Comment | By Wong Chun Wai

When education is mired in a mess

The task at hand is to equip our students with a useful education syllabus so they can be employable and marketable.

EVERY time an education minister is appointed here, they start to tinker with the system in the hope of leaving a legacy, except that in almost all cases, they leave ugly stains behind.

These ministers have probably never heard of the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, which simply means that one should leave something alone and avoid “correcting” what doesn’t need fixing.

By now, we have become familiar with the long line of education ministers who have helmed this important portfolio. Disappointingly, almost all have treated our students as guinea pigs.

None of us can recall a minister who has left an indelible stamp in the annals of education that could fill the nation with pride. And please don’t even suggest international recognition! Lots of money and time have gone down the drain, and obviously, little ground has been made in the process.

Our low ranking in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) for Maths, Science and reading is evident, although we’ve made some improvements.

The problem with the Malaysian education system is its minister seems to wield so much power, and if reports are to be believed, the person even dares ignore the Prime Minister.

The implication is that our students and teachers have all suffered, one way or another, as a result of whimsical and destructive policies and ideas.

The impression we have is that the education minister has complete authority to introduce new policies.

For decades, we have had to put up with those who were more intent on playing politics with language, education, race and religion, allowing these elements to be ingrained in our education system.

Our politicians extolled the virtues of their changes, telling us how much they were deliberated and considered, and yet, they conveniently sent their children to boarding schools overseas or international schools in Kuala Lumpur. They didn’t trust the very policies they installed with their own kids, even.

It’s very simple – whoever is the education minister just needs to focus on the real issues in school and university education. We need our students to be competent in Maths, Science, reading and languages that matter, meaning Bahasa Malaysia, English and increasingly, Mandarin.

Do we have a plan to train our youngsters with skills in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, analytical reasoning, mobile application development and data mining to keep up with the rapid advancements in technology?

Will our students be agile and adaptable entrepreneurs with effective oral and communications abilities, so they can create jobs instead of waiting for government ones?

Our schools – be it national, vernacular, private or international – need to live up to these challenges, so they can be valuable to our students.

We want our kids to have the kind of training that’s proper in these skills, so they can not only secure employment but also possess school diplomas or university degrees that are recognised.

Malaysians can argue and debate all they want but the bottom line is the importance of the future of our children, because we are all responsible for them.

Can our school-leavers and graduates convince employers they can add value to their organisations or do they ultimately end up as food deliverers because they remain unemployable and unmarketable due to our education system, and the inability of our education ministers to see the simple task at hand – equip our students with a useful education.

You know that something has gone gravely wrong (or rotten) when a university has to frame an examination question to place controversial preacher Dr Zakir Naik on a pedestal, and then unconvincingly defend it.

We know the Prime Minister needs to put his foot down if his education minister encourages teachers to preach rather than teach.

Malaysians have been on an endless education roller-coaster ride – one day it’s Maths and Science in English, and then it’s back to the vernacular language. On another day it’s Bahasa Malaysia and then gets changed to Bahasa Melayu, and after that, we went into Bahasa Baku, and eventually, it was placed in beku (cold storage).

So, a generation or more was taught that water should be “ayer”, and then we were corrected, and saw signs placed all over petrol stations reading “air”.

Our examinations have been called so many names that we have all lost track of them. In Britain, it has remained the same – O Levels or A levels. It’s that simple, and the whole world knows it likewise.

We don’t have to be educationists to know that we can’t keep changing the education formats or policies, which invariably pressure teachers and students into changing their approaches mid-way or worse, instantly.

We are now told that it was former education minister, the late Tan Sri Khir Johari, during the Alliance days, who abolished Jawi script from compulsory teaching in schools in 1966.

For over 50 years, no ministers or politicians brought up this issue until Dr Maszlee Malik came into the picture, resurrected it and presented us a political hot potato.

He has left a mess in his wake. So, are we still going to spend RM1.67bil annually to provide free breakfast to two million pupils, or logically, give these meals to those who truly need them, especially in rural areas?

The Prime Minister could just be the right person to set things straight. He has nothing to lose after all, especially at 94 years old. So, we can expect Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to dispense with some of the poor decisions without having to deliberate popularity.

He was our PM in his earlier tenure for over 20 years. He missed many golden opportunities, which he also must take responsibility for, but this is the time to put things right.

Schools should remain neutral ground and not a place for instilling someone’s religious, racial or political views. Politicians will continue being wrecking balls, but never destroy the future of our children.

Those who do deserve the boot, and “it don’t matter if you’re black or white”.