KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 1 — The plan to introduce free breakfast in schools goes beyond eating and is aimed at instilling discipline similar to the Japanese model, Education Minister Maszlee Malik has said.
Maszlee was explaining new education efforts in line with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s unfulfilled wishes that include seeing Malaysians adopting virtues deemed common among the Japanese.
Maszlee said the free breakfast programme was only announced after discussions with the National Economic Action Council and Finance Ministry as well as approval from the prime minister and deputy prime minister, adding that nutritious food will be provided to all instead of just the poorest in society as done previously.
“Not just to eat, nutritious food to shape them mentally, form a new generation that is healthier, smarter and they know what nutrition that they are eating and we provide education. That’s why, I say it is not just about eating.
“There is discipline. Teachers eat together. After eating, the plates have to be put away. So we want to shape, as in Japan, discipline. That’s why, like last month, we launched Civics Education,” he said in an interview with Utusan Malaysia published today, adding that civics education also requires the involvement of parents and the society.
Maszlee said it was desirable for efforts implemented now to have long-lasting effect in the decades to come, noting that Dr Mahathir had shared with him the latter’s unfulfilled wishes during past stints as education minister and prime minister.
“Today, he is the prime minister for the second time. He wants this to be achieved, and if possible, to see this done while he is still living. Among others, is to shape Malaysian society to be full of values and to be an example to the world.
“Today, if one mentions discipline, hard work — Japan; innovation, technology — Japan. Tun said, he wants for Malaysians to be like the Japanese one day. But it has to start with the ecosystem,” he was quoted as saying, noting that the ecosystem has to be in place first before changes can be made.
Maszlee said his ministry wants to adopt a more comprehensive approach towards the free breakfast programme compared to the existing Supplementary Food Programme, adding that models Malaysia can learn from do not stop at Japan.
“If we go to famous universities such as Oxford, eating together with professors is an ordinary matter. And there we have discipline. In Harry Potter, they eat together. That is fiction but it shows the culture from the West,” he said.
“If we see in Japan, they started after World War II. We, as Malaysians, have the habit of eating together as a community, but maybe all these while we have not structured it. So what is wrong with us learning from others to shape this healthy culture?” he asked.
Maszlee also addressed criticisms of his performance as education minister, noting that the ministerial post is a position for a politician despite its focus on education.
He noted the challenge of balancing the demands and wishes of everyone as education minister but said he did not consider himself a politician as he was an academic who had just joined politics. He described politics as a play on “perceptions”.
“Maybe this gives an impact on how I shape perception as I cannot be a populist. If we become a populist, we will place education in a dangerous situation. We follow what people want, not what they need,” he said, adding that his ministry carries out extensive consultation before deciding on policy matters.
He said he also treats criticism and insults as indication of a need to improve, having noted that challenges aid in maturing an individual.
Maszlee said his inspiration stems from a desire for change and love for the country, as well as Dr Mahathir, who works tirelessly despite his 94 years of age.