Hornbill Unleashed

November 16, 2013

DR M: The Malays lag in education due to your bad policies!

IT'S TOO LATE FOR REGRETS, DR M: The Malays lag in education due to your bad policies!Simon Neoh


Famous for his sarcasm and sharp wits, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad recently made another statement which tickled this little heart of mine.

“I am a Malay and I love the Malay language,” he was quoted saying. “But I also want the Malays to be educated. I beg that the subjects be taught in English again.”  

Don’t be mistaken — it wasn’t that Mahathir was ‘begging’ for Mathematics and Science to be taught in English that made me laugh; instead, I could hardly believe my eyes, when I read the claim to being ‘a Malay’ by this octogenarian, dubbed the Malaysian maverick.

It is like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood saying, “I am your Grandma”. Hadn’t he time and again, chided and sneered at the Malays themselves for being ungrateful and always forgetful, telling them they have one dilemma after another.

It is either that Mahathir has forgotten that he was born of Mohamad, the son of a Malayali, Iskandar Kutty, who hailed from Kerala, India, or he has chosen the way of the Mosuo tribe, whose culture is “matrilineal” – or adopting the mother’s lineage. What has teaching Science and Mathematics in English anything to do with Mahathir claiming to be a Malay!

The language used is merely a medium of instruction. Malay, or English, is not the issue with our education system, but the environment in which our intellectualism was being suppressed is what turned Malaysia’s education system a flop!

People like us who have studied overseas are able to move forward, but the majority of our Malay fellow citizens who are from the rural towns, unfortunately, are the ones being left behind in this modern age of globalization. Who is to blame but Mahathir himself!

Therefore, for him to still claim he is a Malay makes me laugh, especially when he now talks about teaching Mathematics and Science in English when once, in the name of Malay nationalism, the national language was being drummed up beyond reason.

Too late

My question is: Wasn’t Mahathir made the Minister of Education in 1974? Later, he ascended to become the country’s fourth and longest serving prime minister in 1981. For over 22 years until his retirement in 2003, what did he do to ensure that Malaysians are encouraged to master their National Language, without neglecting other languages, especially English?

The Chinese and Indian communities have done well because they chose to be multi-lingual. I am a good example. I am fluent in both English and Malay. If I speak in Malay over the phone, you may think I am Melayu, but with the Mat Salleh, I can speak confidently in English.

When I look back, all I can say is that Mahathir did nothing about improving the quality of education in the country although he had the power to do good. Instead, he was more interested in the mega projects and the privatization projects that enrich his cronies. Even education was privatized.

While the Chinese and the Indians invested a large portion of their hard earned savings in their children’s education either in local private institutions or overseas, the deprived rural Malay community was left to depend on free education in public universities. Everything is taught in Malay. Now, because of their lack of competency in the English language, they find it hard to assimilate to both the local and global business community where English is used extensively.

In the past, people like Lim Kit Siang and others have reiterated time and again that language is just a tool – a means to an end – not an end in itself, but why did Mahathir not listen enough to the voice of the people? What is there to be jealous now that other communities can communicate confidently in different languages, while the majority of the Malays are still ‘trapped’ in one language mentality – nothing but Bahasa Melayu?

I would believe that my Malay fellow citizens can communicate in proper English or in other global languages, but it saddens me each time I see a letter applying for a job which is poorly written by a university graduate (including the Indian and Chinese graduates). Despite their years of learning the language as a subject, they are still unable to put together a simple letter, not to mention one that would impress me as the interviewer.

Plunging standards: Weren’t you responsible too, Dr M?

Turning the table around on Mahathir, my question to him is: Despite helming the education portfolio, what did you do to upgrade the standard of English amongst the rural folks?

Instead of investing in their education, what I see is that Mahathir was more interested in consolidating his political career. He was in fact responsible for introducing greater government control over the country’s universities. In those days, Malaysian universities were among the best in the region, and Higher School Certificate (HSC) students would have to compete to get a place in the local public universities. It was those who could not get a place who had to opt to study overseas.

Over the three decades, the reverse is happening. The standards of our public universities have dropped so much that most people these days no longer consider entry into local public universities as something enviable. Malaysian public universities are no longer rated highly, compared to their counterparts in other newly-industrialised economies. It is considered ‘good enough’ just to enter a private institution of higher learning – and parents have to fork out a big chunk of money to pay for their children’s paper qualifications. If the institutions are good, all is fine; what, if institutions are only thinking of raking good profits from the unsuspecting parents?

In the 70s, when Mahathir was Minister of Education, the university students were politically active and more vocal. As a result of his political suppression in his early years as Minister of Education, the Malaysian education system has failed to produce intellectuals who could now be engaged in public debates to help the country progress. The mainly outspoken individuals went to join the unions and other non-governmental organisations, and what Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Najib Abdul Razak inherited from Mahathir is nothing but a cabinet of Mahathir’s “Yes” men and women.

Thus, what we have today are politicians who cannot take it when they are being challenged to a public debate. Instead of encouraging healthy discourse, intellectually, which they are unable to cope, under the pretext of Malay nationalism, they utter words like “Pantang Melayu dicabar” (“the Malays cannot be challenged” from the epics of Hang Tuah) or “If you disagree, you should emigrate.” No intellectualism in the way how cabinet ministers speak, period. How do you expect intellectuals to respect the cabinet ministers who speak insensible things these days?

I reiterate: The outcome of our education system, coupled with the way our politicians have inherited the ‘political culture’ from Dr Mahathir, has resulted in our graduates being passive learners. To avoid their scholarships being withdrawn, the students stay away from the politics of the day. Theirs is an insulated corporate world, leaving the politics only to those who can be engaged in nothing more than gutter politics.

Malays hit the most

The Malays are the ones being handicapped because they have to go through the system of education. With the exception of a few enviable modern Malays, and I am full of praises for them, very few are capable of intellectual discourse or well developed in their line of argument. The minds of majority of our Malay fellow citizens are largely underdeveloped, who is to blame but Dr Mahathir himself.

At the height of his power, he could have put in the right infrastructure for them. I would that our Malay fellow citizens rise up in their intellectualism, instead of allowing emotions to run high and being misguided by some self-seeking politicians.

After Dr Mahathir left the cabinet in 2003, it became more obvious that these people he had picked to be ministers are not worth their salt. With the exception of a few like Khairy Jamaluddin and Saifuddin Abdullah, or even Ong Tee Keat, most other cabinet ministers, including many in Najib’s cabinet today, are lacking the calibers. It’s no wonder that people no longer give much credence to the cabinet ministers.

My bet is that someone like Housing and Urban Wellbeing Minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan would have been given the rod if he had praised the Singapore Housing Development Board (HDB) during Mahathir’s era as worth emulating – considering that Mahathir and his nemesis, Lee Kuan Yew were always at odds with each other.

Rural-urban disparity has widened, insecurity even greater

In retrospect, the biggest casualty in the current education system is the rural folks who lack the opportunity and exposure to a world-class education. The disparity between a child from the urban cities and the rural towns is huge.

While the young man from the city is confident and highly motivated, capable of handling the most challenging situations in the business environment, his counterpart from the rural towns can hardly put together a sentence in English.

The disparity is also there comparing a graduate from a public university in Australia, United Kingdom or America, and one who has graduated from a local public institution of higher learning. Even in the worst case scenario, while the former can articulate a line of argument, albeit not in perfect English, the latter can hardly speak intelligently on any subject.

Despite Mahathir’s plea recently, it is highly unlikely that Najib or his deputy, Muhyiddin who is also the Education Minister, would turn the clock backwards. As pointed out by a PKR veteran analyst, Eddie Wong: “This will be the opportunity for Najib and Muhyiddin to win brownie points with the Malays. It’s easy to predict their reaction. They will rush to assure the Malays their rights will be protected when actually this is an issue of education and not of race or racial rights.”

Perhaps, only a change of government would help to improve the education system in this country. Otherwise, anyone can just make a simple assessment and tell where we are all heading to. In my humble opinion, if the objective of a good education is to produce people who are independent and confident, our education system has indeed flopped.

After nearly 57 years, our young people are still depending on the crutches and hand-outs. There is something drastically wrong with Dr Mahathir now backtracking on the Malay nationalism which he once championed. There is so much paradoxes as it see it. It is like UMNO still retaining its acronym, instead of changing it to Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Bersatu (PKMB), when everything else including road names and signboards have been changed from the 70s.

I TOO AM MALAY but Math & Science must be taught in English

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad won himself some credit with urban Malaysians, when he repeated his call for Science and Mathematics to be taught in English.

“We have to be realistic. Bahasa Malaysia is still not the official language for Science and Maths,” Mahathir said at the International Conference on Teacher Education in the Muslim World on Tuesday.

“I am a Malay and I love the Malay language. But I also want the Malays to be educated. I beg that the subjects be taught in English again.”

Najib seen playing to the Malay gallery

However, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government is unlikely to heed the 88-year-old Mahathir, whom many believe may have lost the bulk of his influence after being outmaneuvered by his rivals in the recent Umno polls as well as during the May 5 general election.

Critics expect Najib and his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the Education minister, to stick with current system where the 2 key subjects are taught in Malay.

“This will be the opportunity for Najib and Muhyiddin to win brownie  points with the Malays. It’s easy to predict their reaction. They will rush to assure the Malays their rights will be protected when actually this is an issue of education and not of race or racial rights,” Eddie Wong, a PKR veteran watcher, told Malaysia Chronicle.

Whatever his motive, and Mahathir is known for his Machiavellian brand of politicking, the logic behind Mahathir’s call is strong.

Not only is English the lingua franca of the world, the Internet, technology, medicine and the sciences, the poor standard of English among Malaysian workers have been a longstanding complaint by big-time MNC investors here including Intel.



  1. They no speak England because of your Malay supremacy fantasy. They could not do many things right because they were circumcised the wrong way!

    Comment by Richard Lee — November 17, 2013 @ 11:09 PM | Reply

  2. Our English standard,which was once considered, one of the tops among the Asean nations, is now in a sorrowful,poor and low level. Our educational policies were and are still the convenient political tools for manipulation by our political parties especially the UMNO. Now, we’re at least one generation behind our tiny but advanced neighbour, Singapore, the insignificant red dot just south. Our English standard is very much like our Ringgit value, which have been left so far behind in comparison with the Singapore dollar,even though we had started at the same footings in the 60s. No one but UMNO is to be held responsible and accountable for the deteriorating standard on English standard, because all the Education ministers were and are from the party. If you can’t do a good job, then please, gracefully give up the role to others. Hand off our Educational policies. Do not play and mess around with the future of our younger generations. It is unfair to them. Remember,we are living in a globalized world, whereby we have to face and compete with the other nations. There is no way that we could and should, stay forever in our own kampongs and within our fences only.

    Comment by owl — November 16, 2013 @ 4:15 PM | Reply

  3. After the scoundrel played the race card for his own gains while in office, now he wants to undo his own dirty work.

    Comment by anon — November 16, 2013 @ 6:11 AM | Reply

  4. “I was born an Indian… I am now a mamak. Of course my blood is still Indian ala Kerala, but I like to call myself a Malas, so what?”

    Comment by tigerykey — November 16, 2013 @ 4:24 AM | Reply

  5. The father of racism, corruption, nepotism, cronyism, wastages, gerrymandering, fake IC, and lies has spoken. The worst pm Malaysia ever had and yet the longest serving.

    Comment by Sharpshooter — November 16, 2013 @ 2:21 AM | Reply

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