Thursday, 5 June 2014

Teachers and Politics

Sin Chew Jit Poh
6 June 2014


I read a report that a teacher was given “advice” by Education Ministry officials to be careful about what she places on her Facebook page. The offending post in question was a campaign poster for the DAP candidate in the Teluk Intan by-election.

In the report, one official was reportedly to have said that teachers should not be involved in politics and should focus instead on teaching. Well, first and foremost, our teachers are not just involved in teaching as it is. They are also involved in all sorts of energy and morale sapping activities that they are forced to do. The main source of complaint is the amount of administrative work they are burdened with.

But, be that as it may I do agree with the statement that teachers should not be involved in politics; with a proviso. They should not let any such involvement interfere with their teaching. If they are politically active in their spare time, what is the big deal? It is their democratic right to take part in the political process and it is their human right to express their views.

Ah, but I forget, we live in Malaysia. Concepts like democracy and human rights are very alien to those in power. Also let us not forget the double standards. I wonder if this teacher who is “being advised” would have faced the same degree of concern from the ministry if he or she had posted a campaign poster for the BN candidate.

Actually, there seems to be a case of selective amnesia at work here. Lest it be forgotten, teachers were at the forefront of the independence movement spearheaded by the Alliance (now the BN). In fact, UMNO was once very dependent on teachers as their backbone. It is understandable of course, because in pre-independence days, teachers were generally the most highly educated people of Malaya and they were very politically aware.

This is why up until recently, the portfolio of Minister for Education was so important. The ruling party wanted to have close relations with the teaching profession.  It was so important, that for the longest time it was a given that the person who held the position of Minister of Education was really the Prime Minister in waiting. So obviously teachers were an important part of our political development. Oh, but I forget, these teachers from history were supporters of UMNO, so I guess it was OK for them to be involved in politics.

Anyway, back to our present situation. It does not matter who you are and what position you hold, it is absolutely your right to hold a political view and to express that view. One of the things that was supposedly said about this whole situation is that the teacher’s posting was deemed as anti-government.
Nothing can be further from the truth, even if he or she was anti-government (which incidentally is still a view anyone is entitled to have), her posting was about an election. So if she was choosing one side against another, she was actually choosing between political parties. The issue of government does not come into the picture. Elections are about choosing the individual, or more likely in the Malaysian context, the party, whom you want to be part of government or to create a government.

This is a very rudimentary premise of a democratic system. The fact that officers from the Ministry of Education does not seem able to grasp this simple concept does not bode well; for if such a basic thing can’t be understood, then really one should not be involved in education at all!

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