Now making the rounds in WhatsApp world is a rather longish text purportedly written by civil rights activist and lawyer, Siti Kasim. You may or may not agree with her politics, but you have to admit that she has guts. It’s one thing to have unorthodox opinions, but it’s another to stand up to JAKIM for them. So, I have the utmost respect for her.
Anyway, her longish message was an open letter to our new Minister of Education, Dr Maszlee. It can basically be summarized in two parts. The first part asks Dr Maszlee to assure the Rakyat that his supposed extremist religious leanings will not “weigh in (his) decisions as Minister of Education”. In the second, she says that we the Rakyat have “yet to hear anything substantive…with respect to the overt and over bearing religious-centric character of our current education system, curriculum, and teachers.”
While what she says is true, Siti Kasim is being unreasonable. I mean, does she know just how broken our education system is? As I wrote in The elephant in the room, Chinese parents would actually be doing their kids a disservice by sending them to kebangsaan schools. The problem isn’t the syllabus (although it could be improved greatly). The problem is that the schools themselves have been turned into mini-brainwashing centers where discrimination based on race and religion are promoted. Who can forget the case where non-Muslims were forced to eat in the school restrooms during Ramadhan?
There are, unfortunately, even more basic problems. A friend of a friend pulled her son out of a kebangsaan primary school in Subang because the teachers never showed up to teach – they were always on leave or had a meeting. She got suspicious when she noticed that her son didn’t have any homework for around six months! In another case, an English teacher in a rural area told my friend that he wasn’t qualified to teach English. He was only doing it because the other teachers in his school were even worse at English! These are all anecdotes, but I think most Malaysians outside of BN don’t find these stories surprising for a reason.
So, Siti Kasim and those who agree with her on this issue, let’s not talk about overhauling the syllabus, or some great education revolution – YET. The sad truth is that we’re not prepared for such a huge undertaking. If Dr Maszlee can just get qualified teachers in all of our schools by the time his tenure is up, that would be an achievement. If he can get these teachers to actually show up and do their jobs with dedication, now that would REALLY be something. But if you expect him to rid the system of bigotry, well, I’m afraid you’re going to be waiting for a long time.
My point is let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good. He may not be the best choice for the Education post, but after listening to him speak, we could do a lot worse (and we have). The important thing is that for the first time in a long time, we have someone who seems sincere and committed to making improvements, so let’s give him a chance.