Earlier today, I had suggested that Sabah and Sarawak should appoint State Ministers of Education not only in anticipation of grant of education autonomy to the states by Putrajaya, but to discuss with Federal Government and the state stakeholders on the definition and scope of state autonomy on education.
I disagreed with the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak that state autonomy on education for Sabah and Sarawak should be confined to administrative matters, like his announcement on Malaysia Day that 90% of teaching posts in both states will be filled by Sabahans and Sarawakians within three years, which means the increase of the number of Sarawakian teachers from 32,168 now to 38,082 in the state, with a similar increase in Sabah.
The grant of autonomy in education from Putrajaya to Sabah and Sarawak cannot solely be in terms of increasing the number of teaching posts in the two states to be filled by Sabahans and Sarawakians respectively, but must also involve devolution in the functions, powers and the jurisdiction to the two states in the area of education.
The areas of responsibility by the Sabah and Sarawak Governments with the grant of education autonomy to the two states should, among others, include:
1. Raising the standard of educational attainments of primary and secondary school students in Sabah and Sarawak, comparable to their peers not only with other states in Malaysia but also internationally, whether in global educational assessments like TIMSS (Trends in Maths and Science Survey) or PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment).
2. Improving the quality of education in both primary and secondary schools so as to reduce the need for students to be so dependent on private tuition, which has become a major financial burden of parents of school-going age.
3. Development of mother-tongue literacy and education, including Kadazan and Iban languages.
4. Institutionalisation of annual government grants and financial support to all primary schools so that this is not dependent on political or individual whims and fancies.
5. Adequate provision of higher education opportunities for local students in the two states. At present, Sarawak has three reputable private higher education institutions, namely private universities of Curtin, Swinburne and UCSI but there is not a single one in Sabah.
Tonight, I want to discuss two areas which Sabah can focus on when education autonomy is given back to the state by Putrajaya.
Firstly, the standard of English in Sabah, which has dropped considerably in the past 52 years since the formation of Malaysia and despite it being one of the 20-Points forming the basis of Sabah’s participation in the establishment of Malaysia in 1963.
When Sabah is given education autonomy, one priority area could be the objective of raising the standards of English in the schools to make Sabah one of the top states in the country where students excel in terms of English proficiency and attainment.
This is important because of the importance of English as an international language.
Secondly, the history of Sabah – as Sabah students grow up after receiving primary and secondary education but with little knowledge or understanding about the history of Sabah.
The history of Sabah should be an important focus for Sabah students, both primary and secondary, so that they understand the roots and history of Sabah.
May be the Sabah state government can offer RM1 million for the best history of Sabah to be written by a Sabahan which should be one of the history books in Sabah schools when Sabah gets education autonomy from Putrajaya.
In this way, future generations of Sabahans will know about Sabah history such as the 20-Points, Batu Sumpah in Keningau, the “666” Tragedy, the landmark Likas election petition; the RCIII (Royal Commission of Inquiry into Illegal immigrants and how the issue had affected the politics, economics and demography of Sabah) and the Sulu intrusions in Kampong Tandao, Lahad Datuk and East Coast of Sabah.
[Speech (2) at the launching of the DAP “cerita-cerita kedai kopi” series at Donggongon, Sabah on Thursday, 17th Sept 2015 at 9 pm]