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Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume II

Human Rights Education in Schools: The Malaysian Experience

Nik Azis Nik Pa

One of the outstanding characteristics of Malaysia's population today is its highly diversified ethnic mix, making it one of the prime examples of a multiracial society. The multiracial character of Malaysia's population has come into being over the course of the last 150 years through migration of the various races. In general, Malaysia's ethnic groups fall into two main categories: those with cultural affinities indigenous to the region and to one another, who are classified as bumiputera, and those whose cultural affinities lie outside, who are classified as non-bumiputera.

In terms of ethnic composition of the population in the year 2000, Bumiputra are expected to comprise 63.2 percent, Chinese 26 percent, and Indian 7.5 percent of Malaysia’s citizens. About 7.5 percent of the total population will be non-citizens (see Table 1). The non-citizens are mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Thailand. The non-citizen component of the population, however, is expected to grow at a slower rate in view of the government's intention to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign labor. For the period 1991-1995, the population of Malaysia increased at 2.7 percent per annum to reach 20.96 million in 1995. This relatively high rate of population growth was due to the substantial increase in the non-citizen population during the period.

The largest bumiputra group in Malaysia, the Malays, are Muslim; the Chinese generally follow Buddhism and Confucianism; and the Indians mostly follow Hinduism. In Malaysia, language varies widely from Malay, English, Chinese, Tamil, to Kadazan, Murut and aboriginal. Of course, besides these there are many other languages and dialects. Since language is one of the foundations of culture, it is thus easy to understand why there is such a wide range of cultures that pervade the Malaysian scene. However, there is now one national and official language, namely, Malay, although English is taught and used widely.

Table 1. Estimated population size (million persons)*

Bumiputra11.95 (57.8%)13.61(58.5%)
Chinese5.29 (25.7%)5.60 (24.1%)
Indians1.50 (7.2%)1.61 (6.9%)
Other citizens0.64 (3%)0.7 (3%)
Non-citizens1.31 (6.3%)1.74 (7.5%)
Total population20.6923.26

* Source: Seventh Malaysia Plan

Meaning of Values

Human rights means more than the fundamental rights of man (such as freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of association and assembly) and political rights. It encompasses not only those basic rights of the individual but also includes those rights which are necessary for the development of groups of individuals and the world community at large. Human rights include basic economic, social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and cultural rights. In a broader sense, human rights focus on promoting a world where men can achieve their full human potential by learning to live together in peace and harmony. Thus, human rights education (HRE) in schools involves developing an understanding of others and their history, traditions and values. Any in-depth examination of the concept of HRE in schools in the Malaysian context brings to light a number of key questions.

  • What should be the aims of HRE in schools?
  • What rights should HRE seek to espouse and promote?
  • What is the practical standard of human rights?
  • Are there any absolute rights, or merely changing and relative ones?
  • Is there a sufficient basis of shared human rights in our society to support a common framework of HRE for all children?
  • Should the schools reflect traditional rights or seek to transform them?
  • How do children acquire values related to human rights?
  • How does one assess or evaluate HRE?
  • What is the role of technology in the development of children's knowledge of values and moral laws related to human rights?
  • Who has the authority to set up rules about right and wrong?
  • What might "HRE curriculum" mean?
  • What is the relationship between human needs and human rights?
  • What is the relationship between development and human rights?

Before any of these questions can be considered, the first step is to examine more closely what is meant by the term values. In the literature, there is still much disagreement about the term "values." Values have been variously defined as things which are considered "good" in themselves such as beauty, truth, love, honesty and loyalty; as personal or social preferences; as what we hold dear; as beliefs, attitudes or feelings that an individual is proud of, is willing to publicly affirm, has been chosen thoughtfully from alternatives without persuasion, and is acted on repeatedly; as the desirability of things; as both emotional commitments and ideas about worth; as those things such as objects, activities and experiences which on balance promote human well-being; as what we either like or dislike; as qualities of things; and as the material or monetary worth of something. In this book, however, the term values is used to refer to principles, fundamental convictions, ideals, standards or life stances which act as general guides to behavior or as points of reference in decision-making or the evaluation of beliefs or action and which are closely connected to personal integrity and identity.

Almost all human beings judge their own as well as other people's actions from a moral point of view. The actions about which we make moral judgements are the actions of humans who live in various social groups such as the family, to which they are bound by love, affection, and loyalty. Human behavior is motivated by both short-term and long-term needs and desires, and by a great variety of projects, plans and goals. It is true that to talk of the value of something has always been to talk of its worth, and when we value something we are making a high estimate of its worth. Anything that we hold dear or important in life can be called a "value." To value something means to place importance upon it. Values may be divided into two categories: aesthetic and ethical. Aesthetic values are related to objects of beauty, whereas ethical values are concerned with objects which can be valued as good or bad, especially good or bad with respect to behavior. In this context, morality and values are inseparable. Morality implies a set of principles or ideals that help the individual to distinguish right from wrong and to act on this distinction.

We experience the world and what constitutes it. It seems to be an ineliminable part of our experience of values that there is more than one type of value. Moral values are fundamentally different from aesthetic values; intellectual values are quite different from hedonic values; and religious values are not the same as political values. Thus, from the philosophical and epistemological perspectives, values can be differentiated into cultural, educational, practical, economic, legal, intellectual, secular, historical, modern life and spiritual values. Also, as is well known, many people today talk loosely about "my values" or "so-and-so's values," in a way that suggests either that they think all values are relative to the individual or group, or that they are using the phrase as a shorthand for "my preferences among values," or someone's choices among given values, and the like. However, the term values in this book is used to refer to the criteria by which we make such value judgements, to the principles on which the value judgements are based. In short, values are our standards and principles for judging worth. They are the criteria by which we judge "things" (people, objects, ideas, actions and situations) to be good, worthwhile, desirable; or, on the other hand, bad, worthless, despicable. This raises the question of whether the values by which we judge worth are subjectives or objectives, relative or absolute. Also, initial distinction must be made between merely personal value judgements or subjective preferences and true judgements of value, which purport to have a more rational character.

In Malaysia, the Constitution, the National Ideology (Rukunegara), the National Philosophy of Education, the Education Act 1996, Vision 2020, and the 1979 Report of the Cabinet Committee to Review the Implementation of Education Policy provide basic guiding principles for a faith-based values education. For instance, the first principle of Rukunegara, which is Belief in God, renders an avenue for every citizen to have an awareness of God and an awareness that God has created human beings of different races, made them into different groupings so that they may know each other and live in harmony. This awareness will stimulate human beings to respect each other's customs, values and belief systems. Belief in God, in order to be effective, requires complete trust and hope in God, submission to His will and reliance on His aid. The purpose of life is to worship God. This does not simply mean that we have to spend our entire lives in constant seclusion and absolute meditation. To worship God is to know Him; to love Him; to obey His commandments; to enforce His law in every aspect of life; to serve His cause by doing right and shunning the evil; and to be just to Him, to ourselves, and to our fellow human beings. Concerning the faith-based moral and values education, the 1979 Report states that:

To build a disciplined, cultured and united society, it is recommended that while Muslim students study the Islamic Religious Knowledge, and this includes other pupils who choose to follow this subject, non-Muslim pupils should be taught Moral and Ethics Education. All pupils who study this subject, Moral and Ethics Education, must take it in the examination. In both these subjects, respect for individual freedom to embrace any religion in a multi-religious society must be cultivated.

In Malaysia, Islam is the official religion, but freedom of worship is permitted. In Islam, values are viewed as a set of absolute criteria for making judgements and these criteria apply everywhere and at all times. On this view, certain human actions are right or wrong. Muslims look to Islam to provide a basis for morality. They hold that moral laws are universally binding for all and eternally true, whether or not any moral law is in fact universally respected or obeyed. What is valuable is independent of what any individual thinks or likes, and it is independent of what any particular society happens to sanction.

Muslims believe in moral laws established by God and interpreted in a religious tradition. These moral laws apply to everybody everywhere and are not dependent for their valuableness on what produces human satisfaction or on the mores set up by particular societies. The justification of moral laws rests directly on the authority of God. Islam rejects a subjectivist view that no set of values can be shown to be better than the other. According to adherents of subjectivism, to claim that something is good or right is simply to say "I like it" or "I approve it." The only justification for value judgements, then is how a person feels or to what he or she is committed. Islam also rejects a cultural relativist view that value judgements are justified by appealing to the "social authority" of a particular culture. According to adherents of cultural relativism, what is good and right is what a particular culture says it is.

The concept of values and morality in Islam centers around certain basic beliefs and principles. Among these are the following: God is the Creator and Source of all goodness, truth and beauty; man is living on earth as His agent; moderation, practicality and balance are the guarantees of high integrity and sound morality; and man's ultimate responsibility is to God and his highest goal is the pleasure of his Creator. The dimensions of morality in Islam are numerous, far-reaching and comprehensive. Islamic values and morals deal with the relationship between man and God, man and his fellow men, man and his environment, and man and his innermost self. In a general sense, the Muslim's role is to champion what is right and fight what is wrong, seek what is true and abandon what is false, cherish what is beautiful and wholesome and avoid what is indecent. More specifically, the Muslim's relationship with God is one of submission and obedience, complete trust and thoughtfulness, peace and appreciation, love and hope, steadfastness and active service. This high morality will, undoubtedly, nourish and reinforce morality at the human level.

Hierarchy of Values

The range of values and morality in Islam is so inclusive and integrative that it combines at once faith in God, religious rites, spiritual observances, social conduct, decision making, intellectual pursuits, habits of consumption, manners of speech and all other aspects of human life. From the epistemological perspective, values in Islam can be arranged in a specific hierarchy of importance (as shown in Figure 1). There is only one basic value, namely belief or faith in God; four core values—good manners or habits, bravery or courage, justice and wisdom; many major values such as brotherliness, caring, charity, compassion, diligence, freedom, gratitude, honesty, hospitality, humility, integrity, lovingness, sincerity, God-consciousness, modesty, peace, perseverance, responsibility, respect, thankfulness, trustworthiness, truthfulness and steadfastness; and numerous expanded values such as creativity, critical thinking, democracy, human rights, love of knowledge, sense of community, sense of family, sustainable development, future-orientedness, personal accountability, responsible and harmonious relations with others, cooperation for good, efficient time management, freedom of speech, economic efficiency, decency in appearance, self-discipline and self-control, self-reliance and self-supporting, social responsibility, kindness in all spheres of life, consistency of action, respect for the honor and privacy of others, enjoyment in moderation and effective management of resources.

The four general levels of values are the foundation for the Values Hierarchy Model. Figure 1 illustrates the hierarchy of values, with those at the base of the hierarchy assumed to be more basic or important relative to the values above them in the hierarchy. For example, there is only one value at the first level (basic value), namely:

Figure 1

Figure 1: The hierarchy of values according to the Islamic perspective belief in God or faith.

Faith means the total acceptance and implementation of the commandments of God. Faith is the basis of all actions in Islam. Faith in practice is called Islam. A believer who practices what he believes in is a Muslim. It is the total submission to the will of God which brings the vital inner peace to Muslims, and thus collectively to society and which in turn guarantees real peace and lasting success. Faith in Islam is a state of peace, happiness and harmony acquired by virtue of positive action and constructive conceptions as well as dynamic and effective measures. According to Islam, true faith has a decisive effect on the spiritual and material life of man, and also on his personal, intellectual and social behavior as well as his political conduct and financial life. Here is an example of how the Qur'an describes the true believers.

They only are the true believers whose hearts feel submissive (and humble) when God is mentioned; and when the revelations of God are recited unto them, they (the revelations) increase and strengthen their faith; and who trust in their Lord, establish the prayer (as enjoined on them) and spend of what We have bestowed on them (in the cause of God). Those are they who are true believers. For them are (high) grades (of honor) with their Lord, and a bountiful provision (Qur'an 8:2-4).

At the second level (core values), the first value—good manners or habits—is developed by fulfilling the physiological needs such as hunger, thirst, rest, sleep, exercise and sex according to the teachings of Islam. Concerning this value, Islam deals with the very personal life of man in such a way as to insure his purity and cleanliness; as to give him a healthy diet and show him the proper manners of clothing, behavior, sports and so on. The second value—bravery or courage—is developed by fulfilling the safety and security needs according to teachings of Islam. And the third and fourth values—justice and wisdom—are developed by fulfilling the emotional, social, intellectual, purification and spiritual needs according to the teachings of Islam. In short, core values are related to fulfilling basic needs and this must be done in the framework of the Islamic way of growth and development (tazkiyah). The Islamic concept of development has a comprehensive character and includes moral, spiritual and material aspects. Growth or development becomes a goal- and value-oriented activity, devoted to optimization of human well-being in all dimensions. The moral and the material, the economic and the social, the spiritual and the physical are inseparable. The goal of Islam—of its concepts, worships and teachings relating to values, attitudes, morals, and behavior—is to create an Islamic personality within the individual Muslim. The moral principles of Islam are designed to build in human beings a sound mind, a peaceful soul, a strong personality and a healthy body.

Multi-religious Context

In Malaysia, there are a significant number of people belonging to more than one minority religious group in addition to those who belong to the majority religious group. Acknowledging the fact that Malaysia is a multi-religious country, it is most befitting to discuss a common "values and moral education" framework for all. In Malaysia, the concept of integration is developed as a basis for educational reformation. This concept of integration presupposes the idea of eliminating secular elements and supplanting them with religious elements which are based on the belief in a transcendental reality and belief in absolute values which are characteristically universal. The idea of integration in this context also takes cognizance of the inherent danger in allowing the secular-scientific approach to gain the upper hand against the holistic-religious approach in values and moral education.

One of the ways to look at the issue of integrated values and moral education in a multi-religious society is through religious parallelism. Basing judgment on the premise that all religions advocate good and human values, there must be some parallels regarding what is perceived as good by one religion, as it is also by other religions. In the context of Malaysia, since Islam is the official religion, the non-Islamic values could also be viewed in the light of their relationships with Islamic values. For example, the belief in Supreme Being has become one common denominator for the adherents of Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Sikhism, although manifestations of God in all these religions are different. Emanating from this, we are able to derive other forms of religious principles or tenets that are common such as the principle involving the primary and eternal, unchanging, fundamental values like truth, caring, honesty, tolerance and patience. Religion relates morality to the purification of the soul and thus establishes an internal and essential relationship between the moral struggle to keep oneself pure, moral behavior, internal purity, purity of motives of action and the joy of achieving nearness to God. The main idea couched in this religious parallelism is that an avenue is opened to every religious adherent to seek the profundity of positive values in their religion, thus enabling them to better understand other people's religious values while cherishing their own. Religion tells us that human beings have responsibilities. They have a responsibility to God, to each other, to society, and to the environment. They must learn about the interdependence of human beings and nature and the necessity of maintaining a healthy ecological environment for their future survival.

In the Malaysian context, steps are taken to foster the faith-based values and moral education at all levels of education. Since a faith-based moral education cannot work in isolation, steps are also taken to make sure that the whole school curriculum is faith-based. One of the prime aims of this curriculum is to help students become aware of hierarchy of knowledge and values. For instance, knowledge developed through sense experience should be subservient to rational knowledge, and rational knowledge to religious norms and values which come from God. In short, the faith-based values and moral education in the Malaysian context refers to values and moral education that are based on belief in God, the divine origin of human beings, an absolute norm of values that are proposed by Islam and shared by other religions of the country, and in the integral relationship between God, human beings and nature.

Human Rights Education

In Western societies, the concept of human rights is a secular concept which rejects religious beliefs and instead looks to secular values and ideals—to rediscover universal human values to promote a vision of a free society where everyone does what best suits his or her wishes and temperament to achieve ultimate happiness (Laszlo 1978). The Western notion of human rights provides only one particular interpretation of human rights and although it has been successful in advancing the Western societies, it may not be the case in non-Western societies such as the Malaysian societies. As rightly argued by Gong (1984), the imposition of a Western standard of civilization on the non-Western world precipitated a confrontation of cultural systems as fundamentally irreconcilable standards of civilization clash with each other.

In Malaysia, a faith-based discussion of values-related human rights gives serious attention to the development of a human soul, and in a broader view, salvation in the next world parallel to the teachings of most religious traditions of the world. At the philosophical level at least, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Confucianism and Sikhism share certain common perspectives on the relationship of the human being and his environment, the integrity of the community, the importance of the family, the significant of moral leadership, and indeed, on the meaning and purpose of life. In Malaysia, human rights teaching was not introduced as a separate subject in primary or secondary schools. The procedure adopted was the "integration method," where human rights teaching was integrated into the existing Moral Education, Religious Education, Social Studies and Language Studies curricula. Figure 2 illustrates the core and related values necessary for HRE in schools.

Human Rights Education in Schools

The conceptual framework in Figure 2 is based on a God-centered rather than human-centered approach. We believe that values related to HRE in schools are grounded in a reality outside humanity and that God, the Creator of us all, is the source of them, and also the source of our knowledge. We believe that people who live by these moral values will grow to fulfill their potentials to the fullest, while those who do not, will not rise above the animal plane. Among others, the conceptual framework in Figure 2 acknowledges and endorses four basic ideas.

  • In the Values Hierarchy Model, the worship and obedience to God formed the pillar, foundation or innermost value; other values come after it and follow from it. All good and evil springs from this conception. Whatever God wants us to do is good for us and for society and whatever He dislikes is bad for us and for society.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Values related to HRE in schools

  • Knowledge about values and moral laws, no matter how it be defined, is in the head of persons, and that the thinking subject has no alternative but to construct what he or she knows on the basis of his or her own experience. However, man should look to religion to provide a basis for morality.
  • Religious teachings have a major role in facilitating an understanding of the belief structures which underlie value systems. A system of integrated education that is based on belief in God is viewed as the best way to overcome values and tenets of secularism.
  • The aims of HRE should shift from the simple gaining of factual knowledge to developing sophisticated abilities, skills, techniques, attitudes and habits, so as to produce individuals who are knowledgeable, competent, possess high moral standards, capable of achieving a high level of personal well-being and able to contribute to the betterment of the society.

In Malaysia, we believe that religious education and faith-based education have a major contribution to make in the process of educating students concerning human rights. For instance, religious education and faith-based education provide evidence and examples of ways in which beliefs and values have directly affected people's lives through making choices and selecting of priorities. They also provide a critical frame of references which transcends personal, group and ethnic interests; take account of faith as an important motivating factor in people's lives; offer a wealth of value-laden content rather than process alone; and offer an alternative approach to life than either materialism or secularism.

HRE has a fundamental role to play in personal and social development. It is one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development. In Malaysia, HRE has focused on four components: the cognitive, behavioral, affective and spiritual. In the Malaysian integrated educational curriculum, the scope of HRE is very broad and there are many ways students can experience and build up advanced schemes of values related to human rights. Under the mechanism of integration, three major approaches are used to develop values related to human rights across the curriculum.

  • The direct approach The direct approach involves the teaching of two specific school subjects focused directly on moral development, ethics and values related to human rights, namely Islamic Education (for Muslims) and Moral Education (for non-Muslims) at both the primary and secondary levels. In Moral Education at the primary school, the total number of values taught is 12, while at the secondary school, it is 16. The values are kindness, self-reliance, integrity, respect, love, justice, freedom, courage, mental and physical cleanliness, honesty, diligence, cooperation, moderation, gratitude, rationality and public spiritedness.
  • The indirect approach The indirect approach involves the use of curriculum subjects as vehicles for teaching values related to human rights. For instance, the teaching of literature and history provides significant resources for HRE. Students can identify moral dilemmas, moral reasoning and moral decision making in novels and history literature. The indirect approach is partly based on the assumption that understanding in humanities demands the development of imagination and intuition that can enhance moral and intellectual sensitivity. HRE is value education in the truest sense of the term. It gives the student an opportunity to evaluate the realization or non-realization of human rights in his or her own life, in Malaysia or in the world.
  • The implicit approach The implicit approach involves such strategies as integrated learning, teaching, ways of knowing and perceptions. In this context, integrating how teachers teach is as important as integrating what teachers teach. HRE should provide a means of helping students to develop positive values, attitudes and habits that are important in the progress of a society. Therefore, the approaches and strategies employed by the teachers must provide students with the opportunities to see and relate issues and problems from a human rights perspective.

In conclusion, one of the critical outcomes of HRE in Malaysia is to present values related to human rights as a unified discipline, a woven fabric rather than a patchwork of discrete ideas. To be useful, values related to human rights must be taught in contexts that are meaningful and relevant to students. As students continue to think about the importance of values related to human rights in life, HRE will grow and become dominant. In the Malaysian context, the discussion of core and related values needed for HRE is to be based on belief in God, the divine origin of human beings, the absolute characteristic of values and the integral relationship between God, human beings and nature.

We strongly believe that man needs to develop the five major dimensions of his nature: physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual. Investment in himself is the single most powerful investment man can ever make in his life. It means developing, preserving and enhancing all five dimensions of our nature, regularly and consistently in wise and balanced ways. We strongly believe that this is one of the principal means available to each one of us to foster a deeper and more meaningful form of learning about human rights.

Conceptual Framework

In multiracial and multi-cultural Malaysia, education is used as an instrument to realize national aspirations of socio-cultural integration, unity, identity and development through a common language and curriculum whilst accommodating individual needs and societal demands. The process of nation-building fosters a philosophical commitment toward national unity, the creation of a national culture, ethical-scientific development and industrial-technological development. In other words, Malaysia must be a nation that is fully developed along all the dimensions: economic, social, spiritual, psychological, moral, intellectual and cultural.

The overriding concern in this country today is the development of a truly integrated and united Malaysian nation in consonance with the tenets of Rukunegara (the Malaysian National Ideology), the objectives of the New Economic Policy, the aims of the National Development Policy, and the goals of the Malaysia's Vision 2020. In fact, one of the strategic challenges that has confronted Malaysia from the moment of its birth as an independent nation is the challenge of establishing a united Malaysian nation with a sense of common and shared destiny. Vision 2020 states that Malaysia must be a nation at peace with itself, territorially and ethnically integrated, living in harmony with full and fair partnership, made up on one "Bangsa Malaysia" with political loyalty and dedication to the nation.

The challenge Malaysia has always faced is that of establishing a fully moral and ethical society, whose citizens are strong in religious and spiritual values and imbued with the highest of ethical standards. Also, Malaysia is confronted with the challenge of establishing a tolerant society in which Malaysians of all colors and creeds are free to practice their customs, cultures and religious beliefs and yet feel that they belong to one nation. In this context, education, especially faith-based education, is regarded as an important vehicle for the realization of these national goals and aspirations.

The Education Act 1996 strengthened the concept of a national system of education by including all levels and types of education in the National Educational System. There are three categories of educational institutions in the National Educational System: government, government-aided and private educational institutions. The core subjects in the National Curriculum formed the fundamental basis of the education of pupils in all schools within the National Education System. In this context, all schools in the National Education System, except the private schools, used the National Curriculum. Private schools are required to teach core subjects as set out by the National Curriculum.

  • Pre-school education The Education Act 1996 includes pre-school education in the National Educational System but does not institutionalize it. The programs and activities of every kindergarten must be based on the curriculum guidelines for kindergartens approved by the Ministry of Education. Among others, the aim of the pre-school education is to develop the potential of the child in all aspects of development in a balanced and integrated manner.
  • Primary education The core subjects at the primary school level include the National Language (Bahasa Melayu), the English Language, the Chinese Language at Chinese national-type schools, the Tamil Language at Tamil national-type schools, Science, Local Studies, Islamic Education for Muslim pupils and Moral Education non-Muslim pupils. The duration of primary education is six years, but it may be completed within five to seven years.
  • Secondary education The core subjects at the secondary school level include the NationaLanguage (Bahasa Melayu), the English Language, Mathematics, Science, History, Islamic Education for Muslim students and Moral Education for non-Muslim students.

In Malaysia, education is acknowledged as having a significant influence on values and lifestyles, and is regarded as a vital channel in the development of the individual, society and the nation. The idea of values education is not new in this country. Values education, especially values education that is in line with the teachings of religion was in existence long before formal education began in this country and continues to have an important place to this day in spite of inroads made by materialism. Since the 1980s, the Ministry of Education has carried out an extensive educational reform, especially at the primary and secondary levels. Humanizing education has received top priority and a clear statement of the National Philosophy of Education based on belief in God has been formulated. Among other things, the National Philosophy of Education articulates the need for all students to receive an integrated education.

The main focus of integrated education in Malaysia is on relationships: the vertical relationship with God, the horizontal relationships with other people and nature, and the inner relationship with oneself (see Figure 3).

 Figure 3

Figure 3: Four major responsibilities or relationships

  • The relationship between man and God
    God is the Creator of the entire universe and all truth, goodness and beauty spring from Him. Man is living on the earth as God's agent. Man's ultimate responsibility is to God and his highest goal is the pleasure of his Creator. Belief in God or faith should become the focus of moral values that guide human conduct.
  • The relationship between man and his fellow men
    Man must show kindness to kin and concern for his neighbor, and respect the legitimate rights of others as much as he does his own. Man must treat other human beings as they like to be treated and he would like to be treated himself. One of the most effective ways of relating to other people is through listening. And this requires emotional and intellectual strength. Listening involves patience, openness and the desire to understand.
  • The relationship between man and nature
    Nature and the world are the field of exploration and the object of enjoyment. But whether man uses them for utility or for sheer enjoyment, he must avoid waste and excess. He must always be mindful of others who share the world with him and who will succeed him in the future. He must develop an awareness of and commitment to maintain the environment for the survival of humankind. To respect nature means to approach nature with care, to be efficient in using resources and to be guided by the best available knowledge. Man needs to understand ecological processes and to work to maintain the harmony between people and the environment.
  • The relationship between man and his innermost self
    Man must seek knowledge and virtue by all possible means, correct his mistakes and fulfill his commitments. Man needs to develop all his potentials to the fullest and align himself with correct principles. Man needs to constantly develop and renew himself physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and socially. One of the most effective ways to develop and renew is through daily learning and reflection. Self-awareness enables man to stand apart and examine even the way he "sees" himself. Peace of mind comes only when our life is in harmony with true principles and values. The greatest battles of life are fought every day in the silent chambers of our own heart. By centering our lives on correct principles and absolute values, we create a solid foundation for development of all dimensions of our nature. Private victories precede public victories.

In the integrated school curriculum, each student critically and constructively examines these relationships so that he or she gains both an awareness of them, and the belief, knowledge, skills and desire necessary to develop them. One of the important outcomes of HRE in Malaysia is to present values as a unified body of knowledge and a woven fabric rather than a patchwork of discrete rules and procedures. To be useful, HRE should be taught in contexts that are meaningful and relevant to students.

With the coming of the technological revolution and the emergence of a global culture, it is important to provide a conceptual framework which explores the potential for Malaysia as a developing country to contribute to the achievement of a better world. Figure 4 illustrates the conceptual framework for exploring ways of building a better world.

Figure 4

Figure 4: A conceptual framework for discussing contribution to the achievement of a better world

We believe that the process of development should not be equated merely with the development of physical infrastructure, technological know-how and logistics; the development of the complete human being must matter. It is here that the moral and ethical principles of education which are deeply rooted in religion must be invoked. We believe that no matter how sophisticated machines used by man may be, societies will not benefit from technologies unless the men behind the machines are morally sound. The conceptual framework in Figure 4 is based on the God-centered vision (theo-centric culture) rather than the human-centered vision (human-centric culture), where "God" rather than "man" is "the measure of all things." Among others, the conceptual framework in Figure 4 acknowledges and endorses six basic ideas or guiding principles.

  • As human beings, we cannot perfect ourselves without aligning ourselves with correct principles. God is the source of correct principles. People who live by these divine endowments will grow to fulfill their natures, while people who do not will not rise above the animal plane.
  • A good Malaysian citizen is a citizen who possesses a belief in God; knowledge; living skills; high morals; responsibility and contribution to self, society and nation; and a balanced personality.
  • The aim of education is to develop all aspects of an individual—physical, spiritual, intellectual, social and emotional—in an integrated and holistic manner. The fundamental goals of life are servitude and vicegerency. The concept of servitude entails total submission and devotion to God and His commandments. This involves the integrated development of the individual, especially the moral and spiritual aspects. The concept of vicegerency implies the responsibility of governing the earth in harmony and the maintenance of its prosperity according to divine will. This involves contribution to the harmony and betterment of society and the nation.
  • The basic goal of national development in Malaysia is not to attain industrialized-nation status alone. It involves the creation of a harmonious, united society, bound by strong religious, moral and ethical values; kindness and compassion; a high standard of living; and a good quality of life.
  • God creates human beings for specific purposes. Each human being has four basic responsibilities: to God, oneself, other people and nature. As human beings fulfill these responsibilities, they will gradually achieve harmony with God, themselves, other people and nature.

Basic Goals

In Malaysia, education for human rights must be understood in the context of local cultures. Malaysia is a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multiracial country. It has amongst its inhabitants adherents of almost all the major religions of the world. Based on the 1991 census, Islam claims 55 percent of Malaysia's total population, Buddhism 17 percent, Chinese Ancestor Worship 12 percent, Hinduism 7.5 percent, Christianity 7 percent, Tribal Religion 1.0 percent and Sikhism 0.5 percent. Islam is the official religion of Malaysia. The Constitution, however, guarantees religious freedom and upholds the autonomy of the state governments in matters relating to Islam and Malay customs. The aim of education in Malaysia is to produce a "good man" who is also a good Malaysian citizen. The National Education Philosophy states:

Education in Malaysia is an on-going effort towards further developing the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner, so as to produce individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and physically balanced and harmonious, based on a firm belief in and devotion to God. Such an effort is designed to produce Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable and competent, who possess high moral standards, and who are responsible and capable of achieving a high level of personal well-being as well as being able to contribute to the harmony and betterment of the society and the nation at large.

According to the National Education Philosophy, a good man should have a firm belief in and obedience to God; be knowledgeable; possess living skills; possess high moral standards; be responsible to himself, society and the nation; contribute to the well-being of society and nations; and have a balanced personality. The major thrust of education and training in Malaysia is to promote human resource development. For this purpose, education and training programs are expected not only to equip individuals with the appropriate knowledge and skills but also to produce responsible citizens with strong moral and ethical values.

A close examination of the National Education Philosophy shows that it makes the development of high moral character an explicit preoccupation of the education enterprise. Placing explicit emphasis on the development of moral excellence is very important, especially when one considers the overemphasis on intellectual training and relative neglect of moral development. The significance of the National Philosophy of Education can be better appreciated if it is seen in the context of the multi-religious and plural nature of the country. To have reached a consensus among the various communities to develop a harmonious nation anchored on a belief in God and to state this aim explicitly in a national educational philosophy is an achievement in itself. Consistent with this, some of the goals of education for human rights in the Malaysian context are as follows:

  • to develop physical, spiritual, intellectual, moral and emotional aspects of an individual in an integrated and holistic manner;
  • to produce a good Malaysian citizen possessing a belief in God; knowledge; living skills; high morals; responsibility and contribution to self, society and nation; and a balanced personality;
  • to develop the skills of reasoning to enable the individual to make decisions based on informed understanding;
  • to develop in the individual the skills for interpersonal communication for understanding, acceptance and tolerance;
  • to create an awareness that God has created different racial groups so that they may know each other and live in harmony, respecting the different and differing customs, values, beliefs and languages of the main cultures of the country;
  • to create an awareness that God is the transcendent anchoring point of attributes such as life, creativity, power, mercy, peace and justice and of moral values to which human society must be subject, if it is to survive and prosper;
  • to create an awareness that the process of development should not be equated merely with the development of physical infrastructure, technological know-how and logistics; the development of the complete human being must matter.

As clearly stated by Prime Minister Mahathir (1995), Malaysia does not wish to accept the notion of human rights as interpreted by the West. This does not mean that Malaysians reject human rights altogether. It simply means that Malaysians do not agree to the Western interpretation of human rights. For the purpose of this paper, human rights in the Malaysian context refers to rights accepted in the Federal Constitution, the National Ideology, the National Philosophy of Education, the Education Act 1996, Vision 2020 and similar documents. Vision 2020, which was inspired by Mahathir (1991), for instance, envisages the creation of a harmonious, united society, bound by strong religious, moral and ethical values, kindness and compassion, a high standard of living and a good quality of life. In other words, values related to human rights are specified or implied in Vision 2020 and in a series of other documents.


We believe that new assessment strategies and practices need to be developed that will enable teachers and others to assess students' performance in a manner that reflects the integrated vision for HRE. For school assessment practices to inform educators as they progress toward this vision, it is essential that we move away from the "rank order of achievement" approach in assessment toward an approach that is philosophically consistent with the integrated vision of HRE and classroom instruction. HRE in Malaysia has focused on four basic components of morality: the affective or emotional, the cognitive, the behavioral, and the spiritual components. It is easy to evaluate the cognitive domain, but not the other three.

We believe that the moral and values development of each student in a diverse multi-cultural society must be valued. Assessment procedures must no longer focus on the cognitive domain alone. Instead, all aspects of moral and values education and its connections must be assessed. To do otherwise represents an injustice in education. Thus, we propose that student assessment be aligned with, and integral to, instruction; multiple sources of assessment information be used; assessment methods be appropriate for their purposes; and all aspects of values education for human rights and its connections be assessed.

In short, there are many audiences for, or consumers of, assessment data as well as different purposes for assessments. However, we believe there are some assessment standards that can be used for judging assessment practices. Six of them are as follows.

  • Assessment should reflect values that are considered as most important for students to learn.
  • Assessment should enhance students' learning and inform teachers as they make instructional decisions.
  • Assessment should be an open process.
  • Assessment should promote the development of each student's moral and ethical values to the fullest.
  • Assessment should promote valid inferences about student's learning of moral and ethical values.
  • Assessment should be a coherent process.

In order to develop values for human rights in all students, assessment needs to support the continued learning of moral and ethical values of each student. This is the central goal of assessment in HRE in schools. We believe that assessment embodying the above standards will be a dynamic process that informs teachers, students and others. All assessments in HRE involve four phases: planning the assessment, gathering evidence, interpreting the evidence and using the results, although the aspects of each process that are most crucial may vary with the purposes.

In Malaysia, school-based assessment and centralized examinations are used in Moral Education. In centralized examinations, evaluation is based on the cognitive knowledge of moral and values education. The questions are set in the objective and subjective forms. On the other hand, school-based assessment is done through observation, written work and oral tests. At the upper secondary school level, a special instrument called the Evaluation of Habits and Behaviors is used by Moral Education teachers to assess students' habits and moral practices. This instrument focuses on eight elements: attendance at school and in co-curricular activities; homework; interaction with teachers and peers; involvement in group activities and classroom activities; obedience to school regulations, teacher's authority and leaders; efforts in learning and doing schoolwork; group leadership; and body image and personal character. We believe that decisions regarding students' development should be made on the basis of a convergence of information from a variety of balanced and equitable sources.

Issues and Developments

There are many issues in the implementation of HRE in Malaysia, including the definition of "human rights" itself. Figure 5 illustrates some of the major issues in HRE in Malaysia. Education for human rights is based on the assumption that in a culturally plural society, all children equally need to be prepared for life as responsible citizens and that values related to human rights are an "indispensable bulwark against social coercion, discrimination, and manipulation." The following are some of the major concerns and developments of HRE in Malaysia (see Nik Azis 1994).

Figure 5

Figure 5: Some major issues in HRE in Malaysia

National Integration

The Malaysian nation was born in 1957, but almost 41 years later, national unity is still an unfulfilled major aspiration. The Malaysian Constitution and Rukunegara (National Ideology) laid the foundations to achieve National Unity. For instance, Rukunegara declares that:

Our nation, Malaysia, being dedicated to achieving a greater unity of all her peoples; to maintaining a democratic way of life; to creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably shared; to ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions; to building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology. We, her peoples, pledge our united efforts to attain these ends guided by these principles:
  • Belief in God
  • Loyalty to King and Country
  • Upholding the Constitution
  • Rule of Law
  • Good Behavior and Morality

In the 1970s, the message of the National Ideology was taught to students by incorporating the five principles of Rukunegara in school subjects such as Civics, Islamic Religious Knowledge and Geography. In 1983, Moral Education was introduced as a single subject in primary schools, while in 1989, the teaching of Moral Education was introduced in secondary schools. The teaching of values of National Unity is not only limited to the Moral Education subject. Values of National Unity are also inculcated through the integration with other subjects in the primary and secondary school curriculum. Extracurricular activities also play an important role in the development of national unity. The National Educational Policy has, to some extent, strengthened common values and attitudes and helped to evolve some elements of an overall Malaysian Culture and National Unity. During the early years, National Unity was pursued less formally than it was today. The Royalty, National Language and the Democratic System of Government have all been strong unifying factors. But the racial riots of 13 May 1969 ruptured any hopes that we had achieved National Unity at that time. Thus, the New Economic Policy in 1970 aimed to set new directions to help achieve National Unity. The policy stressed the need to remove the identification of race with occupation and to alleviate poverty regardless of race. Then in 1991, the National Development Policy and the Prime Minister's Vision 2020 were designed to improve upon the New Economic Policy, to achieve the same objective of building National Unity more purposely, through the process of developing Malaysia into an industrialized nation by the year 2020. The predominate priority and underlying thrust of Vision 2020 is to create a Malaysian Race and the objective of the National Development Policy is to attain balanced development in order to create a more united and just society.

Economic Planning

Malaysia attaches great importance to economic planning. The initial Economic Planning (1956-1960) was basically a Development Expenditure Plan. It was primarily concerned with building the infrastructure which was quite inadequate at the time of independence. But as Malaysians gained more experience, economic planning became more sophisticated. As part of the overall Perspective Plans which cover 20-year periods, five-year plans have been developed. In 1991, Malaysia launched the Second Outline Perspective Plan (1991-2000), which embodies the National Development Policy. The Sixth Malaysia Plan (1991-1995) is the first phase in the implementation of the Second Outline Perspective Plan. The main thrust of the Sixth Plan is to sustain the growth momentum and manage it successfully so as to achieve the objective of balanced development. The Seventh Malaysia Plan (1996-2000) is a comprehensive and integrated macro plan with detailed sectoral analysis and socioeconomic programs. Its thrust is productivity-driven economic growth. Science and Technology, and Research and Development receive much higher priority. Malaysia would now depend less on the traditional factors of production such as land, labor and capital, and more on technology, higher productivity and the more efficient use of its resources.

The development of science and technology is essential for Malaysia's overall socioeconomic advancement. The widespread application of science and technology will provide more effective and sustainable means to achieve a competitive, diversified and global-based economy in order to attain higher standards of living. Thus, information technology forms the basis for the implementation of the Seventh Malaysia Plan. The Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) has already been defined as encompassing the area linking up the new Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the new Federal Government Capital City (Putrajaya) and the new Kuala Lumpur Telecommunication Tower. The MSC will provide the thrust for Malaysia's graduation to a new technological era, with high value-added technology. How do we achieve the goals of this science and technology policy? We need more scientific and technological knowledge and manpower. This is being done through the reform of the whole education system. Today, smart learning and teaching are the new thrust of educational reform. But smart school is not about the using technology to enhance learning and the integration of technology into school curricula alone. It involves learning to live together in peace and harmony and the creating a united society bound by strong religious and moral values, kindness and compassion, and a good quality of life.

Urbanization and Youth

In the early years, the Malays, who composed the majority of the population, lived mainly in the rural areas. The Chinese were in the tin mines and the towns, while most Indians worked on the rubber estates. The Ibans and Dayaks were mainly agricultural workers. Today, things are much different. The urban population is projected to grow at the rate of 3.8 percent per annum for the period 1996-2000. It is expected that 13.7 million or about 58.8 percent of the total population will reside in urban areas by the year 2000. In general, the urban population earned higher incomes, due to the expansion of urban economic activities. The average monthly urban household income in 1995 was about RM2,596, while the average monthly rural household income in 1995 was about RM1,300. The income disparity ratio between rural and urban households widened from 1:1.7 in 1990 to 1:2.0 in 1995. This was mainly due to the continued dependence of rural households on agricultural activities as the major source of income. Rural development strategies during the Seventh Plan period will emphasize seven main principles: human resource development, strengthening family values, development of a self-reliant society, provision of quality infrastructure, development of a sustainable rural economy, provision of an effective delivery system, and the establishment of a more responsive institution for rural development.

Urban centers offer not only more economic opportunities, but also a better quality of life. They are equipped with modern facilities. The growth of urban centers, however, led to congestion, increasing property values and wage costs, and environmental pollution. Low-cost housing is inadequate, resulting in an increase in squatter settlements in urban centers. Rapid industrialization and the resultant rural-urban migration, mainly of youths, as well as changing lifestyles and negative influences gave rise to various social problems such as the breakdown of families, drug addiction, child abuse and runaways. Various agencies undertake preventive and rehabilitative programs for children, youths and parents. Priority is given to the inculcation of positive values among the young with a view to developing quality manpower. To enhance youth development, the Ministry of Youth and Sports launched the Rakan Muda (Young Friend) Programme in 1994, aimed at promoting a healthy and productive lifestyle among youths of all ethnic groups. During the Seventh Malaysia Plan period, the implementation of the Rakan Muda Program will focus on youths who have dropped out of school and unemployed youths as they are more vulnerable than other sectors and can be easily drawn into unhealthy activities. The private sector and nongovernmental organizations are expected to play an increasingly important role in the implementation of youth development.

In short, the acceleration of economic development and industrialization will demand new skills and work ethics from the youth. The youth population (15-24 age-group) is expected to increase by 2.3 percent per annum, from 3.97 million in 1995 to 4.45 million in the year 2000. Rapid urbanization is anticipated to affect youth values and lifestyles, particularly in major urban areas. In addition, the development of communication systems and international computer networking, such as the multimedia, is expected to pose challenges to traditional values and cultures. This development poses new challenges and therefore requires reorientation and new emphasis in development policies and programs.

Education and Training

During the Seventh Plan period, the objective of education and skill-training programs in Malaysia is to produce an adequate number of skilled and quality workers as well as to produce citizens who are disciplined and possess high moral values and a good work ethic. Table 2 shows student enrolment in local public institutions.

Table 2

Source: Seventh Malaysia Plan
Table 2: Student enrolment in local public institutions

The Education Act 1996 was enacted to increase the effectiveness of the education system and to strengthen the regulatory framework. Among others, it strengthens the concept of a national system of education by including all levels and types of education and bringing within its ambit pre-school, post-secondary and special education. At the primary and secondary levels, public and private educational institutions are required to use the national curriculum.

In the fast-approaching new millennium, our students will experience a school environment that is drastically different from that of their parents and teachers. The integration of technology into school curricula is no longer a luxury; it is a prerequisite to survival in a future that will be driven and supported by technology. The concepts of smart learning and smart school were developed in order to take advantage of the power of information technology in education and training. Among others, smart school involves the use of software, networks, multimedia and programming to enhance the learning and teaching processes.

* Pre-school education

Improvements in the quality of pre-school education are carried out through revision of curriculum guidelines, expansion of teacher training and establishment of minimum qualification for pre-school teachers. The private sector is more active in the establishment of pre-school centers in urban areas, while the private sector agencies provide pre-school education opportunities to rural and urban poor children.

* Primary school

Universal primary education is maintained and the development of primary education continues to focus on expanding capacity, improving existing facilities, increasing accessibility to better education for all children, and improving student achievement, particularly in rural areas. Despite efforts to improve the overall academic performance of primary school students, gaps in students' achievement between rural and urban schools remain. The mathematics and English language grades among rural students who take the Primary School Evaluation Test are lower than those of urban students. Islamic Education and Moral Education are two core subjects in the primary school curriculum.

* Secondary school

Efforts are intensified to increase the number of students taking science and mathematics. The use of computers in secondary schools is extensively promoted to build a strong foundation for a computer-literate society. Moral Education is one of the core subjects in the lower secondary school curriculum. In the Upper Integrated Secondary School Curriculum, Islamic religious instruction for Muslims and Moral Education for non-Muslims are included in the list of core subjects.

* Public institutions

Public institutions of higher learning in Malaysia are encouraged to take advantage of the existing information technology infrastructure by expanding usage in various information technology-related areas. This will be carried out through intensive use of computers and other electronic means in teaching and learning processes. The University and University Colleges Act, which was amended in 1995, will enable public institutions of higher learning to be corporatized, which will provide them with greater autonomy to manage and operate institutions in a more dynamic and proactive manner. To ensure universities offer holistic education since 1998, they have been required to teach Islamic and Asian Civilizations . All undergraduate students are required to take this course.

* Private institutions

The implementation of the Private Higher Educational Institution Act 1996 enabled the private sector to establish degree-granting institutions. It also enabled foreign universities to set up branch campuses in the country. With the expected increase in the number of private sector institutions offering tertiary education, there is a need to ensure that facilities and teaching are of high quality. Toward this end, a National Accreditation Board was established to provide guidelines and standards for quality control. To ensure that private colleges and universities offer holistic education in line with the country's objectives, they have been required to teach Islamic Education, Moral Education and Malaysian Studies beginning in January 1999. Malaysian Muslim students are required to take Islamic Education and non-Muslims Moral Education. Foreign students must take Malaysian Studies, which will enable them to understand the country's culture, people and languages. At the moment, there are about 220 private colleges and three private universities in the country.

* Public sector

The public sector has undergone major changes in its efforts to institutionalize a culture of excellence. Following the launching of the Excellent Work Culture Movement in 1989, the public sector introduced the Quality Management Program. The National Institute of Public Administration (INTAN) played an important role in designing and conducting training programs in line with changing needs. Training programs conducted by INTAN included quality management; ethics, moral values and attitude development; and integrated environmental planning and management. Other government training institutions include the Aminudin Baki Institute, the National Valuation Institute (INSPEN) and the Public Works Training Institute Malaysia (IKRAM). In the public sector, steps are taken to develop the information technology infrastructure and to harness the information availability and accessibility for enhancing managerial effectiveness and improving productivity. Recently, the government introduced Total Quality Management and ISO 9000 in order to improve efficiency in the public sector's machinery.


It is the mission of the government to develop a world-class quality education system which will realize the full potential of the individual and fulfill the aspirations of the Malaysian nation. According to the Education Act 1996, this mission is to be achieved through a national system of education which provides for the national language to be the medium of instruction, a National Curriculum and common examinations. The education provided is varied and comprehensive in scope and will satisfy the needs of the nation as well as promote national unity through cultural, social, economic and political development in accordance with the principles of the National Ideology or Rukunegara. The development allocation and expenditure for education and training in the Seventh Malaysia Plan amounts to RM10.1 billion or 15.4 percent of the total public development allocation. This allocation shows that high priority is given to education and training as it contributes significantly to the objectives of the National Development Policy, in particular to poverty eradication and restructuring of society. With the right approach to human resource development, Malaysia is poised to face the challenges of the 21st century. The capacity and capability to train and retrain manpower will enable the nation to keep abreast of technological developments. The emphasis given to the process of learning to live together in peace and harmony will make our human resources more efficient, resilient and disciplined.

As we analyze the meaning of HRE, especially in the context of Moral Education in primary and secondary schools, one basic question arises: "What are some indicators of successful HRE in classroom?" In other words, how should HRE be conducted in the classroom? We believe that there is no simple answer because there is not one way of teaching human rights issues. In the Malaysian context, we have identified and developed five expectations that answer the above question. They describe how the process of education for human rights will be manifested. They are simple but powerful images or metaphors.

  • Students working together to make sense of values education for human rights.
  • Students relying on divine guidance and their intellectual powers to determine whether something is morally correct.
  • Students learning to reason morally.
  • Students learning to know, learning to do, learning to be, learning to communicate, and learning to solve problems based on correct principles.
  • Students learning to connect values education for human rights, its ideas and its applications.

The next question is: "How can we help make these expectations part of our classes?" The essence of all the expectations and visions is that they suggest, encourage and require us to develop our own interpretations with the help of our colleagues. This is especially true of the above expectations; our reflections on their suggestions will help us bring about meaningful teaching and learning in the classroom.

New Directions

In the Malaysian context, inherent in HRE is the strong belief that all young people must be equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to live together in peace and harmony and to play an active and constructive part in promoting a genuine and lasting culture of peace in Malaysia, the Asia-Pacific region and the world. To reach the goal of living together in peace and harmony requires the creation of a different curriculum and teaching and learning environment. The image of values education for human rights includes teachers who are more proficient in:

  • selecting tasks to engage students' interest and intellect;
  • providing opportunities to deepen their understanding of the core value being studied and its constructions;
  • orchestrating classroom discourse in ways that promote the analysis of moral situations and moral growth;
  • using, and helping students use, technology and other tools to pursue investigations of ideas related to moral and values education;
  • seeking, and helping students seek, connections to previous and developing core values.

Educational goals for students must reflect the importance of values education for human rights. Toward this end, five general goals for all students are that they:

  • * learn to value HRE;
  • * become confident in their ability to live together in peace and harmony;
  • * become good in solving moral conflicts;
  • * learn to communicate about core and related values necessary for HRE; and
  • * develop moral reasoning. (See Figure 6.)

These goals imply that students should be exposed to numerous and varied interrelated experiences that encourage them to develop good habits. Toward this end, we see teachers as key figures in changing how moral and values education is conducted in schools. To be effective professional practitioners, teachers must develop their own vision for professional development. This requires a level of teacher autonomy reflecting an internal drive toward professionalism.

Professional development takes many forms, but true professional development, in the sense of resulting in meaningful and long-lasting qualitative change in a teacher's thinking and approaches to educating, is an autonomous activity chosen by a teacher in search of better ways of knowing and teaching values education for human rights. HRE teachers develop professionally in the same way that all other teachers do, but with specific focus on applying professional knowledge within a meaningful and relevant HRE context for the improvement of the moral growth of children and youths. Professional knowledge cannot be transferred. Rather, it is constructed by each individual teacher bringing his or her "lived experiences" as a learner and teacher to an educational setting and interacting with the environment in a way that relates new knowledge to previously constructed knowledge in an attempt to make the best sense of the new knowledge. Teachers move toward professional autonomy as they continue to construct their ideas about values education for human rights and how it can be best taught to others. Teachers' ability to change is largely a function of their ability to be adaptive agents. To be sure, being an adaptive agent in the classroom requires a great deal of knowledge about values education, pedagogy and the psychology of learning.

Figure 6

Figure 6: Five general goals of values education for human rights

Underlying Premises

There are many persistent obstacles to making significant changes in the teaching and learning of values education for human rights in schools and in teacher training colleges. Among these are the beliefs and dispositions that both students and teachers bring to the moral and values education classroom, as well as the assumptions held by school administrators, parents and society in general about values education curriculum and instruction. Changes in educational practices do not come quickly or easily. Lasting changes in moral and values education classrooms result only when teachers confront their beliefs about what moral and values education is, what it means to learn to live together in peace and harmony, and how HRE is conducted. Examining these beliefs, in turn, demands admitting the need to change, consensus on the desired direction for change and acceptance of the change process. Too many attempts to change education have failed because they were imposed in a top-down manner without the significant involvement of the teachers who must in the end be the primary agents of change.

In order to change our perspective about the teaching and learning of values education for human rights, we need direction on how values education can be conducted to enhance the development of good human beings. The research on educational change has clearly described certain strategies that lead to successful long-term instructional change. In particular, the following four characteristics are common to such approaches: attention to beliefs and expectations, opportunities for networking and interaction, duration and continuity and administrative support.

Any attempt to modify teachers' behaviors without at the same time modifying their beliefs and expectations is likely to produce transient results at best. The HRE activities envisioned in this paper are predicated on a conceptualization of HRE as a dynamic human activity and on the belief that all persons are capable of becoming good human beings. Yet the prevailing belief about HRE is that of a collection of isolated facts and rules. With these mis-impressions in mind, considerable time and attention need to be given to the matter of beliefs and expectations. Teachers need to respond to sentence-completion stimuli such as follows.

  • HRE is ...
  • We teach HRE because ...
  • The most important reason for knowing HRE is ...
  • In order to learn HRE education, a student must ...
  • Most students think HRE teachers are ...

In general, the core of the professional standards for teaching HRE lies in the belief that "teachers are key figures in changing the ways in which HRE is taught and learned in school" and "such changes require that teachers have long-term support and adequate resources." The challenge of bringing about change in HRE is not completely answered by having great material in a form that is useful to teachers. Lesson plans, resources and materials on education for human rights must be disseminated to other teachers and implemented in classrooms. Teachers must try new materials, work with them, make them "their own" and improve them until the materials become an integral part of their curricula. Most professionals learn best from their peers, and values education teachers are no exception. Teachers are inclined to trust other teachers, those who understand and share the conditions under which they work.

Major Shifts

Woven into the fabric of the professional standards for HRE are nine major shifts in the environment needed to produce a physically, mentally, intellectually, emotionally, socially and spiritually well-developed total human being. We need to shift toward:

  • classrooms as communities and away from classrooms as simply a collection of individuals;
  • moral reasoning and away from merely memorizing rules;
  • connecting HRE, its ideas and its applications, and away from treating HRE as a body of isolated concepts and rules;
  • the analysis of moral situations and of value systems;
  • moral role taking and moral empathy;
  • the stimulation of moral judgement development;
  • the development of the right moral act in line with religious teachings;
  • a communicative "metareflection" on one's own moral thinking, reflecting, change and moral growth;
  • the development of moral philosophy and moral psychology.

As teachers shift toward the vision of teaching HRE presented above, one would expect to see teachers focusing more attention on helping students work together to make sense of the concept of education for human rights; helping students to understand that learning occurs as individuals actively assimilate new experiences and construct their own meanings; helping students to understand that human rights are not a collection of isolated rules and facts, but a network of ideas in which each idea is connected to several other ideas; helping students to understand that God has a major influence on man's life and there are relative values created by human beings and absolute values based on the teaching of religions; helping students to understand that there are some parallels regarding what is perceived as good by one religion, as it is also by other religion; helping students to understand that God created human beings for specific purposes; and helping students learn to live in harmony with God, with themselves, others and nature (see Nik Azis 1996).


This paper presents Malaysian experiences in the implementation of HRE in schools. We invite all who have responsibility for any part of the support and development of HRE teachers and teaching to use some ideas presented in this paper as a basis for discussion and for making needed change so that we can reach our goal of implementing, inculcating and developing the value of education for human rights. Since the beginning of time no society has existed that did not desire peace and happiness, and the freedom and bounty of God. However, good values and moral education programs do not come by chance. They are developed through careful and systematic planning and implementation.


Gong, G. (1984). The standard of civilisation in international society. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Laszlo, E. (1978). The inner limits of mankind. England: Pergamon Press.

Mahathir, M. (1991). Vision 2020. Kuala Lumpur: Biro Tatanegara.

________ (1995). The Malaysian system of government. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Princorp Sdn. Bhd.

Nik Azis, N. P. (1994). Actualization of the vision of the national development. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

________ (1996). “Values education curriculum model at teacher training level: a Malaysian perspective.” Paper presented at the APNIEVE Experts Group Meeting to Design Values Education Curriculum Models at Teacher Training Level. Melaka, Malaysia, July 1-5.

Seventh Malaysia Plan 1996-2000. Kuala Lumpur: Percetakan Nasional Malaysia Berhad.

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