To the baby boomers generation, names of Ali, Tong Seng and Ramasamy are no strangers to them. Together with Salmah, Kumari and Ah Chong, they are the ‘typical Malaysian’ characters in the post racial riot of 1969 textbook issued by the Ministry of Education of the day.
Fastforward some 50 years later, going into 2020, Ali and Salmah have somehow settled down and resigned to the realities of life. But somehow, the likes of Kumari, Ah Chong, Tong Seng and Ramasamy still undone, each has personal score to settle. On the subject of education.
And today, as we speak, there are still few Tong Sengs and Ramasamys going around, harping about and barking on the education system.
Malaysian Education, a par (short of) excellence.
Like it or not, the Malaysian education sector is in a less than ideal state, a testimony of 60 years of mishandling by the previous government.
The racial divide – the biggest elephant in the room- is a real problem that nobody wants to address yet causes so much problems especially in the education sector.
The existence of various vernacular school systems in the primary and secondary level prove just how difficult it is to satisfy all stake holders in the education.
No single government policy could satisfy every race and creed, and thus the government allow for the establishment of schooling systems outside the government control.
Even for pre-university level, the education system is racially biased. There is the matriculation system which is predominantly Malay while there is also the STPM which are open for everybody else.
Every year, prominent figures from non-malay race would demand increase in the quota for matriculation, and this year the same request was made.
Or race based education quota, and equal employment opportunity.
The Education Minister, in a rejoinder pointed out that the matriculation was created in the first place due to the subtle discrimination requiring Mandarin language skills in the private sector. This has created heated responses from many and sparked public debates yet again.
In particular was the noxious remarks by the likes of Tong Seng and Ramasamy which likened Dr Maszlee to the BN era politicians which manipulated racial issues for political gains.
While there is sympathy for such exasperation, the writer is in the opinion that they were barking up the wrong tree. They somehow missed the bigger picture totally. They missed the forest for the trees. They chose to fix their path of argument on a single track mind.
The current mess of which many view the education system, is a product of racial mistrust that is embedded in large population of Malaysia. It is good that every race is looking out for their own, but the only way forward is for everybody to first acknowledge their racial mistrust and not simply pointing fingers to the Malay politicians.
What is needed is the courage to press the reset-button and not simply creating ad-hoc policy or handing out special quotas to the group making up the largest noise.
A single vernacular schooling system, anyone?
And to do this, one must have be ready to face the hard truth, can the nation agree to a single vernacular schooling system from primary up to the pre-university level?
If a person did not have faith in the government schooling system in the primary and secondary level, could the same person then demand to be given quotas for the pre-university level?
Or a better question, can the person who cannot converse the official language of this country, the Bahasa Malaysia, demanded quotas of the matriculation college to be given to them?
*Dr Azam Che, is a lecturer in aeronautics at a public university. He is also an analyst at Strata Analytica.