The recent decision on the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) made by the Court of Appeal is not only a milestone because the CoA reversed a judicial precedent. It is a landmark decision because it displayed the independence of the judiciary, which has been sorely lacking since the 1988 Judicial Crisis where freedom of speech and expression triumphed over government restrictions.
Much has been said about this decision. The Star newspaper published the written judgments of all three judges (the first time its happened in the 18 years of my life), thus emphasizing the significance of it in regards to media attention surrounding this and the issues underlying the decision.
Let’s start off on a slow note, reviewing the reasons given by the dissenting judge, Low Hop Bing. In his written judgement, he stated his support for student restriction under the UUCA in regards to the aligning of oneself with a political party as it would “prevent infiltration of political idealogies” because university students were “easily influenced”.
A few days later, Higher Education Minister, Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled said, “The main goal of education is to encourage students to think constructively and critically without any restrictions. This is why we feel that it is unwise to allow students to join political parties. If a student holds a position within a political party, he will be tied to the party’s ideology.” The truth is, university students are not kids anymore and as Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin points out, most of our university students are already at the age where they are allowed to vote. Why then should their involvement in politics be banned in the first place? But I digress.
From these two comments alone, I would like to highlight one very obvious point. Both display a serious lack of faith in the maturity and ability of the average Malaysian university student to think independently. University students, many of them 21 and above, are still regarded as immature and easily influenced, while in countries like Austria and Switzerland they have voting ages of 16? I think there is something extremely wrong here. Either both our judge and minister is seriously misguided, or what they both say actually have some element of truth in it. In my opinion, it is a combination of both.
In all honesty, I am sure that there are many informed and mature thinkers among our undergraduates. But I am also very sure that there are even more who are unable to form opinions and who are easily swayed by arguments (weak or strong) on political issues. Why are they not the independent, mature thinkers they are expected to be? The answer is simple but profound: because they are all products of our flawed education system.
As has been repeatedly pointed out in the past, the Malaysian education system is of no help when it comes to creating creative and inquisitive minds among the young people. Recently, I was reading the Government Transformation Plan (GTP) website in order to gain a better understanding of it, before attending Idris Jala’s talk in Pusat Rakyat LoyarBurok on the 12 of November. One section of the website listed plans to develop the education sector and raise the country’s Gross National Income (GNI). These plans ranged from scaling up international schools to providing private teacher training. There is also mention of exporting Malaysia’s international education brand.
My question is , how are we expected to export a brand that is unable to compete with education from Australia or the UK? We cannot. We need to be able to create a system that is, at the very least, capable of meeting the education standards of these two countries. Only then do we have hope of competing on an international level. We kill two birds with one stone by doing this. Not only do we create quality students, but we increase revenue for our country as well.
A majority of Malaysian students are products of overseas education. And I, for one, can vouch for the benefits of the Australian education system. Doing it made me realise the chasm of difference between Malaysian and overseas education. The Australian system places much emphasis on the thinking process of a student. In contrast, be it UPSR, PMR or SPM, none of these exams required the input of much brain power. It was always read, memorise , vomit and read, memorise ,vomit. How are we able to nuture a thinking generation if we suppress their inquisitiveness with an education system that places more emphasis on a person’s ability to memorize, rather than a person’s capacity to understand?
What I am trying to communicate to all of you in this article is neither new nor groundbreaking. The terminal state of our education system has been brought up again and again in the past. And its flaws are undoubtedly talk for many Malaysians nationwide.
Perhaps, once the PPSMI issue is finally settled, the government will focus its efforts in revamping the system?
What say you Mr Education Minister?