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Election Watch

Don’t politicise education. Our children’s future is at stake!

Source: Borneo Post
Date: 15 September 2012

MY regular dentist in Petaling Jaya has moved her clinic to another part of the city. As it is quite a distance from my home, I tried out a new dental clinic nearby when I needed treatment early this week.

Oh, was I disappointed. The young dentist did a very poor job. I went to the clinic to have my bridge tightened as it was getting loose. It was a task that requires cementing the bridge which has three teeth.

It was a quick job – all over in less than 10 minutes. Half an hour later, I went back to the clinic after discovering that the cemented bridge was tilting slightly. I believe it happened when the dentist started scrapping the cement residue. She did not take my complaint seriously and said that since the cement had dried, she could not remove the bridge to redo the job.

So I actually have a tilted bridge in my mouth today. You bet I will never go back to that dentist again.

As a matter of interest, the dentist, probably about 30 years old now, studied in Universiti Malaya (UM) as denoted in the patient registration card.

I was wondering whether she was one of those who applied to study medicine in UM but was denied a place. Then she was slotted for dentistry, which possibly was a course she lacked interest in but took up anyway just to get into UM. This is not uncommon.

Herein lies the problem. When students are not particularly interested in a course, they are unlikely to excel in it. Worse, they are not likely to do well in their careers later.

I was reminded of this incident with the dentist after noting the Prime Minister’s speech last Sunday asking medical schools to get serious about offering high quality medical education to lessen the need to send students abroad.
Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak said fewer schools offering high quality medical education would be a far better strategy than having too many offering substandard education.

He said, currently, some students were sent to substandard medical colleges overseas and this had become a perennial problem.

We can all agree with the PM’s statement. The keyword here is ‘substandard’. Sub-standard colleges produce substandard graduates. Imagine a substandard doctor giving a wrong diagnosis of your ailment and a wrong prescription of drugs or a substandard cardiologist performing an angiogram on you.

In the case of the dentist, I received substandard treatment either because UM produces substandard graduates or the graduates themselves did not even qualify for the course in the first place. Whatever way it is, the standard of our graduates is worrying.

This brings us to the standard of education in this country. Guess what? We have a new education blueprint, just fresh from the oven and proudly unveiled by the PM. Of course, this was Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s baby.

Let us first be clear about this preliminary education blueprint released last Tuesday. It is the government’s effort for a complete turnaround of the education system so that Malaysians, hopefully, can become better educated.

We must take this opportunity to change direction and move forward from a steady, relative deterioration in our educational standards. A review of our education system in the blueprint has shown how far behind we are.

But we are only too familiar with such blueprints. In the past 13 years, we have had three education ministers and each has produced an education blueprint, but Malaysian educational standards have gone from bad to worse during this period.

Surely, we must find out why the two previous education blueprints of the two former education ministers were not up to the mark and why the results have been negative.

So what do we have to do here? We can always come up with new plans, programmes and blueprints. Ultimately, we really need the political will to pull things through and ensure that the programmes are carried out successfully.

While we must have the political will to see the programmes through, it is also vital that opposing parties in power must really think out of the political box and cooperate by coming up with viable constructive suggestions to improve the education system.

It did cross my mind as to what will happen to this education blueprint in the event of a change of government over the next six months after the general election. Will the new government with a new education minister come up with another blueprint?

Education is not something for politicians to quarrel over. Education should be above politics.

We have already messed up education in this country. See how we flip-flopped over the English issue and the teaching of Science and Mathematics. We were not consistent in our education policies and that was how we went under education-wise.

One distinct improvement with Muhyiddin’s blueprint this time is that there are targets for achievement, timelines and action plans to get our education there. This is a welcome change for what is a plan if there are no targets to achieve.

While we must commend the report as it has extensively collected views of different parties and addressed the fact that the primary and secondary education standards of our country are lagging behind international ones, the Education Ministry must also take note of the concerns expressed by other groups.

For example, I find the issues raised by Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies (CPPS) chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam worthy of mention here. He pointed to these five major gaps in the report. These are:

• Recommendations on how to improve Bahasa Malaysia and English language proficiency in vernacular schools need to be spelled out to ensure proper implementation;

• There is no mention of the need to maintain the ‘ethnic balance’ of the teaching staff;

• The causes of ethnically homogeneous environments in schools were not adequately noted nor addressed;

• The document lacks “substantive data and statistics” such as the breakdown of data among the 20 categories of schools across the nation, unlike previous education plans; and,

• There is no mention of how national-type schools can be incorporated as fully-funded and national schools.

I also find Ramon’s statement that many of the community concerns raised by ordinary citizens and parents have been censured by some professionals and foreign and local consultants rather disturbing.

I am highlighting his concerns not only because he is a friend but because he is truly apolitical and a former senior civil servant who has served the government and country with distinction all his working life. I can trust that he wants nothing but the best for the nation and people.

But I am also comforted that the government is seeking public feedback on the preliminary blueprint for education (2013 to 2025), with the final plans to be presented to the cabinet in December.

We must never politicise an issue as important as education. Education is about our children’s future and in turn, it is about the destiny of our nation. Education should always be above politics.

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