KUALA LUMPUR – Those in power must have the political will to implement the necessary changes to improve the country’s education system, regardless of how unpopular these policies may be in the short term.
Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said many past and present government leaders have refused to introduce certain education policies for fear that the move will cost them votes.
The former youth and sports minister said many leaders fear that certain changes made to the curriculum could touch on the sensitivities of the Malays, such as paying greater emphasis on English and removing certain non-vital subjects.
“My argument is that, if we allow this to continue, Malaysia is bound to fail,” he said today in the “Educating Malaysia: Teaching in a Changing World” webinar organised by Sekhar Institute.
“Yes, they (changes) may be unpopular in the short term, but with the right management… and when more people get quality education that gets them better job offers and pay, they will respect and are more likely to vote for you.
“Even from the political perspective, it is important for us to break the typical political norm, which is to conform to the status quo, and to instead acknowledge there is a problem and to reform it.”
Syed Saddiq cited former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew as an example of how a leader had implemented changes to the education system and saw the country bear fruit, despite initial objections.
“When he steamrolled his education agenda in the 1970s, it was unbelievably unpopular. No one thought they could have a single education curriculum and that it would work to unite Singaporeans, who, at that point, were struck by division.
“But in hindsight, today, everyone says Singapore is a bastion of success after the difficult decision taken over 30 years ago,” he said.
Syed Saddiq said while he is not suggesting Malaysia adopt a similar approach to Singapore by abolishing vernacular schools, the government still needs to implement difficult changes, such as auditing and reviewing existing subjects taught in schools and universities.
This, he said, must be done by experts in the field who must make decisions independent of the populist political positions of lawmakers.
Syed Saddiq also lamented the religious and cultural impositions upon schools since the 1980s, and reduced use of the English language in Science and Mathematics.
He said failure to address these weaknesses is the reason why many parents opt not to enrol their children in national schools.
“Chinese and Indian parents are opting out from the national education curriculum and going for vernacular or private schools. Even middle-class Malay parents are taking their children to private institutions.
“You can’t blame parents being forced to opt out because of the failure to manage the education system well. If you don’t overhaul the system, you can have no matter how many changes in government, but there will be no improvement,” he said.
If you politicians can’t do the job, get the hell out
PETRA Group chairman and chief executive Datuk (Dr) Vinod Sekhar said the reason the country’s education has been on the decline is because politicians have allowed past failures to carry on over the years to suit their agenda.
Instead of ensuring the best for children, the seasoned entrepreneur said education has become a political tool to benefit those in power.
“What is being taught is no longer about what is needed for the students, but what is needed for political positioning. And this was the start of how our system has failed us and our children,” he said in his scathing opening address.
“We have never had a situation where so many people at the political level have done so much to try and destroy education for personal gains.”
Among other failures, the Sekhar Institute chairman pointed out how certain major facts and events in the country’s history were skewed or intentionally left out of the History syllabus.
Sekhar said there is now a need for the new generation to come forward to systematically deal with the issues plaguing the education system, something he said requires strong will.
“It doesn’t matter how many of our educators, dreamers (there are) who really want what’s best for our country; it is not enough to just stand up without political will to make changes. We are just going to keep going in circles.”
He said things will only change when there is no posturing and political interference in education, and issues are faced head on.
“If you politicians can’t do the job, get the hell out. The people are the power, and education is the future of this country.”
Being a businessman, Vinod said it would also be pointless if society is not given the tools to grow and build the economy, and that economic leaders will not be able to make money unless the community is growing.
He suggested that the education minister be appointed by education experts, by first making the person a senator, as is done for a number of ministerial and deputy ministerial positions in the current cabinet.
He said doing so will ensure policies are enacted in the best interest of the public by individuals “who know what (they’re) doing”.
He added that the key to boosting education is to make the Education Ministry apolitical, a move that would require the prime minister to take the lead on. – The Vibes, June 15, 2021