MCO 2.0: Proposals For The Education Ministry

Yesterday I raised the issues that the Ministry of Education must deal with following the 2nd Movement Control Order.

These are some proposals for the Government to consider.

The Ministry should announce the exam dates for both exam batches—especially the batch of 2021 – so students and their schools can prepare accordingly.

For the 2021 batch : will the November date for SPM be postponed to give students and teachers more time? Remember the latter will now have to teach 2 batches of exam classes this year.

Under the circumstances, the Ministry must set the number of school days for the year for exam and non-exam students where holidays may be trimmed.

This will also be an opportunity for the Ministry to consider focusing on simply teaching a trimmed down syllabus and centralised online testing for key subjects only.

If JPA can already do online testing for candidates applying for the civil service, why not the Ministry of Education?

As for states under CMCO and RCMO, keeping the SOPs—and hence the students, teachers and their respective families safe—can be facilitated through a staggered approach in bringing students back to school.

For instance, for primary school, only Standard 4—6 students—should be allowed to return to school as they will have exams to prepare for and are old enough to understand and follow the SOPs. It is extremely difficult for teachers to help Year 1 students especially to follow SOPs.

For secondary schools, perhaps keeping Forms 1 and 2 at home will help towards this end.

Of course, staggering returns to face-to-face learning may compel parents who are working in essential industries to have to arrange day-care for their school-going children and hence increase their financial burdens.

The government must look into the mental health of teachers and students, which have been adversely affected due to Covid-19. When the time comes to open schools, teachers and students must be reassured to prevent schools from becoming pandemic clusters.

As it is, schools often act as “day care centres” even for parents who are working from home, as having children in school—especially the younger ones—will help improve productivity. Perhaps the government can subsidise the cost of day care in these cases.

Besides this, the Ministry must obviously ensure that there will be enough bandwidth and data in schools and in the Matriculation Colleges for teachers to prepare and conduct online classes.

The Ministry must also announce what actions they have taken in supporting teachers and schools in providing good quality online teaching and learning as well as ensuring the tracking of student attendance for online classes.

As I have also said before, perhaps it is about time we review our whole education system in terms of its philosophy, goals and objectives so we can prepare our children to live in a world threatened by disease, climate change and weakened institutional structures and values.

The sad fact is that successive governments keep trying to fit the current education system into a structure that no longer exists thanks to Covid-19 and other dislocations.

Bold action is needed. But the government has instead chosen to undertake another hard MCO lockdown and a divisive Emergency.

This is clearly not the actions of an administration that has the interests of its people at heart. But it is not too late for it to change tack and help ensure that the “Generation Covid” does not become a lost one.


Education Ministry Must Answer Questions On MCO 2.0

I would like to raise a few points with regards to education in light of almost all states in Malaysia being put under Movement Control Orders (MCOs) or Conditional MCOs (CMCOs) except Sarawak and Perlis, which are under Recovery MCOs (RMCOs), as well as the nationwide Emergency.
For states under MCO, what the government, via the Ministry of Education, is basically asking is for all exam students—and their teachers—to return to school.
As I have previously noted however, we now have 2 batches of exam students to care for: for instance, we have the SPM class of 2020 (who have yet to sit for it) and 2021.
The work of teachers—which is never an easy job—will be more complicated now. They will have to manage and teach double their usual load of exam classes, while adhering to the SOPs.
This is on top of teaching online lessons to the students who must remain at home.
I have seen no indication that the Ministry or Government is providing preparation, resources, and support for teachers under these circumstances—to balance both requirements, especially for those who may be unfamiliar with the subjects they may have to teach at exam level.
At the same time, there have been reports that non-exam secondary school students are losing interest and focus on their online lessons.
What is the Ministry doing to help these students and their teachers? To reduce the risk of high dropouts when schools reopen?
What support systems are being provided for teachers, students and parents to navigate the MCO 2.0 and now Emergency restrictions? Where are the hotlines, databases for lessons and assessments? Where are the virtual
townhalls to communicate with parents?
This should have been done in the first few weeks of the pandemic in 2020.
Is the government making full use of tuition centres, individual tutors, online tuition providers and NGOs to provide space for virtual learning for B40 children who might not be able to learn at home virtually?
Only the Ministry of Education can answer these questions.

Should KeADILan Join The Proposed Grand Coalition?

Lately, there have been calls for the creation of “grand coalitions”, both for the parties that support the current government and separately, for the parties which are now in Opposition.

On the Opposition side, there have been calls for the revival of the “PH Plus” formula.

Broadly, this basically involves Pakatan Harapan – KEADILAN, DAP and AMANAH—getting back together with Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his camp (his PEJUANG party remains unregistered), as well as presumably other parties like WARISAN and MUDA (the latter also still unregistered).

Many good and honourable PH members or supporters—as well as those in civil society—think this is a good idea.

But is it necessarily so?

What will recreating PH Plus entail?

In June 2020 Dr Mahathir was quoted in the media as saying that: “I want to be PM for a third time to rectify the corruption of Najib and Muhyiddin administrations…I’ll back down after six months. I won’t be PM any more.”

In October 2020 too, PEJUANG nominated him to be Prime Minister again.

Also, in his recent 14 December press conference, while he reportedly stated that he had “no suggestion” whether he would be candidate for Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister, he said that: “If the government falls, then there will be a need for a new government. At this moment, unless we have a general election, the only way to form a new government is for the 222 MPs to begin to choose the government, perhaps beginning with the prime minister…And then to form a government that is dedicated to serving the people. I hope there are enough MPs who want to see this country recover and develop like before”.

This strongly suggests—although I stand to be corrected—that recreating “PH Plus” will involve either accepting Dr Mahathir’s leadership again, or someone acceptable to him.

As I and may others have argued previously, this is unfortunately not a viable option—at least for KEADILAN.

The sad fact is that Dr Mahathir has proven time and time again that he is unwilling and unable to set in motion the reforms that Malaysia desperately needs, whether economic, political, or social.

Working with Dr Mahathir under PH was not an easy decision. Many suffered tremendously during his first tenure as PM as he destroyed the country’s institutions while the gap between the rich and poor grew.

But it was a judgment call made by PH to defeat Najib Razak and UMNO-BN in the 2018 election.

Dr Mahathir had 22 months and enormous political capital to rectify our country’s problems—but could not or would not. And as the record will show, he repeatedly denigrated our Buku Harapan manifesto.

Much of it was arguably achievable, but his unfortunate comments hurt PH’s credibility and strengthened the hands of our foes.

At the end of his tenure, he resigned unilaterally without consultation as a tactic to not have to fulfil his promise of handing over the leadership to Anwar Ibrahim. Instead, the entire PH government, which came to power carrying the hopes of many Malaysians, collapsed.

He has undoubtedly reached his limits when it comes to leading PH and our country to where both need to go, especially in this rapidly changing, tumultuous Covid-19 era.

If our component parties and well-wishers still want PH or an enlarged coalition to be a reformist entity—then it cannot be led by Dr Mahathir.

The prospect of a divided Opposition will naturally be painful for many. But this simply is a case of differing, irreconcilable visions of what Malaysia’s future ought to be like.

There’s no guarantee that “PH Plus” is even Dr Mahathir’s preferred political vehicle moving forward.

In a September 2020 interview, he was quoted as saying that: “If we can get just 30 seats, we will be in a position to join either (coalitions). But if we want to join, we must insist on certain conditions. If they accept our conditions, then we will join.”

To be fair though, the “PH Plus” proposal—as currently conceived—is problematic for reasons that go beyond the Anwar—Mahathir dynamic.

Malaysia’s political culture tends to see coalitions as “pre-election coalitions” as opposed to “post-election coalitions”. Parties agree on a common manifesto, with a common leader (or PM candidate) and a single candidate for each seat.

But is this a natural state of affairs, really?

Could it be that we are just so used to the Alliance and BN “model” that our country was ruled under until 2018 that we cannot think of any alternative?

The Opposition tried to respond with the Socialist Front (1950s-1960s), Gagasan Rakyat and Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (early 1990s), Barisan Alternatif (1999-2008), Pakatan Rakyat (2008-2015), PH (established in 2015) and Gagasan Sejahtera (2018).

But we should remember that Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) cooperated with Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) in the Federal BN but competed against each other at the state level from 1987-1992.

The DAP-KEADILAN cooperation in the 2008 elections was a broad understanding to avoid overlaps in seats and coordinate their campaigns, without a joint-manifesto. Similarly, WARISAN adopted a PH-friendly understanding without joining it in 2018.

PN and BN both contested against each other in the September 2020 Sabah State Elections but formed the subsequent State Government together.

Let us be honest.

Given our current political realities and the terribly distorted way our parliamentary constituencies have been drawn, any grand pre-election coalition will struggle with seat negotiations.

It has always been a fraught process even when parties are united and have the best feelings towards each other.

Indeed, this is a problem that will continue to confront, if not metastasize, for any future grand coalition: whether its “PH Plus” and whatever shape the pro-Muhyiddin alliance takes.

Even Dr Mahathir, in his September 2020 remarks, seems to acknowledge that post-election coalitions will become the norm.

Perhaps we must stop expecting our coalitions to be permanent entities but more fluid, depending on what the nation needs, to be formalised as a governing coalition after elections.

This is not unusual in Europe. In fact, the “Grand Coalition” is a phrase used in Germany to describe a coalition formed by the CDU and SPD that happened a few times in history, albeit after elections.

In Britain, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government from 2010-2015.

This is probably why talk of a PH-UMNO tie-up in Perak generated so much public attention—although it did not materialise in the end.

Malaysian voters, one suspects, may increasingly be curious about—if not open to—new political possibilities previously unthinkable.

Still, our politics does not have to be at the mercy of expediency—and this is where KEADILAN needs to hold fast to its core ideal of building a fairer Malaysia for all.

Yes, forming coalitions must be a flexible process moving forward. But the parameters need to be rooted in reforming Malaysia for the better.

Whatever happens, KEADILAN must continue to serve the people and fight for a fairer economy as well as reforming our country’s public institutions.

KEADILAN is the only party with divisions in each of our country’s 222 Parliamentary constituencies, whether in the Peninsular, Sabah and Sarawak. It has a membership exceeding 1 million, behind only two much older parties–UMNO and PAS.

As a big-tent party that has encompassed various ideological strands, that has emerged as Malaysia’s most successful multiracial political platform, KEADILAN is well-placed to do so.

The Government Must Pay More Attention To The Disruption For SPM And STPM Students

The decision by the Federal government to close all schools in Malaysia until 17—18 December 2020—the last day of the school year due to the imposition of Conditional Movement Control Orders (CMCOs) on most states in the country is unfortunate, as is the postponement of the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Sijil Vokasional Malaysia (SVM) and Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia (STAM) examinations to 22 February 2021 and the Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) to 8 March 2021.

The education of an entire generation of Malaysian students has been disrupted by the lack of planning and foresight of the Ministry of Education.

Valid questions have been raised over whether the practically nationwide imposition of CMCOs was necessary given that not all the states involved are experiencing a major uptick in cases. The decision to shut schools even in states still under the Recovery Control Movement Order (RMCO) like Kelantan, Pahang and Perlis is also questionable.

While we hope that Covid-19 vaccines will be available to us soon, the fact is that we are going to have to learn to live with the coronavirus for some time.

It is necessary for us to plan ahead to be able to continue our socio-economic lives while adhering to the best practices in terms of physical distancing and personal hygiene.

But it is unfair for the onus on this to be only on the people. They must also be guided, protected and facilitated by wise policies and decisive leadership, including in education. Unfortunately, neither has been forthcoming from the PN Government.

What the Ministry of Education has basically done is postpone everything and ask everyone to wait for details. This approach, as usual for this administration, is short on substance and empathy.

Take for instance the SPM, which are now scheduled to begin on 22 February 2020, while STPM will begin on 8 March 2020. Universty intakes, are ostensibly still supposed to happen in September.

Normally, SPM and STPM results are released in February or March and the Unit Pengambilan Universiti (UPU) usually needs around 5 months to process results for the university intake.

Now however, the SPM and STPM will end in March 2021. This means the papers will need to be marked, tabulated and reviewed, as well as results set and endorsed in less than three months—by June earliest.

This leaves July for UPU to input the results into their system and August for the students to apply to get their results in September. We must not forget that this is the same time UPU will be dealing with applicants from matriculation and foundation courses.

This won’t be workable without using new or innovative technology for the marking of exams, releasing of results and student applications for universities.

Current systems will not be able to handle this unless the date for university intakes are postponed as the exams have.

But I don’t just want to focus on recriminations. Here are some solutions the Ministry should adopt to help students and teachers cope with the upheaval.

1. The Ministry should convene a special taskforce with stakeholders and experts both from within and outside government to come up with a streamlined version of the SPM and STPM.

2. It should cancel all coursework requirements for the 2020/2021 and 2021 SPM batches except for where practical knowledge is critical like vocational subjects.

3. Identify which parts of the curriculum must be taught face-to-face and which can be done online.

For the latter, content development for online teaching and learning should be organised. The Ministry’s Bahagian Teknologi Pendidikan can help. Also, subjects that can be assessed or even tested for SPM online should be done so.

4. Freeze the transfer of all exam personnel in the Ministry, especially the Lembaga Peperiksaan, Majlis Peperiksaan and at the state education levels until both the SPM and STPM 2020/2021 and 2021 are settled.

5. The Jemaah Nazir should also work with schools to help organise classes or even go to the ground and teach—with all the usual SOPs of course. As I raised in the PH meeting with MOF on the 2021 Budget, we should also recruit interim teachers to assist full-timers with face-to-face and online learning.

Partnerships can also be formed with private training and technology companies for tech solutions and innovations in accelerated learning to help both teachers and students.

6. The UPU is also need of an upgrade to shorten the time needed to process applications and to ensure that it can handle the many tens of thousands that likely will be applying at the same time.

7. We also have to realise that the current batch of school students—the youngest members of the “Covid Generation”, will probably need monitoring and help for a long time to come.

The government should, for a start, increase capacity for matriculation and Form Six for the near future. This is to help better prepare Covid Generation students who have essentially missed a year of school for tertiary education.

For diploma courses, colleges and universities must consider introducing pre-tertiary course of studies (at minimum cost) to help both SPM and STPM batches catch up with the required knowledge in their related field.

I truly hope the Ministry of Education will consider these measures.

It goes beyond politics—it’s the future of a significant portion of young Malaysians, and thereby, the country itself, that is at stake.


Budget 2021: The Government Must Be Open To Bipartisan Input And Parliamentary Reform

Anwar Ibrahim recently called for both the government and opposition to “…take a bipartisan approach in crafting a robust strategy to face the COVID-19 pandemic and the pressing issue of unemployment and poverty.”

This approach deserves the support of all Malaysians. It is definitely important that the 2021 Budget be passed to ensure that our country’s fight against the Covid-19 novel coronavirus pandemic as well as for an economic recovery is not disrupted.

Nevertheless, as the Malay Rulers recently and so judiciously stated, the various political actors in our country must work together to face the current crises while avoiding any abuse of power.

Malaysia’s politicians must be willing to work with the government to ensure the Budget is passed, with the proviso that all parties, including those in the Opposition, are consulted on its points in a holistic and substantiative fashion.

No party should be expected or asked to simply rubber stamp the process—that will defeat the very purpose of seeking a bipartisan consensus. Major and realistic reforms must be pursued to restore confidence after what the country has gone through through this year.

The process must not be rushed simply because of the Covid-19 crisis. Indeed, any Budget will likely fail in its purpose of addressing the pandemic if it is not subject to the necessary legislative scrutiny and real bipartisan input.

It goes without saying that any spending must not be for political or patronage purposes. Every single sen this Budget proposes to expend must be for the good of the rakyat, including their health, education, housing and welfare.

We must also realise that our frontliners—especially those serving in Sabah—are in urgent need of help on all fronts.

I also strongly feel that this Budget must lay the groundwork for addressing the fundamental issues that have been facing our economy but have been left unaddressed.

This includes not only long-standing challenges like moving away from our reliance on commodities and foreign labour, upskilling our workforce as well as sustainably boosting wages and productivity, but also new ones like preparing for regional security threats.

The only way for Malaysia to get the best Budget possible is for the current government to also commit to parliamentary reform. It must not only allow all MPs to debate critical issues, but urgently move to restore the repealed Parliamentary Services Act, revive the Select Committees that had been previously introduced.

The Parliamentary Services Act is especially important as Pakatan Harapan had almost completed work on its reintroduction. A more independent, efficient and stronger Parliament can only mean good things for the rakyat and their livelihoods.

Meeting the Covid-19 threat and reviving our economy cannot happen without political and institutional reform. Indeed, the 2021 Budget will be ineffective without it.

Whatever happens, my colleagues and I are committed to ensuring that the interests and wellbeing of the Malaysian people are upheld.

We remain steadfast in providing both checks-and-balances as well as ensuring that the country can turn a corner from the difficulties that it has been under for so long.