Thursday, November 21, 2013

Making MARA's MRSM smarter


Making Mara's MRSM smarter

I read with interest the news story of the progressiveness of Majlis Amanah Rakyat’s (Mara) Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM) system to offer the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) to a select elite of the elites of this elitist franchised school, as a dual-international high school graduation certificate.

I think this is not just forward-looking but will help show Malaysians that a high school system exclusively for the bumiputras can teach all the subjects, including Mathematics and Science, in the English language. As we know the purpose of the creation of MRSM schools is to grow and groom future bumiputra professionals that will not only help the nation develop but to maintain the status quo of the ruling party and to advance the agenda of the Malays.

Mara was created to promote this ideology of exclusivity and to ensure that through the past four decades of schooling, Malays, especially those from poor families, will be given the best opportunities in education for social mobility. The Najib Abdul Razak administration had recently announced a RM1 billion education fund allocation exclusively for bumiputra for MRSM’s umbrella organisation, Mara.

But is this ideology of one-dimensionality and one-race schooling philosophy relevant in this day, when the world has already revolved into the galaxy of cosmopolitanism rather than be shackled in communalistic thinking?

Can education, that “gentle profession for the advancement of the human race”, be used as a tool for the advancement (still) of one particular race (ill-conceived) in an age in which poverty now cuts across racial and religious lines and limited resources in education need to be shared for the good of all?

Do we not realise who has become more impoverished since the New Economic Policy was introduced and the Rural Industrial Development Authority (Rida), a precursor of Mara was established during the Abdul Razak Hussein Administration? Who has become the “new poor” these days?

My view on MRSM is simple: It is a good system that has helped the “poor Malays”, it has helped made many of them very wealthy and released the cycle of poverty from the samsaric cycle. It has achieved its objective.

I believe it is now time to use this best practice and proof of concept to help “poor Malaysians, of all races, religious background, etc.” The MRSM system cannot be kept only as a conveyor belt or human engineering factory to produce one-dimensional mono-cultural beings, but to be used for better purpose: racial integration and national unity.

These days, children of wealthy Malays, children of the privileged, and of MRSM alumni, claim their place in the system - places that are supposed to be reserved for the poorest but the best and the brightest of all races. Let me suggest a new paradigm for MRSM’s modus operandi, to make it smarter and more relevant in this age of smart machines and bio-technology that celebrates cultural diversity.

Revamping the entire curriculum

The new paradigm should urge the revamping of the entire curriculum to meet the challenges of the a global and multicultural world, putting the MRSM school system under the Education Ministry and resources allocated to be used to democratise learning and teaching, and to bring “elitism” to the level of the masses, and most importantly to open up the system to children of poor families from all races.

No longer can MRSM be allowed to have 99 percent Malays and let the schooling process be mono-cultural and create future citizens/leaders who will think only about the Malays and let other races be alienated and marginalised.

Hence my suggestion that 50 percent of the places in the well-funded MRSM schools be allocated for the children of the now-irrelevantly classified as ‘non-bumiputras’. Wouldn’t this be the right policy to pursue?

This is where my proposal to “correct economic imbalances”, “eliminating poverty that cuts across racial lines”, and to “restructure society based on newer economic realities”, will be helpful in order to create a truly nationalistic and inclusive economy that harness the power of multiculturalism rather that one-race-dominant idea of bumiputraism.

This is where MRSM places need to be available to 50 percent of ‘non-bumiputra’ as the next stage of equitable educational evolution so that the dream, albeit sloganised, of a 1Malaysian Truly Asia Strength-in-Diversity Malaysia will be fully realised.

At an early age of socialisation, MRSM students need to learn to interact productively and progressively with each of the country’s races so that their early set leadership skills will include acquiring those of embracing diversity and improving themselves continuously.

Only by restructuring and re-orienteering the inner-workings of schooling systems such as MRSM and Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) - the all-Malay-and all-too-Malay university - into a global and multicultural learning spaces and experiences, will we be able to dismantle race-based politics that has become a scourge and a curse to the aspirations of a developed and civil society we Malaysians wish to leave for our children and grandchildren.

I have a few questions to end this brief note on ways to make the well-guarded well-funded MRSM system smarter and to function better: Why not use Mara’s and the government’s money to help ALL Malaysians that are poor? Aren’t we all Malaysian citizens, regardless of race and religion? Isn't this what religion teach us to think about the future of our children - to think beyond race, creed? Who owns this country anyway?

Is the MRSM philosophy of education crafted, in the form of a hidden curriculum, to teach people to be excessively ethnocentrist and to perpetuate race-based ideologies useful as “commanding heights” to guide polices to maintain the withering Malay-bumiputra hegemony?

For these questions, all Malaysians concerned about a common future, will have to answer.

DR AZLY RAHMAN, born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in four areas: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 350 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He has edited and authored four books; Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present, Future (2009), Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast Asian State (2012), The Allah Controversy and Other Essays on Malaysian Hypermodernity (2013), and the latest Dark Spring: Ideological Roots of Malaysia's GE-13 (2013). He currently resides in the United States. Twitter,
blog. BOOKS by Azly Rahman: http://gbgerakbudaya.com/bookshop/index.php?main_page=index&book_authors_id=108&typefilter=book_authors

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I find it odd that your English command is quite mediocre. Stop putting too many bombastic words, and just convey your thoughts in elegant, eloquent English.

There are many grammatical errors here and there too. You taught English? Wrote books on English? My GOD!!!

Anonymous said...

I strongly agree with the first comment....

Leman Bonzai said...

The bombastic words really scared of some of my english educated friends from reading your writings.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Azly, thank you for putting in words all that is unfair and short-sighted in these selective, elitist and racist schools which propagates racism among the future Malay leaders of this country. For the non-Malay, the MRSM system has always been a testament to the government's insistence on dividing the nation. As a student, I saw my friends, many of whom were not poor, being sent off to these schools. Though mediocre at best, they managed to score really good grades and receive scholarships to universities abroad. Truly, the system is skewed to reward the (mostly) undeserving. What we have today is the product of that education system and the culture of mediocrity which is strangling this country.

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