The rise and resignation of Maszlee

The most controversial issue in his 20 months’ tenure is the introduction of Jawi lesson in vernacular schools


AN ACADEMICIAN, Dr Maszlee Malik was appointed as Malaysia’s education minister on May 18, 2018. Initially, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad named himself to the portfolio, but retracted the decision due to Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) manifesto which stated that anyone who is holding the PM position should not hold any other ministerial positions, especially the finance minister post.

Maszlee’s appointment was met with public scrutiny, especially after his first “major announcement” to replace the school shoes from white to black, as part of his efforts to revamp the country’s education system.

No stranger to controversy, he found himself to be critics’ target after publicly stating that non-Bumiputera pre-university quota will only be removed if the private sector employs more Malays.

According to media reports, Maszlee is one of the most unpopular PH’s ministers, with his first few months met with more criticism due to his decision to become the president of the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM).

He resigned from the post after consultations in a Cabinet meeting. Maszlee’s proposal to make swimming lesson a part of education curriculum and suggestion that hotels let their swimming pools be used for that purpose was rejected by parents and hoteliers.

Still, the most controversial issue that he had to face during his 20 months’ tenure is the introduction of Jawi lesson in vernacular schools.

Critics, especially from Chinese educationist group Dong Jiao Zong, expressed fear of “creeping Islamisation” in the vernacular schools, which led to a racial polemic for a few months last year. Others also questioned the ministry’s failure to recognise the unified Malaysian education curriculum.

Just last week, the ministry was questioned after an examination paper in a local university stated Indian-born preacher Dr Zakir Naik as an Islamic icon.

During the unveiling of the Education Ministry’s report card for 2019 last month, Maszlee said the ministry had carried out 53 initiatives to improve the country’s education.

“We paid attention to special-needs children, the low-income group (B40), students and teachers,” he said.

A 60% quota at fully residential schools was set aside to ensure children from the B40 families have equal opportunities, and a special entrance pathway to public universities saw 51,191 students getting into public institutions of higher learning, as well as public and private skills training institutes.

He said 62% entered matriculation programmes and 31,614 students benefitted from RM68.1 million worth of scholarships.

Maszlee became a politician after joining Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia on March 12, 2018, and was elected as the MP for Simpang Renggam on May 9 of the same year.

Prior to that, the 46-year-old was an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at IIUM.

He also served as an advisor to several civil society groups such as IKRAM, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs’ (IDEAS) Autism Centre and Down syndrome educational centre, ORKIDS.

He was involved in various think tanks and was also frequently spotted as a guest speaker or moderator for forums on issues relating to political Islam, Middle Eastern politics and the Arab Spring, among others.

Born in Johor Baru, he is also a researcher for Penang Institute, IDEAS and the Institute of South-East Asian Studies or ISEAS.

Prior to the 14th General Election, he had stated that he would like to see better education for the less privileged and provide equal opportunity for everyone.

He offered gold and silver political memorabilia as tokens to those who help fund his election campaign.