Maszlee had a tough job with high expectations

I feel sorry for former education minister Maszlee Malik.

His resignation takes effect today after holding the post for nearly one year and nine months.

I am not sure about his failings in his job, nor do I want to speculate.

It would be unfair to blame Maszlee alone for underperformance, as there are others at his level whose performance was not up to mark.

I am not sure as to why he was appointed as the education minister in the first place.

The unexpected victory in the last general election and the need to form the government probably did not give the Pakatan Harapan coalition the luxury of time to choose the right candidate for the post of education minister.

Moreover, given the nature of coalition politics, there were constraints in terms of getting candidates to represent the coalition partners.

In fact, PPBM was constrained by the few parliamentary seats it won and the need to fill up important portfolios with competent candidates.

There was no right or wrong choice. Ultimately, it was left to the discretion of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to make the decision.

Maszlee, with his academic background, was chosen to be the appropriate candidate to helm the education ministry, with its two components, the schools and the higher education sector.

Why there was this merger into one entity continues to baffle me.

By having two ministries, like in the days of the BN, the burden could have been reduced. But this did not happen under the PH government; maybe the PH government wanted to try something new, without realising that the burden and high expectations from the education ministry would end in Maszlee’s resignation.

Whether Maszlee was the fall guy for the mistakes of the government as a whole remains unclear. I am also not sure whether more resignations might take place or whether there will be a major Cabinet reshuffle.

We will have to wait and see.

Maszlee was a hardworking person but whether he implemented the right measures remains in doubt.

The problem with Maszlee is not that he did not have ideas. He had plenty of them but these were more concerned with micro or incremental changes in schools and, to a limited extent, in public universities.

In fact, I would say that Maszlee was more pre-occupied with schools rather than the universities. These were infrastructural in nature, rather than motivated by policy matters, having their roots in terms of preparing our students to meet the global challenges of science and technology.

Apart from the lip service, at the level of propaganda, there were no concrete manifestations of the policy on science and technology.

Infrastructural changes were important, especially after long years of neglect under the BN, but Maszlee lacked the “concept” to tie them together in a broad policy framework.

It is not that Maslee did not consider these challenges as important, but he lacked the vision and strategy to implement programmes based on policy considerations.

The working model that had bedevilled the policymakers for a long time was predicated on the notion that the government knows best. The inability to rope in the private sector, based on the principle of public-private collaboration, defied Maszlee and others before him.

A huge ministry with limited funds could not tap the energy and resources of the private sector. In fact, the private sector, had no role in bringing about changes to schools, especially in the revitalisation of science and technology.

It was not that the incremental changes were not important; it was just that these changes did not reflect the broader education strategy of preparing our students to face global challenges of science and technology.

Other than the propaganda booklets and report cards, I have yet to come across broad policy statements on improving the educational system, the schools and how they feed into the universities.

Despite repeated failures in the past, the education ministry has never learnt lessons in the art of governance, especially as to how to conceive, discuss and implement collaborative efforts in the sphere of education.

Maszlee took great pride in the education ministry’s report card called “Education for All”, but there is nothing really in this brief booklet apart from incremental changes here and there.

The booklet does not tell us much about public universities and how the government is trying to overcome the lacuna in quality staff; ensuring courses and programmes are tuned to meet the global challenges; and, not the least, tackling the sub-standard nature of research and development.

Public universities should not be employment agencies but function to assist in the development efforts.

To be fair to Maszlee, he landed a job that was unenviable; it was too hot a seat. It was a highly politicised job in comparison with other ministerial positions.

P Ramasamy is deputy chief minister II of Penang.

The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.