Hussein Ahmad, the passing of an education scholar — Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid

SEPTEMBER 8 — Professor Datuk Hussein Ahmad has taught at all levels of education, primary, and secondary, undergraduate, postgraduate. He has also been involved in the training of primary and secondary school principals, religious school heads and top civil servants.

He was a headmaster, a curriculum developer, a serious researcher, a policy maker, a university lecturer, a prolific writer, a consultant, a public intellectual and a civil servant. He had supervised many Masters and Doctoral students. He is a profound thinker and a role model for peers as well as the next generation of true educators. Among the important positions he held were the positions as Director of the Educational Planning and Research Division, and Director of Institute Aminuddin Baki, and Associate Professor in Universiti Sains Malaysia and Professor in University Malaya.

In the annals of Malaysian education there are so many people who have contributed so significantly in their times and contexts. There will never been an educator like Dr. Hussein who has lived in the service of education , growing up during the colonial years, receiving Islamic education and Malay education and then receiving training as a teacher in the Malaysian Teachers’ College in Brinsford, England. The generation of Malayan teachers trained in Brinsford and Kirkby were the education elites who understood the meaning of nationalism and patriotism against the background of the experiences of other societies, old Europe and the emergence of Afro-Asian and South American nations. The understood the horrors of  the Second World War, especially the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and other cities, and then, the Cold War realities.

With the fervour of independence and building a nation and a united society, he understood the primary and significant role of education and the development of literacies, competencies, capacities and other human potentialities. At the personal level, he understood what it means to be in gratitude and to be aware of the privilege to obtain the highest education when millions of people were illiterate, uninformed and even ignorant. He was one of the few selected to pursue his masters and doctoral degrees in Stanford University, one of the Ivy League University, in the United States. Few people had the opportunity to study in Stanford.

As a student in schools and universities, he was a serious student who wanted to master knowledge and then apply the knowledge mastered in the various roles he exercised. This passion for learning nurtured an encyclopaedic mind. His experiences in the nation and abroad fostered the cultivation of positive, open, inclusive, and versatile mind-set. We could never tire listening to him because he has so many ideals and ideas he was always keen to share. Ask him any educational question; he would answer systematically, in rational and reflective mode of thinking. His analyses will encompass history, sociology, culture, politics, educational philosophy, policies and principles.

He is always with seriousness of wit and humour and tongue-in cheek, when dealing with very sensitive and controversial educational and national matters. He had a contagious laughter, his wit inviting people to look at an issue from out of the box and non-typical perspective. He had to approach various educational matters gingerly in dealing with political leaders whose agenda may not always be in the interest of students, the profession or the nation. Dr. Hussein was a loyal civil servant who was proud to serve the nation with love and honour. He was loyal to his peers, colleagues and staff.

He understood well the challenges of dealing with organizational conflicts between the services and the changes of styles and focus in the educational system when there were changes of top leadership. He was his own person but he has served at least 12 Directors Generals of Education and almost an equal number of the Secretaries Generals of Education. He had also worked under 10 Ministers of Education. To serve in a Ministry with so many different leaders focusing on different domains is an onerous task. The task becomes more challenging when he had to be true to the education profession and uphold its integrity and ideals.

He had written many many speeches for top educational leaders from politics and the education and civil service bureaucracies. He is one of the longest serving education officers in the Educational Research and Planning Unit of the Ministry of Education. He has written scores of speeches for Ministers of Education, Director General of Education and other political and civil service leaders. For instance, while he was leading EPRD as a Planning and Research division, he has always seen and influenced the division to be a think tank for the government.

He was also a committed leader of professional organizations such as the Senior Educators Associations and the Malaysian Association for Education.  All along his career, he encouraged the establishment of professional societies, associations, and clubs. An a leader of the MAE, for instance, he went to Indonesia to contribute to forge linking and bonding with Indonesia’s Persatuan Guru Republic Indonesia (PGRI), the largest Teachers organization in the region.

In UNESCO, Paris, where he served after retirement, he did Malaysia proud in his contributions at the global level to plan for and formulate various UNESCO agenda. In that capacity he assisted educators from developing nations to chart out their educational futures realistically, by studying and adapting the best policies and practices proven useful in other countries. In the global fora, he influenced many leaders from developed nations to understand the educational and development challenges of less developed nations. He left his scholarly and profound philosophic and practical mark in UNESCO during his service there and did the country proud. He ensured that educators in the nation share his experiences by writing the book, The Mandate of UNESCO, and the Challenge of Globalization (Utusan Publications, 2001).

Dr Hussein had written many books. For instance, to understand the nature of society and education he had earlier written; Education and Society: Between policy, reform and vision, (Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka, 1993); His seminal work, his magnum opus is a book which should be read by ministers, parliamentarians, academicians, stakeholders, and leaders from all domains, that is, The Mission of Public Education in Malaysia –the Challenge of Transformation (University Malaya Press, 2012). He has written hundreds of papers and presented keynote addresses in the nation and internationally. He was always meticulous in his works, making sure of accuracy and no grammatical, semantic, stylistic or spelling mistakes. He was conscientious in his thinking, conceptualizing, research and writings as he was in human relationships.

He is a gentle leader with the highest ethics and integrity. He chooses the way of wisdom in resolving problems and does not see other people in negative perspective but chooses to see the best in others.  Wherever he served, he encourage people to achieve their highest potentialities and ensure life-work balance. He was always engaged in mentoring and coaching to ensure good succession planning. While he sets himself the highest standards he understands that people are at different stages of development and do make various kinds of mistakes. Regardless of the nature of mistakes, he was always forgiving

He was a devout Believer and could be seen every morning, while still dark, walking to the community mosque for the Subuh prayers. Although he was a devout believer, he had never looked down on others. While he engaged in religious discussions, he was not judgemental but lived a simple life for others to follow by example. He was always calm, focused and set to achieve what was planned and decided upon. He was non controversial and his piety was in honour of God and to serve God. He was conscious of the balance of life and the rights of all creatures, keeping good relations with all others.

His mind is education, education and education. All along, he searches for ways and means to solve educational problems. In the same breadth, he initiates programmes and projects to innovate in education. Among the community of policy-makers, he was the lead thinker with powerful Conceptual capacities and strong imaginations regarding possible futures. He built his capacities in Malay school, in Brinsford, in University Malaya, in Stanford, USA, in UNESCO in France, and in his travels presenting papers around the globe. He is one of the very few educators in the country who served both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education, indeed a unique achievement. He charted the path of lifelong contribution for fellow educators by continuing to contribute as Professor in University Malay after his retirement. For his lifetime of significant contributions, he was awarded the Tokoh Guru, the highest award for those in the teaching service.

He was one of the few persons we could discuss education and matters of development, rationally, objectively. He enjoys discourse when we think profoundly about the aims and values of education. He was clear that we should derive our theories of education from our philosophy of life. Interacting with him is interacting with a kind and considerate and inspiring philosopher. With the passing away of  Professor Hussein Ahmad, the profession lost its passionate professional, the nation lost an exemplary highly educated citizen, the academic world lost a scholar, the educational bureau lost an experience and dedicated civil servant, the education research enterprise lost its lead researcher in education, colleagues lost a fine friend, and younger educators lost a motivator, coach, mentor, role model. We have reached a stage when there is enough body and corpus of knowledge and indigenous leadership to understand profoundly the purpose of education. The study of his works and his biography will inspire colleagues and the next generation of scholar teachers.  In tangible and intangible ways, he had contributed to national development, understanding profoundly the nature of a united nation and society to be developed through education.

When educators die, they leave their students, their knowledge, their legacy and heritage. It is hoped that his sixteen grandchildren will find strength in understanding the significance of their grandfather, personal narrative and in the history of educational development and national development in the nation.

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

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