The Story of the Nation
I attended "A Conversation with Professor Anthony Milner" on the topic of "Constructing and Contesting Malaysian History: Towards Responsible Writing and Teaching of History for Nation Building" organised by Kairos Research Centre this evening. It is a discussion based on the recently raised concerns when the Ministry of Education requires students to obtain a compulsory pass in History in the national Form 5 examinations, SPM.
History never held an interest for me until several years ago when I felt that my lack of knowledge in it resulted in a pallid understanding of events of the world. In my schooldays, I studied history in a rote manner and only of the Malaysian history, not anything beyond that - I never knew much about the enlightenment, the various inquisitions, or the wars. Only as I grew up and began to read more serious works had I realise that I lack in the understanding of the stories behind the times and the events as I encountered them.
As such, I attended the session with a sense of unfamiliarity. I had problems trying to take in and digest the horde of information and dialogue that went on. However, I came away with a renewed interest to ensure that my son will have a better exposure to the subject of History that I did. But I am not sure yet what I can do.
Firstly, I think I should get myself up-to-date with regards to the History textbooks in our national curriculum. For one, the textbooks do not favour an inclusive history and concentrates much on just one race, the Malays. We need to have textbooks that tells the story of the nation in an inclusive manner that will ignite an emotive fervour in all students of all races in Malaysia that will work towards nation building. We need an inclusive story of our nation that is respectful to the Malays, Chinese and Indians.
Secondly, I need to find out how the subject is being taught in schools, but I wonder how I can make that happen. A proper teaching of the subject can provoke passionate and emotive discussion about not only what happened but what it meant to the students today. We need more than rote and flat learning, without getting involved in the story of the nation. This reminds me of an excellent movie I watched some time ago, The Freedom Writers. It is based on a true account of a new and enthusiastic teacher who was placed in a classroom to teach kids from the ghettos and gangs. The classroom was akin to a world with borders drawn between the Hispanics, Asians, Blacks and one white student. She had to engaged them, she needs to teach them. She finally succeeded, by touching their lives with the stories of people in similar situations as they were. She used the Hollocaust event, brought them to visit the Hollocause museum, have them meet survivors of concentration camps and had them read The Diary of Anne Frank.
We need a more inclusive account of our Malaysian history and we need a more involving approach to teaching it. Only then will we build our youngsters with a sense of love and pride for the country from the stories of heros and heroines of all races.