04/06/2014 - 09:30
OUTSPOKEN: Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is being rather disingenuous. Why did he mention the poor education standard, the lack of fluency in English and the division of race and religion, only now, 57 years after Merdeka?
Have politicians been sleepwalking all this time, or did they, like Rip van Winkle enjoy the luxury of sleeping through the hardships of nationhood?
Tengku Razaleigh has been an Umno/Umno Baru member for the best part of 52 years, apart from a brief seven-year spell in Semangat 46, a party he formed after a public spat with former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in 1987. In that imbroglio, the court declared Umno to be an illegal party; afterwards Mahathir formed Umno Baru.
Tengku Razaleigh, the MP for Gua Musang, warned graduates at the recent convocation ceremony of the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) that the level of both fluency in English and education was substandard.
Having issued the warning, he reminisced about his teenage years, when athletes were selected on their sporting prowess and Malaysians were united in supporting them, irrespective of their race. He recalled fond memories of Wong Peng Soon, who won the All-England badminton championship in 1950 and 1951.
The use of English in schools started to decline in the seventies, with English-medium primary and secondary schools gradually becoming Malay-medium schools, over a period of 10 years.
After the May 13, 1969 racial riots, a state of emergency was declared and the erstwhile Deputy PM Tun Abdul Razak Hussein ran the country as a member of the National Operations Council (NOC). When Razak became PM in 1970, he enticed Mahathir back into Umno. Mahathir enjoyed a meteoric rise and was made a Senator in 1973, before being welcomed back into the Umno Supreme Council and becoming education minister in 1974.
Mahathir oversaw the replacement of English in our schools, and was instrumental in clipping the wings and silencing the voices of both academia and students in our universities and colleges. Students and academics were punished severely for any political involvement.
Later, many non-Malay teachers and lecturers were sidelined for promotion. Some left and sought work overseas, worked until retirement, or resigned and set up private tuition centres.
Cynics claim that many Malays who became teachers did not have a desire to teach but entered the profession because they were not suitably qualified for other disciplines. Teaching was the last resort and preferential to unemployment. Others claim that being government servants gave them easy access to attractive loans for buying homes and cars.
The decline in our educational standards began in the seventies. Tengku Razaleigh must have foreseen the destruction which Mahathir and his ilk were releasing on Malaysians.
Why did Tengku Razaleigh not speak out earlier, when he was finance minister (1976 – 1984)? The finance minister holds a powerful portfolio and is able to exert much influence.
Before the destruction could grow, why did Tengku Razaleigh not band together politicians, who like him, believed that our education system was being dumbed down?
Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was also part of the government machinery which wrecked our education system; but he has realised his error, and together with the opposition coalition, is attempting to restore Malaysia to its former glory.
Anwar continues to face an uphill struggle, but Tengku Razaleigh has refused to leave Umno Baru, the party which he knows is responsible for destroying Malaysia. If Tengku Razaleigh’s claim that he wanted to change Umno Baru from within is true, he has failed miserably.
Tengku Razaleigh knows that wealthy Malays and non-Malays send their children to good local schools (limited in number), international schools (expensive), or foreign schools.
Umno Baru has not delivered the best schools and skills for young Malaysians. Speaking out occasionally, as Tengku Razaleigh did recently, to a select audience will not enlighten his fellow Umno Baru MPs.
Activists and individuals who saw the decline decades ago were silenced with threats of jail and sedition. They did not have a platform to voice their concerns, unlike politicians who have Parliament and the Malaysian media at their disposal.
The worst affected are the Malay youth, but they have been conned by the ultra-nationalists, who tell them that it is better to be an ignoramus, a Malay who can shout loudly about his race and religion, than to be educated and just.
The Minister of Education Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is in denial and claims that the Malaysian education is the best in the world. Despite students gaining 12 or more “A” grades, employers in the private sector are reluctant to hire them. Shockingly, many who are sent to English speaking countries to study, speak only passable English.
When English was removed as the medium of instruction in our school in the seventies, countries like Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan were either level with us or lagging behind, both in education and per capita income.
Today, thanks to the ultra-nationalists and also to timid, voiceless politicians, we celebrate the age of ignorance, injustice and stupidity. If our politicians refuse to be empowered, then we, the rakyat, must force change.
Mariam Mokhtar is "a Malaysian who dares to speak the truth."
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