Education Is About Facts Not Government Propaganda

The Education Ministry has launched an investigation into the international school that staged a student performance about the negative impacts of palm oil for “spreading propaganda”.

Education director-general Datuk Dr Amin Senin said the Ministry viewed “anti-palm oil propaganda activities” seriously.

He said that the investigation into the private institution is in accordance with the Education Act 1966 (Act 550).

“The Ministry will not compromise with any propaganda and indoctrination in private institutions that tarnish the image and name of the country,” he said in a statement Wednesday (July 3).

He added that the students’ involvement in the activity goes against the country’s policy.

“The Ministry will also release a reminder to all international schools to ensure that this does not happen again,” he said.

Our comment

Ministers should think long and hard before they threaten scientists and teachers, let alone accuse them of  propaganda, which is the activity most associated with those in political power – namely ministers themselves.

Education is the gift one generation passes to the next. Teachers opt for that humble role above all for the greater good, rather than the gratification of big salaries and grand opportunities for themselves (unlike so many politicians).

However, self-interested regimes will often seek to use it as propaganda, aiming to indoctrinate children to serve their own purposes (usually to perpetuate their power).

In enlightened societies, which was the point of the change of government at GE14, professional educators on the other hand will do their best to stick to facts and help children appreciate how their actions have consequences, in order to help them weigh up their own decisions in later years.

Across the developed world classrooms are grappling now, in particular, with global scientists’ growing understanding of the consequences of modern technical capabilities and the consequent mass resource grabs of recent decades. Capital has flowed into fishing, timber extraction, mass agriculture, mining and the burning of fossil fuels, with barely a thought given to the sustainable conservation of these resources or the effect on the atmosphere we breath.

The result is that the planet has tipped into a phase of mass extinction, as habitats are destroyed for animals… such as the orang utan and many others dependent on wild landscapes.  Another consequence is the extremely serious and rapid global warming now taking place.

Years of self-interested propaganda in Malaysia has encouraged educated people to reject these facts, many calling themselves ‘climate sceptics’ or suggesting that they should be allowed to engage in destructive practices because somebody else already did hundreds of years ago when such matters were less understood and far less urgent.

However, responsible teachers will of course now be seeking to explain the facts to Malaysian children along with Chinese and western children that the choices they make about how they treat the environment will not only affect other species, but themselves as well.

This is happening all over the free world, of which Malaysia is now supposed to be a part. Moreover, in a free country like Malaysia, blessed with professional teachers and a flexible curriculum, one should expect politicians to be very wary indeed of wading in with loud and opportunistic knee-jerk interferences in what those independent teachers say and do.

Neither is it clever at a time when Malaysia is negotiating over sustainability goals with customer countries. To publicly berate and threaten to sack professional teachers, whilst dismissing world-recognised scientific facts as ‘propaganda’ can only court disapproval. The teachers are disinterested in passing on these facts and received knowledge to their students, whereas it is the ministers who have a clear motive for propaganda as they defend the economic status quo.

Governments need to face up to the challenges of the day and not stick their heads in the sand or stone the scientists. The orang utan IS endangered, like so many other species, because their habitats have been destroyed by myriad human activities.  Children and adults need to understand that constant trade off and learn the importance of regulating our impact on the planet. Otherwise, the very immediate future for our own species is equally bleak.

That may upset major businesses, driven by capital incentives. However, responsible decision-makers need to balance those interests against the interests of those very children whose future is to a large extent dependent on honesty in their classrooms.

Teachers rightly believe that children ought to be told the truth about practices that will destroy future lives unless these problems are urgently recognised and addressed. Ministers should do their job in addressing those issues and leave teachers to do theirs.

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