Reform Demands Mindfulness and Courage; Decision Requires Prudence and Determination—A Reflection of the First Anniversary of Pakatan Harapan Ruling

Dong Zong Statement

May 8, 2019


Reform Demands Mindfulness and Courage; Decision Requires Prudence and Determination—A Reflection of the First Anniversary of Pakatan Harapan Ruling

  1. Prologue: The Commencement of a new era, tribulations begin

On this very day a year ago, Pakatan Harapan for the first time in history realised party exchange and was mandated to rule. “Reformation” is the unanimous hope of the nation, let alone the wish for reinvention and new vision, cohesion of common awareness, stimulation of common will in unity for the way out. Unfortunately, the ruling party has not grabbed the extant support duly; they are impatient in reform and decision making and thus act in a swaying manner which undermines public trust.

Ruling is a burden and tribulation as well as examination. From “Election Manifesto” to a plethora of promises stated in its 100-day ruling, the credited promises were by all means acknowledged but the government fell short of honouring all its promises. Though new direction and vision were cracked on by the Pakatan Harapan government, its achievements are dependent on situation and the cooperation of the many parties that formed the government. The Pakatan Harapan government raised with the advocacy of reform, therefore it needs to face the questioning courageously.

Education is the root of nation building as well as the base for prosperity. In hindsight, the Pakatan Harapan government addressed mostly on trivialities but not the core of policies such as the comprehensive clarification of education vision to its policy planning and implementation. Notwithstanding the great vision stated in its election manifesto, the goals need to be reachable and practical; the implementation can be macroscopic yet the execution has to be meticulous. The slogan may boom, yet if the core value is wanting or the approach inappropriate, its goals will be intangible or probably going astray.

  1. Education Implementation over the Year

As an education organisation, Dong Zong merely focuses on the new government’s performance on education. Herewith we listed down the promises made by the Pakatan Harapan and the realisation of their promises for comparison as follows:

A.The Right of Learning

  1. The construction and removal of national-type Chinese primary schools on demand: Immediately after gaining power, the Pakatan Harapan had announced a review of the “Construction and Relocation Plan of the ‘10+6’ Chinese primary schools” imposed by the former government where new school location, financial status and demographical needs were considered for further supply.
  2. Stateless students are admitted for schooling: The school enrollment procedures for stateless students will be simplified. They can enroll in national school with their birth certificate, adoption certificate or injunction from court; they are also allowed to sit for the UPSR, SPM and STPM. 2,635 students have been benefited from this policy just yet.
  3. The “Zero Reject Policy”: The assurance of all special need students of entrance age to study at national schools. 83,039 students have been admitted to national schools currently. But attributed to the difficulty in assessing the exact number of students, including the shortage of teachers and facilities, there are problems yet to be addressed.

The Pakatan Harapan government has rendered justice in its treatment towards all vernacular schools, and extended its care for humanity and refugees. Their “fair education for all” mindset deserves acknowledgment and commendation. But it will be impartial if the government further systemises the construction of Chinese primary schools and incorporates it into the 5-year Development Plan and Education Blueprint, which includes the disclosure of the number of national and national-type primary schools, appropriation, allocation of school location as well as the timetable for construction, etc.

B. Fair Education for All

  1. The “0 Dropout Policy”: The “0 Dropout Policy” (PSMC) forwarded by the Ministry of Education has successfully reenrolled the dropouts and helped them finish the least secondary education and it indeed deserves our commendation.
  2. Increase of Special Need Education Funding: We reaffirm the government’s increase on the Special Need Education funding which has since provided education loans for many high achievers from low income family.
  3. Postponement in PTPTN Settlement Promise Unrealised: The Election Manifesto claimed by the new government that low income loaners (less than RM4,000.00 monthly) of PTPTN (National Higher Education Fund Corporation) can request for postponement in settlement is yet to be realised.
  4. Free Tertiary Education for All Unrealised: Hitherto there is no concrete announcement pertinent Free Tertiary Education for All.
  5. Quota System for Matriculation is Unjust: The existing intake system for the STPM and matriculation course is unfair in essence. The 90 percent for Bumi Putra and 10 percent for other ethnic group quota configuration needs to be reviewed; moreover, the increase in seats for the above courses to 40,000 will inevitably exploit non Bumi Putra STPM holders’ right from entering national universities.

There are extant policies for the benefits of the underprivileged group imposed by the Ministry of Education yet in the face of the ethnic groups they are comparatively partial. The Ministry of Education needs to repeal the quota system and replace it with an all-rounding system which takes social-economic status and demographical distribution needs, etc. into consideration.

C.Education Quality

  1. Enhancement of Conducive Milieu
    In consonant with its Election Manifesto, the government has successfully realised its promises such as the decrease of teachers’ paper works, abolishment of the three chapters stated in the “Universities and University Colleges Act 1971” so as to resume the autonomy of national universities in the establishment of their own vocational education and training committee to be ready for the reactivation of vocational education.
  1. Expansion of Consultation Participation
    It is realised through the set up of ad hoc committees for the pooling of educationists and academics; the push of public and private sector partnership, viz., the establishment of JKDPN (National Education Strategy Research Committee) and the engagement with private-run tertiary institutions for a comprehensive education blueprint to enhance cooperation.
  1. Reform in Curricular Assessment
    The curricular assessment was successfully reformed, for instance in the middle of 2019, the Moral subject was reintroduced and the examination scheduled at the first half of the academic year was put to a halt.

There is no gainsaying that the Ministry of Education is proactively promoting the quality of education though the abolishment of the first semester examination in primary schools has turned out to be a controversy but we believe, it virtually is beneficial towards exam-based education and the promotion of education quality. As such, we advise the government to be persistent and not to sway from the right track.

D. Medium of Instruction Policy

  1. Indecisiveness in the Recognisation of the UEC: Pakatan Harapan’s Election Manisfesto promises to ensure UEC holders national universities admission. Yet the Ministry of Education Dr Maszlee claimed that for the UEC acceptance, the prerequisites are (1) the official status of Bahasa Melayu cannot be undermined and (2) the maintenance of national unity unharmed. Thus it cannot be hasty and thorough rumination is needed. Later, the UEC Task Force Committee was set up by the government to glean opinions and comments and they are expected to submit the report to the cabinet this July.
    Unfortunately, the Pakatan Harapan government stays indecisive on the matter and hitherto has not come to a decision. It is greatly disappointing, and we wish the government would honour their promises as soon as possible.
  1. The Reactivation of the Use of English in Math and Science Teaching: This April, the Education Ministry had announced the initiation of the Use of English in Math and Science Teaching in Sarawak state and it was taken as the trial balloon for the policy. In 2003, the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir implemented the said policy in both secondary and primary schools by taking the promotion of English proficiency as an alibi, though it was found to be a failure six years later.

The past experience has evidently shown the mentioned policy had neither promoted English proficiency nor improved Math and Science performance; worse still, it caused the drop of marks in the subjects and is against the world recognised principle of mother tongue education.

E. Chinese Education Issue

  1. Appropriation System for Chinese Schools: The State Budget 2019 unprecedentedly appropriated RM12,000,000.00 to all independent Chinese secondary schools nationwide. Other than that, a total of RM6,000,000.00 was likewise received by the Southern University College, New Era University College as well as Han Chiang University College.
  2. Shortage of Teachers in National-type Chinese Primary Schools: There was shortage of teachers in national-type Chinese primary schools when the academic year began this year and inevitably part of the schools had to raise funds themselves for the employment of temporary and relief teachers prior to the reception of the appropriation.
  3. The Improvement of the Appropriation System and Management: Currently, the Pakatan Harapan government still categorises national-type Chinese primary schools into “government” and “government subsidised” in the release of appropriation and thus unjust in treatment. Meanwhile, the government has never seriously looked into and addressed the administration system of national-type and restructured schools in the country. Moreover, the Ministry of Education has not released the new guidelines for the administrative limit of the Board of Directors in national-type Chinese primary schools.
    As a matter of fact, the Pakatan Harapan government is effective in its release of appropriation for national-type Chinese primary schools and comparatively friendly towards Chinese education only it falls short of permanent solution in terms of packages on issues like appropriation, teacher assignment, the administrative limit of national-type and restructured schools’ Board of Directors.

F. Conclusion: Decision Making Process Consolidation and the Improvement of Effectiveness in Policy Making

From a macro perspective, the educational measure imposed by the Pakatan Harapan government for the past 360 days was basically one of attentive towards public needs and they are ready to expand social communications and readjust their moves proactively.  The setback being, there was no decisive move noted and unimpressive at all in terms of structural reform which only provided goals without feasible approaches and thus their plans remained always on paper and attained no long term algorithm; while from the micro perspective, certain measures were too partially and hastily introduced and had gained no mutual understanding and thus there is still room for improvement. We believe, political decision needs to go through rational interactions; it is only when the views have come to a consensus, effective and fruitful decision can be made. With all these prerequisites in place, the education reform and improvement anticipated will be forceful and resonant among stakeholders.

The Education Minister Dr Maszlee as a pundit is highly looked forward to in the reinvention of national education system. Yet to the disappointment of the general public, a year had passed, apart from the abolishment of primary examination where he showcased his caliber, nothing much was achieved. We believe that Dr Maszlee needs to readjust and redirect his operation methodology and concern, take for instance, map the education reform properly and schedule the timetable lucidly for the rebuild of public confidence and not the other way around, viz., putting too much effort on irrelevant trivialities.

On the contrary, the Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching, had demonstrated capability to a certain extent on Chinese education issue whether in terms of effectiveness, transparency, interaction with the general public, and attentiveness towards error made, etc. It was only that when the issue touched on important education policy, not much proponent voice was heard from the cabinet (in particular the DAP ministers). We thus conclude, cabinet ministers who are well versed in Chinese education need to be informed that to reform relevant education policy, strong support and cooperation from cabinet allies is a prerequisite.

  1. Our Expectations and Needs

Education reform cannot be accomplished in a day as it demands political willingness and common understanding. We herewith put forward our recommendations for the new government to refer to within its tenure hoping to eradicate the hindrance of education reform and provide the way to promote the quality of national education:

A. Review on “Education Act 1996” Based on Multiculturalism

The existing “Education Act 1996” was formulated compliant with the old unitary mindset which is essentially unjust towards multi stream education system. Furthermore, the said Education Act endowed too much power on the Ministry of Education and thus resulted in a chaotic education system led by politicians. We therefore think the Pakatan Harapan government should replace the existing Education Act with one whose scope covers the following:

  1. To realise that multiculturalism is the resource of Malaysia and thus the right of mother tongue education should be guaranteed under multicultural principle;
  2. To accept as well as appropriate funds and allocate resource towards multi stream education system fairly;
  3. To help develop the language and cultural education of Bumi Putra; and
  4. To delimit and equalise the executive power of the Education Minister.

B. Promotion of Education Decentralisation

The power of the existing education system is way too centralised. A democratic education system and the empowerment for state government responsive to their respective needs should be in place; one method for all system should not stay.

C. Release of All Education Research Findings and Data Collected

Education is a common interest. Adhering to transparency and democratic principle, the Ministry of Education needs to release all education research findings and data collected. To analyse any social issue, let alone theoretical knowledge, the reality and data are equally crucial. Moreover, research findings gleaned locally or elsewhere are the contributions of the researchers and they are of important referential value which should not stay on the shelves. With this understanding, we recommend the Education Ministry to

  1. Release all education research findings and data collected, upload its annual report and research report on its official website for free download;
  2. Release its detailed yearly statistic report for academic research;
  3. Release the report submitted by the UEC Task Force Committee, including the reports from JKDPN and PPDUEC.

D. A Mechanism Which Includes Non Government Organisations in National Education Decision

The Ministry of education is alienated from the general public and thus the measures forwarded are short of mutual understanding and beforehand dialogues with the stakeholders. It can be foretold, the consequence will be disputes which are detrimental towards its implementation. Based on the fact that education covers a large scope and correlates many domains, fruitful interactions and engagement with mutually existing educational organisations will ensure smooth implementation and development on non confrontation term. We thus propose as follows:

  1. The Ministry of education needs to initiate dialogues with the general public by inviting non government educational organisations for interactive conferences and conventions;
  2. The Ministry needs to establish language and education committees for Chinese, Tamil and Bumi Putra and assign committee members from their respective representatives thus to provide a platform for the consultation and interaction of education issue/national education.

E. Multicultural Education Policy

Deviation and injustice exist in our multi stream education which is to a great extent against democratic society and harmful towards the interactions and fusion between the ethnic groups. For this very purpose, we request the Ministry of Education to formulate guidelines for “Multicultural Education Policy”, ensuring education equality and mother tongue education right and foster multicultural education. We believe, with these operating, our education quality, inter ethnic relationship and cohesiveness will be improved. We are convinced, through a multicultural education policy, students will

  1. Learn to cherish their own and appreciate others’ culture thus to eventually acquire multicultural perspective; and
  2. Know about multicultural issue, avoid the duplicating of stereotyped impression, and alleviate prejudice and discrimination towards religions and races.

F. The Establishment of Education Ombudsman

We hope the government will set up an independent Education Ombudsman to supervise the operation of the Education Ministry, consolidate its effectiveness and avoid the abuse of power. This Ombudsman is only accountable towards the parliament to ensure independency. The general public is liable to lodge complaints on mismanagement, law violation, injustice, discrimination, non-reply event and rejection in the provision of information, etc. Its unique characteristics are as follows:

  1. The Education Ombudsman is a statutory body and it is endowed with the power of investigation and prosecution; and
  2. The members of the Education Ombudsman shall be appointed by a selection board and its yearly report will be forwarded to the parliament for debate and the like.

G. Review of Secondary and Primary History Subject Curriculum for a “One Curriculum Diverse Coursebooks” Approach

The History subject moulds students’ historical view and structures their historical knowledge. For the making of a multicultural society, the respect for discrepancy in values, entities pertinent to historical events, discrimination in identification should be discussed and argued comparatively. History is a non unitary subject, and therefore should be compiled with the “One Curriculum Diverse Coursebooks” approach to prevent the monopoly of coursebook editing as well as the allowance of leeway for varieties in comments and presentation. Since the history of our country is controversial and arguable, the Ministry of Education needs to set up a History subject editing committee and engage historians from all ethnic groups to reedit a curriculum standard based on true facts and evidence. The new curriculum standard for History needs to

  1. Faithfully present the historical truth and make a review on the deliberate classified historical events;
  2. Hold an objective perspective congruent with the truth and should not take side with any one group;
  3. Be above politics and relate Malaysia history based on the Constitution thus to formulate a historical view amendable to the Constitution.

H. The Recognisation of the UEC for Admission to National Universities

The Malaysia Independent Chinese Secondary Schools Unified Curriculum is designed and formulated amenable to the Constitution and multicultural principle. Dong Zong hitherto has approached a few ethnic Malay non government organisations and is proactively engaging itself in the UEC Task Force Committee. As such, we anticipate the government to honour their election manifesto, viz., to recognise the UEC and employ prodigies at national level from independent Chinese secondary schools in the reinvention process.