This year looks like a tough year for business and ministers


THE year 2019 started off badly with red ink declines across all stock exchanges in the world. Bears charged ahead as investors continued to be spooked by dramatic events happening in the United States, China and Europe.

Back home, Bursa ended in a sea of red with crude oil and palm oil prices continuing their decline. Looks like a tough year ahead for business.

Economic cycles of boom and bust are a normal occurrence in our last 100 years. Depending on the industry, the boom and bust cycle is dependent on basic economics of demand and supply.

Take our property industry as an example. We have just gone through a property boom which started in 2000 and had uninterrupted growth for 15 years with property values in certain locations growing three to four times. More developers jumped on the bandwagon some 10 years ago and now there is an oversupply of malls, office buildings, shophouses and condominiums.

There is still a huge demand for low-cost housing but there is no supply. Private-sector developers are not keen as this is an unprofitable sector due to high land cost. It is left to the government to provide low-cost houses but there is insufficient supply due to the lack of a clear strategy or understanding of what an affordable low-cost house/apartment should be. Prima apartments costing RM400,000 are way beyond the reach of B40 households.

Politicians only know how to plan in five-year cycles. From one election to the next. All politicians try to meet the short-term demands of their electorate so that the supply of votes is there for them in five years’ time. This current batch of politicians is thinking in two-year cycles since Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has indicated that he will step aside in that time frame.

No politician, especially the ministers, had come up with a long-term vision for their ministry. Their only strategy is how to keep their job in the next Cabinet reshuffle. At this moment, Malaysia lacks visionary leaders who care for the country and worst of all, a Cabinet of bickering ministers making a fool of themselves.

If the politicians are not able to produce long-term plans for the country, I believe the rakyat should step in to take part in the discussion on national issues that affect the well-being of the people in the country.

The local education of a child takes about 16 years, 11 years from primary to secondary school, two years in Form 6/ pre-university and another three years in university. The long-term vision of an Education Minister should be focused on an education blueprint to produce the next generation of bright graduates that have critical thinking skills, are multi-lingual, tech-savvy and with good morals within the next 20 years.

Since Malaysia is multi-racial and multi-religious, there have been different demands from its citizens, thus resulting in the supply of multi-ethnic schools of Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil in the last 60 years.

Reforming our education structure and syllabus is thus extremely difficult for our Education Minister, hence the lack of any ideas for the last seven months.

Perhaps, if the minister tries to understand the educational demands of Malaysian parents, he can then proceed to plan on how to supply to their requirements within a national education blueprint.

Looking at the demand side of the equation:

> There is a demand for Islamic education. Religious education too from the growing supply of tahfiz and religious schools.

> There is a demand for multi-racial ‘unity’ schools (like before). Schools for children of B40 parents of all races.

> There is a demand for Chinese schools. Strong focus on Science and Maths. A total of 80,000 non-Chinese parents send their children to Chinese schools

> Failing demand for Tamil primary schools.

> Dr Mahathir demands more English and less religion to be taught in schools.

> Dr Maszlee Malik demands Arabic to be taught as a third language in schools.

> Critical thinking skills to be taught in schools. More sports activities. Not sure about swimming due to a lack of supply of swimming pools. More hours on Science and Maths.

For all practical purposes, Dr Maszlee will need to restructure the physical assets – different schools can be assigned to meet the different demands as mentioned above.

Depending on demands by location, national-type schools can be divided into national-type Islamic schools and national-type unity schools.

> National-type Islamic schools – National Islamic education syllabus focusing on Science and Maths with Ministry-approved religious studies which should be followed by tahfiz and religious schools. The Education Ministry must develop a contemporary national islamic education syllabus that suits the demands of a growing nation. Arabic to be taught as a third language.

> National-type unity schools – Maths and Science to be taught in English. Religious classes if any will be taught after school hours. Tamil schools to be converted to Unity schools. Third language options of Mandarin or Tamil. No separate canteens please.

> Elite/ boarding schools – The minister will have to decide between converting these elite schools to Islamic or unity type schools.

National Chinese-type schools – Maths and Science to be taught in English. Third language options of either Malay literature or English literature.

The meeting point for these three national syllabi will be in Form 6 where the students can choose to study the subjects of their choice. I still do not understand why UEC is not accepted by local universities as racial politics should not decide our children’s educational rights.

At the end of the day, the choices made by parents for their children will determine which type of school will be in demand and the supply can be adjusted accordingly until an equilibrium of needs is achieved.

It would be interesting to hear from Dr Maszlee on how he intends to meet the demands of the education reforms needed so urgently by this nation. I hope his ardent supporters will supply him with some bright ideas in the next seven months or he will find himself with only one job back in IIUM.

After all, Dr Mahathir has an endless supply of candidates with impaired vision eyeing this coveted ministry. Looks like 2019 will be a demanding year for ministers as well.

Tan Thiam Hock , column , On Your Own