Absurd way to test morals

Sunday July 8, 2012


THE recent article by T.J. Phang, 
Give science students a break
 (StarEducate, July 1), through inquiring “How can we expect science students to concentrate fully on important subjects?” implies that moral education is of no importance to young Malaysians.

I would respectfully propose that moral values education is of paramount importance. However, the way in which moral education is presently taught, and absurdly tested, totally devalues the subject content and purpose.

Phang clearly describes a behaviourist pedagogical model of rote-learning and discrete-point testing that persists in the Malaysian moral values curriculum and from which all other subject areas have long since moved on.

Rahimah Haji Ahmad, in a 1998 article, Educational development and reformation in Malaysia: past, present and future, lucidly explains and defines values education and the benefits to society and young people.

The article substantiates the need for moral values to be embedded within a school’s curriculum, and states that “values are to be taught at all levels, to enable the students to be continuously and consistently infused with them” which will “help produce good citizens who can make decisions and are responsible members of the society, and able to cope with moral issues in the modern world” (p. 467).

It would be futile to argue that moral education should not be a fundamental tenet within the hidden and taught/learned curriculum of any learning institution.

I am a lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus and currently teaching a curriculum studies course for first year undergraduate education students.

As an assessable assignment, my students are engaged in designing a mini-curriculum within moral values education.

This work emanated from the student-generated recognition of the futility of the present curriculum. They described a system that was, as Phang also stated, time-consuming and worthless, albeit with important academic consequences.

It is difficult to understand how a system that was criticised 14 years ago by Rahimah, when stating “this may in the end be a futile exercise of reciting the values”, can persist today, even when all contemporary (and not so) empirical evidence proves that a pedagogical model of rote-learning and regurgitating of exact, word-for-word facts is outmoded and ineffectual.

Is it not time, then, to re-examine moral values education and consider, once again, the embedding of values within subjects, allowing students to construct a clear and functional understanding of values which can be “tested” through far more appropriate and valuable means?

In this way, Phang’s son can develop into a morally empathetic scientist with values that are cognisant of the subject of science and of our society.