Second Mahathir education committee should not start on a wrong footing without being properly constituted and terms of reference defined or it will be considered unrepresentative, undemocratic and even lacking in legitimacy
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Friday): Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday confirmed that the high-powered committee headed by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to review the entire national education system to improve the quality of education and ensure that national schools are the popular choice of all Malaysians to foster national unity has started work, holding its first meeting in Putrajaya on Wednesday. Among those who attended the inaugural meeting chaired by Mahathir were Abdullah, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Deputy Education Minister Datuk Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin and Johore Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman.
The second Mahathir education review committee (Mahathir had chaired a Cabinet education review committee when he was Education Minister in the seventies) was first announced a fortnight ago by Mahathir after the UMNO Supreme Council meeting on Nov. 29.
UMNO Information chief, Tan Sri Megat Junid later revealed that it was Mahathir who made the proposal at the UMNO Supreme Council for the establishment of an education review committee because the national school system had deviated from its original objective where the national schools are the primary choice of all parents in Malaysia.
All UMNO Supreme Council members were given the opportunity to present their views on the proposal before a decision was taken to establish a committee under the chairmanship of Mahathir himself to review the entire education system.
DAP has long advocated a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the national education system in Malaysia, which has failed the objectives to achieve an united, democratic, liberal and dynamic Malaysia – a call which has been taken up by more and more Malaysians over the years, including University Vice Chancellors and the former Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Musa Hitam.
The second Mahathir education review committee is the most high-powered education committee in Malaysian history, as no Prime Minister had previously ever chaired an education committee, and is therefore likely to produce the country’s most important education report in the past half century with far-reaching consequences for future generations.
DAP must caution however that the second Mahathir education committee should not start on a wrong footing without being properly constituted and its terms of reference defined or it will be considered unrepresentative, undemocratic and even lacking in legitimacy – and will fail in its objectives whether to improve the quality of education or foster national unity among the diverse races, languages, cultures and religions in the country.
I find it most astounding that the second Mahathir education review committee could have started work on Wednesday even before it has been properly constituted or its terms of reference defined satisfactorily.
Firstly, the Cabinet, the highest decision-making body of the government, has not deliberated on the proposal to set up the most high-powered education review committee in the nation’s history as this proposal had never been brought to the Cabinet whether before or after the Supreme Council meeting of Nov. 29.
It is not good enough that UMNO Cabinet Ministers had approved it in the UMNO Supreme Council when there are other non-UMNO Cabinet Ministers, including presidents of other Barisan Nasional component parties like the MCA President, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik, the MCA President Datuk Seri Lim Keng Yaik and the MIC President Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, who should not be treated as “puppets” but must be able to fully participate in the final decision on its establishment.
Or are Malaysians to see in the final year of the 22-year Prime Ministership of Mahathir the total dispensation of the proprieties of Barisan Nasional coalition government with the UMNO Supreme Council unabashedly laying down the law without having to refer to the Cabinet?
Secondly, has the second Mahathir education review committee been properly and fully constituted? Who are the other members apart from Abdullah, Najib, Aziz Shamsuddin and Ghani Othman who attended the first meeting in Putrajaya on Wednesday?
Abdullah said yesterday that the second Mahathir education review committee wanted to impress upon Malaysians that the national school system was established for all, not just the Malays, and that national schools need the support of Malaysians of all races.
Why then is the second Mahathir education review committee basically an UMNO committee and not even a Barisan Nasional committee, when it should be a fully national committee representative of all political parties, educational organizations and the civil society, with representatives from Malay educationists, Chinese and Tamil mother-tongue education NGOS like Dong Jiao Zong, Malaysian Tamil Educational Research and Development Foundation and the Group of Concerned Citizens as well as full political representation, whether Barisan Nasional, Barisan Alternative or the DAP.
Thirdly, has the terms of reference of the second Mahathir education review committee been defined satisfactorily and approved by the Cabinet?
In the past fortnight, the UMNO Supreme Council decision to set up the second Mahathir education review committee has brought back calls by UMNO leaders and
establishment educationists including former top Education Ministry officials for a single stream school system for all students in Malaysia as the answer to the problem of racial polarization in the country.
Tan Sri Murad Mohamad Noor, who was Education Director-General 1976-1985, for instance, said that the problem of racial polarization cannot be resolved so long as Chinese and Tamil primary schools are allowed to exist together with national primary schools.
It is one of the biggest fallacies in Malaysian nation-building that communalism and national disunity are caused by the existence of the multi-stream primary education system.
Although over 90 per cent of the Chinese and Indian students enrol in the respective Chinese and Tamil primary schools, the overwhelming majority of them proceed to national secondary schools.
The real question to ask is why the ten to eleven years of secondary, post-secondary and tertiary education where the different races come under one common roof could not engender greater Malaysian oneness transcending ethnic differences among the new generation of Malaysians!
Racial polarisation in the public universities is even more serious in the previous decades - and this cannot be blamed on the multi-stream education system at the primary school level.
In the final analysis, the real causes of communalism, polarization and national disunity are unfair and unjust nation-building policies in all fields of national life which give a premium to ethnic divisions rather than to common Malaysian nationality, such as the continued division of Malaysians into bumiputras and non-bumiputras.
It is a matter of grave concern that in the past two weeks, MCA, Gerakan, MIC and SUPP Ministers and leaders of other Barisan Nasional parties have kept a conspicuous silence on what is probably the most important political decision for the year – the establishment of the second Mahathir education review committee – simply because they are completely in the dark about its objectives and agenda. When are they going to wake up to show their concern and state their stand on the second Mahathir education review committee?
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman