We need to use education to hone independence, resilience and creativity.
IT has been 50 years since the formation of Malaysia and 56 years since independence. Our forefathers held dearly that for a country like Malaysia, with its multiracial population, the people should make every effort to understand and respect each other and look at Malaysia as our home and the sole object of our loyalty.
We need to overcome our differences and prejudices in order to build a nation and a future that is beneficial to all, while maintaining progress, peace and goodwill.
Everyone needs to play their part and contribute to nation building. We cannot let petty things and differences get the better of us. That is why our forefathers stressed highly on the delivery of good education. Our education policy is one of the pillars that support national unity, and the pillars must be strong to withstand adverse criticism and political storm.
The right to good education is needed for this country to progress, and high standards should be maintained at all times. That is one of the messages left by our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. He said that “half-educated people will be more of a risk to the nation’s security than to its well-being and peace”. He warned that the government should exercise a great deal of caution and think deeply before making any education policy changes.
I am indeed grateful to God for having the privilege to be Tunku’s granddaughter and look at what he has done for the country. It is a blessing that I am able to advocate for what I strongly believe in for our children and the country, in the path that he had paved.
The Tunku wrote extensively on education during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Among others, he wrote of the then education minister, Tun Musa Hitam, who had to shoulder a great deal of responsibility to ensure that our education policy would serve the nation well. The Tunku was deeply concerned about the change in the language policy and the need to maintain high standards to keep up with progress and the rest of the world.
Many people who could afford it, Malays and non-Malays alike, sent their children abroad to make sure they would not be affected by the change of policy. This happened under his nose when my father decided to pack my older siblings off to boarding school in England after the English-medium schools were abolished.
The Tunku fought to maintain English as a medium of instruction for higher learning and Malay as the language of the nation. He believed it would lead to ultimate good and that it would also help the Malays to better their prospects in life. He was also concerned that those who had the means and opportunity to obtain higher studies would leave behind those who were not as privileged.
He received a lot of flak for standing up for English. He said that some of his people were hoodwinked into believing that his policy would benefit others more than the Malays. Regardless, he continued to fight for what he believed was right and good for the nation.
This encouragement for English is not in any way intended to belittle our national language for it too must be given due recognition as a language to unite all Malaysians. The national language is needed to foster close ties and establish the spirit of camaraderie in carving out the Malaysian identity necessary for us to bond and progress as one nation.
Our forefathers even went to the extent of naming it Bahasa Malaysia (BM), knowing full well it is Bahasa Melayu. The significance of calling it Bahasa Malaysia was so that we could create a Malaysian identity.
BM doesn’t belong to a race, it belongs to the nation we created, a new nation with hopes of capitalising on an identity that is race blind.
But things didn’t turn out as they envisioned. Of late, some insensitive people have dished out racial and religious slurs. We need to steer clear of these hazards, and grab a platform that keeps us liberal, neutral, progressive and focused on developing the nation.
We cannot make Bahasa Malaysia the knowledge language while it is still much younger than the other scholastic languages in use. We are trying to jumpstart something that is not yet able to do the job. While we initially borrowed many words from other languages, now it seems we are “Malaynising” words from English at whim, including words like koc, koleksi, koreksi, kaunter and even resab (reserve)!
From Arabic, we have words like muzakarah and maaf. We even had to borrow a word to say sorry? It shows that Malay as a race must step up first and the language would follow suit when more of us are intellectually rich and reasonably affluent. For now, it is like putting the Proton car to race in Le Mans. It can’t do it on its own yet. It needs to partner with something that is already up there.
Everyone who agrees with me sends their children to international schools. If they can afford it, they will do their best to give their children an edge for a brighter future. Many of them are fathers and mothers who are representing us in Parliament. In fact, they are the ones who develop the policies but stay clear of national schools and national universities for their own offspring.
Meanwhile, how would those who do not have an edge compete once they leave school/university for work? Is giving more bumiputra assistance schemes going to help?
It is true that Malays make up a large number of the people who need help but they certainly cannot be pampered. We cannot spoon-feed the Malays and bumiputras and hope they can survive in the real world. It is like breeding orang utan in captivity and then releasing them in the jungle without teaching them how to fend for themselves.
We need to use education to hone independence, resilience, creativity, and develop ability to overcome hurdles. This is why the international schools teaching in English are so much in demand because much of the knowledge, proven practices and experience are in English.
In our enthusiasm to promote BM to a higher level, we have neglected English and that has brought our standards down. It affected the quality of teacher education and made the teaching profession less desirable. That was why Tunku was adamant in not making drastic changes to our education for there would be adverse effects in these changes.
The top 10 universities in the QS University ranking 2013 all use English as their medium of instruction. These are the universities with the latest in research and development that we can take lessons from in building a more affluent and progressive nation. Even the top non-English language university, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ranked 12th, uses English for its graduate programmes.
Malaysians need universities we can be proud of and show off our capabilities and competitiveness to the world. But as long as many local undergraduates at our national universities shy away from English, there will be a loss of knowledge and, ultimately, a loss to the nation.
The Malaysia Education Blueprint has all these grand plans and targets to thrust our education system to the top third in the world. But as long as we do not take care of the basic things that can go wrong and maintain high standards, it is questionable if we can ever achieve that objective.
> Tunku Munawirah Putra is honorary secretary of Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia (Twitter @PAGEMalaysia). The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.