LAST week there was a gathering of minds in the Pearl of the Orient to try to understand the quality elements in (higher) education.
Initiated by Majlis Penasihat Pendidikan Kebangsaan chair, Tan Sri Dr Wan Zahid Wan Nordin, the two-day workshop explored areas that have never become subjects of an in-depth study before.
Ironic as it may seem, it builds on Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan (1996), taking off from Falsafah Pendidikan Negara (1988) some 30 years ago.
The immediate question that arises is, of course, this: how relevant is the Falsafah in a world that has gone far ahead into the 21st century.
Surely, such Falsafah has much to catch up on, what with the advances in technology that have now “invaded” the minds of learners and policymakers alike.
Indeed, to many, 21st century “education” is synonymous with electronic gadgets of all sorts, thanks to tech companies that are diligently pursuing this tagline.
So much so it now reduces “education” to clickable chunks of “information”, shared across the globe regardless of context.
Yes, in this sense the world of so-called “education” has changed but I am not too sure if it is for the better.
Some will struggle to understand this as “education”, especially when the philosophical underpinning is flimsy if there is one at all. It makes “education” amoebic (read, flip-flopping) depending on the flavour of the month or theory of the day which is now under the misguided influence of the human capital theory of neoliberalism.
In other words, whenever there is a vacuum, philosophically speaking, it will be quickly filled up by another that is eager to reshape “education” the way it deems fit.
That being the case, we realise how crucial it is for Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan to be given a new lease of life.
After all, robust philosophy is good for all seasons with no “best before” expiry dates, and Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan definitely fits the bill.
This is plain to see if one deep dives and discovers at least five pearls that are firmly embedded in the Falsafah.
Firstly is the recognition that education ought to be continuous (not flip-flopping), holistic and integrated (not siloed or segregated the way it is today).
Secondly, it must be balanced and harmonic so as to expand the potential of individuals (not just students) into that of a “complete person” or insan. Meaning, education is first and foremost “human-centric”.
Not technology-centric as we are made to believe and consume. Technology may be important but not so if it “dehumanises” the human persons (the tendency currently) and renders them mere human capital as per the theory that is now influencing “education” far and wide.
This differentiation is apparent from the third pearl that counts intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of the “complete person” as being vital components as spelt out in the Falsafah.
The whole therefore is greater than the sum of its part which is why education must be holistic and integrated.
In other words, the human capital theory is short of these nuances making it an obvious aberration of what the Falsafah stands for.
The three clarifications alone are sufficient to account for why and how the Falsafah continues to remain relevant until today and beyond.
It is comprehensive, forward looking and indeed resilient to be brought in under all circumstances.
It is timeless. It is a shame that it was neglected for so long just because it is not considered “foreign” in origin which sadly has been our preoccupation in articulating what quality is all about.
Fortunately, the Penang meeting managed to overcome the siege mentality in redefining quality in the context and aspiration of the Falsafah.
It identifies not just the aspirations as captured by the term “kesejahteraan diri” but also the processes that lead to it.
Sejahtera — the root word (with no English equivalent) — has been translated into a quality element that takes into consideration all the finer ramifications of the Falsafah in toto.
What is even more interesting, it can be anumeric in nature (think of the martial arts) and not just run of the mill numbers, figures and percentages frequently associated with the tired notion of KPIs.
Like the “complete person” it is multilayered in nature giving a more meaningful “spread” to the notion of quality with its soul intact.
Finally, after being bandied around for so long, sejahtera aptly got a home as a quality element in education moving forward.
The writer is a fellow at CenPRIS and the rector of International Islamic University Malaysia