Tuesday 06 Jun 2023
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This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on March 20, 2023 - March 26, 2023

Youth life, which is the experience of life when one is young, is not only an integral part of societal life viewed as a whole, but also a unique determinant of its health. A society invests heavily in youth life for the sake of a better future not only for the young as a distinct social group but rather for all its age groups. The common wisdom in all societies is that youth of today will be the leaders of tomorrow. Thus, in practically every country, it is this wisdom that provides the justification for the creation of ministries dedicated primarily to education and learning for youth and fulfilment of youth life in all its dimensions. 

Traditionally, investment in youth life and thought relies mainly on the official educational system as run by the state for its future returns. The assumption underlying this traditional social investment is the strong faith that the official educational system would be able to effectively deliver good returns for a society’s future well-being, both tangible and intangible, notwithstanding the various kinds of challenges that appear before it every now and then. Rather unfortunately, in many contemporary societies, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, this faith has been shattered.

Modern work culture that at first only encouraged but then later compelled practically every adult in the family to find a job, usually in the name of family security, has deprived society of its most reliable educational institution, namely home education in a real family environment. 

In many parts of our contemporary world, the traditional home and the traditional family environment have been disfigured. In modern society, we have reached a critical point in our socioeconomic development where the so-called formal education — in the form of state-run schools, colleges and universities, as well as their private counterparts — has assumed the function of being the sole provider of knowledge, skills and instructions for both personal and societal development. This is the reality rather than it being a complement to home education, albeit a major complement, as it should have been. This development has not proved to be healthy for society, and there is ample evidence gathered during the last several decades to show that its general impact on the world of education has been destructive, especially when seen from the perspectives of the traditional Islamic goals of education.

Philosophically speaking, formal education, whether public or private, is not meant to replace or take over the traditional role of the home or family as one of the providers of education in the production of the complete human person, no matter how indispensable formal education is to the progress of society. Informal home education too is indispensable to society. A society dispenses with it, willingly or unwillingly, only at its own peril! Indeed, from the institutional perspective, in order to produce the good human person as well as the good citizen, the traditional triad — family, school and community — is needed to play their complementary roles in education. In the light of the six drivers of Malaysia Madani, it is the collective task of religious, intellectual and political leaders to ensure that these three traditional educational institutions with their respective distinctive environments play their educational roles in the best complementary manner.

However, knowing the state of affairs the world is now in, this is easier said than done. Challenges abound for attempts at the restoration of the traditional triad. Each of the triad is facing its own challenges and problems that are increasing by the day. Problems affecting these three institutions have become so acute that some social thinkers are of the opinion that it is justifiable to speak of them as being in a state of crisis.

Regardless of whether one agrees that a real crisis point has been reached in the evolution of our modern education system, it is an undeniable fact that the health of our family, school and community institutions is fast deteriorating. Our society is also becoming less secure by the day not only in terms of jobs and financial standing but even in terms of our own physical security. As a result, more and more people are beginning to have doubts about the soundness and ability of our formal education system to guarantee a secure future for today’s young generation, despite the huge investments in the education sector not only in monetary terms but also in terms of human resources. 

Malaysia’s current state of societal sustainability is a cause for concern to a growing number of citizens. Presenting sustainability as the first pillar and driver of Malaysia Madani, the nation’s new social philosophy, is thus appropriate. It is a most welcome move. At least, it will inspire the nation to think more seriously about its declining societal health and how to reverse the worrying trend.

The resulting problem and its consequences for education may be stated as follows. As the great majority of parents, including young mothers, find themselves economically pressured to leave their homes for daily work to earn an income for the family, society faces the spectre of homes without real homemakers. What this means is that family-based home education is no longer a significant part of social reality. 

There is now a widespread realisation in societies transformed by modernisation that the traditional family-based home education has been marginalised to the periphery of society, if not entirely lost. To compensate for this great loss in family and societal life, working parents tried with the help of some social groups and institutions, including the government itself, to introduce a substitute — albeit a poor one — for the traditional homemaker in the form of the modern housemaid.

With the parents themselves having little faith in this poor substitute, quite often not even regarded as a good housekeeper, let alone as an effective educator of their young children, they began to adopt the new attitude of entrusting entirely to the schools of their children the task of providing them with a “complete education”. However, the reality is that, for many reasons, schools by themselves are hardly in a position to deliver this extremely important societal task. The new attitudinal change among parents regarding their role in the universally aspired complete education of their children is not at all for the better of society. 

Educational developments during the last several decades have demonstrated in a very clear manner that this parental attitudinal change, which is essentially negative in nature, has significantly contributed to the qualitative decline of education. This social fact supports the widely held claim that traditional family-based home education is indispensable to quality education and societal health. In practical terms, what this modern generation of parents is actually doing to their young children is none other than vacating their role as home educators that has been traditionally reserved for them. The core concern in this home education throughout human history prior to modern times is the transmission from parents and guardians to children in their care, the kind of knowledge, human values and practical guidance that would help guarantee the latter’s spiritual, intellectual and moral security in this very earthly life, what more in the posthumous life.

When it comes to this kind of security that is understood as something distinct from social and physical security and to the kind of knowledge and practice that is needed to achieve it, then it is home education that should bear the main responsibility of delivering the task. However, this traditional parental task has been abandoned. The abandonment of this traditional parental role to provide guarantees for the spiritual, moral and intellectual security of the next generation has resulted in the creation of a social vacuum that could never be entirely filled by schools and other educational outlets such as personal or group tuitions, whether these are held in or outside the home.

The foundation of the spiritual, moral and intellectual security of the young generation is to be built in the home. The expected complementary role of schools is to help strengthen this security for them. Admittedly, when it comes to intellectual security of the young generation, it is generally the schools more than the homes that should be at the forefront of organised and systematic efforts in the development and strengthening of this security. The goal of this training is to develop the resilience of the youth to the point of being able to ward off challenges and threats that come from the world of ideas and thoughts. 

One of the main aims of formal education as provided by the schools is to enable the young to acquire intellectual maturity and such rational virtues as honesty, certainty, objectivity and mental health through the development of the faculty of the intellect and reasoning. From the Islamic perspective, school education that is aimed at the attainment of intellectual health and security is therefore an important means of realising one of the classical purposes of Islam’s divine Law (maqasid al-shari’ah), namely the protection of human intelligence and mental health.

Datuk Dr Osman Bakar is emeritus professor, Al-Ghazali chair of epistemology and civilisational studies and renewal at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC-IIUM)

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