Reading Tunku Abdul Aziz's "Vision for a Malaysian Malaysia" post about education reminded me very much of my anthi-thesis to Demi Negara's "Satu Sejolah untuk Semua" forced-assimilation-in-disguise project. (After being roundly beaten by bloggers and rejected by the Education Minister, it is now being recycled in a more sanitised format - i.e. less blatantly racist content).
The Satu Sekolah Untuk Semua initiative led by DemiNegara urges a unified education system (which is good). But their premise springs from the Ketuanan Melayu idea of either eradicating or subordinating non-Malay cultures/identities (that's baaad!). This kind of "unity" merely requires brute force to be "achieved".
I completely disagree on his premise because the philosophy of the policy directly influences the implementation of the policy.
I counter-proposed with an idea for also for a unified school system, but one based on a democratic model, which I called "A School for Every Malaysian." In a nutshell, this proposal is based on meritocracy, freedom of expression, celebration of diversity and unity by mutual acceptance – which requires diplomacy and visionary leadership to achieve.
I'll leave it to you to judge which is better for sustainable and peaceful nation-building.
Since Demi Negara has recycled his forced-assimilation "Satu Sejolah untuk Semua" project and Tunku Abdul Aziz has written his opinion piece about achieving unity through a unified school system, I'd like to revisit "A School for Every Malaysian."
The Solution For Malaysian Education
The "Vernacular Schools vs Sekolah Kebangsaan" debate has been a contentious issue among parents, politicians and the public for some time now. Most of the arguments revolve around language, rights and supremacy. Rights? Supremacy? Those are mere political slogans! What has politics got to do with education?
While the politicians fight, millions of our children are forced to muddle through the fractured and anemic education system. Why is our country's future generations being held ransom to these few people's political ambitions?
It's time to make a stand to kick all these political shenanigans out of our schools once and for all! Get back to basics – for the sake of our children and the nation's future.
For this, I propose a STRICTLY NON-POLITICAL, NON-PARTISAN PLATFORM for education reform in Malaysia:
A School For Every Malaysian
Satu Sekolah Untuk Setiap Warga Malaysia
What is "A SCHOOL FOR EVERY MALAYSIAN"?
It is a vision to realise the dream of creating a TRUE ANAK BANGSA MALAYSIA – who will view diversity as an asset, differences as an opportunity to gain understanding, and respect as a right to be earned and not regulated - tied together by love for our country, passion to be the best and equal concern for citizens of all colours!
How can we achieve this?
1) IMPLEMENT A SINGLE OFFICIAL SCHOOL SYSTEM
Government should only pay for a SINGLE NATIONAL STANDARDISED education system. There is absolutely no justifiable reason why the government should pay for different school systems. A parent will not cook different dinners for different children in the family. Everyone eats the same dinner! If a child doesn't like it, he has 2 options: get his own dinner or don't eat. The same principle should apply in the larger context of Malaysian education as well.
The structure and content of the Malaysian education system should be decided on by academicians and stakeholders. Politicians should be kept out of the system on pain of death because they are the source of all our education system's problems!
The medium of instruction for the official Malaysian school system should be Bahasa Malaysia for all subjects - Maths and Science included. This is our National Language – the official lingua franca of all Malaysians as stated in the Constitution of Malaysia. As Malaysians, we must be fluent in the language of Malaysia, and the best place to start is in schools. This is indisputable.
(Now I know that the statement above is going to rile some people who support the teaching of Maths and Science in English. But with all due respect, DrM's and others' assertion that these subjects should be taught in English as the world studies it in English and all the great journals are published in English, etc, etc, etc....is just PURE POPPYCOCK! I'll explain this point in more detail in another post.)
There must also be strong emphasis on mastering English as a second language. This is inevitable as it is the most widely used language in the world. The paltry 2 sessions a week practiced in SKs now is pathetic. There should be daily lessons, with 1 “English language day” a week, where the entire school must speak the language.
Children should also be taught an optional 3rd language. I would suggest that these language classes be open to whoever wanted to learn the languages offered and not be tied to the student's ethnicity. And let there be as many language options as possible (Mandarin, Hindi, French, Spanish, and Japanese would be among the world's next most important languages). Also, encourage the setting up of language clubs.
2) REFORM THE MALAYSIAN SCHOOL SYSTEM
A complete review of the entire Malaysian education needs to be urgently undertaken by academicians and stakeholders - NOT POLITICIANS. The focus must be on how to improve the entire school system in Malaysia - from the syllabus structure, to the teachers salary structure, to the quality of teacher recruitment and training, to...EVERYTHING.
Learn from other countries' education systems. For example, look at the American system - their children do not lug 10kg bags to school, yet they can produce articulate thinkers and innovaters. Look at Switzerland – their children hardly do any homework, yet their citizens are among the highest per capita earners in the world. And the Swiss are rated as having among the best quality of life in the world!
The syllabus must also seriously cater to children's physical, mental, and emotional needs. Our schools' responsibility is not to produce drones. It is to equip our students to be able to realise their own dreams, whatever they may be.
The current remuneration system must be refined to reward performance and merit, not seniority and political connections. Teachers and principals should also be incentivised to be innovative and produce results.
The Malaysian school system should be governed by an independent government body. This body should consist of scholars, teachers, parents and civic leaders. The constitution of this body must explicitly state that neither it or its members are to have any political affililations. Only then, can our education system be free of the tyranny of politicians' ambitions to use our schools to experiment with and propogandise the next generation of our beloved country!
3) FREELY ALLOW ALTERNATIVE STREAM SCHOOLS
ALL other alternatives to the official education system (including vernacular schools) must be freely allowed, but they must be privately-funded. These schools must open their doors to welcome every Malaysian without any form of discrimination, just as the Sekolah Kebangsaan are open to all races without discrimination. (Those who can't afford the fees to alternative schools should send their kids to Sekolah Kebangsaan). This way, children from the various races will be more evenly distributed among the various schools.
A colour-blind framework like this presents a great opportunity for children to interact and integrate. Within this environment, all that matters is talent, skill and hard work. This would lead to healthy competition and our children will forget about skin colour and respect each other for their abilities and achievements.
Alternative streams does not mean just vernacular schools. Malaysia should encourage the setting up of even MORE types of schools - home schools, religious schools, sports schools, music schools, art schools, dance schools, schools for the gifted, schools for the handicapped, etc.
The governing bodies of these alternative stream schools should be given the freedom to decide the structure and content of the syllabus, but it should conform to the competency standards as prescribed by the Malaysian government.
Government standard competency tests should be administered upon graduation from these schools so that these children can enter college or the workforce on equal footing with students from the government schools. These competency tests should not be based on specific subject matters. Instead, children should be assessed based on their ability to think, reason and articulate (this structure would be similar the the SATs in the US).
This is what I mean by A School For Every Malaysian.
By allowing the proliferation of alternative schools, every Malaysian child regardless of talent or handicap or station in life will have an opportunity to have his potential nurtured to the fullest as there will be a school somewhere that offers the kind of education that is most suitable for him.
But the government should NOT pay for “alternative stream” education. Assuming our official school system has achieved global quality, if some people still feel it is not suitable for their kids, then they should find their own alternatives. Just don't expect the government to pay for their personal preferences.
A diverse yet inclusive system like this will also show the world that Malaysia is really walking its talk about her ambition to be a centre of educational excellence. It should be a living reality in all levels of society and not just a cheap slogan used to sucker unsuspecting foreigners to part with their hard-earned money to enrol in below par courses in local colleges/universities.
4) GOVERNMENT GRANTS FOR NEEDY NON-NATIONAL SCHOOLS
As a people-friendly government, a certain amount of money should be set aside to aid needy alternative-stream schools. This will ensure the survival of cash-strapped schools who are providing a worthy service.
However, any government funding for these schools should be approved on a case-to-case basis, based on pre-determined criteria (with priority given to schools that serve a socially-concerned function such as schools for the handicapped), after being vetted by an independent oversight committee. Members of this committee should be duly elected by stakeholders (maybe some kind of association comprising govt and independent teachers unions and PTAs) and not political appointees.
5) GOVERNMENT SCHOLARSHIPS FOR NEEDY NON-NATIONAL SCHOOL STUDENTS
The government should also set aside a certain amount of money as scholarships for students to study in alternative-stream schools. Scholarships should be granted based strictly on student performance and need, NOT race, religion or political affiliation.
Again, any government scholarship for these students will be approved on a case-to-case basis, based on pre-determined criteria (with priority given to poor students who achieve outstanding results in an area not offered in national schools. For example, a piano scholarship for a child to go to a school for the musically gifted).
Also, scholarships should be recommended by an independent oversight committee, duly elected by the stakeholders.
By adopting a quality-focused and democratic education policy based on “strength in diversity”, parents have the freedom to select the school system they believe is best for their kids, alternative stream schools have a fair chance of survival, and there is open competition among the various school streams to attract and nurture the best.
If the alternative school streams are consistently trumping National schools in exams, it is feedback for the Ministry to improve the quality of national education. If the alternative streams are trumped by National schools, they will lose their attractiveness and die a natural death. It's survival of the fittest - and this ensures that the talent pool in Malaysia continues to grow.
It is an impossible fantasy that government can create a uniform Satu Sekolah system that is perfect Untuk Semua because uniformity goes against the very laws of nature. Nature is built around diversity, with each part complementing the harmonious whole.
If our Malaysian school system can successfully create an environment of diversity in harmony, with the various school streams complementing each other, we will be able to develop a society with diverse strengths. The sum total of these highly-nurtured strengths and talents working together would make Malaysia an intellectual and cultural world powerhouse!
Fate has been kind enough to throw the descendants of the 3 greatest empires of the world (the Malay-Srivijaya empire, the Middle Kingdom, and the Indian empire) together in this land called Malaysia. Shouldn't the way forward for Malaysia be to capitalise on each other's strengths and propel ourselves forward through the synergy of our cultures?
When Malaysians are given the framework and freedom to achieve this synergy, a naturally united (and eminent) Bangsa Malaysia will evolve by itself. There is no need to enforce UNIFORMITY based on narrow definitions. DIVERSITY is our the greatest strength of the TRUE ANAK BANGSA MALAYSIA!