Is there a future for Malaysian kids?

They looked at each other and took a deep breath before dropping the bombshell.

“We are migrating. It’s purely for our young boy,” A and B said, holding hands as they consoled themselves.

But why? The grass is not always greener on the other side.

“At least he will grow up in an environment with better education, and for us, we will be working equally hard if not harder but earning in a stronger currency,” A explained.

It wasn’t an easy decision. And before anyone goes ballistic and becomes judgmental, it’s best to understand where A and B are coming from.

The education system in Malaysia has taken a beating over the years. Say what you want, but the lack of consistency and weak policies have resulted in a growing number of parents opting for private schools, international schools or even home schooling.

There was a time when Mathematics and Science were taught in English before the switch to Bahasa Melayu. It was then back to English, only to revert to Bahasa Melayu. Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, during his brief stint as acting education minister, suggested the subjects be taught in English.

It remains to be seen what the next education minister will decide.

Then there’s the petty but mind-boggling school shoe fiasco, no thanks to former education minister Maszlee Malik who introduced the policy without any proper research or study.

He did not even engage stakeholders before making the decision.

Maszlee also terminated the 1Bestari Net programme initiated by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin during his time as education minister.

Maszlee said tenders would be called before the start of the 2020 school session. It’s already March but nothing has moved while digitalisation in schools, started some 15 years, remains at standstill.

Teachers are bogged down with administrative matters and the emphasis on co-curriculum remains at its lowest. One must be reminded of the education philosophy that speaks about the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of a child.

What happened to the 1Student 1Sport policy initiated by Muhyiddin? Prior to that, it was compulsory for every child to be part of a uniformed body, a sport and a club.

There’s also the debate between national schools and vernacular schools.

I, for one, believe in the practicality of attending national school where every child will grow up speaking four languages – Bahasa Melayu, English, Mandarin and Tamil – proficiently. The skills and expertise are readily available, turning Malaysians into sought-after assets in the international job market.

But there are many who still can’t express themselves in the national language.

I was lucky to grow up at a time when classrooms had ethnic diversity. These days a national school is no longer so.

While vernacular schools are gaining traction among those from other communities, the integration, interaction and communication remain questionable.

And when one is unable to interact with others and express oneself, they resort to sticking to their own kind.

So which is more important – nationalism or race? And can the two marry for the sake of a quality education?

I know of certain parents who want their children to learn only a certain language and attend only a certain type of school. But they and their kids know nothing about their history, roots and customs.

If by merely speaking one’s mother tongue, he or she is seen as being “racially correct”, then the bar is ridiculously low.

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Muhyiddin, in his maiden televised speech as Malaysia’s eighth Prime Minister on Monday night, spoke about the importance of quality education. He also reminded the public that he once served as education minister.

Noble as it may sound, Muhyiddin knows it’s going to be a huge battle ahead – just like his mission to reaffirm his position and convince the rakyat about his new yet vague Perikatan Nasional government.

Muhyiddin mentioned that he was the prime minister of the Malay, Chinese, Indian and Sikhs, among others. Here’s another flaw of the education system – we can’t seem to differentiate between race and religion.

Sikhs are those who practise Sikhism. It is not a race. There are Chinese Sikhs just like there are Indian Muslims and Kadazan Christians.

There are parents and children, especially those from inter-marriages, who do not view things through a racial lens. Surprising as this may sound to some, they view people as people.

They want to be in a system that appreciates everyone for who they are, not for their skin colour or beliefs.

They want to be in a system that allows the child to be expressive, not to be dictated or to be of a certain mould.

Spiritual obligation is important but it should not be imposed.

If Malaysia is truly Asia, then it should be reflected throughout – from our schools to those in Putrajaya.

Quality education will ensure the best talents remain in the country. We can’t afford a brain drain.

Those who migrate will also face racial issues and will always be known as the “outsider”.

While our education system needs a whole lot of fixing, the fundamentals begin at home.

To become a matured and developed society, we have to instill the right values in our children so that they be progressive and colour blind.