The collective outrage over our education system shouldn’t abate, writes Sheila Santharamohana. Let us insist on and advocate for an open forum where all students are accepted for who they are and heard as equals.
As an educator, I am appalled but not surprised at the heights of arrogance and unprofessionalism
prevalent among the teaching and administrative bodies in Malaysian schools. However, it is no less painful to know that these are the people we have to trust to be partners in raising and educating our children.
When students are cowed into submission as shamelessly illustrated by the UUM ‘Listen’ incident, the student-slapping episode in Egypt (The Malaysian Insider, 26 January 2013), and a similar incident with Orang Asli children for refusing to recite the doa in SK Bihai, Kelantan (malaysianbar.org.my, 2 November 2012), we have to wonder about the lack of accountability and the low standards of public education in which such incidents have been allowed to flourish unchecked. What is more worrying is that while there is public outcry over these incidents, there is little follow-up on the part of the authorities, which just exacerbates the concerns.
Perhaps, if these incidents happened in private schools or the corporate sector, there would be serious questions to be answered. Outraged, we ask them too – shouldn’t there be action taken against this high-handedness? Why isn’t anyone doing anything to make these people accountable? Unfortunately for Malaysia in general, we hardly discuss these issues in a serious manner and demand improvements.
We have been complicit in allowing this state of affairs in our education system for a long time because we chose inaction and indifference. While disguising this passivity in the form of ‘Asian values’, orthodox religion and courtesy, we have forfeited the right to speak our minds, practising the same self-censorship and passivity which have stymied lively debate and discussion in schools for the younger generation. Again, we ask and query issues but we hardly engage in dialogues, debates and discussions for possible solutions.
For the last 20-odd years, the majority of Malaysians have voted in a succession of fascist, pseudo-leaders who chipped away at our identity as a nation and instilled a culture of fear. These older generation of voters traded the younger generation’s rights for ‘peace and prosperity’, more so, when the moderates stayed silent against the vociferous tide of the bullying minority. As a consequence, the current generation of children bears the brunt of a warped education system with only one goal in mind – social engineering.
Now, we hear that we are a tolerant society. In fact, we take pride in it. Our politicians urge us to practice more tolerance because we are multiracial and of many faiths. Unfortunately, such concept of multi-ism carries a different meaning compared to the past. Then, we had great schools with a good representation of races among staff and students. We had respect for each other and for different beliefs and cultures. Alas, the insidious wave of patriotic fervour had begun to seep into the public schools in the 1980s. So what are we actually supposed to be more tolerant about? Mediocrity in teachers? Racism in schools? Overt religiosity in our institutions of learning? Propaganda and prejudice dressed as history?
An education system perpetuated by racist propagandists has only one purpose: cultivating a vapid, acquiescent and divided younger generation who will forever be paralysed in thought and action. We see it in the lack of respect toward our children, the shallow breadth of the Malaysian curriculum, the low standards of achievement and the quality of our graduates. Quota systems and discriminatory policies have worsened the situation and this is exactly what the government of the day wants – to divide and subdivide an enfeebled generation for the purpose of control.
I say no!
The arrogance has to stop. We need to be equally if not more loudly indignant and proactive in the face of hectoring bullies, bigots and racists in the form of Sabariah Ramli of SMK Georgetown, Baktiar Md Rashid, the Head of SMK Kuala Kubu Baru’s PTA, BTN graduate History teachers from SMK Telok Panglima Garang and SMK Darul Ehsan who have denigrated Indian students by their name-calling and our very own Deputy Education Minister Mohd Puad Zarkashi, with his anti-LGBT stanc. (freemalaysiatoday.com, 16 May 2012; nst.com.my, 31 January 2013).
The collective outrage over our education system shouldn’t abate. Let us insist and advocate for an open forum where all students are accepted for who they are and heard as equals. Let us encourage our children and each other to question issues and speak up for those who cannot.
Sheila Santharamohana is an Aliran member based in the Klang Valley.