Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Politics of education

by Muaz Omar

DEC 16 — Respectable as he may be, Prof Khoo Khay Kim's suggestion for the Chinese and Indian communities to do away with vernacular schools was greeted with dismay and anger by politicians and Chinese educationists alike.

On the other hand, Umno politicians especially Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir considered the backing by Khoo as “vindication” that their demand for the closure of vernacular schools is justified.

This tug-of-war between Chinese educationists and Umno politicians has been going on for decades.

One of the most bitter being the 17-point Suqiu demands in 1999 — with mother tongue education being one of the main demands — which was then followed by the highly-charged demonstration in front of the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall led by former Umno Youth vice-chief Aziz Sheikh Fadzir.

Photos of this brutish thuggery were used widely as the main campaign material in the Lunas by-election in 2000, leading to the spectacular loss of the BN seat to Keadilan.

Chinese educationists have also had brushes with previous education ministers like Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Seri Najib Razak in their quest for recognition and right for mother tongue education.

On the other hand, Malay educationists or academicians rarely express themselves nor do they invite hostile reception.

They are very much docile compared to their Chinese counterparts.

When the government bulldozed the implementation of the policy to teach Science and Mathematics in English in 2003, Malay educationists and interest groups like Gapena, Pena or Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka were muted in their response and did not object vociferously to the policy which clearly challenged the sanctity of the Malay language as the national language.

Except for one or two academicians who aligned themselves with the opposition to oppose the policy, the rest cowered in fear of losing power and position.

The policy is fast becoming a farce and the Education Ministry is now in a bind on whether to reverse the decision or persevere with its grave mistake of introducing the policy which lacks planning, foundation and support system.

Damned if they do, damned if they don't.

In Malaysia, politics and education are two main commodities that use and abuse each other.

The recent suggestion for UiTM to be opened up by 10 per cent to non-Malays was met by angry calls of “traitor” and “blasphemy” by Malay interest groups.

Dr Halimah Ali, Selangor state exco for Education, floated the idea which received the support of Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim on the condition that studies indicate that it would improve the quality of Malay graduates.

Excessive politicisation of the issue has caused consternation and anxiety among ordinary Malays.

Notwithstanding that it remains a mere suggestion — the Selangor government has no jurisdiction over UiTM — the issue was overblown and exaggerated for cheap political mileage.

Rallies and demonstrations were well orchestrated to show thousands of UiTM students expressing their disapproval of the suggestion.

The fact of the matter is, opening up 10 per cent or even 30 per cent of the UiTM intake to non-Malays will not improve the quality of Malay graduates substantially nor will it improve the quality of teaching and learning in UiTM.

Education is not a commodity that can be traded or negotiated.

Just like healthcare, education should not be imparted with tainted and blemished quality.

Basic and quality education must be provided to everyone who is deserving, regardless of race or creed.

It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that adequate places are available for everyone to further their studies which will then render irrelevant the endless demands and counter demands for quota intakes into universities.

Those who are qualified academically must be given the opportunity to further their studies in higher education and provide a pathway to uplift them socially and economically.

This will be achieved not only with adequate infrastructural development but also with the latest and innovative teaching methodologies and tools.

Quality education will never be achieved if it is being manipulated to serve as a political tool.

Education and the higher education system in our country are already in a sorry state, mix it with politics and it is the students who will suffer the most.

During the era of Tan Sri Arshad Ayub as Vice-Chancellor of UiTM, there were many non-Malay lecturers imparting knowledge to deserving Malay students.

Malay College Kuala Kangsar also has a history of non-Malays and even foreigners as teachers in the institution.

Logic defies me: how is it that we can allow non-Malays to teach us but we cannot allow non-Malays to study alongside us.

Our leaders enforce rules and regulations to protect the Malays from their own shadows.

This will not allow the Malays to progress but keep the Malays more and more insulated in their own utopia.

The more I think about it, the more I feel threatened by my own race than anyone else.

About the author: Muaz Omar is a consultant with a regional stakeholders management firm based in Kuala Lumpur. The article above reflects the writer's personal opinion.

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