Lessons in working together

Last year saw a number of significant developments in the Malaysian education scene. From the debate on the introduction of English into the national system to the decision to implement national service for school-leavers, much has happened that warrants this review from a perspective of decision-making and public debate. Whatever might have transpired in 2002, one thing is clear: To a certain extent, there is a working relationship between those in the power structure and the Malaysian public at large, when in comes to the education system.  

Although much more can be done, Malaysians should be proud to know that their feedback on changes and new policies regarding education can really sway Government.  

It is also encouraging to see that the Government is trying to do all it can for the educational needs of the people, actual and perceived, both now and in the future. 

The clearest example of this is the introduction of the English language as a medium of instruction in Malaysian schools.  

Although some quarters were unclear and apprehensive about this idea, it was finally decided that this move is crucial to help our country maintain its current level of progress in all major fields.  

As a researcher who is naturally critical of change, I was more than ecstatic when again public opinion was sought on the issue of race relations in Malaysia. Through much debate, the plan is now in place to introduce a Malaysian National Service to help create the ideal “Malaysian Race”. 

Personally I would argue that this decision could not have come at a better time, although some people are against the idea, having made up their minds through personal prejudice.  

Obviously, two examples are not enough to show the complexities faced in deciding the direction of any national education system.  

Nonetheless, it should be clear that both the public and the Government need to be continuously engaged in dialogue and discussion, whenever changes or improvements are to be instituted on a wide scale.  

The Malaysian public should always try to find new avenues and opportunities to voice their opinion and provide feedback. One need not work alone in this matter; every Malaysian has a stake in the education system, from parents to students to educators to the administration.  

Education undoubtedly impacts on the lives of everyone who lives in this country, and beyond its shores.  

One nagging problem I have noticed time and again is that some individuals tend to voice their opinions in unproductive ways by damning every reform made or change instituted, or resort to being armchair critics who do not contribute to anything concrete. 

When asked what they are doing to help bring about improvements in the education system, this minority would argue that nothing they say will ever change the status quo, especially when it comes to something as monolithic as the Malaysian education system.  

Perhaps that’s only far too easy to say. The question is simple: Rather than simply being disgruntled and condemning new reforms or novel educational methodologies, why not voice our opinions in sensible and beneficial ways?  

When it comes to something as important as the national education system, we must contribute and make our voices heard so that our needs as the people are met, and the Government can gauge what it must do for the current and future educational needs of Malaysians of all backgrounds.  

The key word here is “contribute”, in any which way we can. Parents can make their voices heard in Parent-Teacher Associations, students can play an active role in uniform bodies and youth organisations, and educators (through national unions) can be more prolific in ensuring the national education system meets the needs and wants of the people. 

We must not just sit back and condemn everything, without sound arguments, keen observation and thorough research.  

I am not speaking on behalf of the Malaysian public or even for the academic community, but it is true that in 2002 the education system was slowly becoming more transparent through the efforts of the Government.  

Although this is merely the beginning, I personally hope that the hopes and aspirations of all Malaysians would be taken into consideration in the future as we try to develop and maintain a world-class education system.  

This is definitely a step in the right direction for the Government and I am sure that the people-in-power are gaining more votes of confidence from all Malaysians – parents, students, educators and others involved in the education system.  

As long as the lines of communication are kept open and dialogues on educational and policy issues are encouraged, 2003 and beyond can mark how our nation is rapidly improving in terms of decision-making and public debate that tries to appease every single voice in the community, in the educational sphere at the very least.  

Airil Haimi Mohd AdnanUniversiti Teknologi Mara, Perak

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