WITH its allocation of RM60.2bil, representing 19.1% of Budget 2019, it is not surprising that there is added scrutiny on the Education Ministry to provide the rakyat with the best of the best.
However, reforms in education should be sustainable and suitable for the public at large. There must also be certainty and continuity in the government’s education agenda to ensure its commitment to results.
For example, civic education is not actually new. It was part of the education system as early as the 1960s but was scrapped and revived several times before being reintroduced just recently.
It’s the same with the government’s policy on teaching Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI), which was introduced in 2003 and later scrapped in 2012, only for talks on its revival to begin again due to the success of the Dual Language Programme (DLP).
Since civic education is intended to instil a sense of national pride, would Malaysians be more united now if it had continued to be studied until today? If the government had implemented the DLP as early as 2003 to better transition students for PPSMI, would Malaysia have dropped its ranking in the 2018 English Proficiency Index from 13th to 22nd place? If a policy is not working, it may not be due to external factors but rather existing structural, implementation and maintenance problems in the policy itself.
Though there is always a need to revamp and review existing policies to ensure their continued relevance, there is a bigger need to ensure that policies introduced are fit for the purpose and structured in a way that they would endure.
Further stakeholder engagement should be done before policies are implemented to prevent the kind of outrage we have seen over such issues as the teaching of khat in schools.
With such a large budget, so much trust is placed on the Education Ministry to ensure that the funds are allocated and managed appropriately. In this month alone, 140 contracts have been revoked by the Education Ministry due to elements of fraud, and some 800 contracts are currently under review. More could and should definitely be done to ensure that the funds are channelled to the right people, policies and programmes.
According to the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, the percentage of students enrolling in vernacular schools increased from 92% and 47% in the year 2000 for Chinese and Indian students respectively to 96% and 56% in the year 2011. Ninety-seven per cent of students in public schools are bumiputra. This is worrying as it shows that a lot of Malaysian parents feel the need to send their children to race-based schools in order to protect their culture and language. This also leads to lack of diversity in views and pulls students into race-based social circles, further decreasing the likelihood of fostering tolerance and understanding among the races. To address this, the government had implemented the Student Integration Plan for Unity (Rimup) in 2010 which aimed to increase interaction among students from different schools through joint co-curricular activities. However, the number and scope of activities under Rimup have dropped significantly due to “funding constraints” – yet another unsustainable policy. Above and beyond improving the quality of public schools, national schools should also be more open and conducive to all children regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic background.
While it is great that unity is placed as one of the aspirations in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, more practical steps should be taken to achieve this goal. For a long time, many have pointed out that the History textbooks used in schools do not accurately reflect events that have transpired, often painting various races as outsiders and foreigners, and the majority race as victims. These sentiments are counterproductive to unity building and likely fuelled the racially charged “us versus them” rhetoric we now see in our country. As the nation gears up to celebrate Merdeka Day on Aug 31, many of our fellow countrymen in Sabah and Sarawak are also not happy with the way the history of the country is taught, as it does not give enough weight to the part played by leaders in these territories during the formation of Malaysia in 1963.
These are little issues that, if taken together, create and reinforce a wide divide among the rakyat. We should do more to emphasise what we have in common, like our collective humanity and shared values.
Preparing our children for the Fourth Industrial Revolution is important but the very foundation in which we formulate policies needs rewiring and the social context upon which such policies are based needs relooking. We should all remember who we are fighting for – children who are poised to achieve their full potential if only we can all work together and move forward as one.
AIN AISSA MOHAMAD
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