Have taught for over 35 years in many rural and urban national secondary schools, I am concerned about the present state of our education system.
The British left us with a world-class education system second to none, with English as the medium of instruction, when the country achieved independence in 1957.
The medium of instruction was later changed to Malay in 1968 due to strong Malay nationalism. Even with the switch, the education system still functioned well and was accepted by the various ethnic communities in the country. Parents had great faith in the system, and placing their children in the national schools was a natural thing to do.
This success of the primary and secondary schools then was due to the contributions of dedicated teachers of all ethnicities. Malay teachers who were pillars of the teachers unions and Umno did well. They saw to it that education was not tainted by politics.
However, the rot started when the business people took control of Umno. Education lost its shine and spiralled down a slippery slope.
In schools to institutions of higher learning, such as Mara colleges and public universities, as Zaid Ibrahim has highlighted, meritocracy should not be sacrificed as it would be a double-edged sword: it would cut both ways.
The Covid pandemic is a scourge, but it has also brought with it many changes and challenges. Malaysia, all this while trapped with a problematic, politicised and unsolvable education system, could do well to use this opportune time to reinvent it.
Before the onset of the pandemic, heated discourse flared over many educational matters like the study of Jawi and the intake of places in public universities.
An education system should be as simple as possible and should be academically holistic. Students should be given a solid foundation in the three Rs (reading, writing and maths), the sciences and character-building.
Common values should be taught as a subject in schools so that students become less judgemental and more understanding towards one another. This subject should emphasise core values such as honesty, integrity, sincerity, discipline, kindness and racial harmony. It should also warn against the ill-effects of corruption. The common values subject should also incorporate financial management to teach the young how to manage money.
Until now, schools have not placed much emphasis on such core values. The recent fiasco in our vaccination rollout – the blank shots several received – reinforces the need to teach our younger generations noble values before it is too late.
Considering education is a sensitive topic and often exploited for political expediency, it is best to keep it apolitical. To achieve this aim – a non-partisan royal education council, consisting of education professionals, should be formed to overhaul and oversee the entire system for the next five years.
The council should be answerable only to the King and Parliament and should be open to public feedback and scrutiny. Ultimately, the council after much deliberation, will make final recommendations. The education situation in the country now cries out for such a solution.
We need to also focus on meritocracy, without compromise. With the present trajectory that the education system is on, we will see little headway in attaining excellence. Only teachers and lecturers who are dedicated and of high calibre should be recruited to teach. You reap what you sow.
So establish an attractive and commensurate remuneration package to draw talents into the teaching profession. One need look no further than Singapore.
All these are cogent factors to consider when revamping the education system, and I firmly believe the country will benefit greatly from them in the long run.
Together, we can bring back the glory days of our education system.
Sonny Khoo is an Aliran reader based in Penang