Keeping education out of partisan politics

Party politics out of the classroom!

THE 14th general election of Malaysia has come and gone. Through the medium of the ballot box, the voters have spoken, loudly and clearly.

The winners have formed the government of the day at the federal level; in all the Peninsula states and in Sabah, respective governments have also been formed. There were a few hiccups in Sabah and in Perlis, but the Ship of State must continue sailing away from troubled waters.

Sarawak did not participate in GE14 because it had held an election in 2016 and formed its own government. That government will have to go to the polls in two or three years’ time for a fresh mandate. The Sarawak election may be held sooner than you think – who knows?

The new broom

The dust of battles has begun to settle and life should return to normal. Many successful candidates are still giddy with the glory of victory while the unsuccessful ones are reeling with the agony of defeat. I suggest that they adopt the attitude of the late British statesman, Sir Winston Churchill, who said, “In defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity.”

It is said that a new broom sweeps well. What have the new tenants, now ensconced in the ministerial rooms, found under the carpets? Red files? Anything else?

Unwarranted fear

Before the election results were known on the late hours of May 9, there were real fears among many people (me included) of a possible military takeover. Thank God, it did not happen. Danger over, we must move on. There’s life after elections.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though. There are many urgent national issues to be sorted out in the days and weeks to come. The burden of a huge national debt, as a result of allegedly mega financial scandals, will take time to lighten; the crises of confidence in some of the governmental institutions will require a paradigm shift on the part of office holders before public confidence can be restored. The festering disease called graft needs a major change of attitude on the part of the people in power. No, I didn’t mention bribes …

Old wine in new bottles

It appears that the newly-minted government is determined to carry out a thorough spring cleaning of government institutions, and of rebranding of its ‘products’.

Education in Sarawak

Although these problems have mainly occurred in the Peninsula and in Sabah, yet they are part and parcel of Sarawak’s problems because we are all in one country. Hopefully, no one can find any red file under our carpets!

One serious problem in Sarawak concerns education. I’m not merely referring to rural schools which are about to collapse, or computers gathering dust in the storerooms of some schools. Those are administrative and management problems, plus funding.

What I’d like to know: has the bargain struck before the formation of Malaysia in 1962 to 1963 been honoured by the federal government? That bargain included Sarawak’s right to formulate its own education policy, a privilege insisted on by the Borneo States before they finally (grudgingly in some cases) agreed to accept the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.

Read the Inter-Governmental Report (IGC 1962) paragraph 17, “Certain aspects of religious education have been dealt with under the heading ‘Religion’.


(a) Although Education (item 13 (a) of the Federal List in the Ninth Schedule) will be a federal subject, the present policy and system of administration of education in North Borneo and Sarawak (including their present Ordinances) should be UNDISTURBED and REMAIN under the control of the Government of the State until that Government otherwise agrees. In particular:

(i) the present policy in the Borneo states regarding the use of English should continue; (ii) knowledge of the Malay language should not be required as a qualification for any educational opportunity until such time as the State Government concerned considers that sufficient provision has been made to teach Malay in all schools in the State;

(iii) there should be no application to the Borneo States of any Federal requirements regarding religious education; (iv) State provisions for the special position of the indigenous peoples should continue to apply; (v) the Directors of Education in the Borneo States, who would be officers serving in Federal posts and responsible to the Federal Minister of Education through the Ministry of Education should carry out much the same duties as they do at present in consultation with the State Government concerned; (vi) to enable local wishes to be fully consulted and taken into account as far as possible, the Directors of Education of the Borneo States should continue to be advised by the respective existing Boards of Education and the local Education Committees; and (vii) in the case of Sarawak the local authorities should continue to be used as agents for primary education; and

(b) when expansion of higher education facilities was being considered by the Malaysian Government the requirements of the Borneo states should be given special consideration and the desirability of locating some of the institutions in the Borneo state should be borne in mind.”

In respect of locating institutions of higher learning, this has been fulfilled by locating Unimas in Sarawak and UMS in Sabah.

What about the other requirements? Have they been honoured?

Awaiting the new minister

The newly-minted Minister of Education has yet to make plans to drop in to see us in Borneo; we are looking forward to welcoming him here and wondering if he’s got something worthwhile for us in Sarawak. For instance, will he introduce preschool education in all longhouses and villages? Free, non-sectarian, non-religious preschool education?

If our politicians really place the interests of the people and country above all else, two governments at different levels and run by opposing political parties can work out a formula of cooperation. Judging by recent public statements made by the local politicians, there appears to be a good rapport between the two governments. That augurs well for a more meaningful civil relationship. After all, Malaysian political leaders have personally known each other for years. They were once comrades, then they became estranged, playing political enemies, and are friends again, in a new setting when necessity demands cooperation for a common cause. Politics is truly the art of the possible; its practitioners make strange bedfellows. They all seek the same goal: Power.

And now with power firmly in their hands, let’s see how much they can do for Sarawak for the next five years. The politicians may politicise other issues, but Education as such cannot and must not be politicised.

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]

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