Malaysia’s former Education Minister, Maszlee Malik on Monday (22 Feb) said that a top-down approach in policymaking is outdated and that the government should consider implementing a bottom-up structure, which will give more weight to the voice of people from outside of the administration.
“We can see that nowadays most decisions and policies made by the government are too centralised. It is as if we are back to the old days. The federal administration in Putrajaya controls every decision, which I think should not happen during this unprecedented time,” he said In a livestreamed discussion featuring opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and two educators yesterday.
Taking children in indigenous communities as an example, he said the closure of schools has affected them tremendously as they often live in rural areas and do not have access to the internet, despite such areas typically recording a low number of COVID-19 cases.
Dr Maszlee proposed the establishment of a National Education Action Council to urgently implement integrated and holistic actions in addressing educational issues that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said that the council should not only consist of representatives from the government but members from Parent Teacher Associations, the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP), educators and opposition members of Parliament for check and balance purposes.
Dr Maszlee said that education issues are very important, yet they gain less traction compared to issues concerning public health and the economy in the country.
“The issue of education should be placed on par with economic and health issues, as it guarantees the future of the country. It is not still too late to do some changes as the future is uncertain,” he said.
Dr Maszlee also criticised the “obvious lack in interconnectedness between the ministries, departments and agencies involved in handling the issues of education, which portrays deficiency of professionalism in government”.
“This will cause educational and social gaps between the communities in the urban and the rural areas,” he said.
“We are worried that if there is no radical intervention taken by the government to close this gap, then the shared vision of the philosophy will never be achieved,” Dr Maszlee added.
He explained that the federal government’s inaction might result in questions of economic class differences, differences in geography between races, and the fate of marginalised indigenous and disabled communities being left in uncertain terms.
“In this unique time, the steps taken to address the issue of education cannot be conventional, we must be brave and radical … Focus should be put in integrated commitment and interconnection between all parties to ensure education for all,” he noted.
Touching on the current online learning method, Dr Maszlee said that it only focuses on a single method of learning and lack of lifelong lessons for the children.
He urged the government to take into account a different approach in evaluating the children.
“These children, which we can label as a ‘lost generation’ should also be inculcated with the ability to learn independently, and assessment should be different than the traditional methods,” said Dr Maszlee.
“We should utilise this pandemic as it gives us the opportunity to do the great reset for the way children are evaluated in the future,” he added.
Dr Maszlee also criticised the government for not making full use of the available media to teach the children about humanity. Broadcast media, he added, have also not played their part to the fullest in raising awareness about education among children.
“We know that there are many things that can be done … Education is not just within the four walls of the classroom. There needs to be an education about life itself,” he said.