Call for a Tunku Abdul Rahman Commission of Inquiry onEducation

Education in Malaysia has become the single biggest force of division and disunity in the country. The three main educational grievances in the country are:

1. Declining standards of education from primary level up to university level.

The evidence of this can be found from the fact that the Ministers and the Barisan Nasional leaders themselves have no confidence in the educational system and standards in the country, and send their children overseas for education, including primary and secondary education.

If further evidence is needed, the new ruling by the United Kingdom General Medical Council that the University of Malaya Medical Faculty must submit an annual report to the United Kingdom General Medical Council to satisfy them that its M.B.B.S. is up to international standard, is proof of the increasing reservation by foreign countries about the international academic standards of local universities. In fact, in five years’ time, there is a very real possibility that the MBBS degree of the University of Malaya Medical Faculty would not be recognised in the United Kingdom.

When I first brought this matter up publicly in August, there was denials by the University of Malaya. And when this matter was brought up in the early part of this meeting, the Deputy Education Minister, Chan Siang Sun, tried to deny that the United Kingdom Medical Council has unfavourable reports about the future of medical degrees of the University of Malaya.

In January this year, a three-man team from the United Kingdom General Medical Council arrived in Malaysia to undertake a study of the medical standards of the University of Malaya Medical Faculty. The members were Sir Robert Wright, Professor D.R. Wood and Professor W.I.N. Kessel.

On their return to the United Kingdom, they submitted a report which touched on teaching facilities, curriculum, standards of the medical teaching in the University of Malaya Medical Faculty.

On the teaching staff, this is what they have to say:

“The faculty faces immediate problems in relation to the recruitment and retention of sufficient numbers of trained academic staff. The University has been not ungenerous in establishing a full range of academic posts in all the necessary disciplines.

“However, resignation of senior and intermediate teaching staff has become increasingly ominous over recent years and months and has now reached serious proportions. Only a few of the Faculty’s own medical graduates have yet attained academic status. At the time of our visit, over half the professional headships of departments and a third of the other established academic posts were vacant.

“The proportion of vacancies in some departments, particularly the departments of Pathology, Radiology and Social Medicine and Public Health, must now be regarded as critical.

“It was not our function to inquire closely into the causes of this situation, but in general it appears to have arisen from failure by the University to provide conditions in which the academic staff can derive a sufficient degree of job satisfaction. The establishment of a second medical school in Kuala Lumpur by the National University of Malaysia, which must compete with the University of Malaya for the
services of limited numbers of trained medical teachers, may have been an exacerbating factor.

“The detrimental effects of the reduction in the numbers of academic staff are apparent. As staff numbers have decreased, standards of patient care and of laboratory and diagnostic services have had to be maintained within the University Hospital, and the standard of teaching by departments with service commitments has inevitably suffered. Many of the present clinical staff are young, and are required to undertake heavy responsibilities after a minimum of experience. Staff appointed under academic staff training scheme, and tutors, cannot be regarded as suitable replacements for experienced, fully-trained medical teachers.

“The advantages of the modern, multi-disciplinary laboratories are eroded in present circumstances, when the staff, especially in the para-clinical departments, is insufficient for practical work to be directly supervised by appropriately trained teachers.

“Moreover, the intermediate staff in clinical departments claimed that they no longer have opportunity to further their careers at a crucial stage engaging in research. Apart from their heavy service and teaching loads, their opportunities to undertake research have been restricted by difficulties in obtaining research funds, particularly to replace outworn equipment, and by the pressures on their colleagues in diagnostic departments, who are no longer able to collaborate in clinical research. We found it saddening to observe so many untenanted benches in the well-appointed and spacious research laboratories.

“Urgent determined action is needed to increase the attractiveness of academic posts in the Faculty, and to foster a revival of the research upon which maintenance of its standards as a centre of excellence will depend. Without such action, the continued success of this school, whose rapid development has occasioned universal approbation, will be gravely jeopardised”.

This is the conclusion of the U.K. G.M.C. study team:

“Despite its growing problems, we are satisfied that the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Malaya is at present continuing to provide medical education of a high standard, and that its graduates are suitable for full registration in the United Kingdom.

“However, we think it impossible that the present standards can be maintained unless the University is able to recruit and retain more trained medical teachers in the senior and intermediate grades.

“We therefore recommend that the Council should continue to recognise the MBBS degree awarded by the University of Malaya for the purpose of full and provisional registration under sections 18 and 20 of the Medical Act 1956, but for a further period of five years only.

“During this period the University should be asked to furnish to the Council, at annual intervals, statements of the numbers of staff in post in each department, with details and dates of their qualifications, together with information of student performance at professional examinations, and reports of any changes in the curriculum.”

The conclusion of the U.K. General Medical Council, although couched in polite language, is explicit in its doubts about the ability of the Medical Faculty of the University of Malaya to continue to maintain international academic standards.

The recommendation, which has been accepted by the U.K. Medical Council, that the Medical Faculty should summit an annual report of its ‘good academic conduct’, is a shame to the University of Malaya and Malaysia, for this requirement was not called for previously. So like a wayward boy, the Medical Faculty must submit a annual report of ‘good academic conduct’.

After prolonged prevarication in this House during question time about the adverse report of the U.K. General Medical Council, the Deputy Education minister, Chan Siang Sun, said that there are advantages in our MBBS degrees not being recognised internationally, for this will prevent Malaysian doctors from going abroad.

If this is the reasoning of the Ministry of Education, then it should spurn recognition of the MBBS degree of University of Malaya by the U.K. General Medical Council or any other country, and refuse to submit to the humiliation of having to submit an annual ‘good academic conduct’ report to the U.K. General Medical Council.

Did the University of Malaya Medical Faculty or the Ministry of Education take objection to the U.K. General Medical Council, and strike out independently? As a matter of fact, the Medical Faculty, in its meeting of 13th July 1977 resolved that an annual report along the lines requested by the General Medical Council be submitted.

And its international academic recognition so unimportant and so undesirable that the Deputy Minister of Education and other top government leaders seem to glory in de-recognition of our academic qualifications?

If that is the case, why is the University Kebangsaan Medical Faculty seeking the recognition of its medical degrees by the U.K. General Medical Council?

Here is proof of the woolly, muddle thinking of top education officers, who have a very shallow conception or understanding about education, and who are leading Malaysia into educational disasters.

No wonder there has been such mass emigration of professional men, who are horrified by such absurd and shallow thinking in high educational circles, and no wonder that among those who have fled from such educational folly is the brother of the Deputy Minister himself, who closed and disposed of his medical practice in Pudu to emigrate to Australia!

Recent developments have shown that the Ministry of Education is not interested in creating the conditions for imparting job satisfaction, not monetarily, but even more important, intellectually, to ensure the higher academic achievements in our universities.

The net result is that there will be further decline, not only in the Medical Faculty of the University of Malaya, but also in the other faculties and universities.

I am referring to the proposed University Regulations on discipline of Staff being finalised under the Universities and Universities Colleges Act 1971, which so seriously restrict the intellectual freedom of the academic staff to inquire, to question, to express views especially of their chosen fields, that the effect will be to render the academicians as no better than intellectual eunuchs.

The academic staffs of the five local universities have voiced their opposition to these oppressive regulations, and I call on the Minister of education to have full and meaningful consultation with the academic staffs of the local universities, and take account of their views, before proceeding to gazette the Disciplinary Rules.

Academicians have their unique contribution to society, by questioning and re-examining the various premises which are the basis even of government policy. This may be embarrassing and even unpleasant for the ruling party politicians, but unless the ruling party politicians claim possession of infallibility and omniscience, this critical role by the intellectual community is a necessary feature for a society which wants to progress and effect useful changes.

These proposed regulations on disciplinary rules for the university staff will stifle and snuff out intellectual community are not very well-known for outspokenness, not because they are barren of good ideas, but because of their fear of antagonising the authorities. With these Regulations, even the handful who hitherto had voiced criticisms of the present society and various aspects of government policies would also be eliminated.

These proposed Regulations in fact raise the more important question as to what type of education we want our citizens to get, to become thinking and independent-minded citizens which is prerequisite for a successful democratic society, or conforming and robot-like citizens who do not question or dare not question the official line.

2. The second educational grievance is the diminishing educational opportunities, especially higher educational opportunities, for Malaysian children of all races.

For the year 1977, a total of 25,998 students applied for degree and diploma courses in the five Malaysian universities but only 5.953 students were accepted, out of these successful applicants, 4,457 ere Malays, 1,187 Chinese, 266 Indians and 43 others.

This is why there has been a mass migration of Malaysian professionals like doctors abroad, because they have no confidence in the educational future for their children. In fact, this must be the other major reason why the brother of the Deputy Education Minister, Chan Siang Sum, emigrated with his family after his appointment as Deputy Education Minister – a genuine indication of the confidence his own family has in his educational responsibilities.

This is precisely why there is an urgent need for the expansion of higher education opportunities for young Malaysians in their own homeland. The Minister of Education’s stock reply is that non-Malay parents can send their children abroad for higher education opportunities. This is a weak reply, which may satisfy his colleagues in the MCA, but not the public at large. Furthermore, in few years’ time, when the entire education system will be completely in Malay, the Form III, form V and Form XI students taking their examinations in Malay, then the opportunities for going overseas for higher studies will be closed. This is because their command of English, which is the condition for entry into Commonwealth universities and colleges, would be so weak that this unsatisfactory road will also be closed!

This is why the Government should set up more polytechnics, and even universities in Malaysia. There is presently a proposal for the information of a university, named Merdeka University, to provided higher education opportunities for Malaysians, which I urge the Minister of Education and the Cabinet to support.

3. The third educational grievance is the insecurity felt by the majority of Malaysians about mother-tongue education in Malaysia.

Clause 152 of the Malaysian Constitution guarantees mother-tongue education in Malaysia, not only in the teaching and learning of mother-tongue as a media of instruction in educational institutions.

Yet, year after year, month after month, week after week, the policies and actions of the Government show that mother-tongue education is merely tolerated, and will be progressively undermined.

There is for instance, a deliberate policy not to build the necessary number of new Chinese primary schools in keeping with a rising enrollment. In Petalin Jaya for instance, where the parents who want to send their children to Chinese primary schools have to send their children to different parts of Kuala Lumpur, when there is an urgent need to build not only one, but at least two, Chinese primary schools in Petaling Jaya to cater to the demand.

This year alone, there had been several instances seriously undermining the authority and existence of Boards of Governor of Chinese primary schools, especially the latest announcement of the new government policy not to permit the establishment of Boards of Governors in new Chinese primary schools.

Royal Commission of Inquiry under Tunku Abdul Rahman

These three basic educational grievances, unless resolved with a sense of urgency and statesmanship, would prevent the creation of a united Malaysian people.

After the last general elections in 1974, the late Tun Razak appointed Dr. Mahathir as Education Minister and made him Chairman of the cabinet Education Review Committee.

Dr. Mahathir first promised a Report in six months, but three years have passed, and there is still no report. I understand that the report will not be released until after the next general elections.

The educational challenges and problems of the country are too big a national to wait until the next general elections. The longer the three main educational grievances are ignored, the more harm they would do to national unity.

This educational problem is in fact a national problem which has assumed the proportion of a national crisis. It is also too big a problem to be left only to politicians, which is the case with the Cabinet Education Committee. The DAP calls on the Prime Minister, Dato Hussein Onn, to recommend to the Yang diPertuan Agong the establishment of a Royal Commission of Education under the chairmanship of the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, to urgently tackle these three main educational grievances of the people which undermine national unity.

The Tunku Abdul Rahman Royal Commission of Enquiry on Education should supersede the Mahathir Cabinet Committee, the amassing of memorandum, commissioning of works and researches, need not be wasted – for they can all be handed over to the Royal Commission.

The task of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Commission of Inquiry will be to create national unity through education, and stop the divisive forces which had been created by the education system and approach to date.

The members of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Royal Commssion of Inquiry should represent a true cross-section of Malaysians, from the various educational streams and groups, and not as in the case of the Mahathir Cabinet Committee, confined to political leaders in the Barisan Nasional component parties, This is because the Commission should work out a policy acceptable to all Malaysians, and not merely a policy acceptable to Barisan Nasional parties.

On view of the failure of the Education Minister in his tenure of office to deal meaningfully with these three grave educational grievances, which have seriously undermined national unity, I support and second the motion by the Member for Seremban, Dr. Chen Man Hin, to reduce the Minister’s salary by $10.

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader and the DAP Secretary-General, Lim Kit Siang, in Dewan Rakyat on Ministry of Education estimates (1978) on Wednesday, 7th Dec. 1977