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Increase philosophy literacy in Malaysia

Future generations will benefit from a culture of inquiry, critical thought and intellectual contemplation


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By Pravin Periasamy

The study of philosophy has had a profound influence on academic institutions across the world for thousands of years – inspiring revolutionary thought leaders and innovative pioneers who have contributed to the advancement of civilisation.

The study of philosophy has been a well-established field for centuries, supporting both the sciences and the humanities. It has dedicated faculties and institutions in its honour, which helps it grow and inspire bright minds to develop important ideas, theories and social causes. These have challenged orthodoxies, re-evaluated norms and established avenues for growth and discovery.

Philosophy has empowered others and continues to be valued globally.

Philosophical education in Malaysia, however, is startlingly under-represented in academia, with little influence over the social and political dialogues of the country.

Malaysian educational institutions, in bolstering intellectually vigorous disciplines, particularly in the Stem fields (science, technology, engineering and maths), have rendered opportunities for the adoption of the philosophical discipline obsolete.

The development of the sciences is crucial for the nation’s technological development. A vacuous philosophical space in academia, on the other hand, could undermine societal development and enrichment.

Renowned Malaysian Muslim philosopher Prof Syed Farid Alatas has lamented the country’s lack of progress in this area. Expressing his concerns about the issue, he said that a society without scholars and thinkers in fields such as literature is a dangerous society.

Societal values and perspectives on morality “can only come from philosophies, ethical system, religion and literature – to convey that ethical or moral standpoint”, he said.

Introducing philosophy into the Malaysian education ecosystem could promote learning methods that guide students in deconstructing questionable propositions and ideas and bring about social change. The study of philosophy could strengthen the intellectual and moral faculties of the people’s consciousness, revealing how such studies are needed in educational institutions.

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The absence of philosophy in Malaysian academia has perversely misshaped societal perceptions of the discipline, which is often regarded as valueless and unable to provide meaningful substance.

Over the years, an identifiable trend has caused great concern among local academics: students have shown alarming deficiencies in critical thinking and analytical skills.

This has prompted the Malaysian authorities to discover ways to revamp the education system to allow for the flourishing of these skills.

Efforts to restructure the nation’s school programmes and introduce criticial thinking modules were adopted. This has resulted in the creation of a “philosophy and current issues” course made available by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency to universities across the nation.

Prof John Arul Philips, dean of the School of Education and Cognitive Science at Asia e University, praised this historic decision. He said the popularisation of philosophy in education will improve critical thinking as “philosophy does not necessarily conclude with one answer”.

This will give students in Malaysia a chance to explore alternative trains of thought. It will ensure that unique and creative approaches to complex solutions are rewarded.

As more academics realise the intellectual utility of philosophy as an academic discipline, it will draw more interest. This trajectory, if properly managed, will raise the quality of education in Malaysia.  

The country’s leadership ought to explore how educational institutions can incorporate philosophy into their local ecosystems. This could be done through the advocating of philosophy courses or the development of clubs, societies or scholarships dedicated to advancing the discipline.

One registered national body that promotes the development of the learning of philosophy is the Malaysian Philosophy Society. This group has drawn quite a following and has organised events and activities to make philosophy more accessible to the people.  

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Such activities show the importance and relevance of philosophy in education in Malaysia. The society’s co-founders, Chew Zhun Yee and Dr Tee Chen Giap, have emphasised the role that philosophy plays in driving success and progress. They say the discipline is the “foundation of inquisitive attitudes and thinking” and that “the vast ideas and essential skills of philosophy can all be translated into ‘actionables’ that effectively tackle problems”.

Philosophical literacy, as the Malaysian Philosophy Society suggests, could be key to revolutionary social reform.

So philosophical literacy ought to be enhanced in Malaysia to ensure that future generations can benefit from a culture of inquiry, critical thought and intellectual contemplation.

Having this as one of the country’s highest educational priorities will be key to the evolution of holistic development.

Pravin Periasamy is the networking and partnership director of the Malaysian Philosophy Society

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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7 Mar 2024 2.22pm

some little thoughts on the above. 1.The Msn edn infrastructure, from the national govt down to the home as school, NEEDS to seriously do the utmost to promote Malay,ENGLISH,n mother tongue lang. proficiency, 2. Ednl administrative leaders, educators, work with parents to nurture a love of reading n learning in our young, 3.Constant MONITORING of progress of above NEEDS to be seen to be DONE, 4.Look at Singapore,Scandinavian non-English native language societies. We can humbly, professionally learn from them, 5. While all above are put into motion, DO NOT DELAY in introducing philosophy in education, 6. Similarly, MONITOR progress in its implementation, 7. Introduce objective improvements continuously, 8.WATCH OUT for AI..??

Paul Lim
Paul Lim
3 Mar 2024 1.17am

Why don’t your philosophy society give a course on philosophy on-line or start an on-line philosophical discussion on current issues in Malaysia? This will reach out to more people.

Ho Meilu
Ho Meilu
2 Mar 2024 10.45pm

Timely and thoughtful words, indeed. I hope you/the Society can secure an appointment with the Ministry of Education. Propose Syllabi for each school class level, perhaps beginning Form 1. And through the first two years of university. Same for 2/3-year technical/vocational colleges. World philosophical traditions. The PM, being such a literate and well-read person would surely applaud this proposal. Push this through for the sanity of the nation. 1 year complete Syllabi. Implement in 2nd year.

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