Many years ago in London, I was asked to teach the British Constitution to a class of 18-year old boys. In those days, this was an actual A level subject, which is no longer true. Today, it has been reduced to a single module on the Edexcel Politics A level course. I remember enjoying teaching it a great deal, and I have every reason to believe the students did, too. The thing about the British Constitution is that there isn’t one – at least, not a formal document like in Malaysia. Instead, all of the UK’s political, judicial and administrative bodies have evolved over time; in some instances, over hundreds of years. Britons refer to legal precedent, to history, to tradition, even to common sense when dealing with civic issues and problems. Some people today think that this is a bad thing, and that the UK needs a formal constitution as its infrastructure blueprint. I’m not so sure. Historical precedent is usually a pretty good guide, while the fact that the US constitution has required so many amendments over the decades is proof that it is virtually impossible to satisfy all of a country’s needs with one, all-embracing document.
We can see that this is potentially a controversial subject with many implications. I mentioned that there is an A level in Politics, although we don’t offer it at KYUEM. Apart from the fact that our awarding body, Cambridge International Examinations, doesn’t provide such a course, the subject itself is not widely accepted by the major universities. It joins others such as Law, Business Studies and Computing which are not in the forefront of favoured A2 choices. One of the reasons for this is that studying politics before entering university is regarded with deep suspicion – not least by politicians, and this needs some investigation.
In the UK, right-wing politicians regard most teachers as left-wing. It therefore follows, they argue, that teaching politics to teenagers will mean indoctrinating them with a biased view of current events. I have never accepted this view. If we look at the argument logically, it suggests that a History teacher couldn’t be relied upon to be objective about the twentieth century: he’d favour the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution or support Castro’s Cuba against the US. All good teachers are careful to be neutral in the classroom; it goes with the territory. Political theory and ideology should be freely taught in schools - not necessarily as an A2 subject, but at least in a formal, classroom setting. Failing that, it should be encouraged as an extracurricular activity, such as in KYUEM's Model United Nations.
In the UK, the minimum voting age is 18 and there are strong arguments being made at present to have this reduced. Young Britons, we are told, do not engage enough in politics and more should be done to encourage them. Encouragement is far more likely to come through education than denying them access to it. At KYUEM I am frequently and most pleasantly surprised at the political maturity and wisdom of many of our students. Observing them question and debate with guest speakers at the recent KYUEM summit showed them to be fearless, critical and above all, passionate about the future of their country. I never tire of telling people that our young people are tomorrow’s leaders. It is far better to have them join the debate here and now rather than hoping that political awareness will arrive by itself at some vague point in the future. As an expatriate, I would not presume to comment on the situation in Malaysia. I would, however, very much like this message to reach the ears of David Cameron, the current British Prime Minister.