Should we revert to two ministries for national education — Hassan Basri Awang Mat Dahan

JUNE 12 — It is interesting to reflect on Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz’s speech in a forum organised by an academic NGO, GERAK in Kuala Lumpur, which was recently featured in the Malay Mail (June 29, 2019).

In her speech, she recommended that the government of the day to re-constitute the ministry of education and form two separate ministries which are one, the ministry that manages black shoes and another that runs the ICT.

Cynically, her perception of the lower education requires no leadership with great thinking because such minister only monitors school shoes, which symbolises lower thinking and simple tasks whereas education at the higher level or university yields for an intellect, such as an IT literate.

I am confident that I am not implying here nor have I misread her thinking because obviously from her speech which denies a minister’s ability to combine both skills, which are the skill to wear black shoes and the skill to master ICT!

What failed me from reading her text is her reference of the present minister in terms of his lower thinking (as represented in black shoes) or higher thinking (which is ICT)? I am not sympathetic of Maszlee Malik if that’s what Rafidah is implying. Rather, I pity her, who I see as old fashion in her thinking.

I say so because to me, Rafidah failed to understand education be it at the primary, secondary and university level. The government does not need two ministries for education. This is because education is temporal; different in terms of levels.

A ministry which is run by a minister shall provide continuity of education across the three levels. Our experiences with two ministries back in 2004 has caused many educational issues which remained unresolved as due to two heads.

The working culture in Malaysia, which is territorial in nature, implicated both ministries, which are education and higher education, causing both to sail on separate directions and suffered from incoherence. What suffered worst was in the curriculum.

The problem with learning performance among school students caused rafts of displeasure among the higher education and was not easily solved because both ministries did not synergise for its solution. As such, both played the blame game and did not solve anything as due to the differences of leadership.

Unlike the present situation. For example, the Ministry of Education was able to swiftly solve issues regarding the certification of vocational education in Malaysia (SPVM) as an entry to the university or polytechnic, etc because of one ministry.

A minister can quickly retrieve information of a student’s different situations — at school and at higher learning institution. As a result, the matter was quickly solved in a short time and presently, students with SPVM are more confident with their future, unlike before. This shows the efficiency of the ministry of education.

At the university level, Rafidah ought to understand that the management of any university or higher learning institution is self-sufficient; not requiring to answer to a ministry. We only need the Department of Higher Education (DHE) alike the present practice, which has run after the existence of two previous ministries.

We are able to manage ourselves at the university and do not require technological assistance nor ICT experts to run the show. Malaysian public and private universities employ thousands of professors, lecturers and administrators to manage the organisation. In fact, ICT experts who are suggested by Rafidah were bred in our universities.

We only need a black shoe minister whom Tan Sri saw only suitable for primary and secondary schools. Why? Simply because it is the present black shoe minister who awarded full AUTONOMY to universities. Within the months of his service as a minister, he made sure that all 20 public universities obtained autonomy.

Autonomy can be defined as the ability to self-manage. When one is able to self-manage, there raises a question of such need for TWO ministers or ministries. That is the ace of our black shoe minister whom Tan Sri ranked as only apt for primary schools.

The black shoe minister also recommended that universities to be placed in clusters as according to niche or area of discipline of these universities. With such classification, hence there are five university clusters which are research universities, technical universities, comprehensive universities and international integrated universities.

We do not require an ICT expert to guide us because we can self-manage. In other words, the black shoe minister who monitors primary and secondary schools, is also able to guide us to ace forward. It is also the same person who empowered student’s dormancy.

For the longest of time, the industry has complained, often snorting against our graduates’ quality of leadership and human capabilities despite having a first class degree. Sadly, there isn’t a way out of it. Finally, comes the black shoe minister who changed some sections in the Act of University and University College (or known as AUKU) which sparked the present excellence among our graduates.

I can narrate many other tales on the wave of change that has taken place in the present ministry, despite the minister is only a black shoe minister!

Finally, I wish to suggest to Tan Sri Rafidah to be more meticulous in making statements. The report in Malay Mail which reiterates primary and secondary schools only need a minister that can think about shoes while universities need a minister who is an ICT expert, berates primary and secondary schools and teachers. While universities need a minister who is an ICT expert also derails from what I have earlier mentioned.

In terms of the black shoe, I wish to recreate a situation so that we are no longer cynical of our YB minister, at least respect his initiative. When a student wears white shoes during Raya or any events besides school because the parents could not AFFORD to buy new shoes for Raya nor other coloured shoes besides white, tears pooled because we sympathise and touched by the child’s poverty shown through his shoes.

While some tease the child’s misfortune because to the former, poverty is a form of abjection that entitles humiliation. But when students wear black shoes during Raya or events, no one is now able to mock others because black shoes are wearable in form.

Obviously the heart and soul of the black shoe minister is virtuous upon suggesting the proposal. He was sympathetic towards the misfortunate children. However, he did not share with us of such efforts because I am sure the Malaysian society in majority support such good and noble effort. Hanya jauhari yang mengenal manikam (Only the wise knows the value of knowledge)!!

* Prof Datuk Dr Hassan Basri Awang Mat Dahan is vice chancellor at the Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA).

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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