AFTER conducting close to 60 dialogues lasting two hours each or 120 hours and counting of discussions with educational experts, the Policy Team of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) will propose that an independent education committee, which does not fall under the Education Ministry’s purview, oversee educational issues.
The taskforce set up by the ministry last October to look into the issue of recognising the UEC, gathered that an independent education commission is exactly what the country needs to ensure an effective education system.
Taskforce chairman Eddin Khoo said the team was “seriously going to suggest” to Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik that such a commission or ombudsman be set up, which answers directly to Parliament.
“Having an independent commission is something practised in many countries. It is gathering people with expertise to essentially ‘interrogate’ issues of education, asking the important questions and finding a suitable solution.
“The commission’s role will have to be hashed out. But essentially it is a mediator and arbitrator and also a body that looks into the future of education,” he told StarEdu in an interview.
The UEC is the unified examination for independent Chinese secondary schools. Its recognition was one of Pakatan Harapan’s pledges in its 14th General Election manifesto.
The taskforce consists of Khoo, Dong Zhong deputy president Datuk Tan Yew Sing, who is also Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce president, and Muslim Islamic Youth Movement of Malaysia president Mohamad Raimi Abdul Rahim.
Khoo reiterated that the team’s role is to formally lay down stakeholders’ views and navigate all their opinions and points of view to come up with something reasonable over the complex issue.
“We are consensus gatherers, we do not dictate to the ministry what to do,” said Khoo who is founder of the Centre for the Study and Documentation of Traditional Malay Performances (Pusaka).
Describing the taskforce as the “three musketeers”, Tan said the idea of an independent education commission was brought up by many stakeholders the team spoke to.
“The ministry should be the facilitator while providing some form of regulation. But it cannot be the player, goalkeeper and judge simultaneously,” he said.
Khoo added that the team would be meeting more stakeholders from Sabah and Sarawak and the “young ones” before submitting the final report to Dr Maszlee next month.
“We are looking to present the summation of the report in early August, while the final report will be presented at the end of August or early September.
“The final report encapsulates the issue. It includes suggestions on how the ministry could deal with problems (like recognising UEC and more) on a consistent basis,” he said, adding that it is a comprehensive document.
Noting that the report should be made public, Khoo said the public has a right to know about arguments and discussions conducted.
“It should be a transparent document. Every session was recorded. Everything they said and their suggestions are also included in the report,” he said.
What is the general consensus the taskforce gathered from stakeholders?Khoo: The overall consensus was quite sensible. Most said that if recognition is forthcoming, then it will have to be with very clear conditions. Generally, they want a reasonable solution to the issue. The number of opposers are actually very small but the main point shouldn’t be the number of opposers or supporters.
What are the reasons behind those who oppose the recognition of the UEC and those who want it recognised?Khoo: There are two groups of people. The supportive group wants the UEC to be recognised with no conditions as it believes that the exam’s high quality and standard will produce high quality talent. Those who oppose argue that it is, essentially, anti-Malaysian. However, do keep in mind that these two groups are politically motivated.
What are the key takeaways the task force found from the 120 hours worth of dialogues with various stakeholders?Khoo: People want solutions. Most people are very aware about the state of the country in the world today and they want to be responsive to it. Also, people focus on everything else surrounding the issue instead of the issue itself.
Tan: I’ve learnt about how people view the UEC and the national education system and realised that the younger generation and the older generation view the recognition very differently. The younger generation (those aged between 30 to 40) are more open and willing to talk. They adopt a world perspective, emphasising on competitiveness, productivity and how to develop a national aspiration and identity. The older generation is more rigid as they already have perceived ideas, gathered from information which is outdated and have not moved according to the times.
What makes recognising the UEC such a complex issue?Khoo: The technical and administrative issues in giving the UEC official recognition are obvious and can be dealt with. However, the issue is still incredibly complex because there is a long history of misunderstanding and behind this misunderstanding is a particular kind of psychology - one that has been defined very much by politics. It is shrouded in politicisation, circumspection, suspicion that need to be cleared.
Many people are still unclear about UEC, thinking it is an “isolated” examination focusing only on the Chinese syllabus. What are the concerns if UEC is recognised? Khoo: One of the questions which constantly came up was whether the UEC system could produce a Malaysian citizen - to which I say yes because there are alternatives that could ensure this. Malaysian Studies which was mooted in early 2000 could be reintroduced. Good imagination is useful when it comes to solving problems. Other serious questions that were brought up included how UEC will benefit the public service department, universities, and more.
Since getting appointed last year, has the taskforce met up with Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik to discuss the issue?Khoo: We meet up with him on a fairly consistent basis. Methodology on navigating through recognising the UEC is the centre of our discussions. Since our appointment in October last year, he has given us the autonomy to conduct our research in the way that we want and does not pressure us.
Mohamad Raimi: We send reports to him from time to time so that he’s in the know. He seems quite satisfied with our progress overall. (Prime Minister Tun) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) has also mentioned that any statements regarding UEC should come from us. Since then, no minister or authorities have given comments about the issue.
People often perceive that the taskforce is the decision maker in recognising the UEC. What exactly is your role?Khoo: We are consensus gatherers. We formally lay down stakeholders’ views and navigate all their opinions and suggestions to come up with something reasonable over the complex issue. We do not dictate to the ministry what to do. It is up to the ministry to take on our findings we compile from about 60 dialogues with individuals, associations, political parties, education experts and scholars on the issue. This was the first time in 40 years that an independent taskforce was formed to obtain the opinions from all stakeholders and the public on the issue.
What are people’s awareness levels on the UEC?
Tan: There is still a lot of misunderstanding towards the UEC. Those who oppose recognising the UEC are often unclear and believe it is purely based on the Chinese syllabus. It is not true that UEC students are isolated from the Malaysian syllabus. Many were surprised that Bahasa Malaysia and History are compulsory subjects in the UEC. Last year’s data show that over 80% of UEC students in Malaysia sat for SPM and over 90% of UEC students who took SPM passed their Malay paper, with over 60% getting credits.
How will recognising it in Malaysia benefit the country?Tan: With or without recognition, the UEC will still move ahead with its planning, education reform, and the constant updating of syllabus. Given that China is currently our biggest trading partner, producing more students familiar with both Chinese and Malaysian culture will be a boost for the country in terms of practicality, human resource training, and productivity.
Mohamad Raimi: Recognising the UEC could stop outflow of talents to foreign countries. Malaysia could reduce its brain drain if UEC graduates could be retained. It also creates higher quality talents and a competitive environment.
What is the bumiputra perception towards the UEC?
Mohamad Raimi: Those who are aware of it do not deny the quality of the UEC and its graduates. However, many are not able to differentiate between Chinese secondary schools and independent Chinese schools due to a lack of information.
Since our engagement sessions started, a lot of helpful information has been disseminated and provides a clearer understanding.
When will the taskforce present the report to the ministry?
Khoo: We are looking to present the summation of the report in early August, while the full report is expected to be presented at the end of August or early September.
What will be in the report?
Khoo: The final report encapsulates the issue. It includes suggestions on how the ministry could deal with problems (like recognising UEC and more) on a consistent basis.
One of our suggestions to Dr Maszlee would be to set up an independent education commission or ombudsman which answers directly to Parliament. This suggestion came up in many of our dialogues.