These four walls

Writing a short update to share two things. First is that I have passed my penultimate milestone of the PhD, the Confirmation of Status examination. This means I have been given the green light to write-up my full thesis, which I hope to submit by the end of this year, jika tiada aral melintang. The end is near, and what looms beyond is still up in the air…

Secondly, over these past few months, I have slowly been translating elements of the book chapter I co-authored with colleagues on post-colonialism into Malay. It is finally finished! I share it below untuk yang berminat. Selamat membaca!


Teori pasca-kolonialisme dan aplikasi dalam pendidikan

Diterjemah dan diringkaskan daripada karya:

Anuar, A. M., Habibi, A., & Mun, O. (2021). Postcolonialism in Comparative and International Education: Interrogating Power, Epistemologies, and Educational Practice. In T. Jules, R. Shields & M. A. M. Thomas (Eds.), The Bloomsbury Handbook of Theory in Comparative and International Education (pp. 109-127). Bloomsbury Academic.

Pengenalan

Titik mula yang berguna untuk membentuk pemahaman teori pasca-kolonialisme adalah mencerakinkan istilah ini kepada dua komponen, “pasca” dan “kolonialisme”. Merujuk kepada penaklukan Eropah ke benua Afrika, Asia dan Amerika utara dan selatan, Loomba (2014) mentakrifkan “kolonialisme” sebagai sesuatu yang berlaku “di koloni sebagai kesan penaklukan empayar, di mana negara imperial adalah metropolis yang menjadi sumber kuasa yang menjalar, seterusnya menerobos dan mengawal koloni atau neo-koloni” (pp. 37-38). Penggunaan “pasca” sebagai awalan kepada “kolonialisme” pula mencadangkan satu dimensi masa yang berkait dengan zaman selepas penjajahan. Ia juga menunjukkan cabaran, permasalahan atau kritikan kepada wacana yang mendominasi, serta legasi yang berkaitan dengan penjajahan (Anderotti, 2010; Loomba, 2014; McEwan, 2009). Ramai sarjana menganggap definisi yang kedua ini memberikan gambaran yang lebih dekat serta selari dengan potensi kritis teori ini, lantaran realiti di mana tiada pemisahan yang bersih daripada penjajahan. Justeru, pasca-kolonialisme harus dilihat sebagai satu usaha pembebasan daripada pengalaman penjajahan dari masa ke masa, sambil mengakui bahawa globalisasi membawa bersamanya bentuk-bentuk penjajahan yang lebih halus (Crossley & Tikly, 2004; Tikly, 1999). Namun begitu, pasca-kolonialisme masih boleh difikirkan dalam konteks masa berkaitan penjajahan, sebagai kesan dan akibat “dikerjakan oleh penjajahan” (Prakash, 1994, p. 1475).

Aspek utama pasca-kolonialisme

Sarjana-sarjana utama dalam teori pasca-kolonialisme sendiri telah dipengaruhi teori sosial besar yang lain, seperti Marxisme dan pasca-strukturalisme. Menyusuli kritikan Marxisme terhadap kapitalisme, teori pasca-kolonialisme menyerlahkan dan memasalahkan penjajahan moden sebagai wahana pengembangan kapitalis menerusi eksploitasi di koloni, diiringi retorik ideologi kemodenan dan kemajuan (Bhambra, 2014; Sinha and Varma, 2017). Pasca-kolonialisme juga berkait rapat dengan tradisi pasca-struktruralisme, terbukti melalui penekanan terhadap keboleh-berubahan (fluidity) dan kacukan (hybridity) dalam identiti, sejarah dan kategori. Contoh-contoh boleh dilihat dalam kajian sastera, di mana “tanggapan dwi-identiti, identiti terpisah atau identiti berubah-berubah…menyifatkan penulis pasca-kolonialisme” (Barry, 2009, p. 189). Selain itu, dalam historiografi, penebusgunaan naratif sejarah oleh golongan yang dijajah—dalam usaha menyesarkan bingkisan sejarah yang diutarakan penjajah—hanya boleh dicapai “dengan menegaskan bahawa tiada sejarah tunggal, tapi sejarah-sejarah yang pelbagai” (Loomba, 2014, p. 46).

Menerusi sorotan karya-karya pemikir utama pasca-kolonialisme, seperti Edward Said (1935-2003), Homi Bhabha, dan Gayatri Spivak, serta sarjana-sarjana yang mengembangkan pemikiran mereka, beberapa idea utama berkaitan teori ini dibentangkan di bawah.

Kuasa dan pembentukan ilmu 

Perbincangan tentang pasca-kolonialisme dan penggunaannya untuk mempersoal sistem serta wacana politik dan budaya tidak lengkap tanpa mengambil kira cara ilmu dibentuk, serta siapakah yang menentukan ilmu itu absah dan dianggap universal. Dalam karyanya Orientalism, Said (1978) memperkenalkan konsep keunggulan kedudukan, di mana penjajah Barat menggenggam kuasa untuk menentukan terma perlambangan dan pembentukan ilmu berkaitan yang “lain-lain”, yakni Orient dalam konteks ini. Smith, seorang sarjana Maori seterusnya memperhatikan bahawa sambil penjajah meluaskan empayarnya, “ilmu juga tersedia untuk ditemui, diekstrak, dicedok dan diedarkan” (1999, p. 58). Justeru, perspektif pasca-kolonialisme mengakui bahawa penjajahan tidak hanya melibatkan pengekstrakan sumber kebendaan dan penguasaan kelompok manusia, malah hegemoni perlambangan ilmu Barat yang dianggap universal, lebih unggul, seterusnya memberikan justifikasi untuk menyisihkan sumber dan manifestasi ilmu tempatan (Bhambra, 2014; Prakash, 1994).

Justeru, penggunaan teori pasca-kolonialisme melibatkan sebuah proses persoalan yang sedar terhadap kategori analisis dominan dan diambil mudah yang disebarkan menerusi ilmu Barat seraya dengan penggunaan kuasa kolonial (McEwan, 2009).  Penting juga untuk meruntuhkan paradigma pembentukan ilmu dominan itu melalui tindakan menegaskan semula dan mengetengahkan ilmu tempatan. Tujuan serampang dua mata teori pasca-kolonial ini menggambarkan potensi kritikal dan pembebasannya dalam analisis sistem dan wacana yang terkesan oleh penjajahan.

Ketempatan Diri (Positionality) 

Dalam esei pasca-kolonial yang berpengaruh Can the Subaltern Speak? Spivak (1988)—menerusi amalan sati (pengorbanan balu) dalam zaman kolonial India—menegaskan bahawa suara wanita kelas bawahan ditimbus oleh lapisan suara-suara hegemonik yang diberikan keistimewaan untuk bersuara bagi pihaknya. Beliau memerhatikan bagaimana tindakan pihak British menjadikan sati sebagai jenayah telah membantu untuk menggambarkan mereka sebagai penyelamat yang menegakkan tatatertib dalam masyarakat, dengan murah hatinya melindungi wanita daripada lelaki dalam komuniti mereka sendiri (Spivak, 1988). Menerusi bayangan daripada esei ini serta pengembangan dalam karya-karya seterusnya, Spivak menegaskan keperluan untuk mengenalpasti ketempatan diri (positionality) dalam menjalankan proses pembinaan teori dan analisis pasca-kolonial. Spivak (1993) dan seterusnya Dirlik (1994) mengesyorkan amalan hiper-refleksif kendiri (hyper self-reflexivity) di mana seseorang merenung ke dalam diri untuk melihat bagaimana dia menjiwai serta beroleh manfaat daripada skema pembentukan ilmu imperial. Ini supaya dia terus bersifat kritikal terhadap lakar bentuk skema ini sambil membayangkan potensi untuk meruntuhkan wacana dominan daripada dalam. Keperluan amalan refleksif ini menandakan bahawa dalam proses menggunakan pasca-kolonialisme sebagai lensa teori, seseorang tidak boleh berbuat demikian tanpa satu tahap kesedaran diri. Sebaliknya, ia menuntut seseorang meninggalkan apa yang telah dipelajari (unlearning), yakni perakuan “bahawa ras, etnik, kelas, jantina, dan kerakyatan seseorang menghasilkan keistimewaan relatif, yang melazimkan sesetengah prejudis dan gerak balas yang dipelajari, seterusnya membataskan ilmu dengan cara menghindari akses kepada ilmu-ilmu lain” (McEwan, 2009, p. 330).

Kacukan (Hybridity)

Pasca-kolonialisme juga menekankan konsep kacukan (hybridity), terutamanya berkait dengan identiti penjajah dan yang dijajah, serta lokasi wacana yang berkait dengannya. Dalam karya ulungnya bertajuk The Location of Culture, Bhabha (1994) menerangkan kacukan ini melalui hujah bahawa:

kritikan pasca-kolonialisme menjadi saksi kepada negara-negara dan komuniti-komuniti—di Utara dan Selatan, bandar dan luar bandar—yang terbentuk, andai saya boleh mencipta sebuah frasa, “selain daripada kemodenan”. Budaya kontra-kemodenan pasca-kolonial sebegini mungkin bergantung kepada kemodenan, terputus atau bertentang dengannya, kalis kepada teknologi penindasan dan asimilasinya; tetapi mereka juga menggunakan kacukan budaya yang berkait dengan keadaan di pinggiran untuk “menterjemah,” dan seterusnya melakar semula bayangan sosial metropolis dan kemodenan. (p. 9)

Seterusnya, Bhabha (1994) memperkenalkan konsep-konsep ambivalen (kewujudan dua ciri-ciri, sikap atau emosi yang berlawanan pada masa yang sama) serta ajukan (mimicry) untuk menggambarkan hubungan kolonial yang rumit dan bernuansa, melangkaui binari mudah. Dipengaruhi pemikiran pasca-strukturalisme, ambivalen mencadangkan cara penjajah menganggap yang dijajah, serta sebaliknya, disifatkan oleh keadaan yang sentiasa berubah-ubah, rencam dan bercanggah. Bhabha (1994) menjelaskan ambivalen sebagai “hairannya ia bercampur dan berpisah, pelbagai bentuk dan sukar dikawal, ia penzahiran pelbagai kepercayaan. Orang kulit hitam pada masa yang sama ialah liar (kanibal) dan juga pekerja yang paling patuh dan bermaruah (pembawa makanan)” (p. 118). Ambivalen ini menjurus kepada sifat ajukan yang membolehkan dominasi berterusan dan pengekalan kuasa menerusi kolonialisme. Bhabha (1994) memberikan contoh tindakan ini melalui cara bagaimana sejarahwan British abad ke-19 Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) menggambarkan pendidikan kolonial untuk “satu kelas penterjemah antara kita dan yang berjuta di bawah pentadbiran kita—sebuah kelas orang India dari segi pertalian darah dan warna kulitnya, tetapi Inggeris dalam citarasa, dalam pendapat, dalam moral dan dalam intelek” (Macaulay, 1834/1958, p. 49). Kacukan sebegini menuntut supaya kritikan pasca-kolonial berganjak melangkaui dikotomi mudah dalam identiti dan zaman apabila menganalisa hubungan kolonial dan kesan-kesannya. Dalam erti kata lain, tiada sempadan yang jelas di dalam dinamik penjajah dan yang dijajah, di antara zaman pra-kolonial, kolonial dan pasca-kolonial; setiap daripadanya saling memaklumkan, bertindak dan membentuk antara satu sama lain sambil digambarkan dari sudut pandang yang pelbagai. Ini menghasilkan kacukan yang rumit dan memiliki pelbagai lapisan.

Analisis sejarah terhadap kolonialisme dan neo-kolonialisme

Penggunaan  lensa pasca-kolonialisme melibatkan soal siasat legasi sejarah kolonialisme, dengan cara “mengetengahkan kesan berterusan pengembangan Eropah ke Afrika, Asia, Australasia dan Amerika sejak abad ke-15, bukan hanya untuk memahami perkembangan sejarah yang seterusnya di tempat-tempat ini, tetapi juga sebagai detik yang mentakrifkan sejarah Eropah dan kemodenan itu sendiri” (Crossley & Tikley, 2004, pp. 147-148). Memasalahkan versi sejarah yang bersifat Eurosentrik dan wacana yang disebarkannnya adalah komponen kunci kritikan pasca-kolonialisme. Chakrabarty (1992)—sejarahwan dan ahli Subaltern Studies Group bersama Gayatri Spivak—berhujah bahawa naratif sejarah besar selalunya meletakkan sejarah-sejarah lain di pinggiran, yang sentiasa perlu merujuk kepada kanun utama yang berasal dari Eropah. Maka, beliau mencadangkan perlunya menterbalikkan naratif sejarah menerusi “pendaerahan Eropah”, sebuah projek pasca-kolonialisme yang mempersoal wacana normatif kemodenan yang berterusan merundung dan menindas “dunia ketiga”:

Cubaan mendaerahkan “Eropah” ini ialah untuk melihat moden itu sebagai sesuatu yang tidak boleh lari daripada pertikaian, untuk menulis semula di atas naratif kerakyatan yang sudah ditentukan dan diberi keistimewaan, naratif-naratif lain berkaitan hubungan sesama manusia yang sumber kekuatannya adalah daripada masa lampau dan masa depan yang diimpikan, di mana kolektif-kolektif ditakrifkan bukan menerusi ritual kerakyatan ataupun mimpi ngeri “tradisi” yang diciptakan “kemodenan”

–Chakrabarty, 1992, pp. 353-354

Tambahan juga, oleh sebab pasca-kolonialisme ialah proses yang beterusan, konsep neo-kolonialisme juga adalah aspek penting teori ini. Neo-kolonialisme merujuk kepada eksploitasi dan hubungan kebergantungan yang terus diamalkan menerusi kelompok pelakon lain selepas kemerdekaan, sama ada secara langsung di dalam sempadan negara-bangsa atau secara tidak langsung melalui dinamik politik dan ekonomi antarabangsa (Enslin, 2017; McEwan, 2009). Sebagai contoh, kajian etnografi Munro (2013) bersama penduduk Papua di tanah tinggi di Indonesia menerokai bagaimana “orang peribumi lelaki dan perempuan menterjemah, dan merasai nilai pendidikan dari sudut kaitannya dengan keadaan politik yang mereka anggap sebagai penjajahan yang berterusan.” (pp. 26-27). Ini mencerminkan projek penjajahan dan dominasi pelbagai lapisan yang terus bertahan dalam lipatan masa. Oleh itu, pasca-kolonialisme tidak semestinya terbatas penggunaannya untuk analisis sejarah penjajahan; ia juga teori yang berguna untuk menyuluh bayangan perusahaan kolonial dalam masyarakat kontemporari.

Seperti yang telah dinyatakan di atas, pasca-kolonialisme juga telah menghadapi kritikan. Salah satunya ialah bagaimana ia terangkum dan dibutakan di dalam cara membentuk pengetahuan kolonial yang cuba dikritiknya. Hal ini kerana asal-usul dan asas pengetahuannya dalam Marxism dan pasca-strukturalisme, yang mana kedua-duanya berasal dari Barat. Oleh itu, pasca-kolonialisme boleh mengukuhkan semula hegemoni dengan cara memberikan kedudukan istimewa kepada ilmu Barat berbanding ilmu alternatif pribumi (Chilisa, 2012, Crossley & Tikly, 2004). Tambahan pula, dalam menghadapi legasi penjajahan, perspektif pasca-kolonialisme dengan mudahnya boleh bertukar kepada pendekatan patologi yang “melihat kepada eksploitasi sejarah, dominasi, dan penjajahan untuk menjelaskan keruncingan kontemporari, seperti kemiskinan, kesihatan yang lemah dan literasi yang rendah” (Tuck, 2009, p. 413). Dalam menghadapi kritikan ini, adalah penting untuk mengamalkan hiper-refleksif kendiri (hyper self-reflexivity) seperti yang diperjuangkan Spivak (1988), serta mengakui keupayaan golongan marginal untuk bertindak dalam proses analisis pasca-kolonial. Akhirnya, sebagai teori yang kritis, pasca-kolonialisme mengambil berat terhadap keadilan sosial dan penentangan terhadap hegemoni Barat dan Eurosentrik; asal-usul sejarahnya bersumberkan “asas perspektif trikontinental, dunia-ketiga, subaltern dan prioritinya kekal di sana” (Young, 2003, p. 114). Oleh itu, Young (2003) juga mencadangkan bahawa pasca-kolonialisme sering digunakan seiring dengan teori lain dalam tradisi kritikal, seperti teori feminisme untuk menawarkan analisis terhadap struktur kuasa, penindasan dan ketidaksamaan yang lebih holistik, bersilangan (intersectional), dan bernuansa di dalam ruang-ruang yang dinyatakan sebelum ini.

Kajian Kes

Dalam kajian kes ini, teori pasca-kolonialisme dipraktikkan untuk memahami satu aspek ekuiti dalam sistem pendidikan Malaysia, dengan cara menjelaskan naratif sejarah pengalaman kolonial serta kesannya dari segi ketidaksamaan, pembentukan identiti serta struktur politik dan ekonomi (Phillips & Schweisfurth, 2014). Kes ini dimulai dengan memberikan gambaran konteks sejarah pemerintahan kolonial untuk membolehkan analisis kesannya kepada pendidikan di Malaysia pada hari ini.

Sebelum mencapai kemerdekaan pada tahun 1957, Malaysia (sewaktu itu dikenali sebagai Malaya) dijajah oleh British (1824-1942, 1945-1957) melalui strategi “pecah dan perintah” (Joseph, 2014a) yang mengagihkan peranan kerja berlandaskan kumpulan etnik. Menerusi strategi “pecah dan perintah”, orang Melayu dan orang Asli (dikelompokkan sebagai Bumiputera) bercucuk tanam di kawasan kampung, migran dari India dibawa masuk untuk bekerja di estet getah manakala migran dari Cina membangunkan penempatan komersial di kawasan bandar (Joseph, 2014b). Seterusnya, pendidikan setiap kumpulan etnik dipisahkan mengikut garisan etno-linguistik (sekolah Melayu, Cina dan Tamil), di samping sekolah aliran Inggeris untuk golongan elit (Rudner, 1977). Tuntasnya, tujuan pendidikan asas pada masa itu adalah supaya setiap kumpulan etnik memenuhi peranan kerja masing-masing dalam projek kolonial (Joseph, 2014a). Sekolah dengan bahasa pengantar yang berbeza (Melayu, Cina dan Tamil) di peringkat rendah terus beroperasi hingga ke hari ini, di mana wujud percanggahan di antara hak setiap kumpulan etnik untuk dididik dalam bahasa ibundanya sendiri, dan kebimbangan berkaitan isu perpaduan sosial. (Jamil, 2010).

Dalam beberapa dekad setelah kemerdekaan pada tahun 1957, tumpuan utama kerajaan Malaysia adalah memperbetulkan ketidakseimbangan ekonomi Bumiputera dan kumpulan etnik lain menerusi polisi-polisi tindakan afirmatif, oleh sebab Bumiputera memiliki pegangan ekonomi terkecil meskipun ia kumpulan etnik majoriti (Abdullah et al., 2015; Joseph, 2014b). Saban tahun sejak 1970, walaupun berlaku penurunan insiden kemiskinan keseluruhan daripada 49.3 pertaus kepada hanya 5.6 peratus pada 2019, insiden kemiskinan adalah tertinggi untuk Bumiputera (7.2 peratus pada tahun 2019), berbanding angka untuk etnik Cina (1.4 peratus) dan India (4.8 peratus) (Economic Planning Unit Malaysia, 2020). Tambahan juga, kajian rintis oleh Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia pada tahun 2016 berkaitan isu keciciran sekolah menunjukkan bahawa 79.3 peratus pelajar sekolah rendah dan 95.5 peratus pelajar sekolah menengah yang dikenalpasti memiliki risiko keciciran yang tinggi berasal dari keluarga yang berpendapatan kurang daripada RM 1,500 sebulan (Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia, 2017).

Namun demikian, terdapat kebimbangan bahawa implementasi polisi-polisi tindakan afirmatif secara berpanjangan, contohnya biasiswa, kuota enrolmen di institusi pengajian tinggi awam, serta kemasukan secara eksklusif ke sekolah-sekolah tertentu telah mengakibatkan kelebihan yang tidak adil khasnya kepada orang Melayu, seterusnya memberikan kesan buruk kepada peluang-peluang kumpulan etnik lain (Kenayathulla, 2015). Sebagai contoh, Sekolah Berasrama Penuh yang mengutamakan kelompok Bumiputera bertujuan asal untuk memberikan peluang kepada Bumiputera dari luar bandar untuk mendapatkan pendidikan sains dan teknologi sebagai persediaan untuk ke institusi pengajian tinggi dan seterusnya penyertaan di dalam sektor ekonomi (Kenayathulla, 2015). Namun, realitinya, sejumlah besar pelajar di sekolah-sekolah tersebut berasal dari kelas professional dan pertengahan, seterusnya mengukuhkan kedudukan golongan elit Melayu. Ini mengingatkan kita kepada golongan yang beroleh kelebihan daripada pendidikan aliran Inggeris di zaman kolonial (Joseph, 2014b). Tuntasnya, golongan elit Melayu mengikut jejak langkah pemerintah kolonial yang terdahulu dengan cara membolot peranan pentadbiran dan politik yang berpengaruh. Situasi ini ialah contoh penghasilan semula dalam masyakarat yang bercirikan neo-kolonialisme dan identiti kacukan yang diwarisi dari zaman kolonial. Penggunaan teori pasca-kolonialisme membolehkan kita melakukan analisis sejarah dan politik berhubung punca polisi-polisi tindakan afirmatif tidak mampu menamatkan ketidaksamaan berterusan dan insiden kemiskinan, yang menghalang akses dan keberhasilan pendidikan berlandaskan ekuiti. Kenayathulla (2015) berhujah bahawa implementasi polisi-polisi tindakan afirmatif menganggap komuniti Bumiputera serba kekurangan secara keseluruhannya, meskipun hakikatnya terdapat golongan kelas pemerintah elit dalam kalangan orang Melayu yang tidak sepatutnya dianggap sedemikian. Justeru, kekurangan nuansa dan usaha secara bersasar telah mengetengahkan kebimbangan sesetengah pihak tentang isu salahguna polisi untuk mempertahankan kuasa melalui dominasi politik. Dalam sebuah sistem politik di mana penggubalan undang-undang dijadikan senjata untuk menutup perbincangan seputar isu sensitif berkaitan Bumiputera, para sarjana mempersoalkan penyebaran “nepotisme, kroni perniagaan dan rasuah berkaitan politik etnik di Malaysia (Joseph, 2014b, p. 153). Oleh itu, menerusi kajian kes ini, aplikasi konsep kacukan, analisis sejarah dan neo-kolonialisme dalam teori pasca-kolonialisme telah ditunjukkan, untuk memberikan pencerahan terhadap satu aspek ekuiti pendidikan di Malaysia, sebuah negara pasca-kolonial.

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Prakash, G. (1994). Subaltern studies as post-colonial criticism. The American Historical Review, 99(5), 1475–1490.

Rudner, M. (1977). Education, development and change in Malaysia. South East Asian Studies, 15(1), 23–62.

Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. Pantheon.

Sinha, S., and Varma, R. (2017). Marxism and post-colonial theory: What’s left of the debate? Critical Sociology, 43(4–5), 545–558.

Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books.

Spivak, G. C. (1988). Can the subaltern speak? In Nelson, C., and Grossbery, L. (Eds.), Marxism and the interpretation of culture (pp. 271–313). Macmillan Education.

Spivak, G. C. (1993). Outside in the teaching machine. Routledge.

Tikly, L. (1999). Post-colonialism and Comparative Education. International Review of Education, 45(5/6), 603–621.


Tuck, E. (2009). Suspending damage: A letter to communities. Harvard Educational Review, 79(3), 409–428.


Young, R. J. C. (2003). Post-colonialism: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press.

Everything changes

For posterity, I’m publishing the reflection I shared on behalf of my co-authors during the Book Launch event for “The Bloomsbury Handbook of Theory in Comparative and International Education” at the virtual Comparative and International Education Society Conference 2021 (vCIES 2021) on 28 April 2021:


Thank you very much for the opportunity to contribute to this handbook, and to say a few words at this launch event. I am Aizuddin Mohamed Anuar, Jude for short, and I am a 3rd year PhD student in Education at the University of Oxford. Together with my colleagues Arzhia Habibi and Olga Mun, I authored Chapter 6 in the handbook: “Post-Colonialism in Comparative and International Education: Interrogating Power, Epistemologies, and Educational Practice”. I send warm greetings from my thinking partners Arzhia and Olga who are not able to gather with us today. However, their words animate this reflection that I am happy to share on behalf.

It has been quite a journey drafting, editing and finally seeing this chapter in publication, since early 2019—when we were all in our first year of the PhD—until now in 2021. Thus the imagination, construction and subsequent realisation of this handbook have followed the arc of our own PhD journeys since the first year. Reading this chapter now, with the knowledge of postcolonial theory and other theories in CIE that we have gained since our first draft in early 2019, demonstrates how knowledge grows and morphs, taking its time; it is never static, never certain. In this, there is hope in learning, making mistakes, unlearning, and also relearning.

It is perhaps a beautiful alignment of the CIE stars that I reflect about this chapter on post-colonialism in the wake of yesterday’s George F. Kneller Lecture, delivered by none other than Professor Gayatri Spivak, the doyen of postcolonial studies.

As co-authors, Arzhia, Olga and I have had discussions about how our own views about post-colonialism have continued to evolve over time, perhaps through the encounter with more scholars, with the mysteries of fieldwork and with our engagement in and with the world around us. In the words of my co-author Arzhia:


“The ongoing relationship and conversation that surrounded the writing of this chapter renders it not as a static process in which there was a period of writing and then our thinking about theory “stopped”. We were in constant dynamic rapport based on our personal experiences and research endeavours. The book chapter itself invited a deeper engagement with ‘hyper-self reflexivity’ as ‘post-colonial work’ within oneself that is never finished. I learnt that we are always in the process of un-learning the dominant narratives and ideologies that have sought to suffocate voices which would seek to offer more generative and healthy possibilities for living and learning.”

This point about “more generative and healthy possibilities” gestures to the spirit with which we engage in post-colonialism as theory, to expand the knowledge base of comparative and international education (CIE). Professor Spivak yesterday talked about recognising complicity, establishing critical intimacy with dominant, hegemonic structures, which we seek to address through affirmative sabotage. Affirmative here is different from negative; the latter is a modality that some are inclined to ascribe to critical theories and the scholars who seek to learn through them. In writing this chapter, as emerging scholars in CIE, we are thus invested in this affirmative project, one seeking to expand histories, narratives, epistemologies and the “healthy possibilities for living and learning”. Therefore, the emancipatory potential here is a potential for all of us.

I would like to end with a reflective poem by my co-author, Olga:


CIE is our academic home,
our past, present and future.
The home that has been built on a foundation
that needs unpacking and interrogation
By a continuous rethinking and
engagement
with diverse texts and memories
We are able to understand the traces
Of silences
and exclusions.
Multiple pasts, presents and futures
Emerge.
The process is difficult and delightful
all at once.
We must be kind to ourselves and
diverse knowledges, even conflicting
in our common adventures.

A quick shoutout to the Handbook editors Tavis, Robin and Matthew for this space to think, write and reflect, and to our teacher at Oxford, Maia Chankseliani for paving the way for this opportunity.

Thank you very much!

Reminisensi

It’s quite incredible how it’s been 6 months, half a year gone by, since I last recorded an update on this blog. I counted a few times with fingers on both hands just to be certain. Still, the norm is being cooped up in my room for the most part—save for trips into town for groceries and to check my pigeonhole at college, the occasional walks and catch-up with friends. Such is the reality of doing a DPhil, of living and surviving, in a pandemic world. In that time, the flimsy apple tree outside my room has ridded itself of leaves and fruits, been cloaked with snow, and now has begun to sprout flowers and leaves once more. 6 months is not just linear time charging ahead, it is a cycle too: rebirth, renewal, resurgence. And that is cause for hope.

I have mostly been quite active elsewhere, namely on Twitter. But over these past few days I have felt the rare itch to write a blogpost. There is an urge to dust off this platform and reflect on the DPhil. Enough thoughts have coalesced into something worth stringing together. So here I am.

The DPhil itself as a document—a culmination of thinking, researching and analysing—is slowly taking shape. Analysis has taken much longer than I expected; as I begin writing-up findings I am still analysing. The process is in turns dizzying and exciting. It is also littered with nostalgia for the field, which strengthens and at the same time, paralyses. No one quite understands the specific contours of the inner work in the analytical process, nor do I know how to articulate it as any kind of clear-cut methodology. I turn inwards into that solitude, reading Rilke in Malay for assurance. I allow for the rhythm of time to take its course, make peace with its currents. Is such methodology fully rational? Of course not. Is it expected to be? Well…

–harapan saya agar saudara menemui dalam diri cukup kesabaran untuk bertahan dan cukup kesederhanaan untuk menaruh keyakinan; agar saudara tambah yakin terhadap apa yang sukar dan kesunyian saudara di kalangan orang lain. Yang selebihnya, biarkan kehidupan mengalir. Percayalah: kehidupan sentiasa betul.

Surat Kepada Penyair Muda, Rainer Maria Rilke (Terjemahan oleh Pauline Fan)

Speaking of methodology*, as the DPhil slowly drips into being, I have sought refuge in teaching. In my past experiences I have always enjoyed occasional opportunities in this spirit, and in my professional life colleagues would joke that I was a cikgu (teacher). This academic year, working with a wonderful bunch of Masters students in my field, discussing research philosophy and methods, has been a profound joy, an enrichment. I often hesitate to offer prescriptions, right answers and single truths, but uncertainty too is a zone of potency. In many ways we are wading through the waters of knowledge-making together, its eddies and currents shifting at every turn. We are changed in the encounter.

Teaching is a performative act. And it is that aspect of our work that offers the space for change, invention, spontaneous shifts, that can serve as a catalyst drawing out the unique elements in each classroom. To embrace the performative aspect of teaching we are compelled to engage “audiences,” to consider issues of reciprocity. Teachers are not performers in the traditional sense of the word in that our work is not meant to be a spectacle. Yet it is meant to serve as a catalyst that calls everyone to become more and more engaged, to become active participants in learning.

Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks

This stint has opened up new frontiers in my academic identity and further validated my decision a few years ago to return to graduate school. As I look ahead into an academic landscape that may or may not have a place for me, I am certain teaching and working with students will be a dimension I seek out and turn to for energy and sustenance. What comes next beyond the DPhil life? I have been slowly thinking about this, making notes of potential opportunities and ideas, but it is a topic perhaps for a few more months down the line…

Presents from the wonderful group of students I’ve had the privilege of working with this academic year.

In the meantime, publication joys and writing projects abound! The book chapter I have mentioned a few times on this blog over the course (years!) of its writing and editing is finally out in the world. One of the joys of the doctoral experience is to find a community to write, think, imagine and make knowledge with. Over the past few years, Arzhia and Olga have been learning companions in this life of the mind, and of the heart. For that I am very very grateful; I look forward to continue our academic adventures wherever they take us. A journal article written with my supervisor & teacher Maia has also been recently published, based on my MSc dissertation completed in 2018. The twitter thread summarising the paper is linked below:

The drawn-out process of this publication was protracted by the pandemic, no doubt, but I am happy to see it finally bear fruit. Patience and publications are inseparable twins, this is a lesson I continue to learn. I’ve since updated my list of publications. A few more writing projects are in the pipeline, including a book chapter for the CIE in Malaysia project with my good friend Pravin. I am also working on a creative writing project that for the first time dialogues with my academic interests, for a digital exhibition later in the year. The academic identity continues to evolve at the confluence of the personal and professional…

The next few months will be coloured by DPhil writing and a smattering of (virtual) conferences and workshops, leading up to my Confirmation of Status (CoS) examination in late June. Until I write again; it will maybe take a few more months…

Take care!

*Note: Also speaking of methodology, I’ve contributed a book chapter for an upcoming volume related to the messiness of methods in education policy research. Looking forward to seeing this in print!

References

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching To Transgress: Education as a the Practice of Freedom. Routledge.

Rilke, R. M. (2020). Surat Kepada Penyair Muda (P. Fan, Trans). Institut Buku Darul Ehsan.

Semalam di Malaya

I write this on the verge of a new academic year–3rd year of the DPhil, phew!–freshly emerging from self-isolation. Despite arriving in the UK in mid-September, a day after Malaysia Day, I have been cooped up in my room per the public health advice. I pace about in a liminal space, though the abrupt change in geography (or maybe the lack of distraction?) helped me focus a little bit more on thinking and writing. Outside my room, a flimsy apple tree is battered by wind, cold and rain, shedding premature fruit for respite. A reminder of resilience. The gentle buzz of trains gliding on the tracks beyond the fence remind me that life carries on, somehow, amidst the persistence of a worldwide pandemic. When the time comes, journeys must commence…

Much has happened since I last written*. I endured lockdown in Malaysia, and against the odds managed to return to my field site to finish my research–a dream-like experience of bearing witness to schooling amidst a pandemic. Fieldwork as a whole was an enriching experience, and I am grateful I was able to properly ‘leave’ the field, though have I really? A concrete grasp on time & place eludes me, the pandemic further muddying this feeling. At once I feel like I have spent too much/not enough time in Malaysia. I have physically departed from the site of my fieldwork, gifts were exchanged, photos were captured. But relations endure in the online ether, and in memory. I convince myself I will return. Silaturrahim yang dibina tidak putus…

*this piece of writing has since been turned into a podcast!

A beautiful painting gifted by the art teacher at the school where I conducted my fieldwork. One of the many, many gestures of kindness I will forever cherish!

In between, I participated in a virtual doctoral network among peers in science education research to get feedback on my work, had an article published in Common Ground Journal, and launched an exciting project on Comparative and International Education (CIE) in Malaysia. While completing fieldwork, I continued to work on a few publications currently in the pipeline, vibrating to the rhythm of peer review. A collaborative endeavour with my knowledge-making partners during our first year of the DPhil will soon be out in the world–a book chapter for The Bloomsbury Handbook of Theory in CIE. It’s surreal to think we have come this far since then. Once again time plays its tricks…

Now that I am back in Oxford, I will spend the upcoming year sorting through the fruits of fieldwork, analysing the data and slowly writing a thesis. I have also been given an opportunity to serve as a Doctoral Teaching Fellow in my department, collaborating with MSc in CIE students on their research methods modules. Slowly an academic identity percolates–I mull over my teaching philosophy.

Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paolo Freire

Being an alumnus of this programme, an opportunity to reciprocate feels a bit like homecoming, coupled with the strange process of reacquainting with this town after a year away. Between teaching, taking an advanced qualitative methods class and writing a thesis, there is much to look forward to. Here’s to the new academic year, with its tentative shape in a world yet to catch its breath. Will academia emerge kinder, more just and committed to practices of care in hybridised institutions and relations? Time will tell…

Reference

Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Anniversary Edition). New York: Continuum.

Older

While procrasti-waiting for inspiration to strike, to bind together stray thoughts bubbling in my head so I can write coherently, this piece was born. I call it ‘Lines of thought’.

24 September 2020: Since I published this piece, I have also recorded it as part of the Unlocking Lockdown podcast, associated with the Post-Pandemic University project based at the University of Cambridge


There are times when I feel like I am reliving the same day over and over. At my family home in the interior of Pahang, I pace indoors, coated by the punishing midday heat. I am slowly forgetting the contours of the landscape beyond the boundaries of the home. We wait for this dream to subside—a pandemic has seized the gaps and cracks between what were once mobile bodies, connected places and the normal rhythm of time, congealing as if by magic, suspending everything in slow motion…

“Maybe you can start writing random stuff”, my friend ‘A’ recently suggests, as a means of assuaging my anxiety.

I tell her I have been working on some academic writing. Tersely, she points out that this is work, not the kind of writing she had in mind. So I return to this platform, in hopes of writing something that is not work, but I already know I will disappoint ‘A’.

It has been two months since I last recorded my updates here. Between then and now, the Malaysian government has extended the Movement Control Order (MCO) twice to contain the COVID-19 virus—first for two weeks, followed by a month, to conclude on June 9th. What lies beyond remains uncertain; such is the maxim of the new normal. In lockdown, I celebrated my birthday with self-saucing chocolate pudding made by my younger sisters. Over WhatsApp calls, my nephew told me excitedly, repeatedly, perhaps divulging a cautious secret—he will be getting a younger sibling by the end of this year. As if observing from the outside instead of enduring, the fasting month of Ramadan rapidly, dreamily spills into subdued Eid al-Fitr celebrations. Yet amidst all these happenings, still there are times when I feel like I am reliving the same day over and over.

When I have the headspace, I engage with thinkpieces expounding the pandemic. They alert and teach me of COVID-19’s social situatedness and salad of implications. At once the pandemic is many things: a window into the politics of Malaysian food, a backdrop for troubled stories, the work of our own collective hands, a portal and an opportunity for radical hope. The pandemic and its potentialities in every direction continue to evolve. It seems like we can’t keep up, but we try anyways. What can we do otherwise?

And so it was literature that brought me back to life during this time. The monolithic uncertainty of my future was deadening; everywhere I turned, the shadow of death obscured the meaning of any action. I remember the moment when my overwhelming unease yielded, when that seemingly impassable sea of uncertainty parted. I woke up in pain, facing another day–no project beyond breakfast seemed tenable. I can’t go on, I thought, and immediately, its antiphon responded, completing Samuel Beckett’s seven words, words I had learned long ago as an undergraduate: I’ll go on. I got out of bed and took a step forward, repeating the phrase over and over:”I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

In this time, I grasp at a number of activities to remind myself that despite being home in the lulling comfort of family, and that my fieldwork has been disrupted, I am still a PhD student engaging in the life of the mind, forging an academic identity somehow amidst the chaos. The writing of fieldnotes continue, however sparse and ambivalent they may be in this time (am I technically in the field?). I participated in vCIES, finding comfort and hope in the virtual company of my academic discipline: comparative and international education.

Slowly, through challenging and hazy days of writing—aided by what seemed like Divine intervention—draft manuscripts for a journal article and book chapter are birthed. I practiced peer-reviewing through the opportunity to support a graduate student journal. Webinars on critical pedagogy, poverty & the pandemic. A movie here, and a documentary there. This PhD continues, I convince myself, even when I don’t feel up for it on certain days and lay in bed motionless, even when progress appears glacial, even when it seems like such an inconsequential project when the world seems to collapse…

…we ‘‘reword’’ the world, erase the computer screen, check the thesaurus, move a paragraph, again and again. This ‘‘worded world’’ never accurately, precisely, completely captures the studied world, yet we persist in trying. Writing as a method of inquiry honors and encourages the trying, recognizing it as emblematic of the significance of language. I write because I want to find something out. I write in order to learn something that I did not know before I wrote it.

Getting personal: writing stories, Laurel Richardson

On 15 April, the Malaysian Minister of Education issued a press statement outlining plans for schooling post-pandemic. Examinations are postponed or cancelled, schools will eventually open gradually, with 2-weeks advance notice. My mother asks me about the fate of my fieldwork. Half-frustrated, half-joking, I facetiously remark that I will drop out of my PhD. She turns serious, reminding me to complete what I have started–whatever it may take–after I had gone and upended what seemed like a comfortable life. I ask her to pray for just that.

Over these past two months, I have reluctantly been revising my application for ethical clearance to move data collection into the online realm. I am learning that to pause in this moment, to not rush into troubleshooting, to hold space for how my informants are adjusting to the circumstances of lockdown, is an act of care, an ethics transcending bureaucracy. I choose to wait things out. In retrospect and introspect, I allowed myself time to mourn the loss of my original design and all the lofty aspirations infused therein. No doubt the pandemic disrupts the currents of the field, altering the course of work within it. How can it not? I anxiously wonder how the novel shape of my study—perhaps the last thing on my informants’ minds in this troubling time—will unfold. Where is the silver lining?

My friend ‘M’ assures me: “It is time to have patience and tranquillity, as our research is not disconnected with social flows…and that includes this pandemic.”

What next? With ethical clearance to alter my research design freshly received, I now slowly work on the associated practicalities. But I still long for the site of my fieldwork. Eid al-Fitr wishes are exchanged with teachers, alongside jokes. Students tell me they are happy to be out of school, but also bored by the prolonged lockdown. We trade movie recommendations. The teacher sitting beside me in the staff room where I have been given a cubicle, who shares bread and stories with me, calls to inform that my car tyres have gone flat due to immobility. When I returned home with my parents in mid-March, I had left the car (borrowed from my mother) and other possessions (clothes and books, among others) at the site. I had assumed I would be back in the field after the one week school holiday. This was before lockdown became the norm; a week away has now stretched into ten, and counting. Despite the circumstances, relations and objects tether me to field, and I hold on tight. This gives me hope of returning eventually, even if only to say goodbye.

For now, I leave this space with a poem on patience and wisdom, a balm for the restless soul that treads on the slowly forming ground:

References

Kalanithi, P. (2016). When Breathe Becomes Air, New York: Random House.

Richardson, L. (2001). Getting personal: Writing-stories. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 14(1), 33–38. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09518390010007647

Invisible ink

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-30 at 12.15.52
What lies beyond the veil? Picture taken on the journey between home and the site of fieldwork.

I write this post in midst of a global pandemic that has somewhat drove life (and its subset, the PhD) to a halt. It is a distressing, disorienting and surreal period that warrants reflection, a moment of pause to take stock and to imagine what is to come. Since I last updated before the start of the new year–which seems so long ago now that we are in the eye of the storm–I find myself back home. In between, I have been conducting fieldwork in a secondary school in an out-of-the-way place* on the Malaysian Peninsular.

* many a times I was asked by teachers, students, community members, why here, of all places? Why us, of all people?

At the start of the 1 week school holiday in mid-March, I left the school for a short break to recharge at home before the last leg of fieldwork. These past few months have been equal parts amusing, disorienting, mysterious, and exhausting. When the researcher becomes the instrument, the instrument constantly picks up observations, stories, patterns–it operates on overdrive, eluding my control. This is a curious experience. Enmeshed as I was with the ebb and flow of school life, there were also moments where it slipped my mind that I was actually there to do research. So far, it has truly been an enriching encounter, living up to what Clifford Geertz describes as ‘deep hanging out’. Here’s a moment documented on twitter:

I continue to be humbled by the warmth of the school community, the generous people opening up their lives to me, taking care of me, telling me stories. What will I do with the stories entrusted to me? I ask myself constantly, I confided with friends. It seems that I must weigh them with care, sit a while with the contradictions and tensions therein, and together make knowledge, make worlds otherwise. In The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna Tsing (2015) writes:

Without algorithms based on self-containment, scholars and policymakers might have to learn something about the cultural and natural histories at stake. That takes time, and too much time, perhaps, for those who dream of grasping the whole in an equation. But who put them in charge? If a rush of troubled stories is the best way to tell about contaminated diversity, then it’s time to make that rush part of our knowledge practices.

At the moment, I am unable to return to the school, although the holiday ended a week ago. A few days after I returned home, the Malaysian government executed a Movement Control Order (MCO) as a public health strategy to contain the spread of COVID-19. The order, which includes nationwide school closure, was initially meant to last until today; it has since been extended for an additional 2 weeks until 14 April 2020. What a time to be alive! With so much uncertainty in the air, I am incredibly grateful to be around family.

The implication for students is that face-to-face learning in institutions no longer become feasible in this age of pandemic. A learning crisis that exacerbates inequalities thus rears its head around the world, sharply affecting those without access to alternative online platforms–the poor, those in remote and rural areas. This letter by Karen Mundy and Susannah Hares highlights potential pointers for education systems to adapt to the current reality. Closer to home, my friend Pravin penned his opinion on how Malaysian students are affected, rightly pointing out uneven access to online learning. The Malaysian Ministry of Education released a statement on how learning should proceed during the time of MCO, highlighting their various online resources. They acknowledge the difference in access to technology across the board, suggesting possible approaches that can be taken by teachers. This directive assumes things will revert to normal in 2 weeks, but will it? Time will tell.

For my own PhD project, I had a supervision meeting late last week over Skype. It is easy to feel despair in these times, but life (and the PhD) marches on somehow. I am calm because my supervisors are measured and frank in their assessment of the current reality. Research designs will inevitably evolve, the new normal must be embraced. These are extraordinary times for everyone–we must all find ways to adapt, to endure, to care for one another, to survive. Amidst the uncertainty, I am comforted by the various resources that have surfaced in the academic community, such as #virtualnotviral. But if the PhD is a project of imagination, which I do say so myself, then the current predicament also calls for pause. I ask myself: What does it mean to do work, to be productive in the academy, on this novel plane ushered by a global pandemic? There are no easy answers. Which practices do I accept, reject and commit to reimagine alongside others? These are questions and ongoing conversations to grapple with along the way.

Looking ahead, the future seems shrouded in mystery, transformed by pandemic and the attendant pandemonium. Christof Mauch in this essay on Slow Hope observes:

“Hope, for Bloch, has its starting point in fear, in uncertainty, and in crisis: It is a creative force that goes hand in hand with utopian ‘wishful images’. It can be found in cultural products of the past–in fairy tales, in fiction, in architecture, in music, in the movies–in products of the human mind that contain the outlines of a better world’. What makes us ‘authentic’ as humans are visions of our ‘potential’. In other words: living in hope makes us human.”

So I try to enact hopefulness, somehow, in the current ruins. Be well and stay safe!

Reference

Tsing, A. (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

December

I am writing my year-end updates in midst of packing for the second phase of my DPhil fieldwork. Tomorrow I will make the journey to settle down for a number of months in a rural community here in Malaysia, where the more intensive, ethnographic component of my research will begin. Currently experiencing some pre-fieldwork jitters. They mirror the kind of nervous energy that often blankets the trip back to the boarding school dormitory of my adolescent years. But more on ethnographic feelings later, from the field!

I wanted to write a little bit about this past year–and more broadly this past decade–before 2020 rears its futuristic head. 2019 is my first full year as a DPhil student. It is a year filled with a lot of thinking, reading, writing (which you can find here in this blog*) and learning about the ways of academia.

* I have tried to stay engaged with issues in Malaysian education by writing letters and op-eds in newspapers. In doing so, I attempted to bring the theories & framings I have picked up along the way into the public sphere. Going forward, writing in Malay seems increasingly urgent for my own intellectual development and also my intended audience.

In January, I took a short trip home to present my MSc research at a conference and also to participate in a workshop by the National Committee for Review of Education Policy (Jawatankuasa Kajian Dasar Pendidikan Negara, JKDPN) on STEM education. A manuscript based on my MSc dissertation is currently under review for a journal (after 2 desk rejections elsewhere!). I am learning that the path of academic publishing is a winding one indeed with many moving parts and elements beyond one’s control. To demonstrate, an article I co-authored with my supervisor which we submitted in September 2018 has only just been published a week ago, after more than 1 year. My first book review was also published around the same time with a shorter turnaround, having received the book in March and submitted a review in May this year.

The true material of knowledge is meaning. The only way to glean knowledge is contemplation. And the road to that is time. There’s nothing else. It’s just time. There is no shortcut for the conquest of meaning. And ultimately, it is meaning that we seek to give our lives. – Maria Popova

This year, while preparing for the first milestone of the DPhil, the Transfer of Status (ToS), I had the opportunity to work on a book chapter on postcolonialism in comparative and international education with two fellow DPhils in my department, Arzhia and Olga. We’re currently awaiting further feedback from reviewers on the edits following the round of editorial feedback a few months ago. It is a privilege indeed to have thinking partners during this academic apprenticeship. This sense of fellow feeling and an eagerness to build community has blossomed into the Critical Perspectives in Education Collective (CPEC). We organised the collective in the department to bring together like-minded people interested in reflecting on critical theories and perspectives tied to education. The internal journey of the DPhil can at times be an isolating and confusing one. Having a community of friends walking–and to walk–alongside has been indispensable in my experience.

Attending a summer school, a few conferences and being active on Twitter throughout this year have also enriched the DPhil experience, and provided glimpses of the ebb and flow of academia. Unlike previous degrees, the learning that takes place in a DPhil is less confined to the traditional classroom setup of education. At once, it is inward in the deep acts of reflection that it demands (I’ve had my share of sleepless nights), and expansive in that every interaction both within and outside the university has potential matter and material for the DPhil, and for life’s learnings writ large. This expansive dimension can at times be overwhelming, taking over other aspects of life–sometimes it is difficult to ‘switch off’. So I have to admit I am (still) learning to pace myself, to take breaks and engage in non-academic pursuits, to breathe and enjoy being away from the DPhil when I need to.

At the start of this decade (2009), I was in my third year of undergraduate studies in chemical engineering at the University of New South Wales. But around this time back then, I had already plotted a different path for myself outside of engineering, which led me to Teachers College (TC), Columbia University in 2012. I was then fortunate to spend 4 years in corporate philanthropy in Malaysia, working on education projects and learning so much about my homeland. An elective in comparative education back in TC, and a yearning to make sense of my professional experience led me to Oxford, first for an MSc, followed by the beginnings of the DPhil, which will close this 10-year epoch. It has been a decade of much learning both in and out of the academy, and countless opportunities and kind people enabling such learning. I am grateful.

The new year brings with it plenty of new opportunities for learning (in the field and beyond), a few writing projects (with looming deadlines) and the continual development of the academic identity. Heading into the new year, I carry with me the following reminder from Malaysia’s National Laureate Usman Awang about the role of the intellectual:

Peranan intelektuil ialah mengenal masharakat dengan sistimnya dengan sedalam2nya, melihat dengan sikap kritis segala sebab dan akibat. Jadi pergi ke desa, (bukan sebagai ‘tourist’ menyedut udara bersih dan menikmati pandangan alam atau menchari buah2an dimusim durian dan rambutan), tetapi menyoroti desa dan kampung sehingga ke dasar lumpur sawah, ke balik tungku dan dapur yang dingin, ke dasar belanga sumbing, periuk kosong dan pembuluh2 darah anak2 yang berisi kuman malaria. Untuk ini hanya ada suatu jalan saja, yaitu mengintegrasikan diri dengan kehidupan rakyat itu sendiri, mengenal harapan dan chita2nya, menyerapkan duka laranya dan bernafas degan nafas rakyat.

Here’s to 2020!

Saint Honesty

I am writing this update from the field!

Currently back in Malaysia for data collection year of my DPhil. It’s been a month now since I’ve returned, and I will eventually write about my experience doing fieldwork at home. But for now, I share a letter I wrote last week to New Straits Times commenting about the ministry’s move to abolish streams in upper secondary education.

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Read the published letter here, but I append below the original version I submitted before edits done by the newspaper (subtle differences here and there).

Until next time!


Streamless schools: seamless transition or half-formed ideal?

Aizuddin Mohamed Anuar

Education Minister YB Dr. Maszlee Malik recently announced that beginning next year, upper secondary school students will no longer face subject streaming following their Form Three examination (PT3). It is puzzling, but perhaps not surprising, that he chose to push for this decision despite his team’s concern of the time constraints for immediate implementation. After all, he is a politician. Being the foremost bearer of ‘good news’ trumps the complex aftermath once the dust settles—the real work of officers, teachers and students dealing with systemic realities and constraints, away from the glitz of the political pulpit.

The Minister highlights that streaming has resulted in mismatched placement of talents, laying the blame on parents for deciding on behalf of their children. In an era of streamless education, children will be able to rely on artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to make their own decisions. Their talents will not go to waste like their predecessors. But who will then be blamed for future missteps or mismatches in education decisions, however much we wish that machines don’t lie? These insentient machines? Children themselves?

On a conceptual level, liberating students from the shackles of streaming is a laudable move. Reflecting on my own experience, I would have enjoyed the opportunity to study geography and English literature at the upper secondary level. If I had done so, my trajectory might look very different. But I was in a science school, so my schoolmates and I were automatically streamed to study pure science subjects, regardless of ability and affinity.

However, the everyday reality of school administration in a highly centralised education system is far from a streamless ideal. My recent conversation with individuals within our education system suggests an ambivalent response to the Minister’s announcement. Much will remain status quo, not because it is an unwise idea. Rather, due to the constraints faced by schools in terms of resources, students will continue to be organised (if not formally streamed) as they have in the past.

A buffet of specialised subjects cannot be offered if there are insufficient specialised teachers at a particular school, if there are no corresponding facilities to support such subjects. Away from the ministerial core where grand policies are crafted and promulgated, public schools all over the country will continue to operate within their limits and means.

Ultimately, children should not be short-changed by this move. It will not be fair to suggest a streamless system if they are able to register for a salad of subjects on paper, but will have to learn independently because certain subjects are not offered or supported by the school. It will not be fair if students leave a streamless secondary school to enter a higher education system that still expects a combination of subjects along the lines facilitated by the previous streaming approach. Who is to be blamed then?

Perhaps the Minister should have acceded to the internal wisdom of his team, adopting a thoughtful, studied approach to policy-making before making announcements that on surface might placate the public. The education of our children is not a game. Popcorn, half-formed reforms are unacceptable, notwithstanding how politically expedient they might be.

Our children deserve the potential liberation and expansion of their capacities brought about by a streamless system. Equally, they deserve thoughtful implementation to go along with that system, so they are not short-changed, or worse, blamed by its aftermath.

The writer is a PhD student in Education and Clarendon-New College scholar, University of Oxford

To cite this article:

Aizuddin, M. A. (2019, October 19). Streamless schools — seamless transition or half-formed idea? New Straits Times, Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters/2019/10/531508/streamless-schools-%E2%80%94-seamless-transition-or-half-formed-idea

Good Life

The latest furore in Malaysian education follows the Ministry of Education’s announcement on the introduction of khat (caligraphy of the jawi script) as part of the Bahasa Melayu (Malay language) curriculum in standard 4 in all primary schools (national and national-type/vernacular).

I wrote an op-ed for the New Straits Time in relation to this issue, focusing on how some dissenters questioned the move in relation to the country’s supposed priorities for development, and education’s associated role in this project.

Coda: Since the op-ed below was published, the Ministry announced that teaching of khat would be optional for vernacular schools, due to strong public backlash along religio-ethnic lines. This issue serves as an example of how education in Malaysia is often susceptible to politicisation; any decision can easily be misconstrued to contribute to the fracturing of fragile ethnic relations.


Knowledge for ‘good life’: Which to use?

WHEN I was in secondary school, I enjoyed the craft of khat and often participated in extracurricular competitions associated with it. Although much of what I composed were Quranic scripts fashioned in intricate and hypnotic permutations, what motivated me more was the opportunity for artistic expression, rather than nascent religious fervour.

Khat offered a respite from an educational experience that predominantly emphasised and valued science instead of the arts. I was, after all, a student in one of the many ‘science schools’, which the government had set up as part of the national development strategy.

I excavate this personal anecdote as a way to reflect on the current polarised debate about the introduction of khat as part of the Bahasa Melayu curriculum in standard 4 of primary schools beginning 2020.

Read more here.

To cite this article:

Aizuddin, M. A. (2019, August 7). Knowledge for ‘good life’: Which to use? New Straits Times, Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2019/08/510965/knowledge-good-life-which-use

Light years

Hello from the other side of the probationary line!

Since I last wrote, I sat for my Transfer of Status (ToS) examination–exactly one week ago–and have ‘transferred’ from Probationary Research Student to DPhil Student. It was a very positive experience that felt more like a dynamic supervisory conversation rather than an examination. I am grateful for the careful and thoughtful input from my examiners to improve the design of my study as I prepare to begin fieldwork in October–marking the start of the 2nd year of my DPhil.

Before I sat for the ToS examination, I had the opportunity to talk about my ongoing work at the Global Perspectives: Re-imagining Education conference held at the University of Worcester on 20-21 June 2019. I received useful feedback and met a fellow Malaysian PhD student, Rosmalily from the University of Southampton who has since passed her viva (hooray!)

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Afterwards, I  headed to Portugal to attend the Epistemologies of the South summer school organised by the Centre of Social Science (CES), University of Coimbra on 24 June-2 July 2019. The thread summarising my experience is below:

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This summer school was a very transformative experience for me. It was a very relational and emotional learning experience among such wonderful people. I left feeling energised by the collective solidarity and zeal to see through a more just world, committed to engaging with the struggles on the ground by way of the body, emotions and intellect of our multiple selves: activists, academics, artists and students.

In the context of my DPhil study, a commitment to the epistemologies of the South entails valorising the knowledge co-constructed with rural young people in Malaysia on development alternatives in interaction with–and perhaps even through the appropriation of–science education. In the course of this research, it will be crucial to foreground both local knowledge and conventional scholarship on Malay cosmology and culture produced in the Malay language.

On the public engagement front, I was recently invited by the folks at Dialog Pendidikan to contribute an opinion about pre-university education. Taking a historical framing of the matriculation programme in relation to higher education’s role in social mobility, I argue for a big-picture dialogue on who the government should prioritise in terms of support for social mobility. In addition, together with Charis, a fellow Malaysian in my department, I wrote a public letter in Malay to YB Dr. Maszlee Malik, the Minister of Education.  We included the letter together with the book ‘Letters to a New Minister of Education’ which we sent to him in June, recognising his 1-year tenure in office.

Hopefully once I am back in Malaysia from October onwards for fieldwork, I will be able to participate in more public engagement opportunities tied to education. Exciting dialogues and developments are taking place at home. Between now and then, I will be preparing for fieldwork, presenting at another conference in August and incorporating some much needed fallow time with family and friends. It has been quite a year of learning and growth!

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