Reforming beyond Yoda's principle

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak - -

DR Vishalache Balakrishnan (in the letter “Teachers must learn, unlearn and relearn” — NST, Aug 10) was right to bring up the discourse on why teachers need to learn to accept that things have changed around us, and that there is an urgent need to unlearn some of the ‘old’ ways. At the same time, to relearn how to adapt to the changes ahead.

I particularly like the way (s)he wrote about the National Education Philosophy that must be relearned focusing on the holistic growth of each child. Kudos. More must walk in Dr Balakrishnan footsteps if we desire real reform of the education system. There is much to be done, and time is not on our side.

Foremost is to acknowledge that it is not only confined to the teachers but also to all learners, which cuts across the entire community globally. They, too, need to learn of the rapid changes taking place if education is to be fully supported for future learning, notably from the dimensions of policy- and decision-making and implementation. Thus leading to the unlearning and relearning of various policy dimensions as well to suit the changing times.

One of the most important things to unlearn is the way how education is “hurriedly” consumed (as in consuming “fast” food) thanks to the advent of mindless technology. So much so, some are recommending to “slow down” instead!

Authors Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber in their seminal book, The Slow Professor (taking from the Slow Food movement), recommend that the pace at today’s institutions of higher education (therefore schools too) ought to be moderated. So that reflection and inquiry as vital educational tools can be optimally applied.

Otherwise, like consuming fast food, not only is the quality generally regarded as “junk”, so too are the outcomes — ill health (read, miseducation). Managed like a corporate entity, the delivery of education is modelled on a factory complete with “bottom line” targets guided by economic imperatives, fashioned as KPIs based on tight deadlines to deliver, no different from a “product” coming out of a rigidly timed assembly line.

Thus the dubious, dehumanising GOT (“graduate-on-time”) is allowed to reign supreme! Ironically, at the same time, uninterrupted lifelong learning is also encouraged.

Simply put, structures too need to be unlearned, not only the processes, because the former is more than just a constraint on the change ahead — that is, to better relearn for change! So far the discussion is limited to processes, while the archaic (super)structures remain untouched and out of sync, yet still celebrated.

Adding to this is an emerging concept that is often left unmentioned: to “co-learn”. This follows from the realisation that humans are not the paragon of all things when it comes to knowledge sources. The so-called “dominant” knowledge touted today is considered inadequate when it comes to learning from all the other species.

There is enough evidence to indicate that sources of human knowledge, including the sciences, are equally responsible for the overall state of imbalance of the world. Not to mention the ecological destruction that is ongoing, threatening the civilisation we know today. Thus far, humans are unable or unwilling to co-exist equitably with other species and the environment, insisting on exploiting them for vested interest.

Co-learning therefore calls to attention the need to recognise the existence of “others” and their right to share all there is in a balanced and harmonious way. Humans indeed are part of the balanced ecosystem as promoted through the Unesco agenda on Education for Sustainable Development since 2005, and must act responsibly. In particular, the Sustainable Development Goals (2016-2030) that specifically list 17 targets to be minimally met in order to bring about and keep the balance globally.

We must therefore go beyond Yoda’s mantra of learn, unlearn and relearn to embrace co-learning as well; also to supersede the superficial changes in processes of edu‎cation to include changes in physical and mental structures that are often the barriers to reconstructing future learning in a collaborative way.

For this to happen, it is best to begin by relearning the deeper understanding of the National Education Philosophy. This continues to remain paramount.

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