Every child should have the universal and equal right to formal education to prepare them for life and be useful members of society.
It is, therefore, understandable why an uproar erupted when Malaysian students of diverse backgrounds appeared to have unequal access to education.
The controversy was sparked by an SPM workshop that was held in a hotel in Johor Baru on 19-20 January with the aim of providing additional help to 40 Muslim students of the all-girls Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus National Secondary School who were considered weak in certain critical subjects.
While the intention of rendering assistance to weak students is appreciated, the approach taken is regrettable as it left a bad taste in the mouths of parents of other ethnicities, who felt their children had been neglected and worse, discriminated against on the basis of colour and creed.
Anxiety, suspicion and anger prevailed among parents and others as the incident seemed to have run counter to the supposed inclusive approach of the Anwar Ibrahim administration.
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In response to the public backlash, the Ministry of Education denied that there was discrimination involved, adding that the workshop in question was not the only one planned by the state Education Department.
According to the ministry, another workshop was also scheduled to be held on 26-27 January for students of other ethnicities to allow ethnic Chinese students to celebrate the New Lunar Year.
If this is true, then there is at least one lesson to be learned: the education authorities at the school, district and federal levels must ensure transparency and accountability in the education system.
Had all the parents been told about the details of the workshop programme beforehand, the frustration, anger and suspicion would have been avoided. There should not be miscommunication between schools and parents about matters of educational importance.
However, informing parents of students of other ethnicities about the second workshop only later has invited suspicion that it was a knee-jerk reaction and a damage-control strategy on the part of the education authorities.
Suspicion gained traction among some parents when questions arose, such as, why couldn’t all the students be included in the workshop together after the Lunar New Year to allow not only Chinese students but also their friends of different backgrounds to celebrate as well?
In this way, they would not only be able to celebrate together but also study together in the spirit of muhibah (goodwill).
Another question asked by social media users was that if the first workshop was meant for those who do not celebrate the Lunar New Year, then why were ethnic Indian students excluded as well?
All parents, particularly those whose children are deemed weak in certain subjects, are concerned about their children’s academic performance and future. It stands to reason that equal academic assistance must be extended to them.
Schools should be made conducive to inter-ethnic understanding and respect, which the politics and race and religion in the larger society does not encourage. This is also important aside from the objective of attaining good academic grades for students and a good reputation for the school concerned.
Education should not be an instrument of social divisiveness as innocent children could possibly grow up imbibing the wrong social values.
If some educators fail to see the importance of instilling good values in students, they themselves may have to undergo a workshop of the corrective nature. – The Malaysian Insight