Five failings of the Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 – not transparent, unrepresentative, undemocratic, unprofessional and no vision

DAP Forum on the Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Sunday): It is a sad commentary of the deplorable state of undemocratic, unrepresentative and unprofessional  education planning in the country that tonight’s forum is the first public discussion on the 10-year Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 since it was approved by the Cabinet 13 months ago on June 20, 2001 or publicly unveiled by the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad some 10 months ago in October last year – when for the past one year, there should have been hundreds of public forums, seminars, dialogues and discussions up and down the country on the Education Development Blueprint which Musa had described as “revolutionary” in proposing sweeping changes to the 45-year Malaysian education system. 

But there had been a complete absence of public discussion on the Education Development Blueprint although Musa had welcomed public comments,  feedback and a national consensus when he unveiled it in October last year, saying that the blueprint would be discussed by various parties before a final draft is presented to the Cabinet for the simple reason that the  Education Development Blueprint was not available to the public. 

Although it was not classified under the Official Secrets Act making it a criminal offence for anyone to have possession of it, the Education Development Blueprint was for all practical purposes,  as good or as bad as an official document because of its total inaccessibility as far as members of the public, whether individuals or organizations, are concerned. The Blueprint was never tabled or debated in Parliament although there had been three parliamentary meetings since last October. 

It had to take the DAP two weeks of polite  request, criticism, badgering and bludgeoning with several caustic media statements directed at Musa himself before copies of the Blueprint were forced out from the Ministry on 15th July, 2002  – and now we are prepared to make  photocopies of the Blueprint easily available to the public at the cost price of RM20 a copy. 

It is regrettable that up to now, Musa is still equivocating and refuses to make a clear statement as to whether the Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 is still a draft which allows for public input and policy proposal alterations or whether it had been adopted as a policy document, giving only room for public inputs on its implementation. 

Reading the Blueprint, there is no way this could be a draft, as it is a full-fledged and fully endorsed policy document, where every chapter is accompanied by a special section outlining its  implementation strategy, action plan, time-frame and the agencies or departments responsible for implementation. 

If the Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 is a full-fledged policy document in the second year of implementation, it is most irresponsible and even dishonest for Musa to continue to pretend that it is a draft  and that he is still waiting for a national consensus on its policy proposals – especially as he had never created a mechanism for public discussion and consultation to get public feedback  for the “secret” Blueprint. 

Yesterday, the Education Development Blueprint again made history at the dull and tame MCA 49th General Assembly, where MCA delegates were banned by the Mahathir “peace plan” from electing their new party  leadership resulting in the AGM debate being held to a  fourth-fifth empty hall as shown by a Malaysiakini photo online. 

Among the resolutions passed without debate at the MCA General Assembly was one which expressed “support for the setting up of a special MCA committee to study the implications and monitor the implementation of the 10-year 2001-2010 Education Development Plan and all other education policies formulated by the Education Ministry”. 

Although the MCA should be commended for being the first Barisan Nasional component party to have passed a resolution at its national party conference on the Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010, better than Gerakan, MIC, PPP, SUPP or even UMNO, this was nonetheless a classic example of its “unknowing, unfeeling or last to know, last to feel” syndrome as the whole MCA would not be aware of such a 10-year Education Development Plan if the DAP had not catapulted the issue into the national limelight at the DAP Education Forum on May 23, 13 months after it was approved by the Cabinet and 10 months after it was unveiled by the  Education Minister – raising the question as to what all the  MCA and Barisan Nasional Ministers and  leaders are  really doing  in Cabinet and in government! 

There were two other references to education at the tame and dull MCA General Assembly yesterday. 

There was firstly the clear and unambiguous admission by MCA Secretary-General and former Cabinet Minister, Datuk Dr. Ting Chew that teaching science and mathematics in English will change the nature and character of Chinese primary schools. 

Ting outlined two possible scenarios from such a measure in Chinese primary schools  -  (i) slight improvement in the standard of English but sharp decline in the results for mathematics and science  -  the gain not worth the loss; or (ii) no improvement in English standards but decline in the standards of mathematics and science – a loss for all three subjects.  

It is significant that he completely excluded  the possibility of the third scenario -  the improvement in the academic standards for all three subjects, mathematics, science and English – by ignoring it altogether.  

It is tragic that Ministers or those who aspire to be Ministers, like Datuk Kerk Choo Ting, the Gerakan Deputy President, wear blinkers so that they could not see what is so obvious to ordinary laymen  – that the change in the medium of instruction in the use of English to teach mathematics and science affects the nature and character of Chinese primary schools.  Probably if Ting is still a Cabinet Minister, he  would still be wearing the same blinkers and  would not be so clear-sighted as at present!  

However, the most pertinent relevance to education was the  lament by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in his opening address that  race-based extremism is getting worse among the younger generation in the country compared to previously where people of different background could mix with each other.

If what Mahathir said is true, then this is the greatest  failure of the national education system and policy encapsulated in  the 1996 Education Act which was committed to achieving an “united, democratic, liberal and dynamic” Malaysia.   

The Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 however  showed neither awareness nor urgency to re-prioritise the task of creating a Bangsa Malaysia by moving Malaysians away from the extremes and returning them to the middle road of nation-buidling to check the double polarization of race and religion.  

The  Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 suffers from five fundamental  failings - not transparent, unrepresentative, undemocratic, unprofessional and sadly lacking in vision. 

Before its approval by the Cabinet on June 20, 2001, nobody knew that the Education Development Blueprint was being drafted. Even after its approval by the  Cabinet in June 2001, it never captured the imagination of Malaysians as “The Definitive Education Plan” for the next decade – which explained the series of calls for Royal Commission of Inquiry into the education system and policy as if the Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 never existed. 

Former deputy prime minister, Tan Sri Musa Hitam, when delivering the inaugural Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Memorial lecture in Penang in April 2001 spoke of the failure of the education system in its main objective of achieving national unity and proposed a National Commission of Enquiry with the specific objective to review the shortcomings of the education system and with a mandate to make recommendations. 

In the past one year, political parties like the DAP, organizations like the National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP) and educationists including a Vice Chancellor of a public university, had called for commissions of inquiry into the education system and policy – which would not be necessary if the Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 is regarded and accepted as  the definitive education blueprint for the next decade.  

Last week, the country was surprised by the media report of a  National Brains Trust, the education system think-tank of the National Economic Action Council (NEAC), which had been set up two and half months go, consists of 68 distinguished members from the education industry and which had held over 23 meetings to prepare a report to the government  – as nobody has heard of it before.  

The National Brains Trust chairman, Tan Sri Dr. Nordin Sopiee, said the Trust had submitted to the government 13 “strategic  intervention points” which would have a “catalytic effect” in changing the present education system to one which could create a world-class workforce.  

In his foreword to the Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010, the Prime Minister had written that the Blueprint is to deliver  “quality education of world standard”.  If the Blueprint had done its job well, then there would be no need for such a  National Brains Trust or its  proposal of 13-point  “strategic intervention points” in the second year of the 10-year Education Development Blueprint!  

The Blueprint is unrepresentative of plural Malaysia. A look at the composition of the Steering Committee (Jawatankuasa Pemandu) and the Main Committee (Jawatankuasa Induk) of the Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010, headed by Musa, shows that it does not reflect the multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-cultural characteristics of Malaysia.  

The Blueprint is undemocratic.  As the definitive education policy document for the next decade, it should be prepared by policy-makers comprising not only Barisan Nasional leaders, but also leaders from the Opposition and representatives from the civil society.   

A comprehensive review of the education policy and system should have been conducted once a decade. There had been three education policy reports in the history of the nation – the Razak Report 1956, the Abdul Talib Report 1960 and the Mahathir Report 1980 - and although they were not fully representative of all cross-sections of the Malaysian society, they were represented by leaders of the most important members of the ruling coalition.  

This is not the case with the Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 which, apart from the Education Minister as the chairman of the committee, comprise heads of the various divisions in the Education Ministry.  

There must be a clear distinction between policy makers and implementors,  but in the case of the Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010, the implementors have usurped the role of the political leadership to become the policy makers – a reflection not only of the continuing emasculation of the rightful role of  Parliament but the marginalisation of the other component parties in the Barisan Nasional where UMNO increasingly exercises unchecked hegemony.  

The Education Development Blueprint is also unprofessional, or it would not be overtaken so quickly by so many educational developments and events  – as the use of English to teach science and mathematics, the so-called meritocracy system for admission into public universities, the serious problem of unemployed and unemployable graduates who are mostly Malays and other bumiputras, the poor academic performance of bumiputra university students, and most serious of all, the total neglect in the blueprint about the future and development of Chinese and Tamil primary schools.  

The Blueprint also lacks vision.  Our three panelists, Prof. Dr. Syed Hussein Alatas, Dr. Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid and Dr. Tan Seng Giaw have given us thought-provoking contributions about what should be in the Blueprint.  

Syed Hussein in particular challenges us to focus on the philosophy and purposes of education – the philosophical, intellectual and functional underpinnings of any system of education, whether it is just to produce employable as well as  unemployable graduates or whether there is also the equally important purpose of producing good citizens.  

Ibrahim is one of the country’s leading advocates of life-long learning which he describes as a pillar of Malaysia as a learning and information society.  

These concerns are not reflected in the Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010.  

Malaysia is in fact three decades behind the concept of a life-long learning.   During the debate on my motion on the Mahathir Education Report in Parliament in June 1980, I lamented that the Report had failed to give new re-thinking of the aims and functions of education.  The same complaint applies today, more than two decades later.  

In Parliament in 1980, I had  asked the government to embrace the concept of lifelong education as in an age of rapid scientific and technological changes, there is a need for a new vision of education which conceives of it as an enterprise transcending the framework of schools and universities.  

I stressed that education must cease being confined within school-house walls and each person should be able to choose his path more freely, in a more flexible framework, without being compelled to give up using educational services for life if he leaves the education  system.  

I pay tribute to Ibrahim for his strong advocacy of life-long education in Malaysia, but it is a reflection of the utter failure of the education planners  to keep abreast with the times for the last three decades.  

The concept of lifelong education was the dominant theme of the Edgar Faure  report Learning to Be: The World of Education Today and Tomorrow  was published by UNESCO in 1972.  

This theme has been developed by the Jacques Delors International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century whose  report, Learning: the Treasure Within   was published by UNESCO in 1996, which stresses the further imperative: None of the talents which are hidden like buried treasure in every person must be left untapped.  

Malaysia had let the world pass by as far as life-long education is concerned for three whole decades after the Edgar Faure Report and we should not continue to be behind times after the Jacques Delors Report!  


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman