COMMENT | Dr Maszlee Malik (above) has squandered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to radically reform the Malaysian education system.
He has the power to influence generations of Malaysians, thus enabling the nation to realise its true potential, and forge ahead of our neighbours.
Instead, Maszlee has projected an image of weakness and given the impression that he is taking orders. Children continue to be turned into lemmings and the country will tread the same racial path as before. It is all about “Them” and “Us”.
Maszlee has proven that he is no different from his predecessors in Umno-Baru/BN. Their education policies, which were designed to stultify Malaysians, did not encourage children to think or to ask questions.Advertisement
Fifteen months ago, Maszlee was thrust from relative obscurity, as a political-analyst-cum-lecturer at the International Islamic University Malaysia, to head what is arguably the most important ministry.
Perhaps, Maszlee is too young to realise that our education system was once one of the best in Asia. Its supremacy ended when successive Umno-Baru/BN governments tinkered with it. Meritocracy was rejected and the superiority of only one race mattered. Many non-Malay lecturers fled overseas.
There are enormous challenges involved, but Maszlee’s thrust on the three “Cs” – the colour of shoes, khat calligraphy and cashless payment in schools, horrified parents.
Of importance to parents and educationists, are the three “Rs” – reading, writing and ‘rithmetic’, as well as better discipline, a reintroduction of the value-system, instilling respect, and promoting teachers who encourage critical thinking.
Despite his many reforms, Maszlee’s most damaging policy is the maintenance of the quotas in education.
A parent who displays favouritism amongst his children only encourages enmity. Similarly, quotas discourage national integration. The people who are discriminated against will feel bitter and resentful.
Quotas do not help the Malays. The majority will be under the illusion that they need not work hard to achieve. Moreover, allegations of pass marks being lowered only give a false picture of Malay educational attainment.
Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad knows the Malay psyche best. Pampering the Malays will ensure political dominance, but the downside is that the Malays, as he has previously acknowledged, become lazy and ineffective. Some go on to commit corrupt activities.
It is disingenuous of Maszlee to equate quotas in the matriculation programme, with the private sector refusing to employ Malays, simply because they don’t speak Mandarin. Many employers reject Malay workers, because they are used to being pampered, and are not as productive as the non-Malays. Even Mamak shops prefer foreign workers. Their owners know only too well about poor performance and frequency of “ponteng” (absenteeism) amongst Malays.
Politicians have successfully divided Malaysians along racial and religious lines, resulting in some Malays refusing to shop in non-Malay businesses. If the non-Malay business clientele is predominantly non-Malay, a non-Mandarin speaking employee would be detrimental to the business. Moreover, businesses want to avoid the negative publicity of a Malay employee who refuses to handle a can of spam or a bottle of beer.
Quotas in school sports’ teams do not foster team spirit and Maszlee must work with the Youth and Sports Minister, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, to abolish quotas in sport.
Maszlee claims that many non-Malays are rich and can afford tuition, or places at private universities. A non-Malay would have to be exceptional to win a place in a public university. The alternative is work, or to enrol in a private university, where the medium of instruction is in English, which is considered a hurdle for some Malays. This is because nationalists from the 70s and 80s said that speaking English was unpatriotic. Maszlee needs a solution for the Malay reluctance to learn English.
For many non-Malays, education is the key to escaping the poverty trap. In my youth, many Malay grandfathers and fathers encouraged their daughters to have an education. This stopped when the ulamas said that the woman’s place was in the home, for procreation and to care for hubby. Maszlee should try to re-educate some Malay fathers.
He should not insult non-wealthy Malays who struggle to educate their children without government help. He should also mix with more non-Malay families, to realise that they are not all rich. Many make enormous sacrifices to provide an education for their children. Tuition is necessary because our national schools are rubbish.
Is Maszlee aware that many Malay parents cannot see the value of education for their children? Some actively encourage their children to stop schooling, to help them run a food stall. How does Maszlee propose to change the mindset of these Malay parents?
Despite his background in the teaching of religious matters, Maszlee should keep religion and religious teachers out of the classroom. Tahfiz schools should not be run in isolation, and he needs to bring them into line with the Malaysian education curriculum.
Today, more Malay parents enrol their children in Chinese type schools because of better discipline and learning methods. Could Maszlee learn from these schools?
If national schools had improved discipline, better teaching methods and competent teachers, parents would not hesitate to enrol their children there. With Bahasa Malaysia and English being compulsory, Chinese or Tamil could be optional extras.
The indigenous people of Peninsular and East Malaysia are bumiputra and are heavily discriminated against. What has Maszlee planned for the children from these communities? Only those who are politically connected thrive.
Renaming the Permata program to Genius, was a no-brainer. The highly gifted/intelligent do not need hundreds of millions of ringgits of help. Benefactors, philanthropists (including the Singapore government) will beat a path to their doors; however, the money could help poor and marginalised children, or train more teachers.
It is imperative for the success of Malaysia that the education system is upgraded. Maszlee needs to think long-term and abolish quotas. Will he be able to improve Malaysian education?
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.