“Governance at a Deadlock without Disruptive Breakthrough, Pray Convince Us with New Vision”— Review of Perikatan Nasional Government’s Education Implementation

Statement Released by Dong Zong

March 1, 2021

“Governance at a Deadlock without Disruptive Breakthrough, Pray Convince Us with New Vision”— Review of Perikatan Nasional Government’s Education Implementation

1.  Foreword

A year ago, the ‘Sheraton Move’ prompted the political reshuffle in Malaysia, forming an alliance government composed of the Malaysian United Indigenous Party, UMNO, Malaysian Islamic Party, Homeland Solidarity Party, Sabah Progressive Party and Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, replacing the then ruling Pakatan Harapan government with minority advantage. While the political chaos rolls on with unaddressed issues, no light was seen in matter of multiracial relationship, and the foundation of pluralistic society is under challenged. As the Perikatan Nasional government was not mandated through election, thus no election manifesto was promised and contradiction prevails in their governing policies; Having since been weighed by the Covid-19 pandemic, no vision for the nation from the ruling government was anticipated, let alone their mission and core value narratives.

As an education institution, education-related achievements are the focuses of Dong Zong. As such, we herewith forward our reform proposal addressing the major education issues besetting the previous year. We also understand that the entire nation is expecting gratifying results from the Perikatan Nasional government.

2.  Comments on the Perikatan Nasional Government’s Major Education Policy over the Year

(1) Covid-19 Uncertainty Worsens Digital Gap, Posing Challenges towards Teaching and Learning

(a) Online teaching has still not reached its full-fledged status: The Covid-19 pandemic has messed up inherent norms and order as well as turning digital transformation and the maximisation of technology a nonreciprocal trend, inclusive of the education domain. During the ravage of the pandemic, all schools nationwide adapted the distance learning approach by switching to online teaching which later exposes the growing digital gap of the country—inequality in online teaching footing which begs for serious resource provision. Moreover, the unsuccessful “1Bestari Net” had not attained its target of promoting a 4G broadband internet coverage for the learning needs of ten thousand schools nationally and thus was later replaced by Google Classroom instead.

(b) Startling Digital Discrepancy: The Minister of Education replied in a written statement in July of 2020 pointing out that nine percent of the entire student population nationwide has no internet accessibility. Honestly, matters like the great disparity of education resources, the expense of online learning unaffordable to under privileged families, inconsistent internet coverage and the low-speed broadband internet have long been denounced. In the meantime, the digital discrepancy likewise reveals the weakness of teachers’ digital teaching as well as the absence of learning support from family members. It is understood that most students are lack of self-discipline and active learning initiative; therefore, using digital tool to attain digital competence in daily life and learning is still immature just yet.

(c) Ample Room for Improvement in Educational Broadcast Channels: In April 2020, the radio and TV broadcast of ‘TV Okey’ channel was reactivated due to the pandemic outbreak. Education programmes have since been broadcasted through Astro and NTV7 in a bid to assist students who cannot afford to go online for studies during the pandemic movement control order. Of which, in February 2021, NTV7 turned the said channel to ‘Didik TV’. Yet the channel, from its initial launching to schedule, broadcast and contents have shown inadequacy which demands long term operation planning for better and fruitful functions.

The government and private sectors should respectively forward economic relief package, home-based learning broadband support plan, studies counselling (provided by school and social welfare organisation), social workers for mental and physical health to supplement the digital disparity of under privileged students. The internet accessibility defect, viz., slow internet speed, is believed to be the outcome of consortium monopoly. Incident like student climbing up tree for better accessibility of the internet in Sabah will not repeat if serious attention is taken by the government, key facilities of broadband internet is controlled and tender reviewed for a fair competition in telecommunication industry.

(2) Inconsistency shows Hastiness in Decision Making, Empowerment is the Way out

In the face of the Covid-19 uncertainty, the MOE called a halt to the 2020 UPSR for Primary Grade Six students as well as Form Three PT3 examination and postponed the SPM, SVM and STAM twice. STPM was similarly postponed and candidates for the exam were only allowed to resume classes when the pandemic slowed down.

We basically agreed with the above measures, yet found the decision made addressing the pandemic rather impulsive, inconsistent and thus begs review. This year, school opening day was rescheduled twice and this directive had indeed put teachers, parents and students in limbo. Take for instance, after the launching of the manual for home-based learning (Manual PdPR) on the 2nd of February demanding teachers to be amenable to the instructions, the Minister of Education instructed all schools nationwide to resume classes on the 1st of March two weeks later, leaving teachers in hot waters.

We understand that it is impossible to forward an unanimously agreeable decision during these crazy times, yet opinions and views should be heard from stakeholders in all walks of life for acceptability of the implementation. In the meantime, we propose the government to delegate power to the lower level for schools to flexibly schedule their school opening date and learning approach in respect to the instructions and seriousness of local pandemic once the school opening directive is pronounced.

Similarly, the Ministry of Higher Education was also berated in terms of university reopening date and registration as it was inconsistent and contradictory. Dr Noraini binti Ahmad, the Minister of Higher Education is still tight-lipped though it was disclosed Malaysia ranked fifth in academic fraud worldwide. In addition, though assuming the post for over a year, she has rarely raised her views in higher education development publicly.

(3) Put Political Bias Aside, Return to Education Professionalism

Education is a matter of century-old plan; the importance of a country’s education policy lies in its sustainability and stability for gradual success and effect in an attempt to promote educational quality. In the educational realm, all has to converge towards the education profession for the learning interest of students at large. Attributed to these prerequisites, the government and opposition political parties need to let go of their political adherence for the realisation of macro political landscape as well as stopping political smearing and confrontation by willingly accept feasible educational proposals, setting good example on healthy competition in democracy. We therefore reckon, notwithstanding ruling the country for not exceeding two years, certain measures and implementation practiced by the Pakatan Harapan government should be carried forward and adapted continually:

(a) Simplification of school enrollment for stateless students: to exert the spirit of borderless human right and humanity by lowering the enrollment threshold for stateless students;

(b) Special attention towards Civic Education: to reintroduce Civic Education in both primary and secondary schools in an approach which does not incur learning burden by incorporating it into the standing curriculum using each period from Bahasa Melayu, English, History, Islamic education and Moral on the fourth week of each month for the learning of civic-related knowledge and experience;

(c) Abandonment and Reformulation of ‘The Universities and University Colleges Act’:  to review the act such that it is more academic-oriented, open-minded in managerial culture to instill new spiritual landscape into campuses for the reactivation of academic vitality; and

(d) Promotion of zero non-intake and zero non-graduation: to focus on education equality, caring for under privileged group to ensure schooling opportunity for every eligible child and proactively assist drop-outs to resume schooling to complete secondary education. For the education measures implemented by the former government, the current government is recommended to attentively and continually take a professional position that ‘espouses the right and decries the wrong’ and not to be caught in a political spin.


3. Perikatan Nasional Government’s Handling of Chinese Education Issues

(1) Inadequate Appropriation for Vernacular Chinese Primary Schools

Unlike the previous practice, the new appropriation practice bases on the number of schools, viz., not taking the number of the streams of schools as consideration (inclusive of SMJK Chinese, SMJK Tamil, Full-boarding, government-funded religious, Catholic) but equally allocating RM50 million each in response to the common needs. This practice in fact has met partial needs of the private sectors yet there is discrepancy between national and government-aided school appropriation; moreover, the unclear stance of the government in releasing construction and relocation appropriation for vernacular Chinese primary schools also accelerates backlash.

(2) Zero Appropriation for Three Privately-run Tertiary Institutions

Dong Jiao Zong posits, all the independent Chinese secondary schools and the three privately-run tertiary institutions (New Era University College, Southern University College and Han Chiang University College) are not-for-profit education institutions and they have been nurturing polymaths for national advancement over the years; yet this social-benefitting policy was terminated by the current government as no appropriation was granted to the aforementioned institutions in Budget 2021 and thus it was disappointing to the Chinese community.

(3) Shortage of Teachers in Vernacular Chinese Primary Schools Prevails

The mispresented statistics released by the MOE on teacher statistics causes the need of temporary teachers in vernacular schools to reemerge whenever new academic year begins. As such, Dong Zong urges the MOE to immediately revise the informational errors, teacher training, interview and posting as well as the recruitment of temporary teachers by forwarding a rigorous teacher shortage tracking system, reviewing teacher source and expanding the channels of teacher training.

(4) Continuity in Jawi Script Learning Approach

Ever since the Jawi script learning initiated by the Pakatan Harapan government, it has generated angsts and qualms in both the Chinese and Indian community; yet the current Perikatan Nasional government retains the decision approved by the former government on 14 August 2019 to implement the Jawi script learning in Grade Five Bahasa Melayu coursebook in all vernacular schools.

(5) Recognition of the UEC at a Deadlock

Exclusive of Malaysian Islamic Party, both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan included the recognition of the UEC in their election manifesto; on this basis, the Perikatan Nasional government should reactivate the recognition process of the UEC based on the 2018 mutual understanding agreed upon between the government and the general public.

(6) Sixteen National-type High School Are Excluded from Appropriation

Using the transfer of land ownership to the government as an excuse, nine national-type Chinese high schools were conformed as fully subsidised high schools, and seven others were categorised as national high schools as they are ‘branch’ or ‘additional’ school. Attributed to the above conformation and categorisation, these sixteen schools ended up not getting any appropriation. We opine, the government should treat these 81 national-type high schools equally and rule out the aforementioned matters by granting equal treatment to these sixteen schools.

4. Our Observation on the National Education

(1) The Reform of Education Policy

(a) Progress of several previously formed education committees undisclosed: several education committees established by the Pakatan Harapan government formerly—Jawatankuasa Dasar Pendidikan Negara (JKDPN), Universities and University Colleges Act Working Team, the Special Task Force on the Unified Examination Certificate and Malaysia Vocational Education Empowerment Committee, etc. are intended to expand advisory and encompass participation of the general public as they included experts and stakeholders from the society which actually helps in policy implementation supervision and enhances the interaction between the government and the civilians. Yet since their formation, no research report and reform have been proposed publicly and whether these committees are still operating is unknown.

(b) Redivision of the Ministry of Education: The Perikatan Nasional government once again redivides the Ministry of Education into the Education Ministry and the Ministry of Higher Education. In actual fact, during the Barisan Nasional government, it had been so designed only that the later Pakatan Harapan government had the ministry combined. And now the Perikatan Nasional government once again redivides the Education Ministry and a special department is formed to attend to higher education matters with unknown details.

With the outbreak of the pandemic and the change of ruling power in the country, the reform paces seem to come to a halt. Education is the cornerstone of nation building and education reform is the way to a powerful nation and thus these imminent matters should not be in any way delayed. For this objective, we think the government needs to enhance civilian participation by forming a committee with civilian representatives so that voices from experts and the general public will be heard; the government is also expected to disclose the progress and proposals of the aforesaid committees for the sake of public credit.

The redivision of the Ministry of education into two departments has its pros and cons; since the higher education policy decides the extension of fundamental education and they function reciprocally and thus their coordination and connection are of major importance.

(2) Care for the Lost Generation

The statistics forwarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has revealed class suspension attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a loss of average learning time by two thirds in an academic year globally. After a year’s pandemic ravage, 800 billion students worldwide are still experiencing serious education interruptions. In 2020, students of all levels could only study at school for five to six months in our country. Our observation in response to this is as follows:

(a) Worsening Education Discrepancy: The pandemic has deepened the discrepancy between the rich and the poor educationally. As the rich can enjoy consummate online learning yet the poor are troubled by the lack of internet accessibility and facilities. The learning right of the poor is not only exploited but they are also deprived of free meals allowance. As informed by the UNESCO, after the reopening of the schools, over 30 million students still cannot attend school due to financial reason; it holds water in Malaysia inevitably.

(b) Learning and Mental/Physical Health of Students: The closedown of schools seriously affects the learning progress of students, particularly students in the process of learning fundamental skills such as reading, speaking and writing and the connection of secondary curriculum is similarly disrupted which caused a sizeable number of students lagging behind in their school age studies. Simultaneously, long term school closedown will hinder social interactions between students and severely influence students’ mental and physical health, including their personality formation.

Truly, the imminent mission of the government for the time being is to implement pandemic prevention measures; nonetheless, education is likewise important and thus a middle ground should be sought between the two. We believe, the MOE needs to set up a pandemic prevention working committee to bind all assistances and supports from different walks of life in a bid to address the many education problems faced by the ‘Lost Generation’.