Education system – doing it our way?

A political bargaining chip.

WHILE the whole country is in the midst of implementing the second anjakan of the Malaysia Education Blueprint, suddenly there are Sarawakians who are thinking of doing things in our own way.

Is it wise to change horses in midstream?

There’s a proposal for Sarawak to have its own Education Ordinance to give teeth to our ministry of education. As the Assistant Minister of Education and Technological Research Dr Annuar Rapee said, “Sometimes, different states have different needs; Sarawak’s needs, for instance, may differ from those of Perlis … Moreover, Sarawak is more towards industrialisation given our plentiful resources. If we follow the current pace, we might not be able to catch up; we might need our own ways of doing things.” (The Borneo Post – Aug 6, 2018.)

Politics of federalism  

At the moment, the politics of federalism are cool. Both governments are talking at cross purposes. An entirely different issue has been dragged in as a bargaining political chip. One government asks, “If you want an additional 15 per cent to the annual royalty of 5 per cent, will you be responsible for financing education (and health) in your state? The power, however, is still with us.”

The other government has a different idea. Sarawak would rather have all the revenue from the oil and gas for itself. No tie up there with school financing except expenditure for repairs, which are expected to be reimbursed to Sarawak by the federal authorities anyway. And the money allocated for education Sarawak must continue to come – from the federal government, education being under its purview.

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From one perspective, this is like eating the cake and keeping it.

To me, these two issues involving jurisdiction should not be tied to one another where education financing is concerned. Separate issues require separate solutions.

It’s unfortunate that the effort by Petronas to hear from the court as to who owns what – oil and gas – was aborted early this year due to some technical hitch.

As a result, we are going back to square one. We are hearing no news about the suit.

It is wise to separate the oil and gas from schools. Problems of overlapping ownership claims of oil and gas must be solved in court, the sooner the better.

Meanwhile, those schools awaiting repairs badly and those about to collapse remain an eyesore and a danger to both pupils and teachers. Our homemade ministry of education, it seems, cannot operate on its own steam; it lacks legal teeth. It is well known that the subject of education throughout the nation is under the purview of the central Ministry of Education. Can anyone pretend they didn’t know this when Sarawak formed that ministry?

We shouldn’t have surrendered our rights to the federal authority to run what used to be the local authority schools. We could have pursued our own policy at that level at least. Untouched are the Christian Mission schools and the vernacular (Chinese) schools, but both are struggling to survive financially on their own steam. Politicisation again.

Do not dismiss outright the idea of Sarawak having its own education policy as long as that policy is not in conflict with the Blueprint (2013 to 2025) or any law concerning education in the country. As Dr Annuar rightly pointed out, there is a lot of footwork to be done before we have our own education policy.

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There is a proviso. I say that a Sarawak policy must provide for preschools in the longhouses and the villages, using the mother tongue as the medium of instruction there. We must also use Mandarin and native languages wherever suitable or appropriate.

Yes, by all means spend money on our own education system, provided again that there will be no unnecessary interference by federal education authorities.

If we must have our own system, we may adopt as a compromise an old Malayan policy, “Malay and English to be compulsory subjects in all primary and secondary schools. Instruction in other languages to be made available in primary schools when needed.” – Report of the Education Review Committee, 1960.

Are we totally independent, though – politically and financially, for a long time to come?

Strike a happy medium

The Constitution does not prevent both parties working together for a common cause: education. Perhaps, here’s an opportunity for the policy makers to show that meaningful devolution of power from the Centre to Sarawak is possible, without forcing Sarawak to create its own education policy. We shall see.

Tip of the iceberg

The 43 education plans carried out within the 100 days of the rule of Pakatan Harapan are a tip of the iceberg. The philosophy behind the current policy must be made known to the people. Who knows what is on the mind of the federal Minister of Education? For instance, what does he think if Sarawak has a separate policy, like the States and Territories in Australia?

We shall give the new team of politicians time in which to reform the present education system and see if Sarawak will get what we need. Our input and active participation in reforming the education system is vital. Maybe a centralised and politicised national education policy is still necessary, for nation building. But it is important that Sarawak’s views be seriously taken into consideration.

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We realise that the problem of half a century is impossible to solve within 100 days. But efforts must be made in terms of a national education policy, which is free of partisan politics.

A message for our politicians

Our present education system has been tainted with centralisation and politicisation. Our political leaders are deemed to be wiser than the Malaysian leaders before them, especially those at the time of the formation of Malaysia. Many of the latter are getting the blame – unfairly – for today’s woes. Our leaders, more articulate and sophisticated, should be more statesmanlike, thinking and acting for the interests of all Malaysians in the next generations rather than thinking about the next elections.

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.

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