By Dr Maszlee Malik
Ever since the start of the MCO, questions, requests and comments have rained down on me from teachers, parents and pupils alike.
They are still loyally sending me comments, how they feel and even their anger because they feel that the current education ministry and minister have ignored them.
Unlike in the past when I made it a policy that all questions and queries from the rakyat must be replied within 24 hours, and actions taken within 36 hours if possible, teachers, parents and students today feel that they no longer get any attention from the authorities.
Among the issues raised most often, thousands of messages sent to my social media accounts have been about school opening or closure, online learning, as well as last-minute changes to the ministry's decisions and very brief notices served.
I wouldn't say I know much better about school opening or closure now. I'm not in the minister's office to liaise with the responsible agencies such as the health ministry, national security council and other responsible departments.
I could see that the biggest issue here is communication. The thing is, many have no idea who the education minister now is. He seldom comes forward to make clarifications or announcements when these are most needed. He also hardly interacts with the people and the stakeholders. People come to me instead, but sadly there is nothing much I can do.
I still remember when the Jawi calligraphy issue was politicized by Dong Zong and Dong Jiao Zong, their representatives stormed the ministry building while I was busy with a post-cabinet meeting. I was forced to send my assistant to meet them. Unfortunately they still took the issue to the media and the media later declared that I refused to see them personally.
I also remember there were people coming to my office without making prior appointment, and when I went down to see them after several hours, they were still there waiting even though the officials had talked to them. Eventually they, too, brought the issue to the media and I was depicted as inefficient!
Sadly, those vocal organizations have stayed away from the media today. They don't even storm the ministry building. Perhaps they are happy with the education ministry today, or they are strong supporters of the new government under our PM now.
It is utterly important for the education minister to frequently interact with the media and public on various social media platforms at a time the country is ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, not just to give clear guidance and calm the situation, but more importantly to show the minister's leadership in the most important sector for this country: education.
I understand that the minister and the government may be worried any statement made by the minister may be manipulated or politicized by the media as during my time, but I believe the media has become more matured now to exercise the freedom accorded to them with a higher sense of responsibility.
Whatever it is, as a minister he should know that it is not unusual for him to be criticized by the rakyat. That said, evading the public is never an option for a leader. He should act more like a "gentleman" in this matter.
Another issue that is often raised is Internet access for teachers and students taking part in online lessons. To be straightforward, this is not the education ministry's job. The ministry is not responsible for internet availability at homes, villages or whichever residential areas. Nevertheless, to ensure that online lessons can be carried out smoothly, the ministry has to work with the relevant departments such as KPLB, KPKT, KKMM and the telcos to make sure Internet access is made available to all Malaysians.
Additionally, telcos must also step up their efforts to help teachers as well as families with children who need to take online lessons during the current pandemic.
I'm really worried about the National Reading Decade campaign which I launched. By right this pandemic should provide a unique opportunity for the authorities to promote reading among the people as we spend more time at home, especially those living in areas under EMCO. Teachers, schools, rural and community libraries as well as local authorities must make sure reading materials are supplied to families with schooling children. Service centers of ADUNs and MPs should also be mobilized for this purpose. A reading nation is a civilized nation!
If we were to compare our efforts with our neighbor countries in providing TV education channels for students, we would find ourselves far behind. I'm not just talking about Singapore! Take a look at Thailand and Indonesia, their information ministries are far more proactive in ensuring that school children can follow the teaching seasons on their prime TV channels, far more than the two hours a day offered by Malaysia's OkeyTV.
It is time to revamp the education TV through the collaboration between the education and communication & multimedia ministries.
The above is just some of my humble opinion. I'm sure the various parties can come up with more efficient views and initiatives. Such initiatives need to be promoted and shared so that all parties can get to learn from one another.
Education belongs to all of us and is our shared responsibility.
(Dr Maszlee Malik was Education Minister in the Pakatan Harapan government.)