There was first the Examination Syndicate’s new requirement giving information relating to race and religion in the examination slips of SPM and PMR candidates.
The initial explanation by a syndicate official that it was for the purpose of identifying the candidate was generally and summarily - and rightly - dismissed by the Malaysian public not only as weak but alarming in raising the even bigger question about the integrity of the examination system, in the wake of the still unresolved multi-layered Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP) examination scandal.
The later fuller explanation given by the Director-General of Education, Datuk Abdul Rafie Mahat in a letter to The Star (24.12.2001) was no better, as it neither convinced the skeptics nor restored public confidence that the national education system is in right and safe hands.
It is a measure of the “desperation” of the Education Ministry to come up with a credible explanation for the scandalous and outrageous requirement identifying SPM and PMR candidates relating to race and religion that Abdul Rafie had to refer to a 1989 Federal Court decision in connection with religious freedom of individuals below 18, which had nothing to do whatsoever with the unhealthy and undesirable practice of identifying examination candidates as to whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims.
In any event, if the Education Ministry had misunderstood the 1989 Federal Court decision as a warrant and even directive to identify examination candidates as to whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, why did it take ten long years to introduce such a requirement?
From Abdul Rafie’s letter, it is clear that the unhealthy and undesirable practice of identifying SPM and PMR candidates into Muslims and non-Muslims was introduced only in 1998.
Abdul Rafie said in his letter:
“Prior to 1998, schools were required to prepare copies of the examination slips based on the examination’s registration schedule.
“This inconvenienced the schools that prepared examination slips containing details which were too brief, that is, only the index number and the IC number. Many errors were committed when the information was re-copied.”
This is no explanation or excuse at all, as to why there should be “many errors” in a system which had been in practice for four decades since the nation’s independence in 1957 where examination candidates had always been identified only by the index number and the IC number, without any other particulars to ensure the fullest independence, impartiality and integrity in the conduct of all stages of public examinations.
Can’t the “many errors” be ironed out administratively without compromising the independence, impartiality and integrity of public examinations where candidates are identified solely by the index number and IC number?
The Cabinet, at its first 2002 meeting next Wednesday, should direct the Education Ministry and the Examinations Syndicate to stop the unhealthy and undesirable practice of identifying SPM and PMR candidates relating to race and religion in the examination slips to fully restore public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of all public examinations conducted in the country.
The second controversy is the scandal of the racial streaming of students in some 200 secondary and primary schools in the country.
Probably no other incident has shown up the Education Ministry in a more shambolic state of affairs than this controversy, with Musa Mohamad who issued a flat denial that there were segregation of students according to race in the schools and challenged the National Union of Teaching Profession to produce proof within a week, fading from public view when the NUTP secretary-general Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam promptly accepted the challenge and made public a list of some 200 schools.
What was disturbing was the attempts by certain quarters to sweep the whole controversy “under the carpet”, alleging ignoble and anti-national motives behind the expose and controversy - which is best exemplified by the president of the Federation of Headmasters Council of Malaysia, Sanip Suradi, who not only “totally” denied the allegation of racial segregation of students in schools but alleged a “hidden agenda” in these disclosures.
At least, after the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had publicly admitted that there was need for “strict action to correct any misinterpretation or manipulation of the Government’s policy on education as it is never the Government’s policy to segregate students according to race”, Sanip has backpedalled from his irrational position by stating that any racial segregation of students in the schools was not deliberate.
From such public “flip-flops”, it is clear that some so-called educationists are only interested in playing “games” to attract publicity rather than to get to the bottom of the truth about the long-standing and grave problem of racial segregation of students in the schools.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin has said that he would be visiting some of the schools alleged by NUTP to be practising racial segregation of students.
Is Aziz’s visit for publicity’s sake or to get to the bottom of the problem - and if so, he should not be visiting a few of the schools but all the 200 schools named by NUTP!
Musa had said that the Education Ministry has launched full investigations into the scandal of the racial segregation of students in the schools. Who is heading this investigation and who are the other members involved in this probe? Is Aziz heading the Education Ministry investigation - and if no, would his visit to schools named by NUTP be aiding or hampering a full and unfettered investigation?
Investigating into the scandal as to how some 200 schools in the country could be acting in direct violation of the National Education Policy and Bangsa Malaysia concept of Vision 2020 for over a decade is one thing - but another and even more important matter is an immediate halt to all such undesirable and anti-national activities of racial segregation of students.
This is where the Cabinet at its first New Year meeting next Wednesday should send out a clear and unmistakable signal to the Education Ministry and all schools for an immediate halt to all racial segregation of students in the schools, beginning with the new school year next week.