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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Problems with Existing Curriculum in Muslim Educational Institution

By Rosnani Hashim

A. Educational Institution

As a consequence of the Western influence, the university curriculums in Muslim countries are still compartmentalized into the various divisions of natural sciences, social sciences, applied sciences, humanities, and religious sciences, without having any core fundamental knowledge to bind them together and give them unity.

Each division maintains a watertight separation from the other divisions, thereby depriving all sciences of the foundational basis in faith. Without the guided intellect, there is every opportunity for man to become arrogant and ungrateful to his Creator, leading to transgression of natural laws and finally to environmental and personal destruction. This contradicts man's mandate as khalifah (vicegerency) on earth.
Similarly, because of compartmentalization, the faculty of religious studies is deprived of knowledge in the humanities and in the natural and social sciences, which are necessary for it to be a meaningful guide in contemporary life. Man's activities in this life determine his station in the Hereafter. There is every danger of man becoming narrow in thought and the door of ijtihad (personal reasoning) closing, resulting in the fiqh (jurisprudence) becoming restricted in scope and meaning.[1] Concentration on religious studies alone will not ensure man of other knowledges and skills necessary to confront the challenges of living, even the challenge of preserving faith, life, and property. This situation is not only true for the universities but also for the school system. Religious studies alone lead to an imbalance and an unintegrated educational system.

In reality, the curricular framework proposed above is not reflected in most Muslim educational institutions. Institutions in Muslim countries tend to subscribe to a curricular framework borrowed wholesale or partially from the West. In most cases such models are secular, do not possess a core or a center, and do not reflect the true nature of man or knowledge. Ironically, even American universities that subscribe to the general education curriculum, which has the purpose of producing the good man (that is, the man who makes right choices) have a core curriculum.[2] This core curriculum requires courses from each discipline: (1) literature and the arts, (2) history, (3) social and philosophical analysis, (4) science and mathematics, and (5) foreign languages and cultures. The curriculum has the goal of producing an educated man who is able to think and write effectively; to have a critical appreciation of the ways in which one gains knowledge and understands the universe, society and himself; to be informed of other cultures and other times; to have some understanding and experience concerning moral and ethical problems; and to have attained some depth in a field of knowledge.[3] Thus, in a sense, Western curricula are more well rounded than Islamic curricula. Even if there is a core, as in the case with most universities in Malaysia, it is based on pragmatic rather than intellectual or religious considerations. Probably the only exception is the International Islamic University, Malaysia, which designates some courses on Islamic Revealed Knowledge to be core courses and therefore, required of all students, whether they specialize in economics, law, engineering, education, architecture, or medicine.

Today, the selection of subject matter for the curriculum, especially in higher education, is obviously driven by utilitarian and pragmatic aims rather than by Islamic educational goals. The goal of fostering national development and of producing a good citizen has overridden that of human development and producing a good man. That the Malaysian Ministry of Education has overemphasized the applied sciences over the social sciences and humanities, as evident in the call for the 60:40 ratio for natural and applied sciences to social science and humanities in Malaysian universities, is a manifestation of national emphasis over individual development. Similarly, the establishment of specialized universities such as the University of Petroleum, the University of Telecommunications, the University of Energy, and (recently) the University of Industry in Malaysia is a reflection of the confusion and misunderstanding over the concept of a university, which, as the name implies, is concerned with the universals, the whole (jami'ah), and less with the particulars (kulliyy). Again, national economic development overrides holistic human development. The notion of the university as merely a factory producing products for national development was acutely felt when a directive was issued by the Malaysian higher educational authority to shorten the length of study from four to three years as a step to accelerate the production of manpower for national development.

B. Content

It is common knowledge that the content of the curriculum, that is, courses or subjects offered in Muslim educational institutions from the elementary to the tertiary levels, particularly in the acquired sciences - is borrowed from the Western, secular worldview. Thus the knowledge taught is devoid of religious values; even if it is not, it is filled instead with values that are frequently incompatible with the beliefs and values of the Islamic faith. Thus, in the long term, Muslim children are indoctrinated with alien values, primarily the idea of dualism of body and spirit, of truth, humanism, secularism, and tragedy.[4]

The curriculum has also not provided accurate and adequate learning experiences for the children in order to attain the educational objectives, aside from intellectual and physical development. The curriculum tends toward intellectual development at all levels of education, although studies on psychology and moral development have shown that good moral habits and character are inculcated at an early age. Piaget concluded from his studies that the stage of formal operation in which the cognitive ability is more mature only begins to form at the age of about eleven or close to the age of biological puberty. The book All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten illustrates the fact that for most of us, good moral habits and good character were developed in the first five years of life. Unfortunately, our curriculum designers have not been able to integrate the findings of these studies and philosophical reasoning into their plans.

Fortunately, most Muslim educational institutions provide Islamic religious instruction. Sometimes, however, the approach is rather theoretical and neglects the practical. For example, although a school might teach its students the importance of the five daily prayers, the procedures of performing them, their appropriate times, and so on, the school's formal and hidden curricula do not encourage their performance; no specific schedule or arrangement is specified in the school timetable, nor, in some cases, are the facilities provided.

Performing the prayer is left to the student's initiative. This could be good in an effort to teach responsibility and independence, but in most cases it discourages a student from praying, because he has to ask for permission from his teacher to leave the class for prayer. This is very crucial for those attending the afternoon sessions since they have to account for salat alzuhr (noon prayer) and 'asar (afternoon prayer) in school. The hidden curriculum seems to teach that moral virtues are only preached, not practiced.

The fact that our curriculum is gender blind is another manifestation of Western liberal influence. The curriculum shows no appreciation of the different needs of the learners by gender and roles. Both sexes have been treated "equally." Had the Qur'an and Sunnah been our reference point, female modesty and roles would have been emphasized in the curriculum, as would have been the male roles as the family breadwinners and protectors of women. The impending rise in social illnesses, one of the major contributors of which is the disintegrating family, has still not alarmed our policy makers. Therefore it would not be surprising if Toffler's prophecy on the new non-nuclear or non-extended family of the Third Wave (the Information Technology Age) will also hold true for that of Muslim nations.[5]

C. Educational Evaluation

As a consequence of the Western influence, the university curriculums in Muslim countries are still compartmentalized into the various divisions of natural sciences, social sciences, applied sciences, humanities, and religious sciences, without having any core fundamental knowledge to bind them together and give them unity.

Each division maintains a watertight separation from the other divisions, thereby depriving all sciences of the foundational basis in faith. Without the guided intellect, there is every opportunity for man to become arrogant and ungrateful to his Creator, leading to transgression of natural laws and finally to environmental and personal destruction. This contradicts man's mandate as khalifah, or vicegerent, on earth.

Similarly, because of compartmentalization, the faculty of religious studies is deprived of knowledge in the humanities and in the natural and social sciences, which are necessary for it to be a meaningful guide in contemporary life. Man's activities in this life determine his station in the Hereafter. There is every danger of man becoming narrow in thought and the door of ijtihad (personal reasoning) closing, resulting in the fiqh becoming restricted in scope and meaning. Concentration on religious studies alone will not ensure man of other knowledges and skills necessary to confront the challenges of living, even the challenge of preserving faith, life, and property. This situation is not only true for the universities but also for the school system. Religious studies alone lead to an imbalance and an unintegrated educational system.

In reality, the curricular framework proposed above is not reflected in most Muslim educational institutions. Institutions in Muslim countries tend to subscribe to a curricular framework borrowed wholesale or partially from the West. In most cases such models are secular, do not possess a core or a center, and do not reflect the true nature of man or knowledge. Ironically, even American universities that subscribe to the general education curriculum, which has the purpose of producing the good man (that is, the man who makes right choices) have a core curriculum. This core curriculum requires courses from each discipline: (1) literature and the arts, (2) history, (3) social and philosophical analysis, (4) science and mathematics, and (5) foreign languages and cultures. The curriculum has the goal of producing an educated man who is able to think and write effectively; to have a critical appreciation of the ways in which one gains knowledge and understands the universe, society and himself; to be informed of other cultures and other times; to have some understanding and experience concerning moral and ethical problems; and to have attained some depth in a field of knowledge. Thus, in a sense, Western curricula are better well-rounded than Islamic curricula. Even if there is a core, as in the case with most universities in Malaysia, it is based on pragmatic rather than intellectual or religious considerations. Probably the only exception is the International Islamic University, Malaysia, which designates some courses on Islamic Revealed Knowledge to be core courses and therefore, required of all students, whether they specialize in economics, law, engineering, education, architecture, or medicine.

Today, the selection of subject matter for the curriculum, especially in higher education, is obviously driven by utilitarian and pragmatic aims rather than by Islamic educational goals. The goal of fostering national development and of producing a good citizen has overridden that of human development and producing a good man. That the Malaysian Ministry of Education has overemphasized the applied sciences over the social sciences and humanities, as evident in the call for the 60:40 ratio for natural and applied sciences to social science and humanities in Malaysian universities, is a manifestation of national emphasis over individual development. Similarly, the establishment of specialized universities such as the University of Petroleum, the University of Telecommunications, the University of Energy, and (recently) the University of Industry in Malaysia is a reflection of the confusion and misunderstanding over the concept of a university, which, as the name implies, is concerned with the universals, the whole (jami'ah), and less with the particulars (kulliyy). Again, national economic development overrides holistic human development. The notion of the university as merely a factory producing products for national development was acutely felt when a directive was issued by the Malaysian higher educational authority to shorten the length of study from four to three years as a step to accelerate the production of manpower for national development.

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