Dr M can still save our education

Mahathir is the only one left standing who can drive some sense into the politicians running the country on educational matters, says Zaid Ibrahim.

Education needs to be based on Western models that have been adapted to suit our peculiar local requirements. By Western, I mean paradigms that emphasise the ability to learn and to think, and that have produced the best thinkers in the various fields of knowledge.

Zaid Ibrahim, Free Malaysia Today

There was a time when we had Malay-medium government schools and English-medium schools, both of which were available in Malaya and Singapore.

We also had Remove Classes, which helped those who had their primary education in Malay to be more proficient in English so that they could continue their secondary education in that language.

There were a few Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools too but parents, regardless of their ethnicity, overwhelmingly chose the English medium for their children.

If we had stayed this course there would probably be fewer vernacular schools today (not to mention less of a headache in trying to give them money come election time).

We would have also likely continued to produce more of the kind of towering Malays who helped to shape this country, luminaries such as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Lali, Mohamed Suffian Hashim, Tun Ismail Mohd Ali, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Ungku Omar, Syed Hussein Alatas Tan Sri Arshad Ayub, and countless other lawyers, academics, administrators and professionals.

But that stopped when our education system entered a period of mediocrity, brought about by politicians of little ability who wanted power quickly.

They knew that the only way they could rise to the top was to fan the emotions of the people. They made Malay the medium of instruction in all subjects under the guise of strengthening nationalism, as if the stellar civil servants and political leaders and academicians of those days – who were educated in English – were not nationalists.

Today even nationalism is not enough; schools must also make young Malaysians more religious, moral and therefore “complete.” It seems that the mission of these leaders is to change our values and our very way of life, but what they are actually doing makes them no different from Ashaari Muhammad of Al-Arqam and other cult leaders of his ilk.

Such harebrained policies have never worked. Others who have tried – like Joseph Stalin of the USSR, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India and Pol Pot in Cambodia, for example – sought to turn education into a political and ideological tool, controlled by the state to encourage a dangerously homogenous way of thinking.

This is especially tragic in a country like ours, which is by its very nature pluralistic and whose progress has been shaped by its many diverse communities.

It was Stalin who said: “Education is a weapon, whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.”

In countries like the USSR, India, Cambodia and many others, taking this step only fostered the kind of ignorance among the people that fanned distrust along communal lines, even violence and destruction. Malaysia will also go down this path unless our leaders realise their folly.