Experts have called for an overhaul of the public school syllabus to increase political awareness among the youth, even as implementation of Undi 18 or the move to lower the minimum voting age to 18 continues to be plagued by delays.
Undi 18, approved in the Dewan Rakyat in July 2019 alongside the proposal for automatic voter registration and the lowering of the eligible age to contest in elections, was expected to be implemented in July this year.
However, the Election Commission said in March that it would likely take effect only after Sept 1, 2022.
Regardless of when the move is set in place, political scientists in the education sector advise revamping the syllabus at government schools to help the youth become more politically aware.
Rabi’ah Aminudin, a lecturer from International Islamic University Malaysia, said civic education should also be expanded to include the values and duties of a Malaysian citizen.
She said this would be fundamental in helping the youth understand their right to vote in elections. However, she warned that such efforts should be kept free from political influence.
“Political literacy does not receive as much attention, especially in our curriculum,” she told MalaysiaNow.
“We need to ensure that our civic classes provide a platform for our youths to share their concerns. There is a need to engage with them in a structured manner so that they can have an informative discussion on their rights and duties in society.”
“Political literacy does not receive as much attention, especially in our curriculum.”
Acknowledging that some from the younger generation are vocal on social media about their political opinions, she said this might not represent the majority of youth across the country.
She added that many might not have access to the resources needed to be politically literate, due to issues such as social constraints.
In any case, she said, many parents prefer their children to focus on their studies.
“It would be ideal if we could have parents on board in efforts to raise political awareness among the youth,” she said.
“Youths need role models to show that they can be agents of change, that they can make a difference.”
For her, the most concerning issue is the widening gap in political literacy among the youth.
“There are groups who are really advanced in terms of political literacy, receiving exposure not only to domestic political events but also global issues.
“However, a larger number of youths might not have the same access.”
“It’s almost as if for young people, politics is something that cannot be discussed.”
Mohd Irwan Syazli Saidin, a political science lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said the current syllabus focuses more on political history than the fundamental aspects of a democratic society.
Not only are students not taught about political issues, he said, they are also discouraged from participating in them.
“We limit our students’ participation at schools and universities,” he said. “This does not happen in developed countries.
“Here in Malaysia, people think it’s a threat if students are involved in politics. It’s almost as if for young people, politics is something that cannot be discussed. They tell students that they have to choose between focusing on their studies or on politics.
“I don’t agree with this kind of mentality.”
With the delay of Undi 18, he said, the government should seize the opportunity to increase youth involvement in the political landscape.
“Undi 18 is the time for us to get young people involved in the decision-making process,” he added. “Whether they are prepared or not, just implement it.”
He said as long as Undi 18 is delayed, people would continue to doubt the ability of the youth to make decisions.
Elisa Shafiqah Shahrilnizam, a student at Universiti Malaya, said she encourages her peers to use social media as a platform to increase their political literacy.
“The beauty of having social media is that we can disseminate information about political literacy quite rapidly,” Elisa, 19, told MalaysiaNow.
“Youth can keep themselves up to date with the work done by fellow journalists and NGOs that provide coverage on issues.”
Despite being a full-time student, Elisa makes time to engage in political advocacy through research at the Malaysian Youth for Education Reform Movement.
She said this helped increase her political literacy despite doubts by the older generation over the maturity of those her age to vote.
“Our right to vote is enshrined in the Federal Constitution and we can’t deny the rights given.
“Even in the previous generation, the majority could have been politically illiterate but they were still granted the right to vote. Why can’t those who are eligible cast their vote?
“Instilling better political literacy will allow us to understand the structure of our nation even better, not just during election periods but throughout the tenure of the government,” she added.