Why focus on AI when there’s no intelligence in the nation, Maszlee asked

Former principal V Chakaravathy speaks his mind during a forum attended by Education Minister Maszlee Malik in Subang Jaya today.

SUBANG JAYA: About 200 people attending an education forum that was going at a monotonous pace suddenly perked up when a former school principal stood up to lash out at the education system.

However, after a stunned silence, they clapped and applauded as V Chakaravathy went on to tell Education Minister Maszlee Malik, who was also present, that the system had hit “rock bottom” and that the quality of teachers had deteriorated drastically.

The 200, who attended the “Malaysian Education” forum, also cheered when academic Syed Ali Tawfik al-Attas asked why the government was focusing on artificial intelligence “when there is no intelligence in the country”.

Syed Ali Tawfik, the former director-general of Institut Kefahaman Islam Malaysia, told Maszlee the country must face reality and admit that the education system was in shambles.

“The theme for this dialogue is bridging the gaps, (but) these gaps are chasms. It’s not a matter of bridging anymore,” he said, calling for a complete revamp of the education system.

Education Minister Maszlee Malik (right) and ASLI chairman Jeffrey Cheah.

He also said Maszlee might not understand the minds of pupils as, he said, until Standard Five, the ministry should focus on storytelling and languages.

He said at the end of students’ education, they only needed six or seven subjects before going to university.

“Now here, in this country, we are trend-based – everything is a trend. And unfortunately everyone in the system is a political appointee. That is the problem,” he said.

He advised Maszlee to get rid of political appointees as “they are connected to an ideology, to inculcate something political”.

He said Maszlee often spoke about life-long learning, excellence and success but “these are all political words. Nothing is going to happen”.

The academic said if the ministry was to move forward, it had to get the right people, particularly those without any political affiliations.

Syed Ali Tawfik expressed frustration that, in Malaysia, anyone who criticised those in the upper hierarchy or authority were sidelined. “They don’t like hearing that; everything must be hunky-dory, everything is good. But it’s not good, everything is broken,” he said.

However, he applauded Maszlee for being the first education minister to say that he would do away with the arts and science streams.

Chakaravathy, who had earlier changed the tone of the proceedings with his outburst, decried the quality of teachers, saying it was so low that parents were forced to send their children for tuition immediately after school.

He said today’s forum was “more on philosophy and does not address the reality on the ground”.

Describing today’s schooling system as “very, very sad”, he said students in primary schools were burdened with subjects that were not worth learning.

At Primary One, Two and Three, he said, they should only learn arithmetic and languages.

“When they come to Level Four, put the History subject in, and put in the value system. If you teach Science to primary pupils, all they do is vomit it out; the pupils do not know what they are learning.”

At a press conference later, Maszlee said he would not appoint MPs as vice-chancellors of universities. He also hoped to see more engagements in the future between him and the public so that they could work together for the betterment of the education system and unity in the country.

The one-day forum was organised by the Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (ASLI).