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Balamuralithara Balakrishnan (Sultan Idris Education University, Malaysia)

In recent years, global society has faced a number of pressing issues and problems relating to the environment’s sustainability, the human race’s well-being, and world peace. Engineering ethics education is critical in preparing undergraduate engineering students to become future engineers who are ethical and responsible toward all living things in this biosphere. In this regard, they must become familiar with and adhere to appropriate codes of ethics and policies, which come in a variety of forms and serve as a guide for their professional lives. In engineering ethics education, ethical decision-making is a critical component that is strongly influenced by an individual’s thinking and reasoning abilities. While the ability to think and reason is heavily influenced by social norms such as one’s cultural background and religious values. 

Western philosophy of technology has shaped engineering ethics education, particularly in Malaysia, an Asian country where the primary underlying principles for the professional code of ethics are derived largely from the UK and US codes of ethics. While Western ideas promote individualism and moral autonomy, they are inapplicable to the vast majority of people who hold strong cultural and religious beliefs. Additionally, from the perspective of Asian societies with strong religious and cultural values, these Western elements in ethics education may be deemed ineffective and inappropriate. 

A recent study conducted by the author discovered that Malaysian engineering undergraduates make ethical decisions in accordance with their cultural and religious values.  The interview results revealed that the respondents were unable to adopt and refer to Western ethical theories. Religion and multi-cultural ideologies were given high priority in the respondents’ ethical decision-making process. They are also more likely to adapt those aspects compared to Western ethical theories such as utilitarian and deontology in order to solve any ethical quandaries that appear to be contradictory with their religious and cultural values. It demonstrates that people from various cultural and religious backgrounds make ethical decisions and approach of ethical issues in different ways that inclined towards their believing system and society ideologies.

Engineering ethics education has evolved significantly over time, from country to country and across different socio-cultural ideologies. Moreover, as the world becomes more transnational, engineers provide their professional expertise in a variety of locations all over the world in which there is a need for an effective engineering ethics education model that strikes a balance between local values and the ethical ideologies of other countries, thereby equipping future engineers with appropriate ethical values and ability to make sound ethical decisions in local and global contexts. Thus, engineering ethics education curricula must be more comprehensive and culturally inclusive through incorporation of local and global aspects.

A new model of engineering ethics education, specifically a global ethics education model, must be developed by integrating local and global ethics models in order to help develop ethical and responsible engineers who are aware of the global ethical issues affecting their practices. This may help to shape future engineers who are sensitive to cultural differences and uphold the professionalism required for a global engineer in terms of accountability, responsibility, and functionality.

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