ON education and the economy Pakatan Harapan has still to get its act together.
Instead of going down the slippery slope further in the field of education with silly and divisive initiatives of no great consequence, the Pakatan government should get a grip and address the burning issues of the day.
To be fair, the failure of education policy in Malaysia for many generations now is not Pakatan’s doing. However, when it comes out with totally unnecessary half-baked initiatives it is in danger of getting all the blame.
So much has caused education in Malaysia to fail. But let us just take two causes which Pakatan should address. One is language. The other is getting value for money.
As a schoolboy I had in 1967 written an editorial in the college magazine intoning that Malaysia would come to regret the jettisoning of English as outlined in the National Language Act that year.
Half a century later we are still struggling with the consequences of that foolhardy action. Year in and year out we huff and puff about what to do with English in our education system as lack of command of the language pushes the nation back, especially Malays in the job market.
The emotional language nationalists put our country in peril. While Thailand and Vietnam and even China buy into the English language for the pragmatic reason of economic advancement, Malaysia is in danger of getting timed out.
Let’s face it. It is not likely that English can be reintroduced as the medium of instruction in our national schools.
Even on using it with the STEM subjects we go round in circles. In any case, there are not the teachers to teach or the pupils to understand, particularly in the rural areas. Yet something has to be done.
Pakatan should leave aside the inflammable policy issues and instead just go about improving command of the language by using new technology to fulfil the needs of the Industry 4.0 world.
Concentrate on the vocational and tertiary level. Jam and cram English language teaching at the preparatory stages.
Teachers can be found not just from Malaysia. They could be augmented with holograms. Make language learning interesting. Of course if the basics are not there, these jam and cram sessions may not be effective.
Therefore there should be more time set aside for English lessons in schools — but in ways that make learning the language interesting and not a bore.
Again, there will be a problem about the lack of teachers. But, yet again, new technologies, including the extensive use of smart television and holography, can be introduced focused on interesting subject matters: sports and sports personalities, film and pop stars, creative people in fashion, music, architecture, new technologies, literature and so on.
The way the whole country, especially the young, has been gripped by the smartphone is breathtaking. Use this addiction to good effect instead of seeing so much time wasted on unproductive banter on social media.
All this will take money, time and proper planning. However, it must be done.
This brings us to the second point on our woeful education system.
Money ill-spent. In the 25 years to 2017 Unesco numbers show the average value of public spending on education has been 19.75 per cent of total spending on all sectors. In the last Budget 19.1 per cent of total government expenditure — RM60.2 billion — was set aside for education. We only have a gaping hole in our education system to show for it.
Pakatan speaks strongly on government procurement and open tenders. Apply it in education spending. Pakatan thunders on fiscal responsibility and promises a Fiscal Responsibility Act by 2021. Let the money spent on education be accounted for. Institute a rate of return on money spent.
Check on the execution and where the money spent went. Plan by plan. Do an audit. Only this way will there be accountability and effective use of money. We cannot continue to have collapsing roofs of school buildings, swimming pools that crack up and smelly toilets that do not work and are not cleaned.
All that is not money spent on education.
In this instance, not money spent to raise the standard of English. When there is an initiative many projects and contracts will come out of the woodwork.
There has to be discipline to spend wisely and well. We cannot go on like this, such huge, ineffective and criminal misspending. Selling future generations down the drain.
It is good that Pakatan is committed to reform. Just do it on effective spending for education.
We need good language and cognitive skills among our young to provide a supply pipeline of “Tech-Ready and E-Fit” professionals for the high-tech and high-wage digital economy we want. If we fall short we will not have a competitive economy and will be left behind. And, this will not be good for the economy.
Tomorrow — Part 3 — The economy and succession
The writer, a former NST group editor, returns to write on local and international political affairs. He is also member of the Economic Action Council chaired by the prime minister