You’re Fired!! – Here’s Why Black Shoe Education Minister Maszlee Has Nobody To Blame But Himself
Maszlee Malik, arguably the most controversial education minister, has finally been fired by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. His exit was overdue. In fact, he should be sacked as early as 2018. He was allowed to “resign” in order to prevent humiliation. It was merely a face-saving gesture. After all, he was personally selected by Mahathir within his own party, PPBM (Bersatu).
The simple fact that he didn’t go quietly, but kicked up a fuss about his accomplishments while whining and bitching about how his efforts were not being appreciated, goes to show that he has reluctantly resigned. Clearly, he didn’t want to go. At least, he thought he had done too many wonderful jobs to be fired. To save his face further, Maszlee said he is “returning” the post to Mahathir.
When Maszlee presented his 2019 report card for all and sundry, he was beaming from ear to ear. That was more than 2 weeks ago. He hadn’t expected to be fired so soon. But some leaked examination questions set by Universiti Malaysia Perlis, including one which praised hate preacher Zakir Naik as “an icon of the Islamic World”, was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.
The Education Minister quickly washes his hands over the university’s exam question, which was seen as promoting the Islamic extremist. Other questions from the Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP) included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-related questions. People simply cannot accept Maszlee’s argument that his ministry does not interfere with public universities’ autonomy.
Already, the people, especially the non-Muslims, were still mad and furious over the Jawi lessons – the Arabic script used to learn the Koran / Quran – being shoved down the throat of Chinese and Indians primary students. The exam question idolizes Zakir Naik was like adding rocket fuel to the fire. It legitimises suspicion that the education ministry was indeed on an “Islamization” mission all along.
Fugitive Zakir previously went on a rampage – accusing the Malaysian Hindus of supporting the Indian government more than Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. In the same breath, the hate preacher ignorantly said the Malaysian Chinese aren’t born in the country so they, as the “old guests”, must go back to China first before he (the “new guest”) can be asked to leave.
Even if it’s true that Maszlee hadn’t a clue about the university controversial questions, which was seen as approval to Zakir Naik’s insults on the minorities in the country, the Education Ministry has to fix the problem and not play the ignorant card. Laughably, when his ministry was grilled for a lack of educational reforms, Maszlee told critics to read his ministry’s report card instead.
It brought back the not-so-distant memory where Najib Razak was seen proudly holding a RM1 chicken when people complained about escalating cost of living in 2014. Worse, it was when the entire nation was struggling to find the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Hence, Me. Maszlee was seen as irresponsibly running away from the university blunders.
From the beginning, Dr. Maszlee Malik was never meant to become the Education Minister of the new government that brought down the previous corrupt Barisan Nasional coalition government. Mahathir wanted the portfolio himself. The premier announced on 17 May, 2018 that he will take over the Education Ministry portfolio to fix the Malaysia’s outdated education system.
However, Mahathir gave up his intention after being lectured that he cannot hold any portfolios as it goes against the pledge made by the newly formed Pakatan Harapan Government’s manifesto. So, after holding the post for only “1-day”, Mahathir appointed Maszlee the next day. Maszlee Malik was an accidental Minister of Education.
The inexperienced Maszlee himself did not expect to be given such a vital portfolio. He was neither a politician nor a technocrat. In fact, he was merely a low-ranked lecturer without even the administrative experience of heading a faculty or a department. His selection had led to naughty speculations that Mahathir purposely selected the dumbest man in his party to create troubles.
Close to 6 months after his appointment, Dr. Maszlee was already known as the “Shoe Minister”, a humiliating recognition after his proposal on 20 July, 2018 to switch students’ shoes from white to black. He was also involved in the controversial International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) presidency crisis, creating uproars over his insistence to become the 7th president of IIUM.
By November 2018, Maszlee’s incompetency was as clear as crystal. Mahathir dropped hints to the education minister, complaining that Malaysia’s national school curriculum needed to be overhauled. The prime minister was not happy that Islamic subjects were given top priority rather than improving students’ proficiency in English language, which could reduce unemployable graduates.
Before he went on his trip to Japan, the 93-year-old PM Mahathir, upon studying the school timetable, expressed his displeasure that too much time was allocated for religious studies. The subject came third in terms of time spent after Bahasa Malaysia and English. Mahathir was particularly frustrated that despite ample time given to religious studies, indiscipline and low ethics remain rampant.
Upon his return from Japan (Nov 9, 2018), Mahathir summoned Maszlee. During their one-hour meeting, the premier told him to “overhaul” the school curriculum to produce citizens with good values, including good work ethics and integrity. The PM told him that he has long advocated schools teach high values and ethics from his days as Education Minister between 1974 and 1977.
Days later, during a high tea session with Malaysians living in Singapore on Nov 12, the same event where Mahathir urged Malaysians staying abroad to return home, the PM said – “The current education system is bad. It needs to be revolutionised. What they learn (now) is not what they should learn. We need to change the curriculum and timetable and what they learn in school.”
The next day, like an obedient errand boy, Education Minister Dr. Maszlee announced to all and sundry that his ministry will formulate a new curriculum, expected to be rolled out by the end of 2020 or early 2021. He said the new curriculum would ensure that the subjects to be taught in school would not burden the students and teachers.
The people thought the new government would finally do the right thing in fixing the sorry state of the education system after 61 years under the previous regime. They hope quality education will emerge soon. But close to a year, there has been zero education overhauling. Perhaps what Mahathir wanted and desired were too complicated for Maszlee to comprehend.
The education minister should be given a medal for going the opposite direction. Maszlee Malik told religious teachers from Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah who were teaching in Sabah and Sarawak not to return to Peninsular Malaysia. The teachers were given a new mission – to make the states of Sabah and Sarawak their Islamic propagation field (“medan dakwah”).
Mahathir probably fell off his chair but didn’t stop the education minister. At a time when his plan to entice more UMNO MPs to join his party didn’t work as well as he had anticipated, the prime minister figured it was not a bad idea using Maszlee to play racial and religious card. Mahathir’s refusal to axe him had given Maszlee the impression that he was on the right track to pleasure his boss.
Less than a year after his black shoe fiasco, the education minister did it again. In his rush to defend the discriminatory matriculation programme’s special preference for Bumiputera (son of the soil) students, he had argued that if his critics did not want the matriculation quota system, then job opportunities should not be denied to Bumiputera because they do not speak Chinese.
Maszlee’s argument didn’t go well because Mahathir had confirmed the dirty dark secret everyone has been suspected for decades. The matriculation programme was designed to help low-performing ethnic Malays enter local public universities. The PM admitted it was actually “back door” to increase university intake for the Malays. In essence, it was to make the Malays feel proud of having a piece of degree.
Mahathir said – “We decided to have matriculation classes because we found Malays did not take the Higher School Certificate and cannot enter the university. So we provided a back door for them. It was entirely meant as a back door for the Malays.” The now-defunct Higher School Certificate is now called Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) – taken by Form 6 students.
The biggest controversy was none other than the introduction of Jawi lessons to vernacular schools. The flame of the sensitive issue is still burning today and it’s hard to imagine how it could be solved. The genius Maszlee had opened a Pandora box, but has no idea how to close it, thanks partly to Mahathir who refused to sack him earlier as recommended.
The Jawi fiasco was so dangerously controversial that it was one of the factors which had cost Mahathir a parliamentary seat in the Tanjung Piai by-election. While the ethnic Malays were busy rubbishing that 3-page of Jawi lessons in vernacular schools could convert the ethnic non-Malays, Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (YADIM) dropped a bombshell.
A leaked memo granting permission to YADIM to conduct religious propagation in schools, teacher education institutes, polytechnics, community colleges, public universities and selected private universities was seen as yet another proof that “Islamization” was real and the defiant Education Ministry under Maszlee was the main driver behind the project.
After caught with its pants down, the officials of Education Ministry claimed that vernacular schools (Chinese and Tamil primary schools) would have the option of whether or not to allow preaching activities. But the words “optional” or “exempted” were not found in the original letter granting permission to YADIM to preach Islam in almost all types of schools.
Had Maszlee used the right strategy, introducing Jawi and overhauling the education system at the same time by empowering the Year 4 students with proficiency in English which will help them to further study in “STEM fields” (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), he might have survived today. Unfortunately, he only knew how to dig the wrong religious hole, deeper every day.
Sure, the minister had done some nice things, including ending the ban on university students from being involved in political parties as well as enabling access to education for the poors. Free breakfast for primary school children, while commendable, lacks transparency leading to allegation of cronyism and profiteering to the tune of between RM800 million to RM1.67 billion.
The education ministry was too big a shoe for the former International Islamic University lecturer. His screw-up appeared to be endless. As far as Mahathir is concerned, Maszlee has done enough damage and could not be protected anymore. If the intention was to spice up racial and religious extremism for political purpose, he has served his purpose and must be axed before the next general election.
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