DECEMBER 16 — The victory of May 9 was a turning point for the nation.
The expectations have been high especially on the education frontiers. Although we do not expect the education system to change overnight, the decisions by Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik are disappointing.
Therefore, “Yang Berhormat,” this is my open letter to you, as I was not that keen in having someone largely unheard of, who is inexperienced in running the Ministry of Education. However, I was willing to give you a chance to prove your worth.
You should know that many of us worked very hard to dislodge Barisan Nasional (BN) out of Putrajaya, but if you fail to deliver, you will destroy our faith in the Pakatan government.
After nearly seven months, I have made my observations and decided to make this an open letter, especially since things said in private are often not heard.
1. In itself, the Ministry of Education is a big organisation. Along with this “dinosaur,” you have the Ministry of Higher Education to take care as well.
Having so many issues which you have not dealt with effectively, why on earth are you taking on another position as President of International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), and this, despite the protest that has been staged by university students? If I may put it correctly, I believe prime minister designate Anwar Ibrahim has also advised you based on what he told us that he declined the offer himself.
2. The Pakatan Harapan (PH) manifesto had promised that the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) would be recognised if PH won the election. It was also a promise made by BN in its manifesto.
UEC is recognised by over 800 different universities around the world. Yet, I do not know what is taking you so long to fulfill the PH promise.
Although your deputy had said UEC recognition would be given by November, you turned around and said the recognition would be given within five years after a so-called study has been carried out. I would like to see to what extent has the study been conducted by your office to date; otherwise, what difference does it make to stretch the timeline? But to the students who are currently doing the UEC, it means a lot!
I see this as your weakness in not making a firm decision and standing by the manifesto. All the excuses given do not hold water, which is why I even suggested to you that you might as well close down all international schools going by the argument that Bahasa Malaysia is not used as the teaching medium. I am sure you are also aware that BN had previously carried out a study and agreed to recognise UEC, so what is the point of reinventing the wheel?
3. The Pakatan Manifesto has also promised to do away with the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UCCA). Here again is our disappointment as it turned out that you are procrastinating the decision to abolish the UCCA.
After a few demonstrations by university students, have you even met with them? What I notice is that it is Syed Saddiq Sidek, in his capacity as Youth and Sports Minister, who is doing his part to push for the repeal of the UCCA.
4. Your attempt to introduce a manual on noble values is something laudable. I have suggested that the manual should have a fair treatment based on what all world religions teach. However, when you said it would be based only on the Hadith, this further reinforces the label that people have put on you as a “closet Wahabbi,” whatever that means!
What difference does it make if we place more emphasis on the existing moral studies and agama? Why reinvent the wheel, unless you are trying to build another legacy at the cost of taxpayers. This manual would add to the weight of the bags that our children have to carry to school every day.
5. On bag load, this issue has been plaguing the schools for a long time. The last thing we would want to hear from the minister of education is that the job is now delegated to school principals. We all know the root cause of the heavy bagload but for you to leave it to the principals, without serious follow up actions, it will turn out to be like throwing water on the yam leaves. This has caused my confidence in your role as an agent of change to diminish.
6. Talking about unilateral decisions, what further disappointed me was the directive regarding the colour of school shoes. Like the manual on noble values based on the hadith, was there any consultation made with all stakeholders?
I was not surprised, and in fact, predicted that there would be heavy shelling from all parties — parents, shoe manufacturers and retailers, and your fellow politicians. After all, the decision was announced without a proper directive issued by the ministry.
7. In the news this week alone, there are two other issues which I find it hard to believe that you are not addressing at all. The first was the accusation by an Umno leader that university students were threatened that their scholarships would be withdrawn, if they attended the Umno general assembly.
Again, it is Syed Siddiq who sought for more details. Since these are not just ordinary youths but university students and the subject is about their scholarships, I would have expected you to take interest in the matter.
Secondly, there were already some complaints earlier on about the unpaid electricity bills of St John’s Institution and other mission schools. This matter was not dealt with adequately; instead, it was swept under the carpet, only to be picked up by the newspapers. These schools have contributed to nation building for over a century, but I am appalled with the lack of interest to pay the electricity bills.
To use the excuse that these mission schools must first surrender their land first before they can obtain full support, is simply incomprehensible, as far as I am concerned. Even with the government-aided Chinese primary schools, your ministry is largely incapable of dealing with the daily issues and complaints by parents.
No one in the right frame of mind would surrender the autonomy of these good schools to ministry officials who cannot value add to the schools’ prestige.
8. Instead of focusing on the real issues affecting the education system in the country, why are we talking about registering the unconventional schools, including those catering to the educational needs of refugee kids?
These schools do not even come under the Education Act and after registering them, how much can the ministry contribute financially to help these schools for refugee kids?
In the first place, refugee kids should be admitted into national schools if we choose to be a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
9. Finally, on a personal note, I have followed up with a letter of appeal to you regarding the ministry’s recognition for a church-based uniformed group. The idea is so that kids who are already attending the activities on Sundays do not need to attend another uniformed group in schools.
Even something as simple as that you left it to some officers to decide giving excuse that you believe in autonomy. I want to suggest to you that, when you have Little Napoleons in your ministry, the word “autonomy” is a very dangerous word. It is the failure of the chief executive officer of an organisation, if an appeal has reached the top, but the CEO absconds from his duty to override the bad decisions.
For all the above reasons, I have to let you know that I am not the only one who is feeling that you are indeed underperforming as a minister. In the corporate sector, this is known as a probationary period, and you have not inspired confidence in us as the stakeholders.
As Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had said earlier, if any cabinet minister of his fails to perform, there is only the exit door.
* Stephen Ng is an ordinary person with an avid interest in following political developments in the country since 2008.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.