GEORGE TOWN: Dr Mahathir Mohamad needs to surround himself with a solid team of advisers to carry out reforms to the country’s education system, an education consultant said today.
Tan Ai Mei said she could see why Mahathir, who was in charge of the portfolio 40 years ago, had chosen to take up the mantle once again.
“He needs the right advisory board,” she said. “Not just a board of professors. He will need all the feedback from teachers and parents, so the board should comprise all of these, and they need to go many rounds. He also needs researchers and educators who walk the talk.”
She said this when asked to comment on Mahathir naming himself as education minister yesterday.
Tan said the country had been politicised too much and national schools had become “more like religious schools”, where other races were not respected and Islam was institutionalised.
“This explains why the non-Malay parents do not want to send their children there (national schools). They have lost faith.
“The schools are supposed to give you knowledge and widen your horizons and develop inclusive education. They are not a place to impart the importance of just one religion and sideline others.
“In the teachers training institute, there is also a trend where Bumiputeras want Islam to be the main focus. You see, religion is something that is spiritual. It is your faith. You want to study religion, you must understand philosophy and all religions.
“Let students be open-minded,” she said. “You cannot brainwash and indoctrinate them. This is why Malaysia has become so radical and extremist. We are lucky to be able to turn it around at this time. I don’t think there will be changes at the bottom level. and I believe that is why Mahathir wants to helm the ministry.”
Tan said the role of education was to develop the right character – one that was open, inclusive, and comprehensive and which would ensure the full development of a student’s potential.
She said another likely reason Mahathir had chosen the portfolio was Malaysia’s failure to portray itself as a regional hub of excellence for higher education despite 20 years of development.
Tan also pointed to the issue of unemployment among university graduates, about 25%, blaming this on the lack of a broad-based education.
“Currently, the educators are teaching all the same things without a broad-based education. There is no philosophy, no sociology. I believe Mahathir wants to come back and address this.
“We have become market-driven. There is no thorough look at what is needed to feed the country’s needs in terms of talents, leaders of people, civil societies.
“Industrialists I have interviewed have said that Malaysians cannot compete with those from Vietnam and Pakistan, not to mention China, as the command of knowledge among the university graduates is poor,” she added.
Tan also emphasised the importance of placing the right people within the schools, the education department and the ministry.
“A lot of things need to be troubleshot. During Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Najib Razak’s time, the salaries went up three times.
“So this is where you have the issue of people going up for the money. When you are looking for the carrot and you do not use a stick, the money politics and philosophy create a lot of greedy leaders in education, including school principals.
“This ends up dividing the school teachers. The good ones will just quietly work their way up. I think a lot of issues need to be addressed at the level of philosophy management,” she said.
Tan said during Mahathir’s tenure as education minister, he had come up with an education philosophy which stated that education was a continuous process to cultivate the potential of the individual.
“This includes development in the overall physical, mental and emotional make-up. It is one of the best philosophies in the world. But the irony is that we keep having reforms after reforms without focusing on that philosophy.
“It is time that he comes back, if he can get the right people, to troubleshoot and go back to the philosophy and basic competency.”
Tan also emphasised the need for inclusive education, whether for the Chinese, Malays or Indians, the Orang Asli, the rich or poor, so that everyone is given the same opportunity.
“The issue is that the political scenario has changed, and you need education to really do it in schools, to get people to have the experience to learn, to produce people with the right belief. Then only can you produce real Malaysians.
“That is my perspective. Doing all this, putting this all in place, I congratulate him on coming back to education. (This is because) everything has been carried out but not done properly and has not achieved the desired results,” she said.