RECENTLY, the Ministry of Higher Education launched Lifelong Islamic Education with two-pronged objectives: to offer continuous Islamic education to all levels of society, especially for those who miss the opportunity to learn it throughout their academic life, and secondly, to provide complementary professional skills, especially to students in religious studies who are labelled as those who are embroiled only with religious studies.
This will also help them in getting better employment.
With these two main objectives, the lifelong learning initiative will hopefully produce better and more quality human capital in this country.
This initiative to enhance lifelong education in Malaysia should be lauded despite its rather late beginning.
For, lifelong learning is not something new to modern education.
Since the 1970s it has become a term which is popular in developed countries, referring to the additional system which complements formal education.
It is defined as the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.
The lifelong education system not only enhances social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development, but also self-sustainability.
Although there are formal types of education that are involved in the lifelong learning process, the real focus of lifelong learning is more on another two categories of education: informal and non-formal learning.
Informal learning refers to learning through experience with no formal curriculum and credited subject. Parents teaching their children can be an example of informal learning.
Non-formal learning refers to organised learning, but not guided by formal curriculum such as seminars and workshops.
Despite its pertinent significance, the focus of lifelong education in general is still predominantly related to a market-driven objective, namely to enhance employability among citizens.
Without denying this practical objective, it however has a few weaknesses.
First, it will not attract those who already have good employment since they are already complacent with their working environment.
Second, as a consequence of the first, the kinds of knowledge which will be sought in lifelong learning will only be related to the needs of the job market.
On the other hand, knowledge which is not directly related to the market yet is important in producing good human capital, such as religious and ethical studies, will not become the concern in lifelong education.
Taking that into account, it is important to find a stronger basis and to ground lifelong learning on a more universal justification in order for it to be really successful in its implementation.
And these justifications can be found on philosophical and religious grounds.
Philosophically, knowledge and education are very close to the nature of human beings.
This is due to the fact that human beings are endowed with reason, that enables them to think and contemplate many things, thus generating new knowledge.
In his definition of man, the great Greek thinker Aristotle pointed out that human beings are essentially rational animals.
They are distinguished from other creations due to their ability to think and generate knowledge.
René Descartes, the renowned French philosopher, put it in a different way through his famous saying, “I think therefore I am.”
Thinking and knowledge, in other words, are the raison d’etre of human beings.
Based on this essential relation between knowledge and human beings, knowledge is therefore considered in the philosophical as well as religious tradition as a great virtue that will elevate its possessor.
It is the light, as asserted by Imam al-Shafie, that will enlighten one’s heart and soul.
It is placed high in human value system and worldview.
Consequently, knowledge must therefore be sought not because it is merely a means to an end but an end by itself.
Imam Al-Ghazali in his Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din gives a good example concerning the nature of knowledge.
According to him, things which are sought by people in this world are of three categories.
First, what is sought as a means to an end such as money.
Second, what is sought for its own intrinsic value such as happiness, and third, what is sought because it can both be a means to an end and also because of its own intrinsic value such as physical health.
Knowledge, according to al-Ghazali, falls into the third category, namely it can be sought as a means to acquire other ends such as wealth and position, yet it also has its own intrinsic value which is its virtuous and enlightening attribute.
To relate al-Ghazali’s point with lifelong education and learning, it is only when knowledge is regarded and seen from the perspective of its own intrinsic value that it will continuously be sought regardless of its worldly and material ends.
This is in line with the virtuous nature of knowledge that will elevate one’s position.
Even if knowledge were to be sought as a means to an end, that end must be more universal, higher and eternal such as happiness and the blessing of God.
This is in line with the Quranic appreciation of knowledge and its possessor.
In Surah al-Mujadalah (58:11), the Quran says, “Allah will raise the position of the believers and of those who received knowledge.”
And in Surah al-Zumar (39:9), “Say, ‘are those who know equal to those who do not know?’ Only the people of reason will take heed.”
Only with these stronger bases, knowledge and education will be approached with a more continuous and lasting spirit.
This is reflected in the history of great civilisations in the past where knowledge is sought not only for its temporary and pragmatic aims but more importantly due to its higher virtuous nature.
And only with this spirit, knowledge will advance wisdom and civilisation. Dr Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran The STAR Home Opinion Columnist IKIM Views 6 October 2015