Education minister’s reform challenge

IT IS a new year and a new decade. But many seem to be caught in a time warp of their own making and which they insist on perpetrating due to ignorance or opportunism. And some are again fanning the fires of racial strife by regurgitating old issues.

The latest controversy by Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia vice-president Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz is over Chinese New Year decorations put up by a school, which he has described as “unconstitutional” and an attempt to propagate a Chinese religious festival to Malay students.


Clearly he needs to relook the Federal Constitution and what constitutes “unconstitutional” policies or measures. He should also undertake a crash programme on the meaning and spirit of festive celebrations. There are CNY decorations, displays, music and other festival paraphernalia all over the country and the world. To escape them and protect his fragile religious sensitivities, he needs to be on an island away from civilisation.

He had earlier in October challenged the constitutionality of vernacular schools in the country. In his application he argued that it was unconstitutional for Parliament to pass an amendment to Sections 17 and 28 of the Education Act 1996, providing for the continued existence of vernacular schools and named the then education minister, Dr Maszlee Malik and the government of Malaysia as respondents.

In the earlier development, there does not appear to have been any response from Maszlee. Instead of a vigorous defence of vernacular schools and denunciation of those who threaten the position of these schools in the national system, he kept mum, which invigorated the critics of the vernacular schools.

There are two ways to handle people like Mohd Khairul. One is to ignore them and not give them publicity. This clearly cannot apply in this case as Mohd Khairul had initiated a court case on the issue.

The other is to be forthright and to address their concerns. What Maszlee could have done, without waiting for a court decision, was to emphasise

1. that SRJK (C) and SRJK (T) are here to stay

2. that the existence of vernacular schools is enshrined in the Federal Constitution as well as by whatever notion of “social contract” is employed by its critics

3. that he and his party reject and deplore the efforts of anti-vernacular school sentiment working to undercut the position on the constitutional right of the minority communities to mother tongue education.

This he failed to do.

Roadmap provided by Muhyiddin’s National Education Blueprint

Maszlee, however, since his dismissal by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has not only played the innocent victim game but also claimed credit for “numerous reforms” undertaken during his short stint as education minister.

The truth is that Maszlee had nothing or very little to do with the reforms. On the contrary his actions in the key ministry left many parents nostalgic for a return to the good old days of the Barisan government.

Let’s give credit where credit is due and put the record straight on reforms to the national education system initiated by the previous or current government.

Maszlee can take credit for his black shoes and the khat/jawi “reforms”. Other reforms undertaken during the past 20 months have their origin in the comprehensive 11 shifts contained in the report on Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2024 (Preschool to Post-Secondary Education).

Organised and carried out under the watch of the then deputy prime minister and education minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the blueprint is the result of a multitude of analyses, interviews, surveys, and research conducted with national and international experts, officials, teachers, principals and parents all across Malaysia. In addition almost 12,000 members of the public and various stakeholder groups were consulted for their ideas and feedback.

In attempting to advance his political credentials within his own party, the former education minister was not only selective in his policy actions but also handicapped his successor with controversial measures that provide little or no value added to the national educational system.

The new education minister has a harder task to make corrections and a greater challenge to transform the national educational system so that young Malaysians can have the right knowledge, skills, analytical and critical thinking and creativity to participate in a modern, multicultural and competitive world. Will he be up to it?

For a start, he should build upon the Education Blueprint initiated by the Barisan government. Secondly, the new Pakatan minister should not repeat the mistakes that Maszlee made. This he can do by

» learning from the past but not to be imprisoned by past paradigms;

» ensuring that education is secular-based and not made a political or religious football;

» practising transparency, fairness and integrity of governance in all aspects of education; and

» rising above racial, religious or political agendas to ensure an inclusive and progressive schooling system.

Last but not least, every component of our national school system must be regarded as important in our multiracial society and must be provided fair and equal treatment.

Lim Teck Ghee’s “Another Take” is aimed at demystifying status quo orthodoxy. Comments: