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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Excerpt #3: A Nation Mourns

Excerpt #3  A Nation Mourns

In truth I had to take that trip home back in May 1969. I would not be able to make another one for the next five years as I would be starting my surgical training. It would be tough to squeeze in any extended vacation. A more pressing reason was that I had something important to share with my family. Karen and I were planning our engagement that summer. That was not the sort of news I could convey in a letter or phone call especially when they had no inkling of it.

            In Tokyo I was again bombarded by even more brutal scenes on the television of the riot. It was not yet under control. After a few days I phoned the Malaysian embassy in Tokyo. Again, the soothing reassurances. I fell for that, and telegrammed my parents of my expected arrival.

            As we entered Malaysian airspace, the pilot of the Japan Airlines 707 announced in his halting English that since KL was under curfew we would skip it and continue on to Singapore. I was worried, not of being diverted but what my family who would be waiting for me at the airport would think had happened. I never felt so lonely. I thought I had been singled out and rejected by my homeland, not even allowed to set foot on its soil.

            I was mentally juggling the logistics of my next step. The images on the CBC and Japanese television kept replaying in my mind. Maybe I should just skip Malaysia and return to Canada.

            Then the pilot came on again to announce that we would be landing in Subang after all. Those KL-bound passengers, because of the curfew, could if they choose to, continue on to Singapore and then fly back the next morning, with the airline covering the expense.

            As I viewed the familiar landscape below, instead of the longing for home I was struck with a sickening revulsion. When the plane landed, only a few passengers, all foreign-looking, disembarked. I hesitated and then with great reluctance joined them, amidst the silent stares from those remaining. We walked to the terminal building. When the plane took off behind me, I felt a sudden urge to run back into the safety of its belly. Haunting images of the fall of Saigon the year before with everyone desperate to get out on any plane flooded my mind.

            The airport was deserted except for the ubiquitous policemen and soldiers, all armed with machine guns. They looked serious; no smiles of welcome. We cleared customs and immigration in no time and then were herded into two police Land Rovers; we all remained silent. All except me were headed for KL. I showed the police officer the address of my sister Hamidah’s house in Petaling Jaya. Since that was on the way to the city, they would drop me off first.

            It was unnerving to have armed escorts seated across from me. So I spent the time looking outside. I did not see any burnt buildings or charred marks on the road. Good sign!

            When we reached Petaling Jaya, all the houses had their windows closed and window drapes drawn. No one was wandering around as would be expected in the subsiding heat of the day.

            “Is this the house?” the driver asked me as he stopped by a gate. I had never been to my sister’s house so I replied that I did not know. There was no one around to inquire. The officer suggested that I bang on the gate to draw the owner’s attention.

            I did, hollering “Bang Lang! Kak Lang, ini Abai!”
Moments later a familiar figure stepped out with noticeable hesitancy. It was Ariffin.

            “Oh! It’s you, Abai!” With that, my sister rushed out.

            “Yes this is the house!” I said to the policeman. Soon I was engulfed in the arms of my sister and brother-in-law.

            When the police vehicle left, everyone in the neighborhood came out, not to greet me but curious about the police. Who was their unfortunate victim this time? The only thing unusual was the time of day. Usually such malevolent activities were done deep in the night, with no eyewitnesses.

            Ariffin assured everyone that I was his brother-in-law who had just graduated as a doctor in Canada and now home for a brief holiday. That eased the tension. Soon the windows were closed shut and drapes drawn in. It was eerie to see a modern suburb descend into stultifying silence.

            Remembering that trip home six years earlier, I could not help but blame myself and wallow in self-pity. I was a curse to my homeland. Every time I came home something catastrophic would happen to my native land.

            I turned back to watch the television that my mother had just switched on. There was the familiar Radio and Television Malaysia logo and the background sound of the Koran being recited. Someone important had died. I remembered that from back during my high school days in 1960 when the first two successive Kings died within months of each other.

            I had not heard that the King was ailing. Moments later a teary Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Onn appeared on the screen. I had difficulty hearing him as he was almost incoherent with his trembling voice and frequent wiping of his nose with his sleeves.

            Prime Minister Tun Razak had died, suddenly and unexpectedly, in faraway London, alone, without his family or any local officials surrounding him. A most lonely death. From leukemia.

            My parents were horrified and could only utter the traditional Muslim response on hearing of a death, “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.”(To Allah we belong and to Him shall we return.)

            Tun Razak, the man who was my inspiration to return, now dead. I felt the wind sucked out of my sail. My earlier tribulations about my job now reduced to insignificance, not worthy of my attention, much less worries.

            I was an admirer of Tun Razak. I remembered his Operation Torchlight in 1955 soon after his party had won the country’s first election when as Minister of Education he undertook a massive and unprecedented exercise to register all preschool children. He did not trust the official statistics. That led him to build many new schools. In the seven-mile bus drive from my village to my school in Kuala PiIah for example, seven new ones were being built. During the hiatus between high school and leaving for Canada, I was a temporary teacher at one of those new schools in Tanjung Ipoh.

            Back in Canada and consumed with my studies, Tun Razak disappeared from my consciousness. Even as late as the summer before we left for Malaysia, Karen and I had contemplated buying a lakeside cottage. We already had a suburban home, with white picket fence no less, and well on our way to a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, with a station wagon and a young family. Only the dog was missing.

            Then unannounced and unexpected Tun Razak intruded into my tranquil satisfied world. I read an excerpt of his forthcoming biography by William Shaw. I was inspired. Compared to Tun Razak’s at a comparable age, my achievements were far more modest. With that realization I abandoned the idea of a lakeside cottage. I was determined to come home and serve my native land.

            I returned and now Tun Razak was dead. Days earlier the best that my country could offer me was a slot in God-forsaken Kuala Lipis. This was not the future I had anticipated or one I had promised my dear wife.

Next:  Follow What Leaders Do, Not What They Say

Excerpt from the writer’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia(2018).

Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Big Letdown For My Parents

Excerpt #2:  A Big Letdown For My Parents

I was giddy with all the wonderful things I had in mind to transform that Kuala Lipis hospital. My bubbliness spilled over to Karen; she too was taken in with the enchantment of living in a bungalow high on the hills of Kuala Lipis. I dared not tell her that not too long ago during the Emergency that town was one of the “blackest,” with the communists terrorizing it with impunity.

            As expected, when my parents returned home that afternoon, my mother’s very first query was, “When do you start in KL?” She was referring to Kuala Lumpur and its big general hospital, GHKL, the pride of the nation.

            “They are sending me to the other KL,” I replied, “Kuala Lipis!”

            Her jaw dropped and eyes bulged. “There must be a mistake!”

            I repeated the information to my father who by now had joined in the conversation. “That cannot be right!” he added, shaking his head with incredulity.

            I confirmed that there was no mistake and that both Karen and I were looking forward to the assignment. “I have never been to Kuala Lipis,” I added just to show them how excited I was.

After a long silence he sighed. “I cannot help you there. I am just a pensioner.”

            Meanwhile my mother was becoming more agitated, a mother tiger protective of her prized cub. “Talk to your Bang Ngah and Bang Lang. They know more about these things.”

            Bang Lang, or Ariffin, was my brother-in-law. A former teacher, he was active in UMNO and had earlier mentioned my name to the many “big shots” he had met through his political connections. They all assured him that I would have a “very bright” future. So come home soon!

            Bang Ngah was Sharif, my older brother. When he returned from Australia with his accountancy degree, his local sponsor had lost his file, and with that the obligation to offer him a job. They were very apologetic about it. What a blessing! Freed from his bonds he was able to secure a lucrative position in the private sector.

            My mother was expecting a similar favorable twist for me.

            When Sharif came home later that week I had to give him blow-by-blow details of what had transpired. I was halfway through when he interrupted, “Stop being a Malay, ‘Bai!”

‘Bai, my nickname, is a contraction of Lebai, as with rabbi, on account of my childhood ability to recite the Koran. He berated me for being meek and humble, of trying to be the good old kampong kid. If I were to give those civil servants the upper hand, they would run all over me, he warned.

“Demand to speak to this guy’s superior!” Sharif chided me. “Don’t let a junior functionary push you around!”

            When Sharif was done, my father piled on. “Stiffen up,” he admonished me.
My father then related how much he regretted in not having stood up to his superiors earlier in his career and thus suffered the consequences. He was transferred from one remote school to another, with his family bearing the burden. He wished he had been more assertive and had not meekly accepted his fate.

            With her protective arms around me, my mother comforted me. “You don’t have to be rude. Just let them know your accomplishments! They don’t know you! Don’t undersell yourself!”

            I did not know whether I was enraged or humiliated. Maybe I should just consider this trip an extended holiday.

            Sharif suggested that I invest a few days in KL to meet the real decision makers, bypassing the peons and other gatekeepers. My father interjected that often the pivotal person may not necessarily be the top guy, he could just as easily be the peon. Be nice to him and he would put your file on top. Re-learn the soft local ways, my mother suggested. I had never learned those intricate subtle ways as I had left Malaysia as a young man, she reminded me.

            Through the barrage of conflicting advices I could not help but feel that they were still treating me as that young boy who had left many years ago even though I now had a wife and two kids. They meant well.

            As the animated conversations were in Malay, Karen was kept out of the loop. Nonetheless from the earnestness and raised voices she intuited that something of great import impacting me and thus her was being deliberated. Unable to contribute, she just kept quiet.

            I too was now quiet, back to being that young boy or younger brother deferring to the advice of my parents and older siblings. In the traditional Malay fashion, I thanked them but committed to nothing. I needed time to digest things.

            The next day as I was about to leave with Karen and the kids to see the town, the phone rang. Assuming that it had to do with the previous day’s discussion, I ignored it, leaving my mother to pick it up.

            “What? Who?” She hollered to the point of incoherence. “That was Ariffin!” as she rushed towards the television set in the family room. “There’s important news!”

            My God! Another deadly race riot, I thought. My mind raced back to my earlier visit in May 1969 right after I graduated from medical school. I remember then my would-be mother-in-law Ruth frantically phoning me to watch the 11 PM news on the eve of my departure.
I did. I was shocked and sickened to see burning buildings, mutilated bodies, and tanks in the streets of KL. As a surgeon, gory injuries do not faze me. Yet I felt nauseous and repulsed.

            Ruth pleaded for me to cancel my trip. No, I could not! I had been looking forward to it after being away for six long years. I had even skipped my graduation ceremony for the trip.

            More to reassure Karen and her parents, the next morning I phoned the Malaysian embassy in Ottawa and was told that those tapes were an exaggeration, a plot by nefarious Western media to put Malaysia in a bad light. I did not believe the diplomat but that was the news I wanted to hear. Karen and her parents too were not convinced. To assuage their concerns, I told them that I would have an extended stay in Tokyo and from there could better monitor the situation. If things proved to be too hot, I would cancel my trip and fly back to Edmonton.

            They were assured by that. They trusted my judgment, and soon I was on my way home.

From the writer’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia(2018).

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Not-So Welcom Home!

A Not-So-Welcome Home!

It was the second Monday of 1976, a good full week after I had landed in Malaysia after being away for well over 13 years. I had now recovered from my jet lag; time to look for a job. I was in no hurry and had even contemplated postponing the chore for yet another week.

            Karen did not share my newly-acquired tropical placidity, quite a change in me from my medical school and surgical training days. Having lived out of suitcases since Christmas when we left frigid Edmonton, Canada, and being a stranger to Malaysia and its culture while living with in-laws whom she had just met only days earlier, she was understandably anxious to get settled.

            She mirrored her mother’s earlier anxiety. For months before we left, Ruth Bishop had pestered me on whether I had a job lined up in Malaysia. To my nonchalance she responded, “It’s mydaughter and grandchildren you will be taking over there, Bakri!”

            So that Monday morning in my modish maroon suit and matching wide tie, I left for the Ministry of Health in KL. I looked incongruous in my father’s old but clean light-blue Ford Escort, stick shift and no air-conditioning. Soon I had to pull over to take off my jacket for even though it was still morning and the windows wide open, I was already sweating.

            I arrived at the ministry’s leafy campus at Jalan Cendarasari. I was conscious of the many puzzling looks drawn towards me. To them I was, as they would say in my village, a deer that had strayed into a kampong, an unusual enough sight for them to stop what they were doing. Perhaps it was my stylish suit and shining black leather shoes, with a professional leather briefcase by my side. I should be arriving in a chauffeured limousine with someone opening the door for me and my car parked in one of those covered reserved spots, but I was not. Instead I had to find my own spot underneath one of those trees. Soon the silent gawkers turned into volunteer guides; I had no difficulty finding the right office on the second floor.

            I entered an uncomfortably chilled office made more so as I was already sweating after the vigorous climb up the stairs. The clerks were all wrapped up in thick sweaters. In tropical Malaysia!

            The receptionist had to clarify three times after I had told her that I was a surgeon back from Canada and looking for a job. She had difficulty comprehending even though I spoke in Malay. I also had difficulty maintaining eye contact; she was determined to avoid my stare.

            Perhaps my Malay was archaic, plebian, or convoluted. Unable to decipher what I meant, or desperate to escape my stare, she disappeared into the office behind her. Moments later a young man in a white shirt and nondescript tie emerged, smacking his lips with audible satisfaction, savoring the lingering coffee in his mouth. His name tag identified him as a doctor and the son of a Tun Aziz.

            I restated the purpose of my visit.

            “I belum dapat(had not received) papers from PSC (Public Service Commission),” he answered, half English and half Malay, rojak-fashion, after he comprehended what I had said.

            I responded that he should not expect any as I came on my own. I now felt more comfortable as I was speaking in English instead of my earlier forced Malay. He either did not believe me or did not comprehend it for he went on. “You the one kita hantar dulu(the one we sent) but flunked? Kita kena(We had to) withdraw scholarship?”

            “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have never flunked any examination!” as I glared right back at him.

            He wilted and excused himself to retreat into his office. He returned with a stack of files. As he flipped through them with put-on deliberateness I, unable to tolerate the silence and futility of his activity, told him that I was from Negri Sembilan but was prepared to go anywhere.

            “We just recruited a surgeon from Nigeria for Seremban,” as he flipped through more pages. “Let’s see Kuala Pilah.”

            My ears perked up. “That’s my hometown!”

            No vacancy there either. Wow, Malaysia must have really advanced beyond my expectations during the years I had been away.

            Finally, “Kuala Lipis,” his face beaming.

            So was mine. Then the letdown. “There is no anesthesiologist, lah!” he added. “The one we had absconded.” At least he knew that a surgeon would need an anesthesiologist.

            “That’s okay,” I replied, “I am facile with spinals and regionals. I can do a lot with those.”

            That settled, I was given a thick file which I assumed contained the application forms. “We would need your certificates and diplomas.”

            He made no mention of referees. Good! That would have meant a few more weeks if not months of delays.

            Kuala Lipis District Hospital it would be for me!

            I should be disappointed but I was not. I was expecting an exuberant welcome befitting the return of the prodigal son. I had read the statistics. When I passed my surgical boards, I had doubled the number of Malay surgeons!

            Perhaps they were right. There is no glory in being second!

            The joy of being back in my native land, to be with my family who I had missed so much for the past dozen years would not let me be overwhelmed by anything else. No dark clouds could intrude upon my serene blue sky. I refused to let that happen.

            I left Malaysia at nineteen, unsure of myself, my face still blemished with pimples. I left before there was even a Malaysia, in fact on the eve of its formation, on Sunday, September 15, 1963. Now I was returning as a full-fledged surgeon, having trained at a leading university center, won a coveted research fellowship, had a few scientific papers under my belt, and assorted degrees.

            Under a bright blue sky even the darkest corners look inviting. I had never been to Kuala Lipis. It would be an adventure, and an exotic one at that. I fancied myself a Peace Corp volunteer sent into the deep jungle to help the natives. Only a few months earlier I had bid farewell to one of my former interns who had left for Botswana as a CUSO (Canadian Universities Services Overseas–the Maple Leaf version of the Peace Corp) volunteer. Oh, how I envied him and the excitement of his adventure. I saw my Kuala Lipis assignment as a challenge to leapfrog that small-town hospital into a First World facility, an endeavor worthy of my talent. The glory of being a big fish in a small pond is never to be underestimated.

Excerpted from the writer's second memoir, The Son has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia (2018).

Monday, January 07, 2019

The Agung Owes Malaysians More Than Just A Bland Statement

The Agung Owes Malaysians More Than Just A Bland Statement
M. Bakri Musa

Istana Negara’s bland statement late Sunday, January 6, 2019, announcing the sudden resignation of Sultan Muhammad V as Agung was an insult to all Malaysians. It left many difficult and important questions unanswered.

Foremost is this:  If he feels so undeserving of continuing on as Agung, should he also not feel the same way about being the Sultan of Kelantan? The people of that state too deserve the same standard and expectation of their sultan as Malaysians have of their Agung.

            Only two months earlier on November 2, 2018, the Agung had taken a two-month leave of absence for “medical reasons.” That ended on December 31, 2018, with Prime Minister Mahathir blandly asserting and assuming that Sultan Muhammad had resumed his duties as Agung.

Meanwhile during the Agung’s absence, pictures of his purported wedding to a former Russian beauty queen half his age appeared in social media. Again, no comments, official or otherwise, from the palace or the government.

Then pictures appeared in a British publication of his “bride” in her previous incarnation cavorting in a pool, champagne in hand, with an unidentified male who was definitely not the Agung. Sexual escapades of pageant contestants are not news. That a Malay royalty would in any way be linked to such characters too do not surprise me. Malay sultans have been known to be fond of foreign dancers and waitresses.

            What surprised me was the silence of the palace to these salacious-bordering-on-the-pornographic postings. Even Prime Minister Mahathir admitted to being kept in the dark. What a way to run the country!

Things quickly became murkier. On Wednesday, January 2, 2019, presumably the day after the Agung had resumed his duties and only a few days prior to the resignation announcement, there was an unprecedented and unscheduled meeting of the Council of Rulers without the Agung being invited. Again, there was a news blackout on that.

That the four governors, who constitutionally are on par with the sultans, were excluded did not escape notice. Ever wonder why East Malaysians are clamoring for withdrawal from the Federation?

Then on the first Friday of the New Year, pictures of the Agung attending a congregational prayer in Kelantan, his home state, appeared in the local media. He was in full display of his trademark pretentious piety, complete with his modest jubbah and lebaiwhite cap, shaking hands with his fellow congregants in exaggerated humility.

In his sermon, the Imam reportedly told the congregation not to believe in rumors, presumably referring to the now widespread speculation on the Agung’s extracurricular activities. I wonder how that Imam felt after the resignation announcement!

Sultans, and the Agung in particular, must realize that they are on government payroll, and a very generous one at that, as well as being provided with ample allowances and grandiose palaces. The Agung’s latest, billion-dollar and obscenely ostentatious one struts on a commanding hill, visible from all the high-rises of Kuala Lumpur.

These sultans thus owe some accountability to their paymaster, the citizens.

Palace officials too must realize that they are also being paid by taxpayers. Like the Agung, these officials are answerable to the people of Malaysia. Issuing bland, meaningless statements that do not clarify matters is an insult to their paymaster. The Keeper of the Royal Seal should not underestimate the intelligence of modern Malaysians. They are not the peasants of yore.

The erratic behavior of this particular Agung does not surprise me. A few years ago there was the embarrassing spectacle of his removing his father from the state throne, again purportedly over some medical issues. The medical report of his father was never released. The people of Kelantan were denied access to the truth.

More recent and most disturbing was the Agung’s behavior during the immediate post-election crisis of last May when he conveniently found himself AWOL abroad. He had to be summoned back to swear in the new Prime Minister.

Someone must have taught this Agung an old and well-rehearsed kampung trick. That is, cloak yourself in a religious garb, complete with a huge turban and overflowing white robe, and learn to recite some long incomprehensible ancient Arabic incantations, and you could get away literally with murder.

The history, recent and ancient, of Malay sultans is replete with such horrors. Nor have their performances as leaders been illustrious. Back in 1946 they were for the Malayan Union. A decade later they were against independence!

This reprehensible pattern must not be allowed to continue. Malaysians are owed a full explanation of the Agung’s resignation. Malaysians, and Malays in particular, must demand a higher standard from their leaders–hereditary as well as political and religious. Anything less would not do it.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Ministers Do Not Have All The Answers

Ministers Do Not Have All The Answers
M. Bakri Musa

Soon young Malaysians will return to or begin school. Seeing them full of hope and promises, it would be criminal if their leaders were to fail them. Yet for far too many, more so for Malays, that sorry reality awaits these youngsters.

That is because Malaysia has been blighted with Ministers of Education and others responsible for the system with the conceit that they know what’s best for the students. That’s not necessarily bad except that Malaysians have let those politicians and bureaucrats get away with their arrogance and ignorance, to the detriment of the nation and her young.

Already there are talks of yet another reform, this time to address the sorry state of English and STEM in, as well as the increasing “Islamization” of national schools. I predict that “reform” would last until the next Minister of Education.

Meaningful reform can only begin by first disabusing these ministers of their misplaced assumptions and unwarranted confidence. Reform should be premised on the principle that parents–not the Minister of Education–know a child best. Th minister’s job is to ensure that these youngsters be given all the opportunities to achieve their aspirations.

It would be presumptuous for a Minister to know the dreams of a child from Ulu Kelantan versus that from Bukit Tunku, much less that of an athletic Ahmad versus a studious Su-Ling. The government’s responsibility is to provide schools that would attract them all so our young would have some shared experiences growing up. That would ensure harmony in a plural society.

If a school does not attract a broad spectrum of the young, then the fault lies not with them but with the school. If freedom were to mean anything, it is that you should be able to choose your children’s school. That would also include home schooling.

The core element of any reform begins with parental choice. Then make national schools so attractive that they become the school of choice to all. The two are complementary.

Opening up the system would achieve the first. Any entity, foreign or local, religious or secular, could set up a school. The only proviso being that Malay be a core subject, taught every school day. If the students collectively do not perform up to a certain level, then that school would lose its license. It would be a great shame were a child to attend a school in Malaysia but does not learn any Malay.

These schools must also post financial bonds. Should they close down then their students would be protected from financial loss. Being private, such schools, would not receive any state support and they would have to pay corporate and other taxes. They would be free to charge fees, restrict their enrolment, and choose the medium of instruction.

The second approach would be to make national schools flexible, with room for local adaptations and innovations such that a school on a rubber estate in Johor would be different from that in a fishing village in Kelantan. The only requirement and commonality would be that such schools teach four core subjects–Malay, English, science, and mathematics. Beyond that each school would be free to innovate, as with teaching science and mathematics (or any other subject) in English, Malay, or any language based on local needs.

To address the chronic deficiency of English proficiency among kampung students, I would have special English immersion classes from K-3, reminiscent of the old Special Malay Classes of the colonial era and the Remove Classes of the immediate post-independent years.

I would have a third hybrid stream–charter schools. These would be private schools that have attracted a broad spectrum of Malaysians such that their domestic student population reflects the local community. They would receive grants in the amount equal to what it would have cost to educate those Malaysians in a national school. That would encourage other private schools to follow in their path. If those schools could attract a broad spectrum of Malaysians, then those schools must be doing something right and thus be worthy of state support. Conceivably there could be a charter school using Swahili as the language of instruction if there were to be sufficient local demand.

The current national-type Tamil and Chinese schools would lose their state support unless their student population reflected the Malaysian community, at which time they would get the same full support as national schools; likewise with religious schools.

National-type Chinese schools today attract increasing number of Malays. If those schools were to do more, as with having their canteens be halal and teach Islamic Studies in Mandarin, as they do in China, that would attract even more Malays. At which point these schools should receive full state funding. In short, make Chinese schools less as one catering to a particular ethnicity, as at present, but more as one using Mandarin as the medium of instruction.

Tun Razak initiated the first reform back in 1956. What was not noted of his much-lauded Razak Report was that the man himself had little confidence in it. He spared his children by sending them all to Britain. Today we have Prime Minister Mahathir lamenting the decline of national schools. He should be reminded that he started the rot back when he was Minister of Education in the 1970s.

Reform begins with disabusing the Minister of his arrogance that he has all the answers. He should first heed and then learn to respond to the aspirations of our young.

Updated excerpt from the author’s book, An Education System Worthy Of Malaysia(2003).