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Love as a Pedagogy and Malaysia’s Philosophy of Education

Love. What a loaded word. As simple as what its literal meaning suggests, and as complicated as its many kinds of connotations and expressions. Every soul must have been affected by love, whether we are prepared to comprehend it or not. Some of us might seek to analyse it, while some prefer to simply immerse in its ambiguity. But, “at the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet”, so says Plato.

Thus, the subject of love could not have escaped philosophical scrutiny of the Classical Greek époque. Plato’s breakthrough work Symposium, characterized love as a series of elevations; love firstly takes form of the animalistic desire (eros), progresses to an intellectual experience (philia), and lastly to be overtaken by a theological vision of love (agape). Religion too provides resources to help conceptualize love, more holistic than those offered by philosophy and science (psychology or chemistry) given that they are either revealed or had stood the historical test of time. Christian teachings propagate love as emanation from god, manifested by the sacrifice of Christ to free his people of sins and reciprocated by Christians through acts of faith and devotion. Meanwhile, Buddhism was founded on love itself, of Buddha for mankind from destruction and self-inflicted impediments to freedom. The Quran, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w., the call to da’wah and centuries of exemplary way of life that preceded Islamic revelation provide Muslims with guidance and clues of how wide-encompassing the scope of love may be; that love for god, oneself, and one another underpin Islamic teachings and way of life. Thus, the premises for interpreting love cannot only be limited to the carnal connotations of the lower self that is often associated with it.

Since Friedrich Schiller’s Aesthetic Education of Man in 1794, Maria Montessori’s Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica in 1909, Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society in 1971 and a host of other defining works in the field of education, mankind and its civilizations have been in search of the best pedagogy applicable to the formal schooling system. But the answer that we have been looking high and low for could be something simple and right in front of our eyes.

The Role of The National Philosophy of Education

Empirical evidence has shown that the lack of a definitive national philosophy of education has been a disadvantage to a nation’s education and development. Proclaimed by the education world as the best education system, the Finnish education is developed around the philosophy of inclusion. There is no such thing as streaming. Children are individually supported to complete basic education and better-performing children are expected to help their slower peers.

Meanwhile, Japan sees very low dropout rates, because focus on morality and discipline as national education philosophy propagates that staying disciplined in education is the path to a good life. Despite being endowed with relatively less national resources than its counterparts. Korea is where it is today, due to having Confucianism embedded within its philosophy. Education is to enhance character, rather than simply expressions of moral worth and stature. The Americans focused on pragmatism as backbone to its philosophy of education and life. Academics believe that this was the secret to America’s success in science, technology, and putting a man on the moon. Therefore, re-focusing our attention on the national philosophy of education is very important. It casts a wider net than we initially imagined; cascading down to all aspects of life and sectors within the nation.

Our National Philosophy of Education or the Falsafah Pendidikan Negara (FPN) aims to broaden the potential of the individual holistically to create a human being that is balanced and harmonized intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, so that Malaysians are knowledgeable, morally virtuous, responsible, presentable and skilled, able to attain self-harmony and contribute to the well-being of his family, community and the nation.

Based on this, we can already conclude that the national education system is not scoring in its own goalposts. While its desired outcome for a holistic and useful human being is clear, the philosophy of broadening individual potential is vague, hardly permitting it to truncate through to the conduct and incentives within the national education system. It is producing individuals that are devoid of many of the non-intellectual aspects it itself stipulated. Worst still, students in the bottom rung of the current system do not even fare well on the intellectual aspect.

Hence, Malaysia as a developing nation, there is need for us to review the Falsafah Pendidikan Negara (FPN) and make them more focused. The philosophy of education will then found the framework and becomes the over-arching strong foundation that will provide Malaysians with the best education in the world.

Do We Have An Education Crisis?

Of late ordinary Malaysians have grown to be very vocal about national education. With hindsight post NEP, we criticize the emphasis on exams, the politicization of educational policies, strict measures of success using revered-but-feared grading systems, and excessive focus on employability in the job market. But, what exactly constitutes a “crisis” in education?

An education system is in crisis, when the society that is produced out of it, including those that are deemed successful by its measurable standards, is devoid of the true spirit of education. Of course, the true spirit of education in itself is a problematic starting point because different societies have different ideas about what is the end of an education system.

There are several ways how this could have happened.

Firstly, teaching has been teacher-centred and not learner-centred. The teacher is the focal point in teaching; a figure who “tells” the students sets of information. In a recent forum entitled Pedagogi Pendidikan Berasaskan Cinta hosted by Teach for The Needs (TFTN), author Hasrizal Jamil highlights a potent observation; that even successful straight-A students can be failures of the education system in their own definitions. There are three dimensions to education; while the education system has been successful in the first two, namely establishing institutions of educations and designing syllabi, it is at the pedagogical dimension that it has failed its true “clients”, which are the students. This failure is in re-humanizing humans, from becoming robots that achieve academic and economic goals, but whose souls are empty, lack of empathy and virtues, and ability to appreciate humanity in general. Malik Bennabi espoused the same when he argued that the end of education must be to humanize humans.

However, these are merely symptomatic to one root cause; love is the missing element in the FPN and our pedagogy. The design of the formal education system has arrived at the conclusion that a professional and emotionless distance between teacher and student is required. Children become incentivized to mind only themselves, not in solidarity with their peers. Friends are to play with at break time, but competition at class time. Love is left out of formal pedagogy, and remained in informal contexts such as at home where parents teach children.

We apply this template of distance between teachers and students that we experienced in school to the wider context of our lives, impeding our connections between one another in the larger society. This has very large implications on how we perceive ethics, moral behaviour, civil consciousness and communal living. This is exactly where the education system can fail even the straight-A students. In the case of unfortunate less-performing students, this formal schooling will leave them totally deprived of the love factor in their pedagogy, because their families are unable to provide them the necessary love and care at home. In school, teachers and peers continuously side-line them. Unsurprisingly, they enter society as individuals completely devoid of every single aspect that the FPN aspired.

Why Love As Pedagogy and Philosophy Will Work

Paulo Freire proposed love as the solution to his landmark framework in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Students are the oppressed and the teaching system is the oppressor because the teacher-student relationship is dichotomous, instead of a single unit together in the search for the end of education. Frantz Fanon too puts akin society’s intellectuals as the colonized, from a colonizing system. But how will love revitalize formal pedagogy to mitigate problems of the current education system?

Robert Sternberg’s popular 1986 triangular theory of love theorizes that love constitutes intimacy, passion and commitment. Although this is applied to love and interpersonal relationships in general, it explains well the potential of love when applied in pedagogy in helping children develop their IQ.

Intimacy, through bonding and connection, forms a foundational preclusion to the process of imparting of knowledge from the teacher to the student. It eases communication so students do not fear asking questions. It provides psychological comfort, which produces sense of aspirations, such as “I want to be with my teacher discovering this answer”, or “I want to be like my teacher”.

Next, passion supplements pedagogy through its motivational force in the quest for learning. Passionate love injects exuberance into academic experience. Zeal for learning and doing well in school becomes a propelling force much stronger and longer-lasting to other incentives, such as rewards from parents, recognition by the school, or entry to top universities. “Burning-out” from studying thus becomes less likely.

The third component of love, commitment, will then inject the permanence aspect to learning. Once a student decides that he loves learning and he loves the teacher, he undertakes an intention to reach the end of education with a sense of loyalty. It goes without saying that staying true to the course of education, even into old age, is the aspiration of every pedagogic system.

What about the role of love in the EQ context? Since school, children are taught to compete, to be streamed into top classrooms, and incentivized with material things. As a result, they may deliver their A’s but they are emotionally empty without love. They compete unhealthily through school and into their working professions; carrying the notion that winning is to always put oneself ahead of another. But when the seeds of love, kindness and empathy are planted within them, they will develop a sense of responsibility. The able pupils guide the weaker pupils. Brotherhood, camaraderie, compassion and humility are thus effectively “taught” at school!

Revisiting Malaysia’s Philosophy of Education: A Proposition

Founded on love, TFTN teacher-ambassadors identify and help pupils within the national schooling system who lag behind peers, in academic performance and in motivation, as a result of inadequate tender loving care at home. But, this small group of volunteers can only do so much. Change needs to also come simultaneously top-down to encourage bottom-up responses. The education system and its outcomes are rooted from the philosophy of the national education system itself. Policies are designed around it and implementations are incentivized by it.

Malaysia is a melting pot of differences. To manage these differences and tread the path of development together, unity must come from within every individual Malaysian. There is no point imposing ethical and moral policies in economic sectors and community living for adult Malaysians, when we have not been trained that we have the capacity to love beyond our family and our lovers since young. Therefore, I am proposing that the FPN be more focused and put love as its overarching pedagogy to achieve its own end goal of humanization.

At the end of the day, it is not love in and for itself that is our goal, but the values that we can extract out of it such as passion, sense of purpose, and commitment in the learning process as well as kindness, empathy, charity, devotion, and respect in the context of life. Love is not merely “touchy feely”; it has potent revolutionary capabilities to shape humankind.

Recent years have seen literatures on love as pedagogy. I humbly call and urge for students and researchers in academia to further this in the aim of developing an educational framework philosophy and pedagogy based on love. Without love, the human is empty and void. Problems facing humanity remain the same, regardless of whether he is academically and economically successful. Love is paramount as the overarching solution to many of the world’s social and economic malaises. Spread the love!

“Love intends not to weaken us, rather to ignite strength in us”- HAMKA

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