Consider the recent suggestion to re-introduce "public caning" in schools. Ask ourselves -- why have we come to a point where we need to reintroduce such a sign and symbol of authoritarianism?
Times have changed. In the 1940s and 50s our grandparents send their kids to school with a cane /rotan. Child psychology was not in vogue yet. They did not know any other way. American democracy was not pervasive yet. TV was still in black and white. iPHONES, Blackberry, and iPODS were still in the imagination of kids yet to make it big like Bill Gates.
The problem in schools is deeper than just behavioral. Boredom, apathy, and disengagement are merely symptoms of a larger problem. The problem lies in the entire spectrum of what we have been doing over the last 50 years, the crisis of educational leadership we have, a vision of society which does not match the politics in education we have deeply hammer into the schools we built. It lies in the philosophy, paradigm, pedagogy, process, and product. Most importantly it lies in the we view human nature as it related to economic development.
We can begin to analyze this issue by looking at what we have produced: Mat and Minah Rempits. Our education system has become "rempitised".
"The (North Pole Free Fall) expedition is among the latest controversial moves by Umno to engage youths, especially Mat Rempit, in a series of baffling activities…. This includes a 50,000-strong carnival gathering which never took off, a road trip tainted by sex and booze allegations and a proposed programme to reward mat rempit for nabbing snatch thieves."
- Malaysiakini newsreport March 10, 2007
Again and again we are sending a wrong message to the children of tomorrow concerning what good behavior for our youth should be. Wrong model. Why are we allowing Umno Putera to glorify Mat Rempits and reward them with something they do not deserve? Don't these youth leaders know what education means and how to educate these 'damaged' youth? We do not understand what being "fair but firm" means in educating troubled youth.
Worse, we do not understand the root cause of why children fail in school but graduate to become Mat and Minah Rempits or "Alongs" and all kinds of human beings alienated by the system we built together.
The 50,000 strong gathering, the name-change to Mat Cemerlang, the proposed drag race circuit, and now the North Pole jump – what are these for in the name of 'education for good citizenship'? How many will 50,000 Mat Rempits multiply into in a decade? What will be the consequence for our nation already falling apart from corruption and mismanagement? We need more than just quick fix solution to the issue of 'juvenile delinquency' that is getting out of control. We need a "zero-tolerance policy" on "rempitizing behaviors".
Don't the ministry of education know what the taxpayers want for the education system? Why not spend money preparing good teachers to prepare good curriculum and teaching strategies to deal with the children of the Millennium generation?
Why not spend money making sure that all schools meet the minimum standards of technology, resources, safety, and teacher competency? Why not beef up the "rempit division" of the police force?
Why continue to arrogantly trumpet pseudo-humanistic approach to curing the disease of rempitism when there are better long-lasting ways we can employ to make sure students do not become what they shouldn't be becoming?
The wrong model
Mat Rempit wannabes will think that even if they do not do well in school and not be disruptive, they will still grow up protected by the system created by those who want to continue to preach the "welfare mentality".
There will be youth political parties trying hard enough to negotiate with the "motorcycle gang" so that the latter can be of help in maintaining the hegemony of the ruling party.
The compromising approach towards those who "terrorize" neighborhoods, law-abiding citizens, or even rob and maim others will give more and more power to many others to follow the footsteps of the motorcycled mob.
"I'll make you an offer you can't refuse" said Don Vito Corleone of Mario Puzo's The Godfather fame – would be the best way to describe the philosophy of how we reward these troubled youth.
A wrong model of youth education will produce more youth who will see national development through wrong lens.
Perhaps our minister of education need to spend one class period a month in different classroom settings, as an undercover substitute teacher, to understand the culture of the classroom and to make sense of why many things are failing.
Perhaps top ranking officials of the ministry without classroom experience need to take turns doing this undercover job to see why we are not producing the graduates we want.
Perhaps these officials can be given a class period to teach in the urban schools and where Mat and Minah Rempits reign – schools in Puchong for example. Or they can sit in classroom in Arau Perlis where broken door, blackboard, windowpanes, ceilings and walls welcome new students daily.
These are the real stuff of teaching – ones that ministers do not see. Many are merely interested in 'officiating' smart schools and have photo sessions for example with Microsoft's Bill Gates in Dengkil – schools that will produce no Mat and Minah Rempits.
Many do not even want their children near National Service camps that has taken the lives of many of our precious youth to date! We now have a movement towards the three school system – public, private, and international – each catering to the degree of fear parents have towards their children's education.
This is the lifeboat/sinking sampan mentality we have cultivated as a nation.
But education is about hope and love.That's what the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire once said. It is about modeling best practice. Where do we begin then?
The right model
First, we need to stop sending the wrong message. We need to reward those who are doing well academically regardless of race, and help channel their creativity through the spectrum of their educational experience.
We need to create classrooms with smaller sizes so that the needs of these children can be met according to their interest. The "small schools" movement that identify children's career interest at an early age can be a good model to work from – schools modeled after the concept of "academies".
Let experts from all sector of society -- the stakeholders in education -- help suggest good ideas on how to help our troubled youth.
Next, get funding to create alternative schools for troubled youth, that would also include a course in 'motorcycle education'.
We need to study the "ecology" of the child and the "anthropology of the modern Malaysian school" and classroom in order to ascertain why children become disillusioned in schools and declare their freedom and irresponsibility on the streets, past midnight.
We need to find out where their parents are and why they are no longer doing good parenting. We need to teach them that poverty is not a license to leave their children to be educated by the streets. In poverty too there is dignity and an inspiration to raise grateful children who will not be a menace to society.
We need to study the socio-economic make-up of the youth at risk and ascertain the nature of psychological emotional, and even spiritual derangement that is plaguing our youth. We need to hold parents accountable for their children's behavior, not just leave already stressed and poorly-paid teachers to become "correctional officers", while trying to create success for all.
Parents must be given trainings in what matters for their children in school and how to monitor behaviors. Schooling should be a peaceful partnership between the child, parents, teachers, and the society we wish to create.
It is not about stealing the minds of children of tomorrow or the benefit of politics of the here and now.
We need to study the ecology of the media and the nature of fast changing economy to see the impact of it on the youth of today. What are the youth watching on TV? Who produces junk programs that produces the "GIGO" (garbage-in-garbage-out) mind? How does the media exploit the insecurities of our youth?
Certainly a lot to study and act upon.
But first and foremost, we must study ourselves as a nation—where are we going?
And—we need to stop political parties from further nurturing 'rempitism'. There are better ways—by being fair yet firm.
Let us pray that those with "rempitised" minds do not become our political leaders or education ministers.
Education, as the philosopher John Dewey would say, is the only way for social and intellectual progress. Teach children, as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, according to the times they are in.
Good luck with our journey. We hope for the experts in our ministry to guide us through.