan speaks of Society 5.0 and Europe, Wellbeing 2030 or Social Europe, rather than the mechanical Industrial Revolution 4.0 per se.

Of late, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) even launched a new vision — Futures of Education — inviting the world to reimagine what education would be like in the 21st century and beyond.

A fifth pillar of education, Learning to Become, is being introduced‎. Can all these fit into the “old” (archaic, as verbalised by the prime minister in a public forum not too long ago) structure where the four pillars of education, advocated by Unesco, have not even been unpacked, educationally speaking?

In support of this move, Unesco released a report named Humanistic Futures of Learning: Perspectives from Unesco Chairs and UNITWIN Networks. The title alone is sufficient to signal that the old (dehumanising) ways are no longer in sync.

In contrast, it presents “diverse views on the aims and purposes of education, as well as on learning content and methods within increasingly complex learning systems”.

The publication is the first curated input submitted to the International Commission on the Futures of Education. Simply put, instead of jumping to knee-jerk conclusions pertaining to the future, given the experiences of the past, we must do what is educationally vital — to reflect and solicit the wisdom therein.

We are drowning in knowledge and information, but starved of wisdom, which is what education is ultimately about and becoming. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998), authored by sociobiologist Edward Wilson, elaborated on the issue well in unifying the sciences and humanities, a thought well ahead of its time.

That is, bringing everything into convergence by connecting the dots towards a sustainable future. The Japanese Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry comes to mind. This is the same ministry that produced Nobel Prize winners, co-organised the 2019 World Rugby Cup where Japan did well by getting into the semi-final, as well as recognising the Persons of Cultural Merit for those who made outstanding cultural contributions to the advancement and development of Japanese culture. Established in 1951, more than 874 individuals were awarded.

So if you think a single Education Ministry is overburdened, think again. Look east, where “structure follows function” rules to the very detail!

In the final analysis, it is about preparing the ground for the younger generation who are justifiably worried about their future.

The likes of Greta Thunberg and the Friday for Future movement are no longer mincing their words in stating their demands.

They have lost confidence in the present structure, given the chaos that they are likely to inherit, especially in a complex post-2019-nCov situation, pointing to how education has been hijacked in preparing for a sustainable and shared future.

The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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