On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Making education an issue for political gains

The MP for Rantau Panjang Abdul Fatah Harun applied for
his son to study in Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Agama Naim Libanat from Sekolah
Menengah Ugama Maahad Muhammad (Boys).

Limbungan assemblyman Zainuddin Awang Hamat moved his daughter to Sekolah
Menengah Kebangsaan Kamil from Sekolah Ugama Maahad Muhammad (Girls) a year

The late PAS president Datuk Fadzil Noor, vice-president Datuk Mustaffa Ali and
information chief Azizan Abdul Razak reportedly sent their children to
government-owned religious schools as well.

Abdul Fatah admitted in a newspaper interview that he decided to transfer his
son to a government-owned school to give him a better education but in a
face-saving move he also said ''it is to test the truth in the Education
Ministry's assurance that all students from SAR would be accepted into its

There are 66,000 students in secondary-level SAR and 8,000 at primary level in
about 260 such schools nationwide. Parents have been given until Feb 6 to
transfer them to government-run schools.

The ministry, which carried out an analysis of the Penilaian Menengah Rendah
2002, found the performance of SAR students to be very poor. Only 3.5% of SAR
students obtained Grade A in Mathematics compared with 21% in national schools.
For Science, only 2.2% in SAR had Grade A against 15.4% in national

About 44% of SAR students obtained Grade E for English, which means they did
not even reach a minimum competency level. Another study, carried out by
Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Utara Malaysia, found that SAR
students had difficulty getting jobs because their education was too focused on
religious studies.

The education of our children is too serious a matter to be used for political

This is not confined to PAS. At the height of the controversy between the DAP
and MCA over the relocation of SRK Damansara to Puay Chai II, one vocal
oppositionist was found to have sent his children to another school.

Despite his vociferous support for the Damansara school, he preferred to enrol
his children elsewhere. Even when the matter was reported by the media, he
continued asking the villagers to protest against the relocation while their
children studied in a container instead of a proper classroom. But when the
villagers found that their children could not sit for their examinations,
opposition party activists quickly washed their hands of the entire episode.
The MCA, which had been at the receiving end, had to solve the predicament of
the children.

It's the same with some Malay nationalists and Chinese educationists. Many
prefer to converse in English with their children at home but portray
themselves as champions of these languages to the public. It is well known that
they, too, send their children overseas for a western education. Despite their
rhetoric, Malaysia, Indonesia, China or Taiwan are certainly not on their

In the next general election, Malaysians can be sure that issues like the SAR
and the use of English to teach Science and Mathematics would be exploited to
whip up communal sentiments.

PAS campaigners have said clearly that they would complain about the
government's decision not to fund SAR schools but hide the fact that many of
their leaders prefer government-run schools.

The Chinese educationists would harp on the use of English to teach these two
subjects in Chinese-medium schools, by claiming that the MCA allegedly sold out
the Chinese community.

The Barisan formula to keep Chinese but have extra classes in English to teach
these two subjects is still not good enough for this group, although the
majority of parents with children in Chinese schools are happy with this
win-win formula.

The four Chinese-based Barisan parties, led by the MCA, had campaigned hard to
keep this formula, even at the risk of upsetting fellow members but their
reasoning was finally accepted by the Barisan supreme council.

The new school year has already started and children are learning to cope. But
come election time, education will be made an issue again.

In the end, the politics of consensus and accommodation that has stood the test
of time since the formation of Malaysia will get the endorsement of the
majority of Malaysians.