IT must now have dawned on Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik that he sits in a hot seat. A role as university lecturer is a different ball game altogether from heading an entire ministry.
Previously, there was the Higher Education Ministry, which oversaw the higher institutions of learning, and the Education Ministry, tasked with looking after schools. Now, everything is housed under a single ministry.
It is a mammoth task, no doubt, and certainly one not helped by knowing how the ministry is often embroiled in political drama.
Decisions by the minister directly impact millions of Malaysians, particularly teachers, parents and students.
Almost every Education Minister in the past has attempted to leave a mark, or tried to make a difference, but they have all only disappointed us.
Whether they are changes to the syllabus, textbooks, school terms or even names of subjects, we’ve run into the handiwork of these politicians more times than we’d like to remember.
Although each of them made cosmetic changes, none of them, unfortunately, affected a profound difference in their duty – improving the standard of our education system in schools and universities.
The strings of distinctions, which our students brandish from public examinations, fall short because of the glaring difference in standards. Realistically speaking, an “A” in Malaysia could well just be a “D” in some examination papers overseas.
The grading system in science subjects, for example, has long been a bone of contention, and no one really seems to know how it works.
And regardless of where our students may be studying, at national, Chinese or Tamil schools, their proficiency in English has continued to deteriorate. As if to throw a spanner in the works, it’s not just the students who are weak – the ones teaching them English aren’t very good either.
None of these teachers and students can be blamed though because they are victims of the education system which taught them. Unfortunately, most of us are now paying the price through our communication, written or verbal.
Dr Maszlee has found himself having to clarify and even backtrack on previous decisions recently, too. Last week, after being criticised, he had to change his stand and promised financial aid to Chinese independent high schools (SPMC) under the federal development budget.
Earlier, he said SPMC couldn’t receive allocations to pay teachers’ salaries since they’re not government schools.
“Operation allocation covers the government’s internal expenses. Most of the allocations are for civil servants and teachers’ emolument.
“As SPMC is not a public school or under the ministry’s purview, and its teachers are not civil servants, the ministry cannot use operation allocation for SPMC, private religious schools and other private education agencies.”
In his written reply to Ayer Hitam MP Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong, Dr Maszlee said independent schools wouldn’t be funded since they don’t come under the purview of the education system.
The Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) issue has also continued to dog Dr Maszlee, with lingering doubts over his stand.
He had reportedly said that recognising the UEC may undermine the status of the national language and national unity, adding that PAS and Umno Youth had also echoed similar sentiments.
The Simpang Renggam MP also previously said that a “holistic approach” towards any decision to recognise the UEC is needed to ensure both the national language and national unity weren’t threatened, adding he wanted to avoid unnecessary U-turns on the issue.
And after being struck by a barrage of criticisms, he made a political statement saying the only one in conflict is Barisan Nasional, with MCA deputy president Wee and the party standing on one square and (Umno Youth chief) Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki standing on another.
More controversy was to follow. First, he announced the Government’s firm implementation of the black shoe standard for all students from next year. But after taking on the brickbats head on, he agreed to a year’s grace period to enforce the switch of white shoes to black pairs.
His announcement to raise funds for our financially-strapped universities by selling number plates to the alumnus also raised a ruckus, even if his intentions were noble.
So, the 43-year-old minister’s faux pas have given the impression that he isn’t in tune with the job or the stakeholders.
He shouldn’t be too quick to make inconsequential changes while still learning the ropes.
Unfortunately for him, his ministry is one huge minefield, where one slip of the tongue could blow up in his face. And in a political environment where Malaysians have become more demanding, he would have to live with constant scrutiny and judgement.
The Johorian has been pummelled on social media, taking blows no less from pro-Pakatan Harapan bloggers. This won’t do his credibility, and consequently, confidence, one bit of good.
Dr Maszlee is surely feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders now. So, he needs plenty of support and help. However, he must realise that the honeymoon period of 100 days is fast drawing to a close. The media is already saying that he is difficult to reach, and this incommunicado business even includes his senior aides.
This surely can’t be the best way to go about things, can it?