Making Philosophy A National Treasure

Philosophy, as an academic discipline, continues to suffer from significant underrepresentation in our country’s leading academic institutions. Such an absence threatens to dispossess future Malaysians of the opportunity to be acquainted with great philosophical works; to be informed of the many ways in which the field of philosophy could be contributed to in modern times. Today’s Malaysia is replete with swathes of challenges, many of which inhere in the domain of ethics, morality and a string of other philosophical issues that surround the country’s ideological advancements and undertakings; the principles, foundations and axioms that ought to guide Malaysians. Malaysia’s present leadership adorning itself with its ideological c badge, serving to represent its beliefs, values, and policies, which it has proudly worn and promoted throughout the course of its tenure; its administrative slogan “Malaysia Madani” (Civilized Malaysia), demonstrates that it aims to govern the country by providing it with vision, trajectory, direction, and a comprehensive philosophy of governance. The leadership have expressed their fervent desire to improve the country’s existing infrastructure by instituting crucial reforms within the scope of Malaysia’s political scene, its economic climate, and its social matrix to execute the proposed vision of achieving for the country the very height of civilization, to be at the peak of its evolution.

What is of monumental importance however is the educational infrastructure of the country. The current administration ought to direct its attention and its resources not only to improve the quality of learning in Malaysia for students not only through investments in physical infrastructure, training of staff but also through the diversifying of the school and university curriculum. This could very well involve introducing philosophical learning materials, courses, and programmes in an attempt to strategically revitalize a culture of intellectualism in our country’s educational institutions. The fruits of such policy maneuverers are evidently rewarding as it will equip Malaysians with a renewed syllabus, giving way to radical, transformative shifts in their learning experience and psychologically orient and condition young Malaysians to approach critical thinking in unique ways; allowing them to be equip themselves with profound intellectual skillsets which aid them tremendously. 

An educational metamorphosis, inspired by the promulgation and implementation of philosophy, also has the capacity to revolutionize the Malaysian learning experience by encouraging students to study, analyse, and discuss morally intricate issues explored in philosophy in a way that facilitates both intellectual and civic development. Inculcating a philosophical spirit in Malaysians is undoubtedly crucial for this very reason as it brings about the maturation of our educational institutions; birthing entire generations with the knowledge of the philosophical complexities of the politics, morality, society and culture and other such issues dramatically adds nuance to the Malaysian ethos. Philosophy invites its students to transcend prejudices, allegiances, and biases to pursue objectivity; it encourages them to value and cherish objectivity. Philosophy in Malaysia is capable of giving rise to a mature democracy and citizenry, one that pursues the greater good and find ways of doing so critically.

Philosophy, when closely considered, could be the mechanism by which we reach a “Malaysia Madani.” It ought to be seen, by the country’s educational authorities, as a catalyst for intellectual empowerment and nation-building. In her book “Why Teach Philosophy in Schools” by Jane Gatley, she emphasizes that the indispensable utility of philosophy in the school curriculum is that it provides students with the skills necessary to “make sense of the plurality of the theoretical content” they have learned. When applied to the Malaysian perspective, the skills taken from philosophy could be leveraged and galvanized with the aim of elevating students’ apprehension and comprehension, giving them opportunities to appreciate the depth of what they are taught as well as develop intellectual diversity of thought. In a country that is well known for its multiracial and multiethnic identities, a culture that appreciates diversity of thought is important as it sculpts the national attitude towards political and social concerns; one that is progressive, tolerant, and receptive towards dialogue in the country and stymies the impetus towards aggressive tribalism and the fanning of dangerous sentiments. This will allow for a new pedigree of talented future generations of Malaysia to emerge; able to competently to grasp abstract modern-day challenges and engage in critical engagement through problem-solving and civil discussion. 

Many countries globally have the learning of philosophy in schools in response to the demand for critical thinking. The Australian curriculum notes that “responding to the challenges of the twenty-first century – with its complex environmental, social and economic pressures – requires young people to be creative, innovative, enterprising and adaptable, with the motivation, confidence and skills to use critical and creative thinking purposefully.” This demonstrates that the learning of philosophy resonates with Malaysia’s shared values of critical thinking and the country’s educational objectives.

The Ministry of Education could potentially engage collaboratively with countries which have successfully implemented philosophical learning programmes and outlines so as to better facilitate its execution in Malaysia. As documented by the Irish Times, there a few countries that have excelled in the implementation of philosophy. The government could seek further guidance from in this area. In France for example, there is a long tradition of philosophical learning in schools as well as Canada, with some secondary schools offering philosophy courses just to name a few. 

The Malaysian government could also explore the possibility working with the Malaysian Philosophy Society (NGO) headed by Dr. Giap and Miss Zhun. The mission of the Malaysian Philosophy Society in desiring to make philosophy both accessible and practical for all aligns with strategic efforts, should it be employed, to introduce Malaysia more ubiquitously in the country. The Malaysian Philosophy Society’s efforts to make philosophy more practical through its events, programmes and activities have significantly ignited interest in philosophy in the country. This could serve to be a partnership that ultimately orients national educational priorities towards the revamping of the local education system. 

This direction could be the start of a profound change in Malaysia. A shift towards philosophical learning has the potential to uplift the entire nation and it should be a national treasure. A national treasure that will come to define its heritage, culture, identity and way of life. 

By Pravin Periasamy, Student Researcher at Sunway University

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