We were stunned when Pakatan Harapan emerged a clear winner in the 14th general election. But even more stunning was Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad declaring himself the education minister as well — even if for a day.
His reason was that he felt too many Malaysians were uneducated. In my view, the system could not have been all that bad. After all, Malaysians did put on their thinking caps, they analysed the situation enough to exercise their democratic right, they rose to the occasion and turned the tide of deception. The education system, as it is, must have been very disappointing to the prime minister. So while he is no more the education minister, he can still provoke. For example, all high-ranking government officials now have to take a test in English language competence.
Along comes the new education minister a day later and what a racket he caused. There were fierce petitions for and against his appointment. Never has an education minister attracted this much publicity and attention. I am sorry to disappoint but I did not endorse either of the petitions.
The general public saw Maszlee Malik more as a Muslim extremist than an educator. In the past, I would follow him on his speaking circuits and enjoyed his points of view, which I would describe as progressive and open-minded, and which I could identify with. I am confident that if one perceives the national school system to be evolving into a radically religious one, it is Maszlee who will be able to steer it in the right direction and make it every parent’s first choice.
Moving on, we like what the new minister is saying. Much of what he says is what we have been advocating: either create the position of teaching assistants (first mooted by the National Union of Teaching Profession) or have smaller classrooms, although in both cases, substantial costs will be incurred. We too have been promoting the delegation of teachers’ administrative work to the office. This has been our perennial cause but so far to no avail.
We also have been endorsing the importance of the English language (adding more hours to the teaching of English has had no impact; success lies in application through immersion while remedial assistance is urgently needed) and pursuing the national STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) centre, which we helped frame (and parents have to be convinced that there are science-related jobs available).
I am told that a chemical engineer with a PhD from Bath University has to contend with being a Kumon instructor. And now that Permata is under the purview of the Education Ministry, an objective review should be conducted as an effective and efficient education system must begin as early as possible.
Teacher’s training and professional development is crucial to producing world-class education. This needs a serious review. Bad teachers have to be weeded out. Review the exit policy, which appears to benefit good teachers leaving for the private sector rather than ridding the system of bad ones. Consider a targeted voluntary separation scheme to phase out teachers who have no passion to teach. They can be most damning and damaging to the future of any student who relies on them for inspiration, direction and hope.
Some other problems need to be solved too. The procedure of finding a replacement for a teacher who had applied for maternity leave nine months ago remains a mystery. Students are still left unattended when a teacher has to accompany a student to a district competition. New school leaders should overlap retiring principals rather than leaving the position vacant.
There are some good initiatives by the past education ministers that should be followed through, for example tahfiz (religious) students to take SPM and learn skills. Also requiring the minister’s attention are the challenges of the Dual Language Programme as an option to enhance proficiency in English and the ongoing alignment of the Common English Framework Reference with the English language curriculum.
We generally have a fine curriculum but the teaching of it lacks adventure, precision and finesse. We need to get down to business nationally, make Bahasa Melayu more appealing to learn in primary schools, ensure that the enhancement of science laboratories meets its target, revisit the establishment of English-medium schools in Sabah, Sarawak and Johor, if at all to produce fine English language teachers that a Malay medium system has failed to do, and review the usage and effectiveness of 1Bestarinet.
The new minister must also work closely with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to develop economic areas of growth previously identified, such as neuroscience, bio-economy, digital technology, green technology and nanotechnology. Other steps include renewing our relationship with the New York Academy of Sciences and revisiting the National Science Action Plan. We need to find a niche and develop our students and youth towards it.
We hope that the new minister will not only tap the wisdom of our prime minister but also adopt ideas he may have envisioned in his enthusiasm to revamp the education system.
The PAGE council and its committee members would also like to take this opportunity to wish everyone Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri.