Reform TITAS to ensure fair and balanced teaching of civilisation studies

— Lim Teck Ghee and Din Merican
The Malay Mail Online
JULY 23, 2013

JULY 23 — We owe a debt of gratitude to Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli and other supporters of the proposed Islamic and Asian Civilisation Studies (TITAS) course for opening the Pandora’s box on the educational value and desirability of this officially decreed course previously imposed on public universities and now planned to be extended to private universities.

For now, there has been nothing offered by way of justification or in defence of the course design by the Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his subordinate, Higher Education Department director-general Morshidi Sirat, to allay the concern that the introduction of the course is politically motivated to serve the ruling government’s agenda, and not the interest of our young.

We should have no illusions that even with the spotlight of public criticism strongly on it, the authorities will not continue with the planned enforcement of the course. The political stakes are too high for the minister of education, soon contesting the Umno elections, to do an about-turn.

Recognising that it is well-nigh impossible to expect the authorities to withdraw its proposal, we urge Rafizi and others in favour of the course to support the following measures to ensure that TITAS does not become another platform to load our young with politically, racially or religiously skewed knowledge. A narrowly conceived, ethnocentric and politically biased TITAS is counter-productive in a world characterised by diversity and pluralism and in our homeland which is one of the major cultural and civilisation crossroads of Asia.

If indeed the intention is noble and aimed at instilling cross cultural learning and appreciation of the major civilisations of the region among all students, Malays and non-Malays, surely no one in their right mind will object to the safeguards below to ensure that this intention is achieved and not subverted.

Proposals for reforming TITAS and ensuring transparency and public accountability in its implementation

1. Make the course an optional and not a compulsory one in both public and private universities

2. Post the present content of the required course on a website that is accessible to the public and request for feedback on it. This should include any compulsory textbook requirements and other special conditions imposed by the ministry

3. Do away with the system of ministry-ordained recommended or required texts written by half baked or officially-sanctioned academics in favour of one which allows the use of diverse authoritative texts

4. Permit the use of English as a medium of instruction for the course in both public and private universities to encourage exposure to the rich corpus of English-language material. The insistence on Malay as the language of instruction in private institutions is unreasonable as students should be allowed to study in the language that they are most conversant with, especially on what is held up to be such a critical subject. Also the ministry is not defraying the costs of the course and has no right to impose such a condition.

5. Appoint a team of independent education experts to undertake an open review of the current course content and teaching methods

6. Introduce changes to ensure that what is being taught is inclusive of all civilisations — great and little. The pre-Islamic civilisation of Malaysia including that stemming from our Orang Asli and Orang Asal heritage which has been marginalised in our educational system needs to be given a special place

7. Since Islam had its origin as a religion in the Middle East, its inclusion in the course on Asian civilisations needs to be justified.

8. Strive to have multi-racial and multi-religious teams of lecturers and instructors to conduct the course. This will be the best check against racial or religious bias in any form and help to ensure inter-racial understanding and academic balance.

We emphasise that our fears of the course being hijacked by prejudiced and opportunistic politicians and bureaucrats as well as partisan lecturers are real and not imaginary. We have seen this happen time and again with various compulsory courses run by the government agencies and in the schooling system.

Besides what we have proposed above, key stakeholders such as the vice-chancellors of public and private universities must use their positions and authority to carve out autonomous positions. They must honour their mission of providing relevant and quality education by ensuring that any ministry-required compulsory course is free from political interference and political bias, and has primarily or purely educational and intellectual reasons to account for their inclusion in the university curriculum.

Vice-chancellors of private universities in particular should not take the easy way out or pander to the dictates of the authorities on TITAS just so their teaching licences are easily renewed, and other government-required approvals are expedited. Their students are paying hard-earned money to receive a non-state sponsored education. They are entitled to a TITAS course that is balanced and free from the blinkers and bias shackling the national educational system.

Finally, to ensure that TITAS and other ministry-imposed courses lead to the opening and blossoming rather than closing of young minds, we need transparency, accountability and a vigilant public. We cannot expect it from the Ministry of Education or from politicians who may have been lulled into false optimism based on their educational experiences abroad.

  1. #1 by Loh on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 - 9:45 am

    ///Wee: Varsity intake system ‘more quota than quota’///–Malaysiakini

    Actually it is quota upon quota. First only 10% non-Malays got into matriculation course where there are 3500 students wgo have obtained the perfect score, and Matric students are given admission preference. The number of persons with 4A in HSC are in the hundreds.

    HSC is a two year course after form 5, and Matric only one year. The certificates are of equivalent standard, so the Ministry of Education and the universities in Malaysia claim. If everything else are the same, the Matric students must be superior to HSC students not only because they can complete the study in half the time, but they have a higher proportion of students getting the perfect score. In that case, do we need quota? We don’t, and that is how the Education ministry has introduced the merit system which practices quota upon quota; it is not quota and is called meritocracy BN style.

  2. #2 by sheriff singh on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 - 1:58 pm

    Notice how many parts of the country’s history have been given scant treatment or have been omitted totally.

    Like Bujang Valley, Langkasuka, and the periods we were under the Buddhist and Hindu empires like SriVijaya, Majapahit, Chams, Ankor, Ayutthya, the Sailendras and so on. We were also under the protection of and were the vassal states of Siam and China and even the Brunei Sultanate and had to pay annual protection money, sorry, tributes to them.

    What has happened to our early Hindu civilisation under Kota Gellangi? It was discovered recently and quickly forgotten or hidden away.

  3. #3 by sheriff singh on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 - 2:09 pm

    I propose that all our Bachelor courses be increased from 3 to 4 years.

    The first year should be a compulsory and common year for all students. It should be a year spent on Liberal studies to broaden the minds and outlook of all students before the students start their formal studies.

    Alternatively, there should be compulsory Liberal Studies elective subjects in all three years in addition to the formal compulsory subject majors.

    This is already practised in many progressive and top-notch foreign universities, including in the ‘Little Red Dot’. Our graduates need to be more well rounded students and not narrow-minded nerds.

  4. #4 by sheriff singh on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 - 2:24 pm

    Take Singapore’s universities as a quick example. Apart from core subjects, students can take subjects that interest them and complement their ‘core’, from other faculties. They can in a way, tailor their degrees and enrich their education. Most American universities allow this and students there can sign up for courses that enrich their education. They are generally free to select from a wide variety of courses and graduate to do a specialised degree for which they would be very well prepared academically and mentally.

  5. #5 by unmalaysian2013 on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 - 1:43 am

    IF TITAS should be implemented and I am assuming there is tangible goodwill here, the best place to start is with the civil service (after hours) especially in view of the shabby treatment the Dept of Education has dished out to one particular school where non-muslim children are forced to go to the Toilet to have their meals. Its unthinkable in modern Islamic country where fellow muslims could treat non-muslims in such undignified ways.

  6. #6 by waterfrontcoolie on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 - 9:10 am

    You can be assured that many SPM school leavers have no idea of any history; the purpose is more missionary than truth and lessons to be learned from history. With geography being made not important, our students are not far from those ignorant USA high school students. Many can’t even name all the Asean Countries! not to talk about what happen around the rest of the world. We have created a majority of the population who love the materials of the 21st Century but prefer to hide in the 7th century scenario! By now, we should know where we are heading to! Down South not to the little DOT but on the graph!

  7. #7 by balance88 on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 - 10:21 am

    I observed that many people, intellects, politicians, public figures, and others are trying to put up an intelligent spin to support or criticize the compulsory implementation of TITAS. As a parent with 2 children in private universities, my question is – WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THE EXTRA TITAS COURSE WHICH DOES VERY LITTLE IN PREPARING STUDENTS FOR WORKING LIFE ?????

    To those who thinks TITAS is beneficial in preparing students for working life, you are being very naive. University students are no longer kids and they have their own ideas and opinions and one course like TITAS does not change their thinking.


    My children are on study loans and we end up paying extra because someone thought that it would be good to standardize courses and they thought non-muslims need to understand Islamic civilization more. If you want non-muslims to appreciate Islamic cultures and civilization more, encourage more interaction between muslims and non-muslims and lead by example, i.e. muslims leaders behaving properly, responsibly and sensibly and fairly.


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