The high-powered education review committee into the the entire national education system should be balanced and fully representative of all cross-sections of Malaysian society including the major Opposition parties or there should not be a single representative from the Barisan Nasional
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Tuesday): The Deputy Education Minister, Datuk Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin said yesterday that the committee to review the school system will comprise academicians of the different faiths to ensure that the school system meets the needs of the multi-racial society in the country.
The UMNO Supreme Council decided two Fridays ago on November 29 to establish a high-powered committee under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to review the entire national education system.
When announcing the establishment of the education review committee after the UMNO Supreme Council meeting, Mahathir said:
The first public impression was that the new Mahathir education review committee was solely to address the position and future of religious schools as this was Mahathir’s primary focus in his media conference after the UMNO Supreme Council meeting, declaring that the different religious school systems run by State Governments, the People’s Religious Schools and private organizations did not augur well for the social and educational development of children.
Describing the People’s Religious Schools as “unnecessary”, he said the Government did not see why they should continue to exist as “the government funds practically all primary-level education” and “We have our national schools complete with religious studies and if students are interested to pursue their knowledge in religion, we also have the necessary facilities”.
Announcing that the government will not fund the People’s Religious Schools in any way and that their students will be secured places in the national schools, Mahathir said such schools had insufficient funds to operate and often depended on the government, lacked trained teachers and had deviated from the true teachings of Islam.
Three days later, however, it became clear that the religious schools cannot be the primary agenda of the new Mahathir education review committee as the 88th meeting of Mentri Besar/Chief Ministers (with Kelantan and Terengganu excluded) in Putrajaya chaired by Mahathir decided after two hours to absorb the 126,000 pupils in the People’s Religious Schools (SAR – sekolah agama rakyat) into the national school stream.
Any mistaken impression that the new Mahathir education review committee was primarily about the position and future of religious schools should now be dispelled, especially after Aziz’s earlier statement that the review will involve all types of government and government-aided schools, i.e. including national, Chinese and Tamil primary schools (Berita Harian 4.12.02).
The new Mahathir education review committee is probably the most important review of the national education system in the 45-year history of Malaysia with far-reaching consequences into the future, as it is the first time that it will be headed by the Prime Minister.
In the circumstances, the composition of the high-powered education review committee into the entire national education system should be balanced and fully representative of all cross-sections of Malaysian society, so that it enjoys credibility, authority and legitimacy, uniting rather than dividing Malaysians..
It should not make the mistake of the 10-year Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 Committee headed by the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad, which lacked all these three qualities of credibility, authority and legitimacy as it was most lopsided and unrepresentative, comprising solely of Education Ministry officials and failed to reflect Malaysia’s multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious character.
As the terms of reference of the new Mahathir education review committee will also encompass the position, development and future of Chinese and Tamil primary schools, Chinese mother-tongue education NGOS like Dong Jiao Zong and Tamil mother-tongue education NGOs like the Malaysian Tamil Educational Research and Development Foundation and the Group of Concerned Citizens should be represented on the review committee.
Furthermore, there should be full political participation with representation from the major Opposition parties or there should not be a single representative from the Barisan Nasional on the education review committee.
Although UMNO Ministers and leaders love to issue public calls on all quarters not to politicise education, such as the Star article yesterday by the Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Dr. Mohamad Khir titled “Keep politics out of education”, they are the worst culprits in politicizing education and all aspects of government functions and services.
The very fact that the establishment of the new high-powered education review committee was decided by the UMNO Supreme Council and was never referred to the Cabinet whether before or after the UMNO Supreme Council meeting – and the views of the central committees of the other Barisan Nasional parties are even more irrelevant – is the latest example of UMNO insisting on its monopoly to politicize education.
UMNO leaders should realize that when they make public calls to keep politics out of education, they are either being abysmally ignorant or insufferably arrogant – the former if they do not realize that they have themselves failed “to keep politics out of education” and the latter if they hold the view that they are the only politicians in the country entitled to the monopoly to politicize education.
In a parliamentary democracy based on multi-party politics, differences of political opinion about education are natural, legitimate and healthy which should all be properly taken into account in the formulation of any education policy or the conduct of any education review as the one envisaged by the new Mahathir education review committee.
For this reason and to ensure that the new education review will be balanced, comprehensive, truly representative, credible, authoritative and legitimate, Mahathir should ensure that the major opposition parties are represented on the review committee or not be a single representative from the Barisan Nasional should be involved in the review process.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman