On April 15, Education Minister Maszlee Malik said the Permata programme for early childhood development – the brainchild of Rosmah Mansor, the wife of former prime minister Najib Razak – would be retained by his ministry.
Permata was originally placed under the Prime Minister’s Department and run by experts, ostensibly for gifted children.
When Pakatan Harapan took over the government last May, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said the government would not stop the programme, but would audit and review it before deciding what to do.
Now, after the audit, the minor adjustments, and the relocation of the programme to the purview of the education ministry, Maszlee says it will be renamed “Genius”.
Why choose the word “Genius”, and why rename the programme at all if his team is confident of producing results? And after all the hype about using the national language, why switch to the English “Genius” instead of using the Malay “Permata”?
Maszlee should also explain the programme to the people. We know that it uses play to stimulate children’s minds. But he should reveal how many children have benefited from the programme, who they are, and how they are selected.
Under the Barisan Nasional administration, Permata received several hundred million ringgit in financing while other ministries and departments struggled to find funds. We also heard of overseas trips by those in Permata. The latest high-profile trip was a visit to Oxford University, where Rosmah said she hoped Permata would send more students to Oxford.
All this money should have been allocated to the education ministry for the improvement of education for all Malaysians. If the issue is teaching, the money should have been used to train more teachers in the methods that Permata claims have unlocked the potential in the minds of the children.
Or, the money could have been used to improve and upgrade the infrastructure and quality of teaching in rural and Orang Asli schools.
If creative subjects have been proven to stimulate the minds of children, the money should have been used for music lessons, dance lessons, drama and theatre in schools.
The money should have been used to improve education for all schoolchildren in Malaysia. The real geniuses will get all the help they need anyway, because philanthropists and governments will fund their future studies.
Instead of concentrating on an elite group, Maszlee should provide good education for all, in every part of the country. The hundreds of millions of ringgit meant for Permata should be made available for all children. Every child should have equal access to good education.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.