Since the new format and structure for teaching and learning Civic Education involve a holistic approach and integrating the topics into the lessons in subjects such as Bahasa Melayu, English, Moral Education, History and Moral Education, I plan to have one of the topics integrated into my upcoming English lesson. Ever since the bill was passed to lower down of the voting age to 18 years old, as a teacher, I think I become a strong advocate for Civic and Citizenship Education in schools. However, as I was browsing through the topics and themes in the ‘Manual Kesedaran Sivik dan Amalan Nilai Murni Dalam Kalangan Murid Sekolah Menengah’, I was left a bit disappointed with its implementation and how the themes and topics could be taught and learned. What concerns me is in the aspect of learning outcome – what kind of citizens will we produce? Or rather, what ideal citizen MUST the students become for the government?
Westheimer and Kahne (2004) have elaborated on the three types of citizens. The first type is ‘The personally responsible citizen’ who acts responsibly for his/her community by doing acts such as obeying the law, giving blood, and recycling. The second type of citizen is ‘the participatory citizen’ who is active in participating in the civic affairs and the social life of the community at local, state, and national levels. The third type of citizen is ‘the justice-oriented citizen’ who has the inclination to analyse and understand the interplay of social, economic, and political forces that might have caused injustice within a society.
From what I have analyzed based on the contents in the ‘Manual Kesedaran Sivik dan Amalan Nilai Murni Dalam Kalangan Murid Sekolah Menengah’, it mostly aims to produce ‘the personally responsible citizen’. Weinberg and Flinders (2018) argued that such aims is not enough to advance a democracy. The limitation of a ‘personally responsible citizen’ is that it aims to produce desirable traits but not about democratic citizenship. If the teaching and learning of Civic Education solely focuses on these traits, it will only impede rather than make room for democratic participation and change.
As I was planning my lesson plan on free speech under the core value of ‘responsibility’ which was based on the curriculum specifications, I noticed the descriptions on the part of the civic literacy which consists of citizenship knowledge, citizenship character/attitude, and citizenship competence do not make room to question how the country actually goes about implementing rights of free speech. Therefore, the syllabus does not aim to produce ‘the justice-oriented citizen’. It also does not have any indication of producting ‘the participatory citizen’. This type of citizen has the essential role to pursue social justice in order to advance human rights and democracy. Examples in Malaysia include ‘Women’s March’ and ‘Bersih Rally’. Being a member of non-governmental organizations such as ‘All Women’s Action Society (AWAM Malaysia)’ and ‘ Malaysia Reform Initiative (MARI)’ is also one of the potential characteristics of a participatory citizen.
I conclude that our education system, through the new structure and implementation of Civic Education, only aims to produce citizens who obey the law and never question them. I will end this piece with a quote by a mid 20th Century political theorist, Hannah Arendt who wrote about how being indifferent or blindly obeying the law would be akin to letting evil (in this case, injustice) to perpetuate – ‘Under conditions of tyranny it is far easier to act than to think.’
Weinberg, J., & Flinders, M. (2018). Learning for democracy: The politics and practice of citizenship education. British Educational Research Journal, 44(4), 573–592. doi: 10.1002/berj.3446
Westheimer, J., & Kahne, J. (2004). What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy. American Educational Research Journal, 41(2), 237–269. doi: 10.3102/00028312041002237