The Role of Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan in Shaping the Future of Malaysian Education


by Dzulkifli Abdul Razak


The focus of an education philosophy is a quest for truth to give a deeper meaning to life. It allows for the nurturing of self-consciousness in embracing life that can serve as a beacon for illuminating the philosophy of education. This is becoming increasingly important given the myriad demands exerted on education today (including by the Education 2030 framework), beyond the logic of economics alone in articulating the true purpose of education. The lack of concern in providing the “right” perspective so that education is not alienated from its rightful role must therefore be addressed. Otherwise, we face a huge risk of jeopardising the future especially in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world.

The National Philosophy of Education (NEP, Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan, 1996) is well-placed to deal with many of these issues, but only if it is keenly followed through as discussed in this paper, in which several existing gaps that could impact the goals of the NEP are highlighted. The aim is to create a certain level of awareness in ensuring that its noble intentions are firmly entrenched, if not further enhanced, in meeting current challenges and future demands. Even more important is to prevent the aims and purposes of education from being eroded both in letter and spirit. And these aims should be aligned as much as possible to the new demands of the 21st century, namely that of the Sustainable Development Goals so that the desired targets are fully met and NEP continues to be relevant.

To achieve this, it is imperative to arrive at a new worldview that will secure both the future of the nation and humanity as a whole.


NEP at a glance
As a general framework, the NEP captures at least five major premises:

  1. Ensuring education is a perpetual endeavour and a continuous, holistic,
    and integrated process;
  2. Improving individual potential comprehensively to nurture an individual
    who is balanced and harmonious, based on the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual (PESI) nexus;
  3. Deepening faith and submission to God;
  4. Achieving kesejahteraan diri — an indigenous concept of complete state
    of being (sejahtera) in learning a sejahtera way of life; and
  5. Contributing back by creating a harmoniously developed family, community, and nation.

Implicit in the above are the following universal targets:

  1. Access to education
  2. Equal opportunity (equity) in education
  3. Quality of education
  4. Efficiency and effective delivery of (sejahtera) education.

In other words, the NEP also supports the above universal targets with emphasis on sejahtera as its core concept and worldview.
First established in 1988 and later revised in 1996, the NEP reads as follows:

Succinctly, education in Malaysia is a perpetual endeavour (continuous, holistic, integrated) towards the development of individual potential as a whole and their integration in efforts to create individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced and harmonious, founded upon faith and submission to God. These efforts are to produce Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable, virtuous, responsible, and capable of achieving personal well-being (kesejahteraan diri) and able to contribute towards the harmony and development of their family, community, and country.

The revisions do not alter the intent of the original understanding of the NEP, but instead they strengthen it even more by adding the “competent” aspect in the revised version. At the same time, the revisions broaden the idea of citizenship with the use of the word “people”. The result is to push the boundaries of education to be more global and to encompass humanity in meeting the new demands of the 21st century, demands that include globalisation, (neo-)liberalism, internationalisation, climate change, and global warming. Revising the NEP involved scrutiny of planned programmes and projects so that they could be prepared, renewed, strengthened, restructured, or reformed, while ensuring that the humanistic aspects were kept intact, namely the five premises of the NEP to nurture people who are not only educated but also of virtuous character and balanced.

In 2007, the National Higher Education Strategic Plan (Pelan Strategik Pendidikan Tinggi Negara, PSPTN) was launched by the then prime minister. In general, the strategic plan concentrated on implementing and achieving seven core thrusts, but unfortunately made no mention or reference to the FPK. They are:

  1. Widening access and increasing equity
  2. Improving the quality of teaching and learning
  3. Enhancing research and innovation
  4. Empowering institutions of higher learning
  5. Intensifying internationalisation
  6. Enculturation of lifelong learning
  7. Reinforcing the delivery systems of the Ministry of Higher Education

These core values were formulated based on the contents of the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP), and they took into consideration the desire to achieve Vision 2020 and the need to increase capacity in innovation. It was a recognition that the ecosystem needed to keep abreast with global trends and the social landscape of tomorrow. However, when the higher education blueprint was crafted in 2015 (PPPM-PT, 2015–2025) embracing six student aspirations, the NEP was reinstated as the basis for the proposed transformation. This put in place the primary attributes of ethics and spirituality, leadership skills, national identity, language proficiency, higher-order thinking skills, and knowledge. The emphasis on the balance between both knowledge and skills, as well as good character, ethics and morality, became the main thrust.


The challenge
The main challenge therefore is to ensure that the fundamental objectives of the education system, as initially intended by the NEP, remain intact, namely to nurture a balanced individual. An example of a challenge comes when we look at the term “human capital”, which in fact suggests the opposite idea. Perhaps there are those that would like to recognise “human capital” as a trait of a balanced individual, but the context is probably different. The economist Theodore Schultz introduced this term in the 1960s, attempting to reflect the value of human ability as another model that was no different than any other market model. He believed that education and training could improve this ability and enhance quality as well as output. However, this takes a toll on nurturing a balanced (sejahtera) individual as understood from the perspective of the NEP, more so from that of the 17 SDGs. In both cases, the ultimate focus is to cultivate a balanced way of life beyond the logic of the market and to give equal emphasis to the environment as well as to the society.

This is especially relevant in understanding the dimensions of the human soul and heart, which function as main pillars in balancing human nature on several different levels. On one level, the heart becomes a mirror of the sincerity of the individual, comparable to an attentive compass in providing decisions and interpretations of being human. This aptly mirrors the saying that the “soul to education is in the education of the soul” in deepening faith and submission to God, as per the NEP. Unfortunately, concerns of this nature do not receive the necessary attention they deserve from the market.

In conclusion, we are reminded of what R. Miller, the editor of a well-known journal the Holistic Review, once wrote, as quoted by David Orr:

Our culture does not nourish that which is best or noblest in the human spirit. It does not cultivate vision, imagination, or aesthetic or spiritual sensitivity. It does not encourage gentleness, generosity, caring, or compassion. Increasingly in the late 20th century, the economictechnocratic-statist worldview has become a monstrous destroyer of what is loving and life-affirming in the human soul.

Dzulkifli Abdul Razak is Rector of International Islamic University Malaysia.

This article first appeared in the print version of HESB Issue #06. Click here to read the full issue.

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