Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.  

– B. F. SKINNER, AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST, BEHAVIOURIST, AUTHOR, INVENTOR, AND SOCIAL PHILOSOPHER

Education in Malaysia has been turned into a political football for quite some time now. On the surface, the policies come across as either due to incompetence by some buffoons or a game being played at the whims and fancies of some self-serving and inconsiderate politicians.

However, some can see through this and consider the so-called educational policies more as pandering to the voices of race and religion.

Whatever your opinion or the truth of the matter is, at the end of the day it is our children’s future that is being kicked around with a total disregard for their effective development towards being a productive member of our society.

So, what has changed you might ask? Well, not much, but recently Prime Minister and acting Education Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced that the Education Ministry will reintroduce the policy of Teaching and Learning of Science and Maths in English (also known as PPSMI — Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik Dalam Bahasa Inggeris).

PPSMI was one of Mahathir’s final policies before he left office as the fourth prime minister. It was pioneered in 2003 and was implemented at all stages of the national school system in 2007. Current Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin dismantled it in 2012. He replaced it with a new policy, done for political appeasement reasons.

However, there has been no timeline set for its introduction. An additional problem that I can foresee is the resistance and calls by some quarters in Malaya to stop the reintroduction of PPSMI. There are already critics and politicians making comments that are either directly opposing Mahathir’s statement or those impliedly opposing it by saying there needs to be a discussion.

These type of U-turns in educational policy and other approaches to education have led to an unstable educational system. The constant reversal of policies has exasperated many genuine educationist, parents and students alike. Based on promises made in the past Mahathir might be ‘acting’ again or if he means well the chances of positive educational reform are small due to politics in Malaya and subject to on-going U-turns.

Using education as a political tool to win votes and propagate racial and religious agendas has greatly diminished the quality and standard of education. The vagaries of Malayan educational policies will also continue to hold back Sarawak’s growth.

It must also be realised by these inconsiderate people that a solid primary and secondary education is essential and needed for our children to do well at colleges and universities. This is especially true for those parents who have to fork out a fortune for private colleges and university fees.

I fully support Bahasa Malaysia as the national language and its usage in education and our everyday life. However, we must be pragmatic because we are part of the global economy and need to understand that English other than being an international language is also a tool for a better education. It not about losing our identity or loyalty.

Being competent in English does not mean we are less Malaysian or Sarawakian. Having an international, broad and progressive outlook is what will put Malaysia on the world map for the right reasons.

We are also all familiar with statements made by members of the public that some politicians who have formulated our education policies are hypocrites. This is because they send their own kids for primary and secondary private education and are taught in the English medium while keeping the children in the general populace stuck in a quagmire of ever regressive educational policies.

Considering that education is the foundation for the development and progress of any society due to the fact that it facilitates the acquisition of knowledge related to peaceful co-existence, skills, value systems, beliefs and positive habits, therefore, our Sarawak government must redouble its efforts to gain total autonomy over our educational contents and policies.

We are fortunate that Sarawak has managed to introduce PPSMI into our schools this year. Let us hope more of the contents of subjects are also brought under the management of our Education Ministry.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari has already allocated and spent RM11 million to implement the PPSMI programme to teach Mathematics and Science in English to Year One students in Sarawak’s primary schools.

To top it up, the Sarawak government has already made an advance loan repayment of RM350 million last year to Putrajaya, with another RM650 million to be paid this year on the condition it will be used to fix dilapidated schools in the Sarawak.

Our leaders in Sarawak are well aware that if we want to propel Sarawak forward, we have to focus on education and increase in knowledge. Their commitment level is very high with many more policies focussed on knowledge and skills acquisition.

Education is considered the most significant activity in any society and it is one of the main keys to success in the lives of our children. Therefore, Sarawakians need to make the right choice in the coming election to ensure all are given a balanced and equitable stake in educational opportunities without regard to race or religion.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.