Utilising The Memorandum To Achieve Reform And Stability

KEADILAN and our Pakatan Harapan partners acceptance of the government’s Memorandum was driven by our concern for the rakyat particularly on the need for institutional reforms and overcoming the socio-economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government must now promptly and comprehensively undertake the reforms it has promised.

It must redouble its efforts to fight Covid-19 in an inclusive, science-drive fashion, revive the economy as well as the livelihoods of all impacted Malaysians and decisively abandon the failed policies of the past with a bigger economic intervention.

There must be no more excuses or delays given that the current administration has accepted the Memorandum as well.

Responsibility for its success or failure lies in the words and deeds of the Prime Minister and his government.

The Memorandum is by no means a free pass or a carte blanche for them to do what they like.

The Opposition will continue to remain vigilant in its role as a watchdog to the government and the guardian of the national interest.

For its part, KEADILAN and PH will continue to discharge our duty as an active Opposition. This is not a Unity Government. We cannot and will not hesitate to call out or vote in Parliament against any move that hurts the welfare of the rakyat.

For instance, we will closely scrutinise the upcoming 2022 Budget to ensure that it not only benefits the rakyat, but also that it implements the highest standards of good governance and transparency in all spending.

If the government wishes our support to pass the Budget, it must live up to the spirit of the Memorandum and comprehensively negotiate all aspects of it to the satisfaction of PH before tabling it in Parliament.

The negotiations must also be done with the maximum amount of transparency possible and also involve related stakeholders where appropriate.

The Memorandum is hence not an end or suspension of Malaysia’s democratic and political process but an act of patriotism for the national interest on the part of KEADILAN and PH.

This same spirit will drive us to ramp up our work as a check-and-balance to the government with the goal of ensuring the country’s recovery as well as the upliftment of the rakyat.


Congratulations SPM Class Of 2020

Older people, often unfairly doubt whether the youth are resilient or can carry on the traditions of their societies.

The SPM results should put such fears to rest, at least at this juncture.

The Class of 2020 has proven that the indomitable Malaysian spirit of being able to not only persevere but prosper lives on and will continue to live on in them.

No doubt, scholars, academics, and educationists will be intensely studying how these young Malaysians managed to pull it off, despite the many disruptions and dislocations faced by them.

But no one should look askance at the achievement of the Class of 2020, of being able to complete their secondary education in the middle of a raging, worldwide Covid-19 pandemic and faced with tremendous adversity.

Because, make no mistake, the Class of 2020 was confronted with many obstacles—many of which did not have to be in their way in the first place.

This includes flip-flops on learning policy, a lack of substantial support for online learning (especially for the B40 students) and the current administration’s glaring shortcomings in managing the county’s pandemic response in general.

Indeed, it is heart breaking to think that some our ex-Form Fivers will never be able to show parents or other loved ones that succumbed to the coronavirus their good results. Even one case of this is too many.

The news should spur us all, but particularly the government, to action for and on behalf of the “Generation Covid”—the youths whose education and entry into adulthood have been impacted by the pandemic.

Yes, the Class of 2020 did well despite the odds. But these were challenges that no generation ought to face, not least without government assistance.

The Class of 2020 came out swinging. But I am confident that they will agree that they should be the last generation of Malaysian children to have to suffer like they did.

There is little certainty that Malaysia will be able to achieve herd immunity soon despite efforts to speed up the national vaccination campaign.

The government, in particular the Senior Minister and Minister of Education Radzi bin Md. Jidin should anticipate possible and further disruptions to the school system. Indeed, this has already happened with the latest “total lockdown”.

His colleagues and he have had more than a year on the job and yet fundamental issues persist, including a shortage of devices for students in need and a critical lack of support for teachers to make the most of online learning.

Does anyone really believe that online learning, or face-to-face-schooling with physical distancing for that matter, whether from a public health or financial standpoint, is any easier for B40 and M40 students as well as their families today than it was a year ago?

My friends in Pakatan Harapan (PH) and I, as well as countless civil society groups have in good faith outlined solutions on what should be done many a time—but our feedback has invariably fallen on deaf ears.

Moreover, I have also consistently argued that the Class of 2020 and indeed, the rest of the “Generation Covid” will need to be monitored and supported.

They successfully navigated the “storm” sitting of the SPM during a pandemic. But that was just the first of many squalls ahead: how will their experiences impact on their performance in higher education and indeed, when they start their careers?

That is why I have urged for the “Generation Covid” to be assisted when they further their studies or enter the job market.

For instance, higher education institutions may have to expand or strengthen their Foundation or Diploma offerings if “Generation Covid” enrolees need more preparation to be able to tackle tertiary-level work.

Employers may also need to ensure that proper training and HR engagement is given to their workers should they lack the relevant skills. That is what all good businesses do anyway.

And overall, we certainly need better job creation policies and initiatives than what the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government has offered so far.

Such oversight may have to continue for years, long after the pandemic is over—although it is inevitable that some “Generation Covid” youths will do better than the others.

That is why this task must be comprehensive, granular and ought to have begun months ago, if not last year.

Fail on this, and Malaysia’s “Generation Covid” as well as its “Class of 2020” cohort risk becoming a “Lost Generation”. Our country will likewise suffer.

To the Class of 2020: I wish you all the very best. Your SPM results—whatever they were—do not define you.

What is decisive is the content of your character and good that you do in your families, peer group and society.

The future will be difficult, but it will still be YOUR future: to shape and build lives upon.

I pledge that I will do the best I can to ensure that it is one that not only sees Malaysia recover from the pandemic, but is also filled with hope and opportunities for you all.


Minister Must Do More To Make Schools Safe Places For Students

Malaysia has been shaken in the last couple of weeks by allegations that female students in certain schools have been subjected to invasive “period spot checks” and other forms of horrific sexual harassment, including rape jokes by a teacher.

These incidents are unacceptable: schools must be safe places for their students. There can be no compromise or exceptions to this.

It is appalling that the Senior Minister and Minister of Education Radzi Jidin has so far not taken more proactive actions on this matter, beyond vague promises
to investigate the claims.

These were anyway immediately undermined by his comment that “…we’re drilling until now, we are checking one by one, we’ve asked all divisions and the answer was no (such practices existed).”

Indeed, the Minister has not been shaken out of his lackadaisical approach despite the Malaysiakini news portal on 4 May 2021 having sent him as well as other officials the names of 15 schools where the “period spot checks” were alleged to have occurred.

The Minister hence ought to, can and must be more proactive in addressing the allegations that have been raised to him.

At the same time, this is a teachable moment for Malaysia to improve its standards of safeguarding and protecting of minors—the Minister is squandering this golden opportunity for reasons only he knows.

The youth of Malaysia are facing crises on many fronts: educations disrupted because of the Covid-19 pandemic, a bleak job market and potential disenfranchisement due to the government’s flip-flopping over the Undi18 constitutional reforms.

The failure to adequately safeguard schools is yet more proof that this current administration cares nothing for the young.


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.

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.