History without fear or favour

FASTER than we can say “education system”, another change has been made to it. At least, that’s what it feels like.Some say the speed in which several announcements have been made is similar to that experienced by screaming thrill seekers on a roller-coaster going through its second corkscrew loop.

The latest — History will be a must- pass subject for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination from 2013. It will also be introduced in primary schools as a core subject from 2014.
Making another subject a must pass is a little curious when there are moves at the same time to make the education system less exam-oriented, as evidenced by the replacement of the Penilaian Menengah Rendah with school-based assessment. But perhaps there is a logical explanation for all this, as there’s been for the other recent changes made.

As for History, it’s to enhance students’ understanding of the Constitution and the nation-building process. The younger generation must know their country’s history as it will teach them what worked well in the past, and what did not. They can learn much from the nation’s past mistakes and successes.

While it has been wryly remarked that the only people who will stand to benefit from such an exercise are tuition centres and textbook publishers, learning history is beneficial; a good thing. Young children need to know the origins of the nation in which they reside and the contribution of every community to the country’s development.
Educationists are, however, concerned over a few things — overlaps, omissions in the secondary school History syllabus, as well as the uninteresting way the subject is currently being taught and presented.

Their worries are legitimate, and require attention, if possible before the changes are introduced.

At primary level, there are now two subjects with elements of “history” — Civics and Nationhood, and Kajian Tempatan.
If and when History is introduced, it will overlap with Kajian Tempatan, which is basically History, Geography and Civics rolled into one.

It will also cover some of the same areas already included in Civics and Nationhood, which was introduced, or rather re-introduced, in 2005.

Civics, first taught in 1972, was scrapped in 1982 following a revamp. In its new, improved guise, it deals with various themes relating to family relationships, life in school and society, multiculturalism, Malaysia as a sovereign state, and the future challenges facing the nation.

What should then be in the primary school History syllabus? When many elements of the country’s historical mosaic has fallen through the cracks in the secondary school History textbooks, it is imperative that the same does not occur at the primary school level.

Before any new subject is thrust upon pupils, this tangled, confused, and complicated mass needs to be unravelled.

At the secondary school level, there are also a few issues that need sorting out. The most pressing — the omissions and insufficient emphasis on certain communities. Experts and parents have claimed that some of the text and illustrations in History textbooks are placed there to subtly brainwash young minds. Some of these elements contain politically-aligned and narrow views that can skew students’ impressions of historical events and their impact on the country and its communities.

Some quarters, for instance, have taken exception to the Chinese clans, the Ghee Hin and Hai San, which played so pivotal a role in the advent of colonial administration in the Malay states, being described as kongsi gelap or secret societies.

Specific historical figures such as Gurchan Singh, the “Lion of Malaya”, and Sybil Karthigesu have all but vanished from the record. The key historical roles played by prominent figures from Sabah and Sarawak also merit little or no mention.

As highlighted in an article “Whose Story is Our History?” which was published in the New Straits Times on April 11, last year: “All Malaysian communities have their role in the story of how this nation came to be what it is today, and history texts need to reflect this shared ownership.

Questions of ethnic relations in history must be discussed in scrupulously neutral language, without judgments of right or wrong.

“A review would, indeed, be timely, but it must be collective, consultative and knowledge-based, not driven by emotion or political imperatives”.

The points highlighted still hold true today.

by Chok Suat Ling.

Read more @ http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/19sli/Article/

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