DAP calls for a Royal Commission on Education on the twin challenges of national unity and academic excellence as what Malaysia needs is an education revolution and not just reform to make Malaysia the provider of quality education for primary, secondary, tertiary, mother-tongue and ICT education
by Lim Kit Siang
(Ipoh, Wednesday): In what has been described as his first policy address on education yesterday, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi acknowledged the twin failures of the national education system to foster racial integration and to provide world-class quality education.
There is nothing novel in Abdullah’s speech at the Malaysian Education Summit 2004 in Petaling Jaya yesterday, as such admission of failure had been made by the previous Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, and his Cabinet Ministers, including Abdullah himself when he was Deputy Prime Minister.
In what was to be one of his most important final services to the country in his last 12 months as the longest-serving Prime Minister, Mahathir formed and headed an education review committee to carry out far-reaching educational reforms to redress what he had vividly described as the “double hijacking” of the national school system from its original objective of catering to all races in Malaysia – sabotage of the Pupil’s Own Language (POL) programme and the attempt to turn the national schools into Islamic rather than Malaysian schools.
This has however turned out to be Mahathir’s most conspicuous unfinished assignment, as nothing has been heard about the second Mahathir education review committee report, even six months after his retirement.
What we do know however is that as part of the second Mahathir education review (as Mahathir was earlier chair of the 1977 Cabinet Education Review Committee), Tan Sri Murad Mohamed Noor, who was Education Director-General 1976-1985, was assigned the task of heading a group to make recommendations as to how to restructure the national school system and propose a new education system.
In August last year, Murad said the education system will undergo significant changes “with far reaching effects” under recommendations his group had forwarded to Mahathir.
In keeping with the principles of accountability, transparency and democracy, DAP calls on Abdullah to table in Parliament next month all the proposals, studies and reports received by the second Mahathir education review committee, including the recommendations of the group headed by Murad, so that they could be reference materials for MPs when debating the important subject of the failures of the national education system.
DAP calls for a Royal Commission on Education on the twin challenges of national unity and academic excellence as what Malaysia needs is an education revolution and not just reform to make Malaysia the provider of quality education for primary, secondary, tertiary, mother-tongue and ICT education which also creates the overarching framework to promote national integration.
It must however be a Royal Commission which could immediately command undisputed public confidence because of its impeccable composition, not like the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Police, which is struggling to win public confidence, as reflected by the poor public turnout to its public hearings in various parts of the country.
The Royal Commission on Education, which should be formed after consultation with the Opposition, NGOs and the civil society, should be given 12 months to come out with its first report.
In actual fact, it is not very difficult to come out with a masterplan to foster the twin objectives of national integration and quality education, as in the ultimate analysis, the problem is whether there is the political will to find the answers and implement them.
For instance, Abdullah’s second strategy to enhance the quality of education by building world-class tertiary institutions to produce world-class graduates merits three observations:
Firstly, it is impossible to have quality education at the tertiary level unless there is quality education at the primary and secondary schools, as they lay the foundation of a generation's educational prowess and greatness. How can there be quality primary and secondary education when the school systems are bogged down with problems of discipline, gangsterism and even crime?
Secondly, the present national education system is clearly not in tune with the needs of a K-economy, as it does not give the highest priority to talents, creativity, skills and innovation but only interested in quantity and not quality of higher education in the country. This is why the nation’s universities are producing unemployed and unemployable graduates, who have to be re-educated for the job market!
The planners and implementors of the national education system should wake up to the reality that in the new knowledge economy, human capital is more important than physical capital and that the quality of knowledge generated within our higher education institutions is becoming increasingly critical to our national competitiveness.
Thirdly, has the government the political will to restore the principle of meritocracy as the primary though not sole educational yardstick to achieve quality education at all levels of the education system, including university student enrolment and academic staff appointments, ending the farce of two different public university entrance examinations, i.e. STPM and matriculation?
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman & Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor