This article first appeared in Forum, digitaledge Weekly, on September 21 - 27, 2015.
The unexpected Cabinet reshuffle on July 28 took many Malaysians by surprise, particularly those in the education fraternity, when Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was replaced.
This was a prime example of politics interfering with education. Muhyiddin had made much progress for education, although the outcomes were still much to be desired, and a new pathway had been laid out to uphold the national language as well as to strengthen English in the Second Wave (2017-2020) of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (MEB).
While the new Minister of Education Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid vowed to carry on with the implementation — and to fine-tune — the MEB, it was yet another shock when the decision to make SPM English a compulsory pass, a tough policy choice by Muhyiddin in 2013, was reversed.
Moving forward, we believe this is good enough reason to appeal for the teaching and learning of more subjects in English to provide the immersion in the language that is so seriously lacking.
When I was asked if I was happy with the sudden exit of Muhyiddin, referring to the unpopular move to abolish the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English during his watch, my response was that it did not matter at that point in time. The problem at hand is much bigger than that — and that is the question of integrity. It entails good governance, transparency, accountability and the rule of law as practised by the government of the day and its leadership, or the lack of it.
The country seems to be split on the definition of what integrity is and whether it is at all important. And like almost everything else, the education system is the first to be blamed for all of the nation’s ills.
Integrity is defined as an “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty”. It is a concept that must be imbued in one’s character; to be honest to, and with, ourselves; to expressly portray the image of an honest person; and to speak up if there is wrongdoing.
It should begin at home with parents playing a key role in providing an environment where these characteristics are encouraged and rewarded. It should then be built upon the foundation of intellectual standards, and developed in the process of educating. In schools, it would be known more accurately as academic integrity.
Interestingly, a survey carried out in six high schools in the US found that between 80% and 95% of the students admitted to some form of cheating. The Academic Motivation and Integrity Survey, by Wangaard and Stephens, revealed that 57% agreed that it was morally wrong to cheat, 44% reported test cheating, and 82% reported homework cheating. However, only 12% reported seeing others being caught cheating. The lackadaisical attitude at these schools explains their failure to enforce standards, which was why only 11% of students supported integrity policies.
We believe that Malaysian schools and their students are no different, which is why our society has become more and more accepting of deception, lying, spinning, scamming and corruption, to the detriment of the economic and moral well-being of the nation.
Warren Buffet once said, “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.”
Even more curious is that cheating is more prevalent in public (72%) compared with private (46%) schools, which may be due to their respective sizes and emphasis on adherence to the Honour Code. Such a code involves all students and abhors the practice of lying, cheating, plagiarism, stealing, drugs, weapons, bullying, complicity, fabrication and deception. To reinforce the success of the Honour Code, there must be a purposeful integrity pact between schools and the parents of students to provide undivided support of such a concerted effort.
Relating this to current events, particularly in the social media, it appears that lying, cheating and engaging in corruption by adults, who are products of the Malaysian education system, is increasingly becoming the norm. Little thought has been given to such mischief and its consequences, except to maximise personal gain at all costs, even if it is at the expense of the innocent masses. To be ranked 50 out of 175 countries in the Corruption Perception Index last year isn’t good enough, to say the least.
Our first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman had this to say, “If you think you are rich, there are many richer than you; if you think you are clever, there are more people cleverer than you. But if you think you are honest, then you are among the few, and in this instance, it is best to be among the few.”
We should uphold integrity as one would the sovereignty of our national language and reject moral decay at all times.
Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim is the chairman of Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia, an educational lobby group that serves as a channel between concerned parents, the Ministry of Education and other educational stakeholders