The Rationale of Moral Studies (Online essay for YouthEcho)

I'm just like any other teenager ; I face the harsh challenges of everyday life, I help my friends and family members, I pray for them, I do my best in whatever way I possibly can. I've had fights and disputes before, but I try to learn from my mistakes, even if it's an uphill task and I seem to be fighting a losing battle. I have my passions and aspirations. Sounds close to perfection eh ? Most of us do that.

My current score in the Moral Studies paper is nowhere next to a 2A. During my monthly examinations, it turned out to be a 3B or a 4B. Most of us get that score.

Every year without fail, our education system repeats that we are looking for all-rounded students. True, it’s no use having smart but socially deficient people in school. Then comes the harsh part : the non-Muslim students are forced into taking another subject : Moral Studies ! At least everyone I know complains about Moral Studies being one of the hardest papers to tackle in SPM. And then again, we have socially deficient people who have obtained the A for the paper, but have failed in real life. So how much good is it really doing for us ?

The first bad move in introducing the subject would be… well, let’s see… separating the Muslims and the non-Muslims. While talking about the importance of racial unity and slamming the racists, what happens to the casual observers – and the students themselves ? Do they not realise that they themselves have been separated just for lessons ? What good does that come up to ? Then, we have the thirty-odd principles of morality. We get a little good out of this – we learn the definitions, the way to score in the paper, some extra information about the nation, and bits and pieces of information of local and foreign activists. All this is done with a direct teacher-student approach and not a personal approach. As I have said, beyond the paper, how sure are we that the students actually practise what they write ? The paradox of this subject is such that some people who have obtained the A do not show it in real life.

Now, we come to the second bad move – having a fixed answer scheme for the Moral Studies paper. Let’s face it ; there are people in secondary school who are very mature for their age. They come up with arguable answers – and very adult ones too. Sadly, these answers are not recognised, and the thinking capacity of the student is hindered, simply because of the fixed answer scheme. Take this example : suppose a question in the paper talks about the many diverse religions in Malaysia. The set answer is “freedom of religion”, which is not a value, but a criterion of our nation ! When asked for a value, we would write “tolerance” as the answer. To the students’ utmost disappointment, the answer “tolerance” is unacceptable. So how do we know what the examiners want of us ? We can never read their minds. Some things can never be fathomed.

Another not-so-good thing which occurs in the Moral Studies syllabus would be the project work. The current concept is such that the students are asked to give the values they learnt during whatever they did. How sure are we that whatever they did really touched them and changed their lives for the better ? Sadly, the syllabus does not take this into account. The likelihood of us doing this project is such – we would do the project, strike a few poses for photo shooting to “prove” that we did the work, try to flick back into the book for the values learnt, come up with an essay of over 250 words and voilĂ  ! it’s done. Doing so is definitely contrary to one of the principles of morality – being honest. Dishonesty in doing the project makes us wonder : should we continue doing the project, should we enhance the experience so it could really change the students’ lives, or should we just do away with it ?

I was a high school student myself, and now in college, I am doing Moral Studies, and I am never against the principles of morality. However, I do feel uneasy over the way the subject is being taught to us in school. If we want our students not to be morally deficient, morality should be practiced everyday. Having Moral Studies as a subject (which lasts for only four periods – two hours a week) only defeats the purpose. And then again, do people apply it ?

In college, I hear it’s worse : students are fed with information about moral theories, and they study them with a pinch of challenge - and some of them do not pertain to the daily lives of Malaysians. Take deontology as explained by Jean-Paul Sartre, for example. He believes that man is the sole perpetrator of his actions as he does not believe in God and the existence of sin. It goes against our Malaysian norms - the first of our five National Principles is belief in God. And then again, we study those moral theories but we actually do not make use of them. They are just absorbed for a while, soon to be forgotten.

To end, I’d like to quote a passage I read from Goh Chee Beng’s book, “Let’s Teh Tarik !” :

Someone once asked a well-known religious leader,

“With so much religion, why are there so many evil people in the world ?”

He answered,“With so much soap, why are there so many dirty people in the world ? Religion, like soap, must be personally applied if it is to make a difference in our lives.”

And of course, the true satisfaction of being a spiritually upright person does not come from an encyclopaedia on theology. Similarly, being morally upright does not depend on the Moral Studies textbook.


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