A response to Rafizi Ramli – Aerie Rahman

JULY 22 – In an article dated July 22, Rafizi Ramli admirably tried to defend the forced implementation of  TITAS in private tertiary institutions. His primary argument is that TITAS being made compulsory is a vehicle that is able to promote greater understanding among the various cultures in Malaysia.

Rafizi dissected the content of TITAS and concluded that the implementation would be of benefit to all. I would like to commend Rafizi’s direct clarification on this matter. Unlike Khairy Jamaluddin who only tweeted on this issue, Rafizi recognises the importance of discourse that is not confined to mere sound bytes and ipse dixit assertions.

I agree with Rafizi that if there is an issue with the syllabus, we should amend it to make TITAS palatable to all cultures. This is a practical point and not a principle concession. If Islamisation is the problem like what Dr Lim Teck Ghee is worried about, then the syllabus should be revamped to ensure that Islamisation doesn’t happen.

However, my concern with Rafizi’s article is twofold. Rafizi did not address the negative consequences of compulsion. Rafizi also failed to answer the point of practicality; does TITAS have any utility to students, who need to accumulate essential skills to secure a job upon graduation.

The preliminary point that I would make about TITAS is that it is merely a cosmetic solution. We must firstly look at the structural problems that Malaysia has on ethnic relations.

Affirmative action policies still endure despite being imposed since the 1970s. Racial inequality in terms of wealth is still pervasive. Vernacular schools – a bastion of segregation – are alive and well.

The civil service is bloated with one ethnic group. Deserving secondary students are unscrupulously denied places in local universities by virtue of their ethnicity.

Against this backdrop, the implementation of TITAS is a mockery of all the ethnic problems that Malaysia is facing. Instead of trying to have a discourse on the problems that we have, we shove down people’s throats the need to hug each other, while knives are still sticking at our backs. Real understanding only comes in trying to solve structural issues.

Rafizi’s argument on the need for greater intercultural understanding is made in good faith. But as the timeless saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We must not only look at the end, but also the means to that end. In this case the means – being compulsion – is an undesirable one.

It is unfortunate that Rafizi did not address the issue of compulsion. Rafizi’s logic is that if we make a course mandatory, students will automatically internalise the content and understanding would be fostered.

In form, yes, the government would be able to record that 100% of students are learning TITAS.

But in substance, the amount of people internalising what they learn is minimal. Even if they do

internalise it, they’re just doing it to pass the exam and when that’s over, forget about it. There’s no incentive to follow up on what you learn. Thus, what you learn is eroded by time.

Inversely, I would argue that by making a subject compulsory, students would trivialise the subject and reject it. They’ll drag their feet to classes and make a mockery out of the subject.

Is it justified to treat university students as if they are still children? Aren’t they supposed to be adults who are rational enough to decide for themselves?

The philosophy of compulsion stems from the belief that we are superior to another and hence are justified in forcing the other. This might be true in lower education. Children are in their formative years and hence would better appreciate the content of cross cultural understanding. Heck, most remain blissfully unaware of the structural problems that I have mentioned.

I firmly believe that the state should only play a supervisory role and not an authoritarian role in society. Sincere understanding happens from bottom-up and not top-down. Rafizi’s case of working in an accountancy firm is an example of bottom-up approaches. Campaigns, optional courses and inter faith dialogues are catalysts to greater understanding. Not compulsion.

Of course cultural integration is needed when we start working (probably not in the civil service). It is important that we prevent and are competent to diffuse interracial tensions while at work. However, university students are anxious about maximising their academic capabilities. Companies do not complain that there is a lack of intercultural understanding at work. They complain that graduates do not have the necessary skills to do the task at hand.

I apologise if I am unable critique the TITAS syllabus. I’ve exhausted my search and am unable to find any of the TITAS content here in the internet or here in London (a blessing?).

Nevertheless, I do recall that during my time as a UiTM student, I was forced to learn the Islamic Hadhari values, since Pak Lah was in power. Naturally, I heard that the syllabus was modified when Pak Lah was replaced.

My concern is not about politics. It’s about fighting for local university students to be given autonomy. This is because a corollary of autonomy is dignity. The “we know better than students” is an arrogant worldview that was also used to justify AUKU sometime back.

University is the best time of any individual’s life. Don’t mar that by disrespecting the choices tha we want to make.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.