THE education policy is one of the pillars which support our national unity, and that pillar must be strong enough to withstand adverse criticism and other political storms.” This is a quote from one of our forefathers, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Our forefathers stood firm that the standard of education must be kept high to avoid rot and future troubles.
But politicians leveraging the race agenda for short-term gains have other plans. Politically skewed experiments made by every education minister since the 1970s have led us to our present dismal path.
The Malaysian Certificate of Education or Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination used to be highly regarded, and secondary school graduates, with their English proficiency, could get into highly regarded foreign universities without much problem. But this is not the case now. Many parents, and even the government, choose other internationally reputable systems over SPM as their choice of secondary school certification.
Schools are meant to be the bedrock of unity. They lay the foundation to enable people of different races to make the effort to understand and respect one another. We cannot blindly follow the ways adopted by other countries as what works for them may be toxic for us.
Malaysia is in a special position due to the composition and nature of its people. But what can we make of our schools and race relations now? Are we putting in place plans to improve them or continuing to seed the downward spiral?
The government thought that it had made the right decision when it liberalised education and opened up the market for more private institutions to coexist with the national education system, in order to provide the people with the kind of education they aspired for. The decision came about as pressure mounted to do something quickly to improve the education system.
That decision alleviated the pressure but did little to improve the national education system. It only benefited those who have the privilege of choosing between international and private education, but this group makes up less than 4% of the total schoolgoing students. It only serves a certain fraction of the population, that is, the affluent.
It seems that we are putting more effort into divisiveness in education, race relations and schools of thought. Some of us have no remorse hurling hate and insults rather than compromising and collaborating for the nation’s good.
It also doesn’t help that many of those in power have their hands tied or are unable to grasp the truth and are still baffled by what has gone wrong in the country. What hope do we have if rational discussion continues to be ignored, and voices for goodwill and peace are suppressed? It doesn’t look like we are making any progress or giving space for reconciliatory efforts to prevail.
We need to make our schools work for us. We need to set the tone right, and it must begin with the pillars which support national unity. It must begin with good education. We need to nurture capable people.
Sentiments and pandering aside, English is the way to go. No matter how we spin it, the lack of English usage is the main reason for the drop in our education standards. English must be placed as a language of knowledge in our institutions. The position of Bahasa Malaysia will not change and it will remain the national language and the language that unites us.
All the talk of education blueprints one after another is a waste of time if we continue to let politics and politicians run the show. Look at where they have brought us so far. For instance, it was decided that making History a must-pass subject in SPM would produce loyal and patriotic citizens. Ironically, the subject was not even compulsory for science stream students in the past — and that didn’t pose a threat to national security.
We want this blessed country to continue to flourish for our children and grandchildren, and we need to make every effort to overcome our differences and not let the haters tear us down. Have we not learnt and seen enough of what divisiveness and bad decisions have done to some countries?
It seems that we prefer to build boundaries and do our own things when we do not agree with each other. This sets a dangerous precedent. There are ways to disagree, but let rationalism and fairness prevail. Is it so difficult to come to an understanding and agree that compromises must be made for the good of the country, so that everyone benefits in the long run?
Let’s not forget our wise forefathers’ words of wisdom. Keep calm, have respect and make peace. It is the only way our nation can move forward. Let’s open a new and improved chapter for Malaysia, starting in 2015.
To all who celebrate them, here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May God help us make a better Malaysia for our children.
Tunku Munawirah Putra is honourary secretary of Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE). PAGE is an education lobbyist that serves as a channel between concerned parents, the Ministry of Education and other education stakeholders.
This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 22 - 28, 2014.