Ex-Education DG shares her ideas on Rukun Negara and ways to improve English among students.
WHEN Tan Sri Dr Asiah Abu Samah joined G25 in May 2015, she had over five and a half decades of experience in education.
That’s why she was courted by the “invitation only” group of Muslims working towards “a more moderate, liberal and united Malaysia that upholds good governance, religious tolerance and high regard for human rights”.
At that time, G25 did not have a member with a background in education at the school level although it had two or three members who had been involved in higher education, explains the former Education director-general at the Education Ministry.
Asiah started out as a teacher in 1961 and later lectured in linguistics at Kuala Lumpur’s Language Institute before becoming the principal of Tunku Kurshiah College in Negri Sembilan. Joining the ministry in 1970 as deputy director of the Teacher Training division, she worked her way up to the post of Education director-general.
Since retiring in 1999, she has chaired the board of governors for Sekolah Sri Bestari, among other posts.
With her experience, as well as her past service as a commissioner with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Asiah brought her passion for several issues to G25.
“Proficiency in English was one of the areas of concern within the group soon after I joined.”
Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, another G25 member who is also chairman of the Parent Action Group for Malaysia (PAGE), had been invited by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) to be part of a group looking into the issue of English in schools and preparing a proposal to the Government.
Asiah had written a paper on this issue before joining G25 and offered to share that with the Pemandu group. In it, she supported the idea of teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in English.
As Malaysia’s economic growth depends more and more on the private sector and foreign trade, she says “it is imperative that our school and college-leavers have a strong command of the English language.”
She notes that there have been times when Malaysia “scored very well in trade deals with foreign nations due to skilful use of the language by those involved in negotiating the deals. On the other hand, we have also lost out on similar deals through our poor command of the language.”
In her paper, Asiah suggested putting students who need to be highly proficient in English through immersion programmes “where, if possible, they eat, drink, sleep and hopefully even dream in the English language!”
When the Dual Language Programme and Highly Immersive Programme were announced, immersion was mentioned. Asiah would like to think it came from her paper.
Two years later, she says: “We cannot see how the immersion strategy has been mapped out. However, it is good that the Government is not forcing everybody, in the sense that parents have to apply to have their children in the English stream.”
In G25, Asiah has concentrated on the issues which she’s interested in, such as the Rukun Negara. She is not satisfied with how it is handled in schools.
“Many teachers and students are regurgitating it without deeply imbibing it,” she says.
Rukun Negara came from the Governments of Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, “to pull the nation together after the tragic event of May 13, 1969, to gel into a more united nation and avoid another May 13,” Asiah says.
“But sadly, from our vantage point at G25, we see developments that tend to take us away from the Rukun Negara.”
A group called Dialog Rakyat (People’s Dialogue) was formed last year. One of its aims was reviving the Rukun Negara. G25 founder member Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim and Asiah represented G25 at the first meeting of the organising committee.
At the first Dialog Rakyat, she made a short presentation on Rukun Negara “about how relevant and meaningful it is as a national philosophy and yet how poorly we are treating it in our daily life.” She fully supports the idea of uplifting the Rukun Negara as the preamble to our Constitution.
There are more items on Asiah’s wish list, which she’s brought up with G25 members – such as taking the humanities seriously in schools to correct the current “imbalance”. But she recognises that she has to wait for the right moment to push her agenda.
“G25 is bogged down with so many urgent issues at the moment,” she admits.
“We need to strategise.”