KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 30 ― As students continue to be away from classrooms in the new schooling year, former education minister Maszlee Malik has pleaded for the Ministry of Education to reveal its plans and policies to handle the new norm.
The former lecturer said he is disappointed over lack of response not just towards his queries as a lawmaker but also to educators, students, parents and other stakeholders, whom he claimed are being left in the dark on how to tackle their concerns of safety and access to education while the nation is combating a worrisome Covid-19 situation.
“It’s all about engagement with stakeholders and collaborative and holistic efforts by everybody and I think the major role that could be played by the ministry is to get everybody on board but that didn’t happen,” he said in a recent interview with the Malay Mail.
“Equally to others, I too am clueless about whether they do have a plan and if they do, they need to present to us because we need to know, we are parents, we are stakeholders and above all that we are taxpayers.
“I keep asking them what is the masterplan, show us the masterplan. Let's get everybody involved, we want to do it together but still no answer or response,” he added.
At the end of last year, Maszlee launched #UntukMalaysia, an education-focused movement aimed to resolve the learning problems faced by students nationwide since the Covid-19 pandemic struck the country.
Among others, the initiative has started targeted tutoring for Standard 1 to Standard 6 primary school students who are having difficulty with to read, write and count, and also Sophia.my, a platform where teachers can share their own materials with their fellow educators.
Maszlee had also previously called for the ministry to set up an education action council to address challenges within the education including the looming crisis of the “lost generation” of students -- those who have dropped out of schools due to the pandemic.
Despite resigning from the post of Pakatan Harapan’s education minister after a year now, Maszlee said that many students, educators and parents still reach out to him, hoping that he could solve their concerns.
While Maszlee lamented his inability to aid them beyond his capacity as the MP for Simpang Renggam, he again stressed the need for the ministry to engage with stakeholders.
“I don’t have all the data or full information on what's happening on the ground. The best approach is to get everyone on board but you need to get everyone involved, not necessarily politicians but educators and experts as well as all the NGOs.
“There have been a lot of proposals and ideas but we need to discuss this with the ministry because they have the complete data on what's happening on the ground,” he said.
Malaysian education needs decentralisation
Opposition MPs have ramped up their demand for Senior Minister of Education Mohd Radzi Md Jidin to spell out the ministry’s plan for the upcoming school year.
Following the movement control order (MCO) implementation earlier this month, the 2021 school session has been online-based with only major examination candidates allowed to return to schools.
Maszlee had previously pointed out that nearly 40 per cent of students across the country do not have access to the internet and electronic devices that would enable them to study effectively.
This comes as Malaysian students have lost over 190 days of normal schooling days since the movement control order (MCO) was called into effect in March 2020.
Maszlee, however, suggested that the ministry needs to empower local schools and their respective state and district education offices to make their own decision, especially on school closures.
He further explains that the decision to close schools should not be a blanket decision as not all school districts are located within Covid-19 red zones and all have their respective challenges such as those in remote areas, where people have difficulty accessing or have low student enrolment.
“So, empowerment to the District Education Office is rather important, empowerment to the schools to make their own decision is another matter that should be taken into consideration, as well as the State Education Department, should be given authority on a lot of matters especially on closing and opening of schools,” he said.
In previous Parliament sittings, Maszlee had also questioned on how the ministry intends to safely open schools, its efforts in producing educational content meant for television as well as the ministry budget for the coming year and allocation towards dilapidated schools.
Looking back during his tenure as education minister, Maszlee expressed his disappointment that politics still plays a huge role in shaping the nation’s education system.
This is even prevalent despite the country is facing an unprecedented virus outbreak that has disrupted the education system causing critical issues such as the lost generation of students but it is rarely discussed, said Maszlee.
“What surprised me in Malaysia, politics plays a massive role in shaping education...that is very disappointing,” he said, recalling that he had faced sensationalisation and politicisation during his tenure when he said he had a bigger reform agenda.
“Even until today, if you look at our discussions about education being considered as less important than our discussions about politics.
“This is not just the case of mainstream media but also social media users. They love to talk about politics, about this minister and that minister rather than talking about the real problem, for example, the lost generation is a real problem but nobody talks about it,” he said.
Maszlee had resigned as education minister in January 2020, making him the first from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Cabinet to go since the 14th general election.
He had then said he made the decision on the advice of the then prime minister. Dr Mahathir would then hold the education portfolio, but would soon resign as prime minister at the end of February that year after his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, conspired with former political enemies to take over Putrajaya.
Maszlee, formerly from Bersatu, would later become an independent MP rather than joining Dr Mahathir’s new Parti Pejuang Tanah Air.