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Thoughts on education and miracles of a sinking ship

  • Miracles in our education system will come with the right public support and leadership vision.

By Prof Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi

One of the harshest critics of education, surprisingly to me at least, is Tun Daim. He was quoted as saying that the Ministry of Education has messed up its priorities and are nor preparing our children for a Fourth Industrial Education. Although the veteran businessman and politicians said all the ‘right things’ that the audience would like to hear, I am not impressed. I will give three reasons why.

Firstly, I am not impressed with Tun Daim as a political and business personality in making sweeping judgments on education under the leadership of the present PH government. Some news portal has naughtily related this criticism to the so called ‘incompetence’ of Dr. Maszlee as the minister in charge. I am sure that Tun Daim may have not meant that and he did not say that. Nevertheless I am still not impressed. Why? Well, I thought that he was part of the cabinet in power once upon a time and he has close relationship to the powerful PM office. I don’t move around the corridors of power but I do assume that Tun Daim has had some strong influence over the course that education had taken during the last 30 years. I saw Daim for the first time as a student in Chicago, United States when he was appointed a Minister. His visit followed that of Dr. Mahathir after his appointment as the PM. I was there both times as a student leader at the same city. Daim has coloured the politics and finances of Malaysia for 30 years and for him to suddenly realized that our public education is sinking comes as a complete surprise to me. Being a corporate figure perhaps Daim thinks that 30 years of Melayu-isation of the education system can be solved with a wave of the corporate wand and realign 400,000 teachers who are used to some kind of teaching culture and objective. Malay leaders and academics are good at blaming others but not themselves on what ails the country, especially on education. It is for this reason that Malays will never change until the ‘tangga’ hits their head.

Secondly, I had expected at least 2 years of house-keeping in order to keep the education ship from sinking to the bottom. Dr. Maszlee has to relook at all the contractors’ unfinished work orders and streamline the overpayments to perhaps friends of those who were once in power and influence. I wonder if Daim knows that? Dr. Maszlee has to deal with solar energy contracts without solar capacity and sites of schools chosen that floods most times it rains. Why on earth would a site be chosen without a simple background check on flooding? That is one of the first things we teach in site analysis in architecture schools. Perhaps JKR did not go to the same school or there was gross negligence in favour perhaps of some crony agreement as to the site purchase? How many buildings built by contractors with questionable quality that could kill our children? Would Tun Daim care to guess? Should we teach Fourth Industrial Revolution or make sure the roof does not collapse?

Thirdly, Dr. Maszlee has the compassion to ‘bagi makan’ to all students for a healthy breakfast. After 60 years of merdeka one minister has the empathy to give dignity to all children who are poor so that they can start at the same starting line in education. What were the other ministers and officials of the ministry doing the last 30 years? Bukan bagi makan tetapi mungkin ‘cari makan’ perhaps? The Ministry of Education is the one with the largest budget to ‘cari makan’. So many nonsensical projects came out. One of the worst was paying foreigners mints of money through private enterprises to teach teachers to teach English. Completely laughable. These teachers said the same thing I have been saying in teaching English…more reading! More singing, talking and watching movies or reading comic books and story books are the only way. For the teachers! And then the students-lah! Computers, tablets and smart phones won’t help. I remember the Ministry of Education many years ago bought 400,000 tablets at twice its market price to aid ‘teaching’. This is just a few shenanigans that Dr. Maszlee has to put in order so that schools can have tables and chairs that do not have their own ideas of walking to another classroom!

When I was teaching English with my wife to a community of low cost housing children, we discovered a Malay boy who was in primary 4. He could not even read Bahasa Melayu. Not sure about Jawi but he definitely could not read his own mother tongue. Later on we discovered more Malays like that. I do not know if Dr. Maszlee has ordered a complete and thorough investigation to determine how many of our children cannot read Bahasa Melayu at least, not to mention English or other languages. This is fundamental. Forget Fourth Industrial Revolution, I would be satisfied if we excel at Second Industrial Revolution Education! Just make sure the students can read.

Many look upon the Ministry of Education in PH as weak and without vision. Dr. Maszlee, to me has all the right vision. What he does not have is political power. He has some minor administrative power but extremely limited political power. He has to toe his party line, his PM boss and sometime the overinflated civil servant machinery with intrigues and shadow plays at every turn. The only minister with clear integrity is Zaid Ibrahim when he resigned after less than two years in office because he let idealism, morality and integrity interfered from him becoming a ‘real politician’. The ‘real politician’ has only one rule; look after the number one and he will look after you.

Miracles in our education system will come I am sure, with the right public support and leadership vision. I am glad to go on record in saying ‘thank God’ for the UEC schools and the International ones as they are the ones outside the corridors of ridiculous power. I am also glad that Tun Daim has made all those statements about education. At least he seems to be a veteran who had just woke up, as opposed to many who seems to still be sleeping in the race, religion and the Melayu constructs. Tun Daim’s vision on education echoes many in civil and business society but when our ship is sinking from holes created by an inept leadership of 30 years ago, it might take a while for the ship to be repaired in the docks while sprucing up its cabin and engines for the next 30 year voyage into the future.

(Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor at UCSI University.)


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