Daim: Education Ministry's misplaced priorities reason Malaysia lagging in industrial leap

Tun Daim Zainuddin has bluntly said that Malaysia has failed to grasp the idea and importance of a knowledge-based economy. — Picture by Ham Abu Bakar
Tun Daim Zainuddin has bluntly said that Malaysia has failed to grasp the idea and importance of a knowledge-based economy. — Picture by Ham Abu Bakar

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 ― Malaysia is trailing other countries in the digitisation of industries due to the Education Ministry’s misplaced priorities, Tun Daim Zainuddin wrote today.

In an article for The Edge financial paper, the adviser to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad bluntly said Malaysia has failed to grasp the idea and importance of a knowledge-based economy.

“To participate in IR 4.0, we must go through a knowledge-based economy and here Malaysia has failed because the government, through the Ministry of Education, has not got it priorities right. The ministry must not fail our nation,” he wrote.

Daim acknowledged public discontent towards the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition whom he campaigned to put into power.

He said the government’s economic policies are ineffective without a sound education system, noting the “snail’s pace” in educational reform, which he pinned on the ministry helmed by Maszlee Malik.

“We are still arguing over whether we should teach Mathematics and Science in English, when the rest of the world has embarked on advanced curriculums that focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0), so as to make their youths more competitive and relevant, in a world that is going to be dominated by artificial intelligence and robotics,” he wrote.

The former two-time finance minister’s caustic statement on educational priorities echo the sentiment by another close friend of Dr Mahathir, Country Heights executive director Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew who urged the Education Ministry to make khat optional instead of compulsory for schools amid public backlash, especially from the non-Malay communities.

‘Them vs us’

The 81-year-old reiterated his call to disable the current pro-Bumiputera education policies and replace it with a needs-based system.

As a case in point, Daim highlighted again the loophole allowing well-to-do Malays to gain limited public scholarships under Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) and entry into Mara Junior Science College (MRSM) at the expense of poorer Bumiputera, including both urban and rural poor and  from indigenous groups.

He claimed many well-off Bumiputera were abusing the policies to enrich themselves.

“We have been robbing the poor to further uplift those who do not deserve the support, and this widening of the education and income gap must come to an end,” he said.

He noted that some Bumiputera even resort to racial fear-mongering to maintain their perks.

“The fearmongering is only to encourage and continue this abuse. It's time to stop the ‘them versus us’ rhetoric,” he said.

Venturing further, Daim questioned the morality in instilling notions of racial superiority among children by birthright alone.

“Is it moral to drill into students that other students are not entitled to certain privileges simply because they are not a certain race, even if they are economically disadvantaged?

“Is it right that you are taught to feel superior because the language you are taught in is also the language of an economically powerful nation?” he asked.

He called for more understanding and empathy across the racial divide.

Daim indicated that the “them versus us” attitude and fearmongering was extended to the way Malaysians accuse foreigners of stealing jobs and work opportunities at the expense of locals.

He said the reality is that Malaysians are increasingly being replaced due to technological advancements.

“While some are busy blaming ‘others’ and foreigners for taking away our jobs, the reality is that technology will impact the most on future employment, as robots replace humans in menial tasks,” he said.

He pointed out that the need for Malaysians to increase their skills, saying technological advances should be seen positively as the World Economic Forum estimated the creation of 133 million jobs.

“So the question is, ‘Are we in Malaysia ready for this leap?’ Let's be brutally honest here ― we are not. In fact, we are far from ready. We are still playing catch up with IR 4.0 training, when others are already gearing for the Fifth Industrial Revolution,” he said.