From professors to preschoolers, the education community pays tribute to retiring Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed in this StarEducation special.
YEARS before he became the country's prime minister, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad was already making decisions that had long-lasting impact on the education sector.
As the Education Minister in the 1970s, he was responsible for the introduction of the new school curricula for both primary and secondary schools, or the KBSR and KBSM, which were designed to offer holistic education to create balanced, all-rounded individuals. The Mahathir Report, released in 1979, laid the groundwork for the curricula.
Two years after Dr Mahathir's tenure as Education Minister, he became the Deputy Prime Minister but retained the education portfolio, a position he held until 1978.
Dr Mahathir, however, retained a keen interest in education, even after becoming Prime Minister. Citing an example, former education director-general Tan Sri Wira Abdul Rahman Arshad recalls that he and a group of officials were called to the PM's office where he briefed them on educational aids and gadgets he had picked up from his overseas travels, especially for the Living Skills subject.
As prime minister, he proved to be a visionary leader who was always steps ahead of everyone else. He came up with ideas and pushed for their implementation when others were still struggling with the here and now.
While institutions in the private sector were busy competing with each other for undergraduates locally, Dr Mahathir challenged them to cast their net wider – in 1992 he proposed that they work together to make Malaysia a regional centre of education excellence and paved the way for this to take off with various incentives.
For years, he stressed the importance of mastering Maths and Science to compete globally, and ticked off Malaysian undergraduates in public universities for taking the easier path by pursuing the Arts courses. He took two bold steps towards this – changing the medium of instruction for the two subjects in school to English, and abolishing the quota system for public university enrolment in favour of meritocracy.
While some take umbrage from Dr Mahathir's decisions and remarks, there is little doubt that he has single-handedly achieved more for Malaysia's development than all the other leaders put together. This week, in tribute to Dr Mahathir, StarEducation talks to a wide range of people who have been affected by his policies, especially in education.
As an illustrious alumnus of the University of Malaya, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has successfully placed Malaysia on the international map.
In the field of higher education, his contribution is manifold: the Look East Policy, Science & Technology, the corporatisation of public universities, the establishment of standards in higher education, the establishment of private universities, meritocracy, availability of loans through PTPTN, the establishment of the Chair of Malay studies in a number of foreign universities, the establishment of Malaysian Studies in Cairo, the inculcation of hard work and love of one's nation among students.
However, the most meaningful and long lasting contribution of Dr M is to teach Malaysians to have pride and dignity and believe in doing things the Malaysian way.
All alumni and members of UM community take this opportunity to record appreciation to the Prime Minister and wish him and wife happiness. – Prof Datuk Dr Hashim Yaacob, Universiti Malaya Vice-Chancellor
One of the greatest contributions and achievements of Dr Mahathir in the field of higher Islamic education, for which we are all truly grateful, is the founding of the International Islamic University Malaysia in 1983. It was his far-sighted vision to use English as the medium of instruction and to teach all the important disciplines in IIUM that made the university what it is today. Many people have dreamt about an Islamic university in Malaysia since the sixties, but it was the political will of Dr Mahathir and his sincere commitment to its development, despite all the odds and challenges, that the dream became a shining reality. May Allah (s.w.t.) bless him and reward him for all his noble efforts to retivalise the scientific ethos of Islamic civilisation. – Prof Mohd Kamal Hassan, Rector, International Islamic University Malaysia
I would not say that all his education policies were effective but as a visionary leader he has the guts to take decisions that are either unpopular or seemed to incorrect. He is not afraid to voice his disagreement and not afraid to criticise. The best development in education to me was the introduction of the meritocracy system for the university. – Dr Chiam Heng Keng, Methodist College CEO, former professor of social psychology at UM,
I was a student in USM when he became Education Minister in the 1970s. I remember once, he came into the hall where students were waiting to have a dialogue; everyone was just talking and making noise –so he sat down until everyone quietened. Symbolically that is how he has been – he emphasises discipline in academia.
Generally, we feel sad he has to retire because we are going to miss his leadership, particularly in the field of education. For USM specifically, as a science university, his contribution in the advancement of science and technology in education has been great. I can still remember the speech he gave when he took office in 1981; he spoke on the importance of science and technology as the driving force for the nation to be a developed country. That is happening at the university; we have taken on many projects to develop the field as he envisioned.
If there is one thing that I will remember him for, it will be his consistent stand on the importance of science and technology for progress. – Prof Datuk Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, Universiti Sains Malaysia Vice-Chancellor
Dr. Mahathir has done a tremendous service to our education system, especially in recent years when he saw the need and opportunity to industrialise it. He has intertwined education with the industry and national policy such that each supports and strengthens the other, creating a perpetual engine of growth and development.
This decision was reflected in the creation of the MSC (Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) and Multimedia University, along with other universities that will collectively enable us to one day be a world-class producer and exporter of a precious commodity: knowledge.
I pray our youth will value Dr Mahathir's vision and emulate his leadership style. – Prof Dr Ghauth Jasmon, president of Multimedia University (MMU)
Perhaps the greatest contribution Dr Mahathir has made to education in this country has been the “return to English” stand he has taken, despite strong opposition from within and without the party. As a true statesman that he is, he has recognised the changing trends of the world, and put his political considerations aside for the sake of the country. This augurs well for the country and it is now left to the future leaders and academics to ensure that this position taken on English is pushed ahead and not stalled. – R. Ganasa Murthi, former director of IPBA (International Languages Teacher Training Institute)
“Malaysia has one of the best educational systems in the Third World. But for the journey that we must for our second generation, new standards have to be set and new results achieved”, excerpt from Dr Mahathir speech in launching Vision 2020 on Feb 28 1991. This principle has been adopted as UPM's guideline in formulating our strategic plan. In line with Vision 2020, UPM's vision is to be a world class university by the year 2010. Dr Mahathir has always been an inspiration to us for he was the one who proudly announced our new name, Universiti Putra Malaysia on April 3, 1997, in Serdang. – Prof Datuk, Dr Ir Mohd Zohadie Bardaie, Vice-Chancellor, Universiti Putra Malaysia
The biggest contribution Dr M has done for the private education sector is to export higher education and make Malaysia the centre of excellence in education. He is visionary and advocates the importance of education. There are many things about him that will be missed by the private education sector – he is very realistic and can see the practical side of things, he is prepared to listen to arguments from all sides before making decisions, and he has a keen interest in developing education. I was lucky to have worked with Dr M on the Special Education Committee set up by the then Prime Minister Tun Razak to review the education system. It was an enlightening experience. – Dr Lee Fah Onn, Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (MAPCU) secretary-general
I feel Dr M deserves a good rest after 22 years at the helm or a total of about 40 years in political life since his entry into active politics after winning the 1964 election. Dr M has been the most colourful and controversial Prime Minister Malaysia has ever had.
With the courage of his conviction and supreme self-confidence, he has made an indelible imprint not only on Malaysian history but also the history of the Third World, especially in its engagement with the West. Though he has not always been right, he has vision and he has crafted some very bold policies such as the MSC. I cannot speak for UKM. But my personal opinion is that Dr M was instrumental in shaping UKM during its formative years in the early 1970s in his capacity as chairman of the university council then. – Prof Datuk Dr Abdul Rahman Embong, President of the Malaysian Social Science Association, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
“Thank you for your excellent service as a volunteer for the XVIth Commonwealth Games.” These were the words that Dr Mahathir, the Father of Modern Malaysia, penned in my handbook when he visited the International Zone where I was serving as a volunteer (Deputy Director of Protocol). This simple statement has continually inspired me to achieve excellence in serving my family, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Malaysian society – the same way that our beloved Prime Minister has served the nation and all of us all these years. – Prof Dr Saran Kaur Gill , Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
He is a very meticulous and far-sighted person. I remember working with him at the ministry when he was the Education Minister – he is well researched and will add on his opinions and ideas to our papers. For me, the biggest contribution the PM has made in education is in the development of technical education. Even when he became the PM, he emphasised education for industrial progress; one development being the introduction of commerce skills in primary schools. – Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Arshad, former director-general of education
I think that it is the right time for Dr Mahathir to retire now while things are good. I think people will remember him for the many development projects he initiated. As a university undergraduate, I am grateful to Dr Mahathir for the introduction of the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN). Now, students don't have to worry about finances when they study. He even reduced the administrative fee for repayment in this year's Budget. – Mohd Khafiz Mohd Todzah, 22, Bachelor of Science and Environmental Studies, Universiti Putra Malaysia.
I appreciate all that the Prime Minister has done to turn our country into a very modern Malaysia. He's a very talented man but I am sure Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will be just as capable. – Kwan Theng Foong, 23, Advanced Diploma in Business Studies, Banking and Finance, TAR College
I haven't made up my mind about PM's retirement. I feel like I know nothing about him except for his public persona and what the media reports. To many he is either good or bad, so I am now reading everything I can about him especially The Malay Dilemma to find out for myself. – Azlan Shah, third year student, International Islamic University
He has made a lot of contribution to the country, so it important for the youth to know him. It is good that they have introduced “Mahathir Studies” (Minda Mahathir) in UiTM. – Elizabeth Kugan, second year student, Universiti Teknologi Mara
Dr M gave everyone a fair chance to enter higher education in the country – that is the biggest contribution made by the PM. The implementation of the meritocracy and the abolishment of the quota system – this gives everyone the same chance. While there may still be some doubts about the way it is implemented, it is definitely better than the previous quota system. – Chong Meng Lee, third year student in Chinese Studies, Universiti Malaya
As a student, I will miss him as he has made many contributions to education. His main contribution I have to say is the opportunities created for bumiputra students to enter university. His retirement will definitely be a loss but luckily his policies form a good foundation for the country. – Mohd Shamsudin, 20, second year, Science Faculty, Universiti Malaya
We have a lot to be thankful for in education. One is the PTPN loan. He has also been very supportive of sports and has pushed for the development of various sports by pushing for the organisation of Commonwealth Games, F1 and many other international events.– Guna Raj, 23, final year student in Sports Science, Universiti Malaya
Dr Mahathir is great! I hope Sudan can have a Prime Minister like him. – Gasim Hayder, from Sudan, 27, Master of Engineering, Universiti Putra Malaysia
He is a great leader because he has a long-term vision; he does not look at the short-term only. He is a fair and just person. And in a multiracial country like Malaysia, he has been able to treat most of us well and is not too extreme in terms of religion. I think he has shown a good example as a leader and his personality is very impressive. I think his greatest contribution or achievement is Vision 2020, his masterplan for turning Malaysia into a developed country. – Gan Chin Chuan, Master of Science in Guidance and Counselling, Universiti Putra Malaysia
Dr Mahathir is like the Father of Malaysia because he has contributed so much to the development of Malaysia. I am sad to see him leave. In my opinion there is no one who can replace him; he is irreplaceable. In terms of education, he has expanded the opportunities locally for students. There are so many new universities and university colleges. This is the mark of a developed country. People don't have to go overseas anymore. – Ariati Basir, Bachelor of Science and Food Technology, Universiti Putra Malaysia
Dr Mahathir is my idol. I respect him for the way he handled the financial crisis in 1997. Although the IMF (International Monetary Fund) tried to impose conditions, he stood his ground; that shows what a strong leader he is. He is also not biased. As a bumiputra student, I feel good that although he has given us many opportunities, he wants us to compete with non-bumiputras too. This has made me more motivated to compete and to excel. – Mazia Azura Maziun, 27, Bachelor of Education (TESL), Universiti Putra Malaysia
Dr M is responsible for various developments and improvements in the country – IT, buildings and many more. I think he is famous not only in the country but also all over the world. He is a very dedicated man and has a lot of opinions. His retirement will be big loss to us. – V. Sumathi, 28, Masters in IT, Universiti Malaya
I have been in Malaysia for six years, so I feel that I know quite a lot about him. I think that Dr M is a good leader on the local and international platform. I think he has achieved a lot and deserves a rest now. However, I hope that he will still be able to make contributions when he's not in office. – Yao Fu Wei, postgraduate student from China
Actually, I wish he could continue because I feel that we still need him but I suppose since he's been in office for so long, he feels that it is time for him to make way for new people and the younger generation. They have a lot to learn from him. One thing about him is that he is fair to all races. I am also proud to have been a teacher when all the developments in the profession took place. – Sang Lup Chui, former teacher doing his Masters degree, Universiti Malaya
His retirement is a loss to the country as he is very capable leader. I admire him most for his leadership qualities. Even other countries appreciate him, as can be seen from the awards he has been given. For many of us, he is the only PM we have ever known. I consider myself fortunate to be born in the same year he came to power (1981). He is very far-sighted and open minded. I would like to thank him for his services to the county. He is our best and most capable PM. – Noor Azlina Mohd Nasir, 22, Bachelor of Biochemistry, Universiti Putra Malaysia
A study in wisdom humility and greatnessTHE Prime Minister is a man very passionate about knowledge. He knows its value and the strength it gives to a nation to progress and prosper. He is also a very creative person and this has resulted in the nation going beyond the ordinary to reach a level where we have become a role model to others. An entire generation of Malaysians has grown up having Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir as prime minister – a boleh generation, confident and assertive, that has benefited from the influence he has had on education, which is today one of the most vibrant sectors of the economy. – Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing, Limkokwing University College of Creative Technology
My first and only meeting with Dr Mahathir was at the opening of the Asian Sheffield Medical College in Perak years ago when he was the guest-of-honour. It was a very formal event and protocol had to be followed so we all stayed behind the lines, but when the prime minister arrived and walked through the crowd of people, it was amazing to watch the enthusiasm of the people as they surged forward to hold his hands. Dr Mahathir stopped to smile and shook hands with everyone within his reach. To me, it was a truly memorable sight to behold. Even though I had seen him on TV, read about him and heard how knowledgeable and brilliant he is, that day, when I shook hands with him, I saw him as a warm and humble man with a smile for all. – Ong Soo Woen, School of Communication dean
Dr Mahathir is a very admirable man who sticks to his principles through thick and thin. His love for the country and its people is mirrored in his words and actions. His vision for the country has made Malaysia exemplary, not only in South-East Asia, but the rest of the world. I bid him many thanks and wish him a great retirement ahead. – Rekha Menon, college programme coordinator
He has put Malaysia on the map and people abroad know our country because of him. Dr Mahathir is a vocal leader who holds his own among western leaders. I think one of his biggest achievements was they way he handled the 1997 economic crisis. Despite pressure from the International Monetary Fund for Malaysia, Dr Mahathir put in place his own plan to help the country remain stable. – Aref Omar, 26, college studio assistant
He is the only prime minister I have ever known and one of the best Asian leaders the world has seen in a long time. Before Dr Mahathir, a lot of people did not even know where Malaysia was. A few years ago, when I was in the US, I remember telling this guy where I was from, and he thought Malaysia was somewhere close to Africa. But now, thanks to KLIA, KLCC and many more impressive sites and locations that have made a big impact, there’s so much to be proud of as a Malaysian. – Aimee Hanafiah, 20
I don’t think anyone can ever truly replace Dr Mahathir. His bold, straightforward and liberal way of speaking has earned him enormous credibility, not only among his Asian counterparts but the world over. He has definitely brought about and introduced a modern Malaysia to the world. I will never forget meeting him at an escalator in KLCC. I had the chance to exchange greetings with him (salam) and was surprised that he looked up and said “Hello”. I was left speechless. I was so impressed by his humility and openness. I’m definitely not ready to see a new prime minister because it just won’t be the same. – Jamal Afiq Jamaludin, 20
Dr Mahathir has done a great deal for our education system, which has become the envy of many countries in the region. I wish I could meet him and thank him personally for all the scholarships that have made it possible for thousands of Malaysians to pursue their studies overseas. – Sham Ali, 29, Lecturer
Even my housemate from China has a very high regard of Dr Mahathir and what he has for the country and the people. He has always strived for good relations with other countries and this has contributed a lot to Malaysia’s growth. Coming from East Malaysia, I never felt that he neglected us, thanks to his numerous visits which were always exciting events. – Shirley Veronica Tay, 18
I met Dr M when I was 10-years-old duringan Umno conference at PWTC. He has been my role model ever since. I admire his intelligence in leading a country whichconsists of so many different races. Unlikeother countries, we are so united as a nation. As a student who needs to make speeches sometimes, I always get myconfidence from Dr M because he can talk about everything and anything in public without having to read from a script.To me, he is someone who never gives up easily. I met him again at the Umno conference this year and had a chance to say Bangga dapat salam dengan Dato' Seri and he replied Terima kasih. Because of him, I am now more mature and confident. I also enjoy reading his poems especially theMelayu Mudah Lupa. My wish is to one day have the opportunity to chat with him over a cup of coffee. Although it has not happened yet, I am still hopeful because like what he would always say, “nothing is ever impossible to achieve.” – Muhammed Shahrin Yahya, 18
A true statesmanHe is a man with vision. When the whole worldlooks to the West, he says 'look to the East'. I truly admire his unconventional way of leading the country, especially during the regional financial crisis when he lowered interest rates and promotedBelilah barangan buatan Malaysia to keep the money within the country. His far-sightedness led Malaysia to much greater heights and is indeed the man behind Malaysia's achievements. His vision, ambition and faith in our capabilities have been an inspiration to us all. His popularphrase Malaysia Boleh! will always stay with us. – Amir Sharifuddin Wong, senior assistant, SMK Pinji, Ipoh
I look up to him as a great leader because of his farsightedness and his ability to lookbeyond all criticisms and still come outsmiling with confidence. We are indeed luckyto have him as our prime minister and I amreally grateful for all he has done to upgrade our standard of living, providing the younger generation with vast educational opportunities and advanced health facilities. His retirement will be a great loss to the country and to the world. – Nor Azian Zulkifli, teacher, SMK Seri Ampang, Ipoh
We are what we are because of you. KeranamuMalaysia, keranamu Dr Mahathir. – Nur Zalikha Rebitanim, 16
People may be against his revolutionary ideas, but somehow he is always right. He is one of the few politicians who dare to criticise foreigners. People may think he is too outspoken and criticise him, but they can’t help admiring him. He had greatvision in putting our country on the map by hosting the Commonwealth Games. For a country our size, we are considered very well known, thanks to him. – Lim Sew Kwe, principal SMK Assunta
No doubt, it is difficult to be in his shoes. I’m amazed that he handles everything so well – all the pressure, the criticisms, the responsibilities. I respect him 100%. Although his ideas may seem too radical at first, he always manages to provethat they were the best for us. Look at how far Malaysia has progressed because of him! –Karanbir Singh Hundal, 17
He’s the best. I think I would definitely cry when he retires. I’m going to miss him very much. I am always telling my children about him and have brought them to visit KLIA, KLCC and the twin towers. I wish I had the chance to meet him, but for now, I think I will be visiting the “1,000 faces of DrMahathir” exhibition at the Putra World TradeCentre. – Zaharah Yaakob, teacher, SMK Subang Utama
I get my students to write essays about himbecause he is such a great leader and students should learn from him. When the 1997 economic crisis hit, he helped us overcome it. I wish he could be our prime minister forever. Dr Mahathir, you are our number one. – Prema Devi Raj, teacher,SMK Subang Utama
He always reminds us to be grateful through his inspiring speeches and poems. He is a great leader. Whenever I go for my walks, I always ask God to bless Dr Mahathir for his wisdom and farsightedness. Without him, we wouldn’t be enjoying all the facilities we have today. I went on a trip to Putrajayalast year and was so thrilled to take a picture in front of a large portrait of him. Although I didn’t get to see him in person, having a picture taken there is a treasurein itself. – Betty Wong, teacher, SMK Assunta
Thank you for bringing F1 to Malaysia! – David Lim Kern Yen, 17
Yes, you’re the man, Dr, M! Thanks for makingMalaysia a great place to live in. I am truly proud to be Malaysian because of you. Have a peaceful retirement. – Tan Wui Kit, 17
I was 15 years old when I first read his book, The Malay Dilemma. I saved up money (RM20) to buy the book because I admired him so much. Today, as a teacher, I often use his two very sakti (potent) and inspirational words – Malaysia boleh! – withmy students, and they have become really motivated to excel. He has inspired us to believe in ourselves and, as teachers, we try to pass that on to our students. I remember when he had to undergo bypass surgery and top specialists from othercountries offered their services. He refused and said that if our local doctors could do it, he would have it done here. He put his life in the hands of Malaysian doctors just to prove to us that Malaysia boleh! I think the best moment in my life would beif he autographed my Malay Dilemma book. –Muhammad Mustafa Abdul Salam, teacher SMKAssunta
I want to be a doctor because of Dr Mahathir, so that I can help people everywhere and make positive changes to the community, just like him. I’ve had theopportunity to meet him on three different occasions – when I was a baby, an eight-year-old and a 16-yearold. Thank you for being our leader all these years. You’re an inspiration. – Adelin Yong Sue Wen, 17
He is a real charismatic leader and a very outspoken one. Because of him, I aspire to be a doctor and hope to get involved in politics one day. I want to follow his footsteps and continue his noble efforts for our country. Till today, I still keep a picture we took together – Dr Mahathir, my dad and I, during a meeting in Langkawi 10 years ago. – Hisham Arshad, 17
Long live Dr Mahathir the great! – Yap Chuan Xin, 17,
Dr Mahathir, you’re the people’s man! – Yong EFoong, 17
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