What to Expect with Dr M as Acting Education Minister

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The Cabinet’s announcement yesterday that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been appointed the acting education minister – effective from January 3, right after Maszlee Malik quit the post – has left a bad taste in some people’s mouths.

The announcement put Maszlee’s jibe that he was “returning the post” back to Dr Mahathir into context, especially since the Simpang Renggam MP himself was appointed because the Pakatan Harapan (PH) manifesto forbids the prime minister from holding another portfolio.

(Dr Mahathir, in the first Cabinet line-up, was both prime minister and education minister.)

Despite the initial flurry of names from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) – Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, Datuk Marzuki Yahaya and even Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir – being bandied about as possible candidates, it does not look likely that a permanent replacement will be named anytime soon.

Exactly how long Dr Mahathir intends to hold the portfolio is also unknown, but it is pretty safe to say it will not be before he hands over the prime minister’s post.

Bernama

Perhaps the only thing we can be sure of is Dr Mahathir will be loathe to reverse most of the previous decisions made by Maszlee, especially not the brilliant black shoes move if PH wishes to keep the parents vote bank in the next election.

Therefore, what sort of policy announcements can we expect from Dr Mahathir next? Here are some possible scenarios:

The good: Overhauling Islamic studies

It is no secret that Dr Mahathir does not think highly of the way Islam is being taught in schools; he has criticised the focus on rituals rather than values as far back as 2013 – which he blamed for what he saw as the deterioration of Malaysians’ character.

He first indicated his intention to overhaul Islamic education in kindergartens and schools as early as September 2018 just months after PH took over Putrajaya; he then intimated his plan to Maszlee soon after and several times since.

In December that year, he said at a little-reported event that he plans to diminish the current focus on religion, claiming this has caused students to be ill-equipped to get jobs, while the proliferation of religious scholars and their followers has caused division among Muslims.

Dr Mahathir will probably want to push this through, which would inevitably lead to a new curriculum and sidelining of dogmatic teachers but considering the political climate, there is much doubt if he can start, much less finish this goal.

The bad: Schools as factories

Just last week, Dr Mahathir was slammed for reportedly accusing the poor of being unproductive while simultaneously saying the wealthy contributes more to the country’s development by paying more in taxes.

This focus on schools as first and foremost factories for productive manpower means that Dr Mahathir will likely focus more on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) studies to the detriment of social studies, arts and humanities – fields seen by the older generation as a waste of time and resources.

Quite simply, these subjects which contribute to the holistic growth of our society are likely to be sidelined.

The ugly: The return of YTL monopoly?

Just one day before his resignation, Maszlee highlighted fast and free internet in schools as one of his ministry’s goals for 2020, and similarly he highlighted the pledge in his last address.

This comes as schools and teachers lauded the end of YTL Communications Sdn Bhd’s contract for the 1BestariNet virtual learning programme awarded by the previous administration of which Putrajaya has spent RM3.8 billion and millions more in lost income.

1BestariNet was to be replaced with the free Google Classroom service run by three other internet service providers instead starting June last year.

The decision was definitely a blow to YTL, which had benefited from lower operating costs including cheap rental and free electricity from schools, for its own commercial mobile internet service.

Rumours have been swirling that Maszlee’s resignation was very much instigated by this dispute. With Putrajaya keeping mum on this, only time will tell if YTL benefits once more with Mazlee gone. – MMO