As readers flick through the pages of The Edge on Saturday, I will be at Nottingham University, England, upon the invitation of the UKEC (United Kingdom and Eire Council for Malaysian Students) to speak at its prestigious Projek Amanat Negara, whose patron is the chairman of the Council of Eminent Persons and former finance minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin.
In its first session entitled “Polished education, boundless mentality”, it will be an honour for me to share the stage for the first time with “educator, academic, international columnist, author” and active Twitter user Dr Azly Rahman, all the way from the US where he resides, and once again with Penang DAP’s “full-time foodie, part-time politician” Zairil Khir Johari.
UKEC is a national coalition of all Malaysian student societies across the UK and Ireland. Currently with over 77 Malaysian societies as its constituent members, it serves as an integral platform representing the collective interest of over 16,000 Malaysian students in the UK and Ireland. Its mission is to contribute to nation building by championing student activism through non-partisan intellectual discourse.
Its annual flagship event this year, themed “Negaraku: Redefined”, is in the light of the unprecedented change in government engendered by the 14th general election. The discussions will focus on developing the “Malaysian mentality” and moving towards a sustainable future.
The undergraduates have been busy and the tentative line-up of speakers is laudable. Minister of Religious Affairs Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa will be officiating, followed by former CIMB chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak. The subsequent sessions will be on the third national car and child rights for which reputable speakers have been flown in from Malaysia. For the closing address, the students have treated themselves to the dynamic presence of Clare Rewcastle Brown of Sarawak Report, who will surely provide an explosive end to the day-long event attended by enthusiastic students nationwide hungry for inspiration.
Needless to say, the youth are an important asset to the nation. There is much to be done amid the anxiety and apprehension of New Malaysia. The people are impatient, yet we must not lose sight of why there was a need to make the change in the first place — for a prolonged and sustainable future for our youth to return to and be nurtured in, among other reasons.
The theme of the education session is optimistic and hopeful. The education minister, in his inaugural speech on Jan 14 to academics, educators and teachers, spoke of three aspirations: to realise a values-based education, a higher quality of education and the relevance of the curriculum, and autonomy and accountability.
Where any significant change is to be made, it has to be now or we will forever be damned. Thus, several committees have been formed to ensure that the education system stands by the national education philosophy, the Rukunegara, Vision 2020 and the Malaysian Education Blueprint. The National Education Advisory Council, as provided for in the Education Act 1996, has a two-year term in which to revamp the system. The committee on policies formed by the ministerial cabinet in July 2018 has a six-month working term that ends in April. Other committees specific to critical areas of concern, such as the biasness of the history curriculum, recognition of the UEC and industry-relevant university education, have been set up and active discussions are ongoing.
Interestingly, as we uncover and unravel the foundations that have been laid for the nation, it is not surprising that much of what has been envisioned has not been properly implemented. Yet, it is a good place to begin. We have heard it before: we have fine policies but implementation fails us.
In addressing the failings, we realise that we can only do so much with so little money. It is no secret that monies were siphoned off in the past and as we pull together with what little resources we have now, we will have to prioritise.
Critical areas that require immediate spending are teacher training, retraining existing teachers, addressing teacher absenteeism, boosting teacher numbers, repairing dilapidated schools, abolishing double-session schools (of which there are still 1,200), addressing single-session schools that are bursting at the seams, trimming classroom size, making schools smaller — the list is by no means exhaustive — to ensure a pupil-centric environment that is conducive for learning.
Therefore, in an effort to inculcate a values-based system, the aim is to internalise the human factor, focusing on learning rather than putting teaching to the test, encouraging school leaders to exercise autonomy as they see fit to realise the full potential of pupils, and teachers too, to the extent of reversing the roles where even teachers can learn from pupils.
There shall be mutual trust and respect for what may appear trivial but without doubt, there must be in place a high level of accountability that will be honed and eventually become second nature to all educators.
Negaraku will surely be redefined over time. The possibilities are endless and we will endeavour towards a polished education.
Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim is the chairman of Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia, which is an educational lobby group that serves as a channel between concerned parents, the Ministry of Education and other educational stakeholders