The organiser was eager for the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) to attend what was slated to be a cosy, uneventful meeting. We were greeted by representatives of a coalition of 17 non-governmental organisations that, in 2014, formed an education pressure group they called Inisiatif Pengislahan Pendidikan Negara (IPPN) or National Education Reform Initiative.
Among those present were Pertubuhan IKRAM Malaysia, the Tamil Foundation Malaysia, LLG Cultural Development Centre Bhd, Jiao Zong (United Chinese School Teachers’ Association of Malaysia), Tamil Education Groups and Merdeka University Bhd (in no particular order) — a hotchpotch of allies.
The coalition’s objective is to inculcate the Malaysian approach to education with an emphasis on: (i) the sovereignty of Bahasa Malaysia; (ii) the sanctity of the mother tongue; (iii) the importance of the English language; (iv) the need for quality education; (v) a fun, engaging and challenging learning environment; and (vi) equitable and equal access to education for all.
Its first initiative involved a thorough appraisal of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education), culminating in feedback and recommendations to revise certain aspects of it, which have since been presented to the minister.
Currently it is engaging with advocates of education, such as PAGE, to forge an understanding and, if possible, create a relationship to work towards a common, progressive and impactful goal with a view to provide a better quality of life for all.
LLG are the initials of the late Lim Lian Geok, a first-generation Chinese migrant who emigrated to then Tanah Melayu. He had said, “In this multi-ethnic country, solidarity, amicability, peace and cooperation are some of the important principles, but all these and the rest cannot be achieved unless they are built upon a strong foundation of equality for all.”
LLG’s core values are to uphold the principles of democracy, human rights and respect for individuality and ethnic diversity; and to cherish a culture of solidarity, friendship, cooperation and constructiveness.
Jiao Zong was initially formed to uphold Chinese education in then Malaya, and sought the same pay for the 6,000 or so Chinese teachers as those in the English-medium schools at the time. Its first chairman was the feisty Lim, who stood up for Chinese education and its teachers, which cost him dearly. He lost his teaching licence along with his citizenship. Jiao Zong continues to appeal to the government to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) as an entry criterion for higher education.
IKRAM has established 47 primary and secondary schools thus far, and targets to open three schools a year. It is based on the Islamic international school concept in the spirit of “Negara Rahmat”, by teaching compassion towards others. It is structured towards an exemplary educational model that is simple yet futuristic and emphasises community service as a tool for nation building.
The Tamil Foundation Malaysia was founded to help communities through research, development and publications with a focus on Tamil education and the rich Tamil culture. It believes that as long as the Indian community here fails to improve its standard of living through better jobs and higher wages, poverty will continue to play a dominant role in determining academic performance.
We are a diverse society, a diverse people with many cultures. It is only natural that our education system should reflect that diversity. After all, our diversity is our strength, which we should celebrate together. We hear and say this all the time but, instead, our differences have become magnified and blown out of proportion with few solutions offered.
PAGE has had its fair share of challenges in the past with voicing its support for the teaching and learning of science and mathematics in English — from heated debates to its unfortunate abolition — the enhancement of English language education and, now, with the Dual Language Programme, a more subdued resistance.
We continue to uphold the Education Act 1997, which states that “pupils are to be educated according to the wishes of their parents”. Parents have to make informed choices and take responsibility for their actions because we have aspirations for our children.
We appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of the IPPN. It must not stray from its objectives. As long as all parties within or outside the IPPN can agree to such an understanding, there will be less of a need for protest and dissension.
If we could all support each other in our respective visions and strategies, all for the greater good of our children and the nation as a whole, we can all seek to reach our full potential and be more productive as a people. The ultimate aim will be to lead a better quality of life than our parents did.
PAGE went to the meeting with an open mind and left encouraged about the future of education in Malaysia. It was enlightening, and most definitely not an uneventful evening after all.
Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim is president of the Parent Action Group for Education