The education dilemma


HAPPY New Year and welcome to the new decade of hope and aspirations. Hopefully all of you have been well rested through the holiday season and recharged to face the new decade with optimism and a smile on your face.

I am well rested, thank you. In fact I spent most of my time on the couch binging through many movies and Streaming series. My absolute favourite has to be the eight-episode The Mandalorian, with the cute 50-year-old baby Yoda and the Ugnaught farmer, Kuiil who will close his speech with a “I have spoken” finale.

The main star of the show, the Mandalorian, a bounty hunter who lives by the Mandalorian code of life and it is summed up in one simple phrase “This is the way”.

We are only 11 days into 2020 and what a start! Our Education Minister resigned, India authorities asking their importers to boycott buying palm oil from Malaysia, the United States assassinating an general in Baghdad. Ukraine jetliner crashing after taking off from Tehran airport etc.

And just yesterday we receive a notice from the Prime Minister’s Department that our dear Prime Minister will be acting Education Minister in the interim until a suitable candidate can be found.

Going back in time, let me refresh your memory that after the Pakatan Harapan win, our dear PM appointed himself as the Education Minister but it was quickly rejected by the Pakatan coalition and the rakyat. So he gave us Maszlee Malik instead... as the Education Minister.

Perhaps it is an opportune time to remind our new Education Minister that education of our young should be above and beyond politics and religion. We need to prepare our young to be equipped with the necessary and relevant knowledge with international linguistic skill sets.

But our education system at the primary and secondary schools is polarised and broken. Polarised by language and religion, perpetuated and enhanced by politicians and religious leaders.

The education is broken at its core as the final product, our grown-up children is not properly equipped to survive the expectations of the new economy, fast paced and higher level of intelligence.

After three decades of continuous decline in education standards, what can our new Education Minister do?

In what ways can he provide solutions with the varied demands of parents, some of whom want religion to be taught in schools, some of whom want to continue sending their children to vernacular schools etc.

Like in business, transformation of a broken system will take time. More so in an education system where we have to consider all available resources at our disposal. It is impossible to make a major seismic shift which will totally dislocate the system and render it dysfunctional.

Like in business, maybe we should look into the demands of our customers, the parents, on their needs for the type of education for their children. We should take politicians and the government out of the decision-making process and instead provide the choices to the consumers/parents. The parents demand and the Education Ministry supplies.

Perhaps we should conduct a national referendum on educational needs among the parents before the ministry comes out with a blueprint for our education transformation. We need to understand the demand side of the equation before we can plan the supply side or there will be a mismatch of expectations.

Like any business plan, we always look at the available resources or assets that we have before we can make a new strategic plan.

These are the choices available (up to Form Five) to our parents to send their children to:

Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) – primary and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) – secondary

Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan (SRJK) – ex-Chinese independent schools which opted for MOE syllabus but still maintain Mandarin as the main lingua franca.

Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan China or Tamil – partially funded by MOE

Chinese Independent schools – privately funded

Sekolah Agama Rakyat (SAR) – Islamic based

Sekolah Pondok

Sekolah Berasrama Penuh – fully residential

As my learned friend said in our chat group, the government can’t dismantle one type without affecting the other. Over the last six decades, the Barisan Nasional government appease to a myriad of calls from the various communities to have their “own” school and as such, we now have a mish-mash of schools that do not promote multi-racial unity among our youths.

But there is a way. Simplify the menu and leave it to the consumers to decide. Reorganise the supply side to meet the demands. Use available resources, schools, teachers, educational materials as a stop-gap measure.

Plan for the real transformation over the next 30 years to eventually return to a unified system, however it evolves.

A simplified menu that takes into account the needs of the various communities and promoting unity among the various races in the long run.

Template for MOE to manage:

Teaching of Math and Science in English for all schools – note that Maszlee only implemented this instruction from the PM in Sarawak schools

Divide all the schools into two groups:

Vision school – no religious classes (can be offered as after-school extra classes). This group will include SRJK, SJK, Chinese independent school and if there is demand from parents, can convert some SK and SMK. In fact in every town convert one SK or SMK school into a Vision school.

Note: This Vision school is based on Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s idea of promoting unity among the multi-racial youths. Current enrolment by non-Chinese in Chinese schools have reached 18%.

National/Islamic Schools – makes it easier to manage with religious classes supplementing normal syllabus with teaching of Math and Science in English too.

Re-allocate resources, train new teachers according to demand and let this system run based on demand of the parents. We will eventually find our demand and supply equilibrium.

To all the fathers, if you are not sure what is best for your children, please seek advice from your wife as this will be the most important decision that you will have to make for your child’s education.

Just be cautious as just last night, my wife sent me this picture of a lioness growling at a cowering male lion backed against the wall and I can almost hear her shrill voice message – “Darling, can I advise you something?”

I have spoken and this is the way.

The views expressed are the writer’s own.

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