April 2nd, 2015

Bahasa Melayu jadi mangsa legasi penjajah

Peranan bahasa dalam penyatupaduan kebangsaan bukan sahaja retorik, ia terbukti pada masa kini dan juga zaman dahulu apabila Maharaja Shih Huang Ti berjaya menggunakan sistem tulisan sama untuk menyatukan pelbagai puak di China yang bertutur pelbagai bahasa Cina yang berlainan antara satu sama lain.

Pada masa kini, lihat bagaimana Singapura berjaya menyatukan rakyatnya dengan menggunakan satu bahasa sebagai peranti pengikat kaum di republik itu. Berdasarkan aspirasi nasionalnya, bahasa Inggeris dipilih untuk memikul tugas itu.

Di Malaysia, kita memilih bahasa Melayu untuk peranan ini. Ia digunakan dalam sistem pendidikan yang menjadi kaedah sejagat untuk tujuan penyatupaduan kebangsaan. Walaupun begitu, bentuk sistem pendidikan yang standard itu, yakni satu aliran sahaja, tidak diikuti di Malaysia. Sebaliknya, kita mengamalkan bentuk pelbagai aliran.

Pengasingan etnik pada usia muda

Kepelbagaian ini diamalkan pada peringkat dasar pula, iaitu prasekolah dan sekolah rendah. Dengan ini, wujudlah pengasingan etnik yang dipupuk pada usia yang begitu muda, yang sepatutnya tidak boleh dibenarkan berlaku langsung dalam masyarakat majmuk.

Bentuk yang tidak unggul ini diteruskan pula apabila kita memerintah sendiri, walaupun kita mengetahuinya sebagai peninggalan penjajah yang berjaya memecahkan kita, dengan galakan menggunakan bahasa masing-masing dalam pendidikan.

Legasi penjajah yang diteruskan ini sebenarnya terus memecahkan kita. Dalam hal ini, kita tidak pun berjaya bersatu sepenuhnya atau pada tahap yang lebih baik daripada sekarang, yang rata-ratanya hanya berlaku pada peringkat sosial. Ia antaranya memupuk toleransi permukaan sahaja.

Bentuk standard, yakni satu aliran sahaja, yang diamalkan di banyak negara, terbukti berjaya mengikat anak bangsa pada peringkat psikologi. Pengikatan begini memperlihat unsur penyatuan yang jauh lebih jitu sifatnya, seperti pembinaan perasaan keterikatan dan kebersamaan yang lebih tulen.

Dengan tidak mengamalkan bentuk ini apabila kita merdeka dahulu, kita sebenarnya telah terlepas kesempatan keemasan untuk membina negara bangsa yang lebih bersatu. Barangkali itulah satu-satu kesempatannya yang tidak akan diperoleh lagi!

Bentuk pelbagai aliran yang diamalkan kini bersifat eceran. Keengganan semua pihak untuk menggalas misi yang sama sepenuhnya untuk mendukung visi yang dipersetuju.

Hal ini jelas apabila kaum bukan Melayu enggan mempergiat usaha, seperti yang diperlukan dalam merealisasikan bahasa Melayu sebagai bahasa negara.

Sekolah Malaysia kukuh hubungan

Sehubungan ini, peraturan yang tidak dapat dielakkan dirundingi agar tidak perlu dipatuhi sepenuhnya. Ini dapat lihat pada penambahan waktu pendidikan bahasa Melayu yang akhirnya perlu dikompromikan. Begitu juga kaedah yang diperkenal dicari jalan untuk dilaksanakan dengan cara lain yang akhirnya tidak dapat pun membuahkan hasilan yang dikehendaki. Dengan ini, bahasa Melayu yang lebih afdal diajar penutur jati tidak dipersetuju.

Sifat begini tidak dapat dinafikan tidak berjaya memanfaatkan peranan bahasa Melayu sepenuhnya untuk tujuan penyatuan. Sifat sedikit-sedikit yang tidak dapat pun bertindak secara satu kesatuan yang berkesan.

Dengan melihat kejayaan negara lain menyatukan anak bangsa melalui penggunaan hanya satu bahasa sebagai bahasa pengantar dalam sistem pendidikan dan yang berjaya pula menghasilkan rakyat yang bangga dengan negara mereka, selain memperlihat keterikatan dan kebersamaan yang kental, sudah sampai masanya kita melakukan munasabah diri sedalam-dalamnya untuk insaf tentang kesilapan ini.

Ia perlu dilakukan segera. Negara ini sudah berusia hampir enam dekad dan masih tidak berjaya pun menyatu anak bangsa melalui sistem pendidikan yang diamalkannya, khususnya dengan menggunakan bahasa Melayu. Kejayaan ini perlu dilihat dari segi nasionalisme Malaysia yang wajib didukung semua rakyat, dengan menyanjungi bahasa Melayu.

Untuk ini, semua rakyat perlu memperlihat kesediaan ikhlas untuk mengubah sikap ke arah itu. Begitu juga pemimpin yang harus mempunyai kesungguhan politik untuk memula dan menuntun perubahan ini.

Barangkali kita mulakannya dengan menamakan semua sekolah kita sebagai Sekolah Malaysia. Ia menggunakan bahasa Melayu sebagai bahasa pengantar utama, yang disangga bahasa ibunda, selain bahasa Inggeris.

Cara penyanggaan ini yang memperkasa bahasa Melayu di samping memperkukuh bahasa etnik lain, bukan sahaja baik untuk negara. Ia sebenarnya warisan Malaysia yang unggul yang perlu dipertahan. Teo Kok Seong Berita Harian Kolumnis 2 April 2015

Promoting accord out of discord

The Conference of Rulers can play a reconciliatory role and help to repair the frayed social fabric.

NIK Raina Nik Abdul Aziz, the Borders bookstore branch manager, is beseeching the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for help to secure an end to her tribulation at the hands of the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (Jawi).

Nik Raina is an ordinary human being working to make ends meet. As store manager, she takes care of the administration of the store. It is not her job to read, censure and ban un-Islamic books. That is the job of Jawi and the Home Ministry.

For reasons best known to them, the offending book, Irshad Manji’s Allah, Liberty and Love, was not banned prior to Jawi’s raid on the bookstore, seizure of the publication, arrest of some workers and summoning of others, some of whom were non-Muslim. The book ban took place only a few weeks after the raid.

Raina’s supportive employer went to the court. It was argued ably that she had broken no law.

At the time of her arrest in 2012, the book in question had not been banned. Raina did not know, and could not have known, the book’s controversial content.

Three courts – the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Syariah High Court – all ruled in Raina’s favour. But Jawi is still after her scalp.

It has filed an appeal to the Syariah Court of Appeal even though its action, though technically legal, is a clear defiance of the High Court and Court of Appeal rulings on the illegality of Jawi’s actions.

In turn, Nik Raina’s move to appeal to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is unprecedented. It draws our attention to the role of our King in the administration of justice.

Further, it points to the need for a uniting and reconciling institution that can resolve the cascading conflict of jurisdiction cases between our civil and syariah courts.

Role of Yang di-Pertuan Agong: Under Article 3(5) of the Constitution, the King is the head of the religion of Islam in the federal territories. While it is not his job to play the role of the Caliphs of yesteryears or to direct the prosecution or conduct of syariah trials, surely as head of the religion he can counsel, caution and warn that Jawi’s behaviour is bringing a bad name to the religion and to the religious establishment’s commitment to justice and fairness.

Conference of Rulers: On a broader plane, there appears an urgent need for a national institution to mediate and reconcile the burgeoning conflicts between syariah and civil courts. The Conference of Rulers could be this august institution.

Under Article 38(2), besides performing many specified functions, the Conference has the power to “deliberate on questions of national policy ... and any other matter that it thinks fit”. This deliberative function casts it in the role of a unique constitutional auditor.

The Conference is not constrained by the federal-state division of powers. It can bring to bear on any matter which it thinks fit the power and prestige of its office, and to provide a guiding hand.

As the Sultans are heads of Islam in their respective states and as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is the head of Islam in all other territories of the federation, the Conference of Rulers is uniquely placed to adjudicate on all matters that touch upon Islam.

As the Yang di-Pertan Agong and the Sultans are the sovereigns of all their subjects, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, they are also well placed to guard the interests of the non-Muslim citizens of the country.

Review of syariah laws: Acting under Article 38(2), the Conference could ask the Federal Government to report to the Conference on how to resolve the emerging conflicts between syariah courts and civil courts. It could caution the Federal Government to remove the existing conflicts and to avoid future conflicts between the supreme Constitution and syariah laws.

It could ask the Federal Government to consult with national and international scholars and to report to the Conference on how far state laws and fatwas passed in the name of Islam are actually within the meaning of the constitutional phrase in Schedule 9, List II “to create and punish offences against the precepts of Islam”.

Committee of the Conference of Rulers: Acting under Article 38(2) the Conference could, by resolution, set up a Committee of the Conference of Rulers to advise it on all inter-religious disputes as well as family law matters where one party is a Muslim and the other a non-Muslim. The membership of the Committee could be mixed – three Muslim jurists and two non-Muslim scholars appointed by the Conference for a specified term.

Conflict of laws division: Relying on the judicial opinion in Subashini a/p Rajasingam v Saravanana a/l Thangathoray that civil courts retain jurisdiction over a marriage solemnised under civil law, the Malay Rulers could advise the High Court to set up a new Conflict of Laws Division (on the lines of its Mu’amalah Unit) to adjudicate on family law disputes in which one party is a Muslim, the other a non-Muslim.

Special Court: Another alternative is for the conference to advise the Government to put together a bipartisan two-thirds majority in Parliament to insert a new Article 121(1AA) to the Constitution to provide for a Special Court to try cases in which there is a conflict of jurisdiction between syariah and civil courts.

A show of leadership by the Conference of Rulers in these testing times of drift would enhance the constitutional role of this great and august institution. The words and deeds of Their Majesties would help to repair our frayed social fabric and to enhance confidence in our system of justice.

Shad Faruqi, Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM, is a passionate student and teacher of the law who aspires to make difficult things look simple and simple things look rich. Through this column, he seeks to inspire change for the better as every political, social and economic issue ultimately has constitutional law implications. He can be reached at prof.shad.saleem.faruqi@gmail.com. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

Parliament’s constitutional role

Parliament merely legitimates; it does not legislate.

OUR Parliament resumed its sitting on Monday, March 9. This is the third session of the 13th Parliament that was elected in 2013. While Parliament meets, it is appropriate to reflect on its constitutional functions and to examine whether it has fulfilled the constitutional dream of evolving into the “grand inquest of the nation”.

Representing the people: This is the function of the Dewan Rakyat, which is elected on a system of universal adult franchise. Malaysia can be proud that since independence, thirteen general elections have been held and the electoral exercise has never been delayed. At the same time, we must note that our simple plurality, single-member constituency system, that also operates in much of the Commonwealth, leads to significant disparities between votes won and seats secured.

Representing the states: The Dewan Negara gives to each state, whether big or small, equal representation. It has 26 State Senators – two from each state, indirectly elected by the state legislatures.

Representing special groups: The Dewan Negara has 44 Senators appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the advice of the Prime Minister. These Senators are supposed to represent various sectors of the population including the professions, racial minorities, women and orang asli: Art. 45(2)

Government’s legitimacy: The Govern­ment’s right to rule is derived from its ability to command the confidence of the majority in the Dewan Rakyat. The PM must belong to the Dewan Rakyat but other Cabinet Ministers may belong to either House: Article 43(2). If the PM loses the confidence of a majority of the members of the Dewan Rakyat, then he and his entire Cabinet must resign: Article 43(4).

Making laws: In constitutional theory, le­­gislation is the function of Parliament. Whether it is an ordinary law under Articles 66-68, a constitutional amendment under Articles 159 and 161E, or an emergency Act under Article 150(5), no legislative proposal can become law without going through the fires of scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament.

Though the Dewan Negara does not have equal powers with the Dewan Rakyat in the legislative process, its constitutional role is to be a second, revision and delaying chamber. This role is largely unrealised.

There is no law to prevent the Senate from introducing a Bill. The reality that Bills always commence their legislative journey in the Dewan Rakyat is a convention, not law.

To the principle that Parliament is the repository of the law-making power, a number of qualifications must be noted.

First, Parliament’s role in the legislative process is undermined by Cabinet dominance in Parliament. In the legislative sphere the executive draws up the agenda, drafts the legislation and determines the legislative schedule. Parliament merely legitimates; it does not legislate.

Second, during an emergency the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (in effect, the Government of the day) acquires a parallel power to promulgate Emergency Ordinances if the two Houses of Parliament are not in session concurrently: Article 150(2B).

Though the Houses have the power to annul an Emergency Proclamation or Ordinance by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, executive dominance has prevented the exercise of this power. The Article 150 emergencies were annulled by Parliament only in 2011.

Third, due to shortage of time, Parliament often delegates its legislative power to members of other branches. Subsidiary legislation is going uncontrolled. It far outnumbers parliamentary legislation.

Control over finances: Under Articles 62, 66-68 and 73-79, taxes cannot be raised, the army cannot be maintained and money cannot be spent without the authority of Parliament. Money for Government programmes must come from Parliament.

This function belongs to both Houses. However there are some exceptions: money Bills must originate in the Dewan Rakyat.

The Dewan Rakyat can bypass the Dewan Negara on money Bills after 30 days. The Public Accounts Committee is a Dewan Rakyat Committee – emphasising the Dewan Rakyat’s pre-eminent role in the raising and spending of money.

In addition to passing legislation, Parliament remains informed about matters of national expenditure through the Dewan Rakyat’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The Committee relies heavily on the Auditor-General’s annual admonishments of departments that fail to live up to financial prudence.

How effective the Auditor-General and the PAC are in enforcing financial prudence is, however, a matter of great debate.

Scrutiny of the executive: In the Parlia­mentary system of Government which is adopted by Article 43 of the Constitution, Parliament has the role of enforcing responsibility, accountability and answerability in the executive. Both Houses perform this role.

Through laws and traditions this role is performed in the following ways: the doctrine of collective and individual Ministerial responsibility, question time in Parliament, debates and motions on the floor of the House, and Parliamentary committees.

Redress of grievances: Members of Par­liament are not only legislators; they are pro­blem solvers, social workers and spokespersons for their areas. To the chagrin of some MPs, a large amount of their time is spent on particularised demands of their constituents.

Scrutiny of emergency powers: An emergency proclamation and all emergency ordinances are required to be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and Article 150(3) empowers the Houses to annul a proclamation or an Ordinance.

Electoral boundaries: Under the Thirteenth Schedule, Part II, sections 10-11, the ultimate power to approve the Election Commission’s periodic recommendations on constituency lines belongs to the Dewan Rakyat.

Malay reserves: A State Enactment to de-reserve a Malay reservation does not become a law unless approved by resolution of each House of Parliament: Article 89(1)(b).

Parliamentary privileges: In the performance of their Parliamentary functions, all members and officers of Parliament are entitled to some privileges, immunities and po­­wers under Articles 53, 62 and 63 of the Fede­ral Constitution and the Houses of Parliament (Privileges and Powers) Act 1952. Lately, questions have arisen whether these powers are subject to judicial review.

In relation to all of the above functions, Parliament’s institutional efficacy remains very weak because of the existence of an omnipotent executive. Far-reaching reforms are therefore needed if the Constitution’s dream of a Parliament that is a countervailing force to the executive is to be realised.

Shad Faruqi, Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM, is a passionate student and teacher of the law who aspires to make difficult things look simple and simple things look rich. Through this column, he seeks to inspire change for the better as every political, social and economic issue ultimately has constitutional law implications. He can be reached at prof.shad.saleem.faruqi@gmail.com. The views expressed here are entirely his own. The STAR Home News Opinion Columnist Refelecting the Law 19 March 2015

Defining terrorism

ON Monday, the Prevention of Terrorism Bill 2015 was tabled by Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for its first reading in Parliament. I expect robust debate to follow the tabling of the Bill and its more contentious aspects, which include detention without trial.

Terrorism is amorphous and there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism. As the old adage goes, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” However, such simplicity is indeed misleading because terrorism has morphed into a systematic and pernicious force capable of causing untold damage and harm.

The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Act 747) provides a clear definition of what terrorism and terrorist activates are:

1) To cause, or to cause a substantial number of citizens to fear, organised violence against persons or property;

2) To excite disaffection against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong;

3) An act which is prejudicial to public order in, or the security of, the Federation or any part thereof;

4) Procure the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of anything by law established

The National Security Council defines terrorism as the unlawful use of threat or the use of force or terror or any other attack by a person, group or state regardless of objective or justification aimed at another state, its citizens or their properties and its vital services with the intention of creating fear, intimidation and thus forcing governments or organisations to follow their impressed will including those acts in support directly or indirectly (refer to Directive No. 18, issued by the National Security Council).

The United States also has a very extensive definition of terrorism. In fact, their definition could serve as a guide for Malaysian authorities to accentuate our definition of terrorism and terrorist activities.

The US definition, as contained in Part 18, United States Code for Crimes and Criminal Procedure makes distinctions between “international terrorism” and “domestic terrorism”.

International terrorism, the code states, is defined as violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law and appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the US, or transcend national boundaries.

Domestic terrorism, on the other hand, is defined as acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law and appear to intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the US.

To me, the definition of terrorism is crucial to ensure that Malaysia’s new anti-terror laws are used with clear purpose.

Furthermore, terrorism is more than suicide bombings and taking up arms against the state but covers the cyber and financial world as well.

Terrorists today have an arsenal of non-conventional weapons that can wreeak havoc and bring societies to their knees.

The extensive use of social media by the Islamic State is a good example of the dangers that face democratic and civilised societies. The use of Twitter and Facebook for recruitment exposes the porous nature of our cyber control mechanisms.

Malaysians too have joined IS’ misguided struggle. Thus, clear definitions and legal sanctions will help deter others from joining the cause.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act is a step in right direction because we must never take the likes of IS and other related groups for granted. Action must be fast and effective and any delay in identifying threats can lead to fatal consequences.

However, like all laws, it too must have its limits. It is welcome, thus, that the power to decide on detention is no longer with the Minister but with the Prevention of Terrorism Board appointed by Yang Di-Pertuan Agong. Also, the Bill goes a step further in defining the criteria for appointments to the Board to ensure that the right people are appointed.

The authorities, however, have a responsibility to ensure that the Act is not abused and used only ​against those who engage in terrorist related activities. It must not be used to silence legitimate political dissent.

The fundamental liberties offered to Malaysians by the Federal Constitution must be respected and upheld but those who deliberately seek to harm and threaten our Federation must be punished.

Of kids and inclusive learning

Children with special needs and capabilities must be nurtured and allowed to grow alongside their ‘normal’ peers at school for better outcomes.

I HAVE been motivated to write this article on special needs education, a topic that is close to my heart especially after attending an International Conference on University Learning and Teaching that I officiated at recently.

It was organised by Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), with the co-operation of several local and foreign universities, including University of Herefordshire (UK) , University of South Australia (Australia) , University of Ohio (in the United States) and Taylor’s University (Malaysia).


For all: Inclusive education supports the full participation of every child, with or without disabilities as equals. – File photo

Also, I have come away impressed with the positive outcomes of inclusive learning that have brought out the best in special needs students like Siti Nabilah Saiful Wong, 13, who was also named “Academic Icon 2014”.

I must point out that special needs education in the country is an area that has been given more importance in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025.

The Education Ministry offers three options under the National Special Needs Education system specifically for those with hearing, visual or learning disabilities.

They include:

• Five secondary schools, three vocational colleges and one school each for children with visual and hearing disabilities;

• Special education integrated programme which has a special class in 2,000 government or government-aided schools and

• Inclusive Education Programme (pupils with disabilities or special needs who are placed so that they can integrate with other students in mainstream classes).

I am focusing on inclusive education as the landscape of special education which involves multiple stakeholders including parents, NGOs, the Health Ministry, Women, Family and Community Development Ministry as well as the Human Resource Ministry and the mass media.

What do we really understand by the term “inclusive education”?

I think it is important that all of us have a common understanding of what inclusive education means and the implications that this form of education carries.

Supporters of inclusive education such as J Rogers use the term to refer to the commitment to educate each child, to the maximum extent appropriate in classes or schools that they attend.

I see inclusion as stated by Dr Elizabeth Erwin as somewhat values-oriented since the true essence of inclusion is based on the premise that all individuals with disabilities have the right to be included in naturally occurring settings and activities with their neighbourhood peers, siblings and friends..

This then draws a very clear implication that students with disabilities should be educated with non-disabled peers.

This also means a commitment to provide the needed services and resources to the students with disabilities rather than place them in a segregated setting where similar services and resources are also available.

This also indicates that the teaching capacity of the teachers need to be expanded in order to be able to teach children with disabilities while collaborating with the special education needs teachers.

It means that the responsibility for the education of all students in classroom rests in the hands of the classroom teacher in charge and that is a huge responsibility.

Global initiatives

In line with the global focus towards inclusive education, Malaysia officially made serious efforts to include students with special needs in the mainstream education through its involvement in workshops and training activities by the United Nations (UN) and United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

The UN Convention on the rights of the Child (1989), the UN Standard and Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993), the Unesco Salamanca Statement (1994) and the Unescap Biwako Millennium Framework for Action (2002), Dakar Framework for Action (2000) and Incheon Strategy (2012) shared the common concern for the dire need to educate every child regardless of his/her disability or learning difficulty.

Subsequently, the National Special Needs Education System was introduced in the Malaysian Education Act (1996) and the Education (Special Education) Regulations (2013) provide the legal framework for education with disabilities in the country which are applicable to government schools or government-aided schools .

In the Malaysian context, inclusive education refers to creating schools which welcome all learners, regardless of their characteristics, disadvantages or difficulties.

It includes the traditionally excluded or marginalised groups as well such as disabled children, girls, children in remote villages and the hardcore poor.

The ministry is now making the effort to get these groups to be more visible in schools.

In 1993, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia made the first initiative to offer the pre-service teacher preparation programme leading to a Bachelor of Education degree in Special Needs Education.

This programme was developed with three universities in the United Kingdom – the University of Manchester, Univeristy of Birmingham and the Univeristy of Cambridge. Universiti Malaya has also begun offering a Masters degree programme with the integration of disability-related content.

Apart from the education blueprint, a guidebook has also been prepared by the ministry’s Special Education Division to direct the implementation of inclusive education programmes.

Disabled-friendly facilities are being provided in the respective schools to cater to the needs of these children.

Though the Special Education Department of the ministry holds the primary responsibility to provide education for children with disabilities in Malaysia, the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) in the Prime Minister’s Department is tasked to oversee the implementation and to assess its progress in relation to the policies on the education of children with disabilities.

The other government agency that looks into providing students with disabilities is the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry. Through its welfare department, learning and skills training services are implemented in collaboration with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-based rehabilitation centres.

NGOs and the private sector play an important role too in this field of education as there are non-profit learning and care centres (e.g Malaysian Care Community Services, Kiwanis Centre ) that provide early intervention, learning, rehabilitation and training programmes for children with disabilities. This role fills an important gap in the public system.

The National Early Childhood Intervention Council actively campaigns and raises the awareness of the need for parents and teachers to identify children with disabilities so that early intervention can take place to assist them.

Low enrolment

Though the Malaysian government recognises that inclusive education is an effective means of building an inclusive society and overcoming discriminatory attitudes, enrolment in this programme is still low.

As of April 30, the number of children with special education needs in inclusive education program stands at 58,253 while 1,742 schools offer inclusive education programmes.

It has not been an easy ride and there are many challenges. They include:

• The shortage of qualified teachers, shortage of professional support such as speech and language therapists and educational psychologists.

• The lack of a tailored curriculum for certain learning disabilities;

• Inadequate disabled-friendly facilities in mainstream schools;

• Lack of uniformity of access to education services especially in Sabah and Sarawak and the interior of other states; and·

• Insufficient sensitive technological devices like hearing aids, Braille typing machines etc.

It is obvious that it is not an easy task when it comes to implementing inclusive education as it challenges the current educational practices and administration.

I must say that despite these setbacks, there have been some success stories of those with special education needs earning diplomas and degrees from tertiary institutions and excelling in entertainment and arts and students like Siti Nabilah, the child of a hearing and speaking impaired couple, who has done well in school.

We need to be driven by strategic partnerships comprising the families and communities, local and national NGOs, international organisations and governments to create a society of respect and acceptance for children with disabilities.

We need to create a strong awareness on the communities that students with special needs have the potential to excel and their disability can be minimised if they are given equal opportunities to learn in the mainstream classes.

The latest thinking on the critical importance of inclusive education highlighting on what can still be done, calls for a review of the existing practices, perspectives and framework by carrying out case studies and making relevant analyses of the data collected.

This move needs to explore the full array of social and educational benefits of the different programmes for students with disabilities. It also needs to explore how related evidence of return on investment in the global knowledge economy can be manifested and managed across other countries. I hope passionate experts in this field of education will be able to shed light on the relevance of inclusive education in relation to training such students to enter the labour market by looking into their needs so as to facilitate school-to-work transitions.

The writer, Datuk Mary Yap is Deputy Education Minister. Connect with her via Twitter @maryyapkc and Facebook.com/maryyapkainching. This is one in a series of articles which appears every fortnight in this column. It also sees the contributions of Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh and Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan who share their views on various education-related issues.

Skills … it’s all in the wrists

HAVING completed an automotive studies course in 2007, Afiq Hasan, a graduate of the Bukit Beruang Community College, worked at various car workshops, was able to save money and in 2010 opened his own shop.  He named his business Bavaria at Work Enterprise, after the city in which his favourite car brand, BMW, is based.

Now a relatively well known mechanic in Bukit Beruang specialising in servicing BMWs, the 26-year-old employs two mechanics to help him and takes in interns from the community college as a way of giving back. Later this year he will be getting married. His wife works with him at the workshop.


Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh and Ministry officials view an energy efficient vehicle engine at the
official launch ceremony of the Pekan Community College.

Davis Paul Lister, 24, has a diploma in fashion design from the Sultan Ibrahim Polytechnic in Johor. In 2012, with RM400 as start-up capital and a sewing machine gifted by his mother, he started taking tailoring orders from Facebook. Today, Davis, who hails from Jertih, receives orders from as far as Brunei. He recently moved to Gombak to start a boutique. His bridal dress designs are especially beautiful.

Mohd Syukri Mokhtar, 28, holds a Diploma in Wood Based Technology from the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Polytechnic. After gaining industry experience for about eight years, he started his own interior design company.

“The polytechnic gave me the skills and know-how. Beyond that, It's also about perseverance and hard work,” he said. According to Mohd Syukri, more young people are needed in the interior design industry as Malaysia develops and more buildings come up.

The above are just a few examples of successful polytechnic and community college graduates. Recently, I've been informed of a community college-trained chef who earns a five-figure salary, and that many youths with certificates in tunnelling are working on the MRT project.

Their starting pay is in the RM3000 per month range, which is considered good for non-degree holders. It is a fantastic recognition of the quality of our vocational and technical graduates and the work they are able to produce for the industry.

The employment rate of community college and polytechnic students in 2014 was about 93% on average. There are currently 33 polytechnics and 91 community colleges nationwide, which offer degree and diploma programmes as well as short courses.

So why am I sharing all this?

When I was in secondary school, a commonly heard phrase was “just take pure sciences. If you don't do well, you can always jump over to the arts, but not vice versa”.

You see, back then getting into the science stream was all that mattered. We strived for As to avoid the “embarrassment” of joining the arts-stream or having to enter technical schools (which were deemed of a lesser standard). It was an unfortunate perception, but certainly prevalent.

The post-PMR considerations were not always guided by interest, career-potential or inclinations but rather peer pressure, misconceptions and narrow knowledge of the career marketplace (let's all become doctors or lawyers cuz that's where the money's at).

That preconceived notion still exists. But it’s slowly changing. Stories like those above should open our eyes to the potential of TVET. And this change in mind-set is vital for Malaysia.

According to Pemandu, 1.3mil out of about 3mil jobs to be created under the New Key Economic Areas (NKEA), will be in the TVET sector. 82% of those jobs will be in five key sectors namely education, retail, greater KL development, tourism and financial services.

In the United Kingdom, among the most in-demands professions by 2020 include home-based healthcare providers, agriculturalists and construction managers. In short, there is immense potential to TVET.

This change is also vital to address underemployment and graduate employability. In China, for instance, the government has indicated that it plans to convert 600 universities into polytechnics to address the imbalance between the number of graduates in the market and the availability of jobs. A phenomenon known as “ant tribe” emerged from the situation in China (Google it for a better understanding of this interesting issue).

The above said, TVET is undergoing a renaissance of sorts in Malaysia. In 2013, almost 126,000 applications were received for about 20,000 spots in technical and vocational schools. At the higher education level, more than 200,000 application were received for about 35,000 places in the polytechnics in 2014.

In schools, the psychometric assessment which is administered as part of School Based Assessment (PBS) aims to help students and parents make informed decisions with regard to which educational pathway to take. In the future, straight As in the PT3 (the successor of the PMR) may yet see the student entering a vocational and technical school.

As for higher education, it appears that TVET will feature prominently in the soon-to-be-launched Higher Education Blueprint 2015-2025. Based on documents at the Education Ministry's website, TVET offerings will be placed at par with those of traditional academic pathways.

I support making TVET more attractive and giving it greater prominence in our education landscape. Without a doubt, it will be lucrative, but more importantly, it's a necessary step in the right direction.