The G25 younger members boost the eminent Malay group into the next phase with their focus on education, youth, political financing and national unity.
AROUND April 2015, Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim and Tunku Munawirah Putra sat down to lunch with Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin.
As chairman and honorary secretary of the Parent Action Group for Malaysia (PAGE), they wanted to ask the outspoken member of G25 to support their goal – ensuring that children in Malaysia are educated according to the wishes of their parents.
Not only did G25 agree, but they also invited the two PAGE officials to join their group of senior retired civil servants who had first made headlines in December 2014 with their call to harmonise syariah laws with the Federal Constitution.
“G25 was becoming involved in education,” explains Tunku Munawirah, who found the group’s mission a reflection of the vision of her grandfather, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. In As a Matter of Interest, Malaysia’s first Prime Minister had written, “The education policy is one of the pillars which support our national unity, and that pillar must be strong enough to withstand adverse criticism and other political storms.”
Although initially G25 focused on areas of conflict and overlap between civil and syariah law, adds Noor Azimah, the group is now also looking at the education children are receiving today. “G25 members benefited tremendously from the national school system and are concerned that children now cannot even string a sentence together in English,” she says. “We want to return to an education system that is at par with Singapore’s.”
Based on the Trends for International Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS) 2015 results, Malaysia improved by 10.6% in science and 5.7% in math among 39 countries, says Tunku Munawirah, who has a Masters of Science in mass communications.
“We are still below the average score of the participating countries, but appear to have arrested the decline. We are now at par with the United Arab Emirates, and ranked higher than Chile and Turkey in Science,” she says. Chile and Turkey were both higher than Malaysia in Science in TIMSS 2011, “but we have to do a lot more to be in the top third of the table”.
PAGE is happy with the way the Dual Language Programme is going, and that what has been outlined in the Malaysia Education Blueprint is being followed through, Tunku Munawirah says, “but we are still looking at things which could be better. There must be benchmarking.”
Malaysia is benchmarking outcomes against the rest of the world at the student level, she notes, but not at the level of teachers and structure – for example the Continuous Professional Development for Teachers programmes at Institut Pendidikan Guru Malaysia.
Some subjects such as English and the Sciences are benchmarked, she points out, but not History. Her children are in Forms 1 and 3. Looking at their history books, she found them “very ethnically and politically charged”.
G25 plays an advisory role for a youth forum to be held on March 25 and 26. “As the youngest G25 member, the elders have selected me to act as a mediator to oversee the organisation of the forum,” Tunku Munawirah says. The forum aims to bring about 500 youth delegates aged 18 to 30 to Kuala Lumpur, from all over Malaysia.
“We want the youth to move it themselves and take a leadership role,” she stresses. The gathering is being organised by Nation Building School (a school for young leaders) and a new youth group, Change Led by the Young Generation (Challenger).
They plan to engage with representatives from the government, business, civil society and the youth and to come up with a Youth Manifesto outlining their aspirations in key areas, which they hope will influence local and national decision-makers, and will be updated at each annual forum.
They will focus on institutional reforms, democracy and civil liberties, education, the economy, and culture and identity.
The aim is to make the youth realise “they are a big part of the country, and the running of the country. It will be a chance to make the leaders hear them out and a platform to speak out,” says Tunku Munawirah.
G25 assigned Noor Azimah to look into political financing, focussing on recommendations for institutional reform of the Election Commission and relevant authorities. “I had no interest in that,” admits the former accountant and financial planner, “but now I do!”
G25 is also one of the non-governmental organisations co-sponsoring the newly formed Dialog Rakyat, which held its first forum recently and hopes to reach out to the grassroots.
G25 has focused on integrity, good governance and moderate Islam, says Noor Azimah, “but unity and national cohesion are also important. We see disunity as a major problem which has become more real in the past few weeks.”
Dialog Rakyat is about reviving the philosophy of the Smart Partnership framework which was initiated in 1995 and also the Rukun Negara, she adds. “We do not need a new philosophy. It’s there: students have memorised the Rukun Negara and recite it every Monday at the school assembly but it is not internalised and not consciously practised. The fourth and fifth principles – the Rule of Law, and Courtesy and Morality – are so crucial for the nation to sustain.”
They both see themselves as “filling in” G25’s education focus area. As Tunku Munawirah sums it up, “It always boils down to education, which is the basis for everything else.”