Moral check against dishonesty


Senior Fellow/Director,
Centre for Economics and Social Studies, IKIM

The objective of education must not be reduced to academic qualification that is apathetic to moral integrity.

WHEN invited recently to deliberate on the future direction of curriculum development, I began my deliberations by admitting the complexity of the theme.

To quote poet and critic T.S. Eliot, “education is a subject which cannot be discussed in a void, as questions on education raise other questions, social, economic, financial, political.”

Indeed, according to Eliot, emphasis on the more ultimate problems is sought, even more than those mentioned, namely, “to know what we want in education we must know what we want in general. We must derive our theory of education from our philosophy of life” or worldview.

The worldview is of paramount importance.

While education has been generally identified with activating what exists as potentialities in human beings, humanity itself needs to be properly defined so that it is neither reduced to rationality nor to that which is worse, bestial character shorn of ethics and morality.

Lifelong education must be understood and implemented in a comprehensive and integrative manner, adequately and harmoniously covering all dimensions of humanity, extending over not only the practical, affectional, and rational, but also the ethic-moral aspects.

There is no reason to be apologetic about the moral purpose of education.

Off into the world: Universiti Sains Malaysia graduates waiting to receive their scrolls last month. Our theory of education is derived from our philosophy of life or worldview.

Even the principles of the Rukunegara are framed by ethics and morality (kesopanan dan kesusilaan), as the two are founded upon belief in God (kepercayaan kepada Tuhan), Who honours virtues and is severe in punishing evil (shadid al-’iqab).

Moral integrity is also gaining pre-eminence in contemporary management theories in the West, as can be seen in such references as Making Trust a Competitive Asset (by Daniel Yankelovich), Building Reputational Capital (Kevin Jackson) and Building A Corporate Culture that Rewards Integrity (Larry Johnson and Bob Phillips).

In Islamic civilisation, moral purpose (al-mahamid as opposed to al-maqabih) is intrinsic of education, couched in the term ta’dib as applied by the learned authorities (ulama) such as the leading grammarian of Qur’anic-Arabic, Abu Ishaq al-Zajjaj (d. 311/923).

Surely, those authorities were inspired by the tradition of the Prophet Mohamed, “my Lord educated me, and so made my education (ta’dib) most excellent”, which is narrated and recorded in al-’Askari’s Jamharat al-Amthal, al-Sam’ani’s Adab al-Imla’, and al-Sarqasti’s al-Dala’il, among others.

Hence, the ultimate aims of public education are not merely to produce proficient and skilled students and graduates, but are also relative to those responsible enough in their material existence in facing the real challenge of life’s probationary nature, which is full of both favourable and adverse circumstances.

The objective of education must not be reduced to academic qualification that is apathetic to moral integrity.

Nevertheless, we should not leave the notion of good behaviour and conduct here to refer to something imprecise and, as such, incapable of being effectively determined.

To ascertain that students are positively instilled with the sense of responsibility through the education system, there is a need to check that they are not prone to telling lies and breaking promises, both of which are initial manifestations of betraying a trust. (See our article in Ikim Views, Nov 14, 2006.)

As aptly observed by French Renaissance thinker Michel de Montaigne, lying is the action whose birth and progress one should combat insistently, as such an action grows with the child, in the sense that once the child’s tongue has been put on the wrong track, deviating from truth, it cannot be called back without amazing difficulty.

The role of teachers in determining such an objective moral check of students is not unlike that of experimentation conducted in the subjects of the empirical sciences or oral examinations in languages.

While we must also think of having corrective programmes to provide opportunities for morally problematic students with the aim of correcting his behaviour and conduct, those who failed following all efforts must be prevented from progressing to a higher level of education, and ultimately the position of public trust in our society.

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