Create a safe space so Undi 18 will work

Create a safer space so Undi 18 will work
By Zan Azlee

Due to my father’s job, I lived in the US for a couple of years during my formative period. So I did attend school there. I remember being 12 years old and in a junior high school in New York and attending a class called Social Studies taught by a really cool teacher named Mr Nelson.

On all the days we had his class, we would start the day by reading the New York Times. Yes, I kid you not. We were all given copies of the day’s newspaper and we would read all the major headlines and stories. Then we would all discuss what we read together, with Mr Nelson facilitating,

It was in the early 1990s and at the height of the first Gulf War. The president of the US was George Bush Sr. and the mayor of New York City was David Dinkins. This was in the pre-Guliani years. So you can imagine the murder and crime rate then and I was a kid who was going to public school and running around on the streets of Manhattan.

We discussed a lot of current affairs and a lot of politics. It was New York City and it was (and still is) one of the most metropolitan cities in the world. Even though I went to a public school, the demographics were very diverse. There were whites, blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese, Nepalese, Bhutanese, Mongolians, Arabs, and of course, the one sole Malaysian – me.

I credit those few years when I had social studies for exposing me to different ideologies and opinions at a very early age. Maybe that is why I grew into adulthood becoming a journalist. Thanks, Mr Nelson for planting the seed in my mind and giving me a career that I totally love! I didn’t know then but I sure do realise it now.

Anyway, the point of the story is that now the Undi 18 bill has been passed, we can start developing ways on how to educate young Malaysians on their rights as voters. Several weeks ago, I wrote about how we cannot let the lack of education dictate whether someone has the right to vote or not.

I still stand by that. When I wrote that, it was in response to critics who said that the voting age shouldn’t be lowered because our youth are not ready yet and they need to have the right education in order to be given that right. I think that is wrong and that the level of education should not be used to filter who can or cannot vote.

With that being said, now that the Undi 18 bill has been passed, education and awareness should begin. I also feel that everybody who has the right to vote also has the responsibility to equip themselves with the adequate knowledge so that they can make the best decisions for themselves and for their country when they vote.

The recent intentions of Azhar Harun, the Election Commission chairperson, of wanting to meet with the Education Ministry is a good one. He plans to discuss the possibility of introducing voter education in the school syllabus and if I may, I would like to also add my two cents worth here as a voting Malaysian.

In my opinion, there shouldn’t be a direct and literal lesson plan that delves into voter education head-on. There is no need for that because I believe creating an education system that incorporates civic consciousness and holistic human values is more than adequate to prepare Malaysians to be responsible and educated voters.

When I took Mr Nelson’s class 29 years ago, it wasn’t a class on politics or voting. It was a social studies class. We read the newspaper, kept up-to-date with current affairs and discussed social issues. There was no political campaigning in the class nor was there any form of indoctrination of any kind of us students.

We talked a lot, expressed different opinions, discussed difference in ideas, debated a whole bunch and yes, even screamed at each other every once in a while. But nobody ever went away from the class thinking that one opinion or thought was better than the other. What we did take away from every class was a realisation that the world is a big place with so many things going on that affect everyone.

We learned to value life and how every action and reaction had an affect on everyone else and not just us. We realised that while there was injustice in the world, there is also justice. The same for inequality and inequality. And from all that, we realised that all of us have a role to play in the world to make it better.

We were given a safe space where we could say and express anything we wanted. We were also allowed to criticise and comment on the ideas that we didn’t agree with. This safe environment where there was no judgment allowed us to realise that our voices mattered no matter the differences just as long as the objectives of contributing to society were the same.

Basically, that’s how we need to educate our younger generation. Instill in them good values and a sense of responsibility towards society. We don’t need to teach them how to vote. We just need to create a safe environment that allows them to realise that their vote matters and that there is a value in voting – for them and for the people.

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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