Aerie Rahman presents his case against the newly-compulsory TITAS subject.
“Hell is other people.” – Jean-Paul Sartre
“Kehadiran adalah diwajibkan (Attendance is compulsory),” droned the voice from the loudspeaker, hampering my evening plans. With a flick of a pen making attendance compulsory, any modicum of choice I had was torn to bits.
Making things mandatory is synonymous to how things work in Malaysian public universities. Students usually accept it, albeit grudgingly. Some try to get around it by getting others to sign the attendance on one’s behalf. Usually, the supposed penalty for rebelling against compulsory events or courses can result in the inability to graduate from university.
It would be unthinkable for UK universities to make certain courses mandatory (other than the one you are taking). I cannot imagine being forced to attend a talk by an important member of the British National Party, extolling the virtues of coming from a cluster of islands. Imagine the revolt it would generate!
Hence, I greet the news that students in Malaysian private universities will now be forced to study Islamic and Asian Civilisation Studies (TITAS) with distaste. For me, it’s not only about non-Muslims having to learn about Islamic studies. The effect of compulsion doesn’t distinguish between races. Muslim students should be given the latitude to study or not study TITAS as well.
Is TITAS necessary? In our secondary school history textbooks, the incredible story of Melaka and its Islamisation has been incessantly repeated from Form 1 to Form 5. We’ve also been educated about how Islam came to South East Asia. That’s the point of the history subject in secondary schools: so that we can acknowledge our past and understand how we got “here”.
Shouldn’t that be enough? If you were to teach students about Islam and its teachings, that would amount to proselytising. This shouldn’t happen in any university. MCA’s proposal to include other faiths in TITAS is worse. People go to university to get a job, not to get a religion.
Secondly, is TITAS necessary for university students? I hardly think I would be using the knowledge that TITAS conveys once I start working in a factory. A graduate requires technical knowledge and also communication skills. These are more practical and directly beneficial to an individual’s development in the workforce. The market is uninterested in one’s knowledge of religion.
There are many problems when you make something unnecessary compulsory. Well, the fact that it has to be made compulsory shows that there is a fear that it won’t be popular in the first place. Bureaucrats are scared that if a course is initiated and its undertaking is voluntary, classrooms would be empty save for a dedicated few. It implies rejection.
Too bad, then. That’s how the free market works. We are after all talking about private institutions. The onus is on those who designed the course to make it interesting and thought-provoking enough for the customers i.e. the students.
I think that when you start shoving things down people’s throats, you won’t achieve the goal that you desire. In fact, the inverse is true. Students won’t take kindly to being forced to attend a course that they didn’t choose. People will not only drag their feet to the dreaded TITAS class, they’ll want to resist — most of the time subtly.
The methods of resistance that students would undertake would be by trivialising and ridiculing the subject. In order to pass the time in class when bored, students won’t pay attention but just mock what is being taught to them. This would only mean that the subject itself is devalued and placed in a position of inferiority by the students. TITAS might be labelled as a forced subject.
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, 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.
Forcing people to study something is like treating university students as if they were kids. Please. The fact is we need to accord them a certain degree of respect in choosing what they want to learn.
We trumpet the achievements of our public universities. One even labels itself a world class university despite denying access to citizens on the basis of their ethnicity. But not a single one even makes it on the world universities rankings. I don’t think more compulsion would bump us up.
When people do the things that they want out of passion, that’s when optimum results can be realised. Here in the UK, I pore over books on Foucault, Sartre and other thinkers out of my own free time, just for the love of it. The education system here is amazing in that it stimulates your interest and gives you the independence to explore it on your own.
We go to talks out of our own volition. We are treated like adults, capable of assessing our inadequacies and to remedy it accordingly. We don’t need some bureaucrat to tell us what we lack.
It’s high time for the Malaysian gerontocracy to stop being arrogant. Telling us what to do indicates superiority. They should start listening to our demands. It’s simple as that.
Featured image sourced from Nottingham University Malaysia.