Govt must fix ‘virus of division’ among Malaysians, starting with schools, says academician

The Malaysian government needs to be more proactive, instead of reactive, in promoting race relations and unity, especially among the young in schools.

Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong, who drafted the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025, also added that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim must review his Cabinet, and rope in experienced personalities for several ministries, including Education.

“For the last 66 years since independence, or 60, since the formation of Malaysia, we react when something affects our unity and race relations,” said Teo, a principal fellow with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute for Ethnic Studies.

“When there is a problem or a situation, we jump into action to try and solve it. We need to be more proactive in tackling this issue.

Malaysia’s national schools at the primary level are attended predominantly by the Malays, while many non-Malays often opt for vernacular schools. Parents often lament the difference in the levels of education between national and vernacular schools, and the racial composition of vernacular schools, namely Chinese schools, which have seen a marked increase in Malay and Indian pupils.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, during his second tenure as prime minister in 2018, said national schools had become “religious schools”, adding that children were “all learning about religion, and not anything else”.

Teo added: “Here is where Anwar can shine, as he has united many people, including those in East and West Malaysia, since becoming prime minister.”

Under Anwar’s leadership, Malaysia has seen its first deputy prime minister from Sarawak – Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof. The other deputy prime minister is Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also the Umno president.

Teo was responding to the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar’s comments, that Malaysia had been infected by a ‘virus of division’.

Teo said Anwar should look at more programmes that fostered unity, and follow the Sultan of Johor’s advice, and eliminate the ‘virus’ before it spreads further.

“Anwar has spent the last one year trying to placate every party in his coalition government and putting things in place. But after a year, he has no more time to waste,” said Teo.

“There are several ministries that need reshuffling. Being an academician, I feel we need a more experienced person as the education minister.”

“To be fair to Fadhlina Sidek (the current education minister), she is a greenhorn. We need a more experienced person. Whoever comes in, I would suggest that Anwar, being a former education minister himself, act as either a direct, or indirect advisor.”

Teo said Fadhlina’s late father, Prof Datuk Dr Siddiq Fadzil, one of Anwar’s mentors, would have been perfect as education minister.

“I am sure if he were alive, Anwar would have made him a senator and appointed him to the ministry,” said Teo.

“We need capable leaders with a good track record if and when Anwar reshuffles his Cabinet. He must do something to realise his dream of rebuilding Malaysia.”

‘Look at National Education Blueprint’

Asked what the Education Ministry should focus on, Teo said it should look at the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025, which states that national schools will become the school of choice by 2025.

Besides drafting the blueprint, Teo was also one of the 11 members of the National Education Advisory Council.

“Chapter Seven of the blueprint highlights the need to consolidate national schools, making them the preferred choice for parents,” said Teo.

“However, (Tan Sri) Muhyiddin Yassin was sacked as deputy prime minister and Education minister in 2015. When the final report came out a year later, there was no mention of consolidating the national schools.

“I made a fuss, and only then did the ministry say it would address the issue.”

‘Distracted’ by new, flashy toys

Another problem holding Malaysia back, said Teo, is that politicians are obsessed with “shiny new toys”, instead of building on what they already have.

Teo cited the various slogans of the governments of the day over the past six years – 1Malaysia, Malaysia Baharu, Kerajaan Prihatin, Keluarga Malaysia and Malaysia Madani – as examples of starting something from scratch.

He also said it was the same for Islamic governance, as under Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, it was called Islam Hadhari, then Dasar Wasatiyyah Negara under Datuk Seri Najib Razak. When Muhyiddin was prime minister, it was Dasar Rahmatan Lil Alamin.

“We keep inventing new things, but once the person in power is gone, we scrap the slogans or initiatives and start afresh. So, instead of progressing like our East Asian neighbours South Korea and Japan, we stay stagnant,” said Teo.

“Politicians should put aside their egos and accept that sometimes, their predecessors had the right idea. They can build and improve on them, instead of spending millions to make people understand their ‘new’ concept.”

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob spent RM62 million on his Keluarga Malaysia branding in his only 14 months as prime minister, while Muhyiddin spent RM181,752.20 on Kerajaan Prihatin, during his 17 months as premier.

A one-year Madani Government programme will be held at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, on Dec 8-10 to disseminate and promote new policies and initiatives for the people, increase public awareness and understanding of the government’s direction and goals, and build trust and confidence between the government and the people through periodic achievement reporting.

The programme is to also educate the masses about Putrajaya’s Madani concept, which many Malaysians still find it difficult to grasp, unlike past programmes and slogans.

“After one year under Anwar’s leadership, the concept of Madani remains unclear to many. Even its creators struggle to explain the framework,” lamented Teo.

“It would have been easier to publish one or two pages of infographics to explain to the rakyat what Madani was all about.

“It is still not too late. Anwar has four more years at least … longer, if he wins a second term,” he added.