By Singa Terhormat
My late father, a Malay, was a school teacher in the early part of his career. He was a Malay-language teacher in a small town in then Malaya and had come from a relatively poor family. His own education had been solely in our local schools.
Though he taught the Malay language in school, his command of the English language was superb and his command of vocabulary in the English language led to many calling him a “Walking-Dictionary”.
He was no mean opponent at Scrabble and it was often, during such games, when there was a dispute over whether a particular word existed in the English language, the matter would be settled by him in the absence of an available dictionary. He was a master at solving crossword puzzles in the then Straits Times.
My brother-in-law, also a Malay, comes from a kampong in one of the smaller towns in Johore. He did well enough in his studies to gain a place to study medicine at University of Malaya in the 1970s. After graduating he went on to the UK for specialization where he topped an international class in his field of specialization and today is regarded as the leading specialist in his field in Malaysia.
Both of them came from poor Malay families in small towns/kampongs. Both put their “shoulders to the wheel” because there was no other way for them to improve their lot, and they did well. There are many other such cases of Malays who excelled academically. Names like Tun Mohd Suffian, Raja Tan Sri Mohar and Tan Sri Hamdan Sheikh Tahir come to the fore. If nothing more, it shows that when push comes to shove, the Malays are more than capable.
The situation I describe was prior to the early and mid-1970s. Then something changed. The ruling Barisan Nasional party decided that they had to create a Malay middle-class to promote greater racial harmony in the aftermath of the May 13th incident. Many amongst the Chinese and Indians and other races in the country were quite agreeable to this as the country needed this stability. A better education for the Malays was seen to be one key factor in achieving this.
The Barisan Nasional Government however went about it the wrong way. Rather than assist the Malays to improve their standard of education by providing them with better schools, teachers and other facilities, the Government lowered academic standards so that more Malays would seemingly “do well” academically. This was an instant fix to create a Malay middle-class.
Then racial quotas were imposed in tertiary institutions and gerrymandering introduced in the marking of examination papers to allow more Malays to ‘do well’.
This resulted in numerous Malay students seemingly doing well and scoring several ‘As’ in their examinations and feeling proud of their achievements. In truth however many were not up to the mark and ill-equipped for life in the world of commerce as they lacked the necessary skills and in addition had a poor command of the English language (the language of commerce).
By lowering examination standards overall, the non-Malays too were affected. Many of them too found it unnecessary to work as hard as before and hence standards as a whole across the board fell.
This explains reports like that of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2011 which states that Malaysian students trail their global peers in mathematics and science tests and consistently underperformed in the two subjects considered necessary in the country’s race to break into the ranks of high-income nations.
The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that 44% of Malaysian students failed to meet the minimum standards for reading, 60% failed to the meet minimum standards for Mathematics and 43% failed to meet the minimum standards for Science and that ‘the competency of 15-year olds in Malaysia was measured to be 3 years behind the international average’.
The Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), have blamed the government’s flip-flopping education policies ― especially in the teaching of mathematics and science ― for the drop in education standards. Its chief, Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim lamented that the Malaysian education system only teaches content knowledge, knowledge recall and rote learning, unlike reasoning and problem solving.
“This is irreparable damage done on Malaysian students. You cannot send them back to school again. This is a lost opportunity to build human capital for Malaysia,” said DAP’s Tony Pua,
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, however claims that Malaysia’s education is one of the best in the world and that it is better than that provided in the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. One wonders whether he has asked himself why the Government is then spending millions and millions of Ringgit of the rakyat’s money to send our students overseas to obtain an inferior education in these countries.
Why not save our money and keep them at home and undergo a better education?
It is human nature that when presented with the choice of an easy path and a difficult path, one will choose the easy path.
The Government made things easy for the Malays but in doing so it became unnecessary for the Malays to work hard and to strive and ‘put their shoulders to the wheel’, as was done by my late father and brother-in-law.
By making things easy, the Barisan Nasional Government has done the greatest disservice to the Malays. The need to work hard and to excel has been blunted and all but ‘killed’ and the Malays have lost their competitiveness.
It is time for a complete overhaul of our education system where emphasis is placed not on rote learning but, like in Singapore, to develop critical thinking and analysis.
It is time to end the gerrymandering in the marking of examination papers and lowering of academic standards. It does not serve the Malays one bit, nor anyone else for that matter.
It is time for new directions in our education system if we are to save this nation, our young and the generations to come.
It is time to seek the removal of leaders such as Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who are not only incapable of finding solutions to raise the standard of the Malays but are so blinkered that they are unable to see or refuse to admit to the problems faced by the Malays and the nation as a whole.
Yes, my fellow countrymen, after 55 years it is time for change.
There is no other way.