COMMENT | The “black shoe” furore, where Education Minister Mazlee Malik spoke for almost two hours on education reforms and less than 1 percent of that time on the move to switch schoolchildren to black shoes.
Public discussion, however, focused 99 percent on the black shoe change and one percent on education reforms – that should be a lesson to all on the pitfalls of modern communication.
With the focus mostly on the switch to black shoes, mass media and social media reports gave the impression that Malaysia has one of the worst, most stupid and unthinking education ministers in the nation’s history.
It became an issue in the Sungai Kandis by-election in Selangor, with the BN deputy chairperson Mohamad Hatta citing the decision as an example of how the Pakatan Harapan government still “does not know what it is doing”.
Hatta, who is the BN Sungai Kandis by-election director, said in the by-election:
"I think Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik changes the national education policy through the feet, not through the head.
"I don't know what he was thinking to start making changes to the education policy with shoe colours. Maybe he has no other work."
The opposition member of parliament also made jokes about the black shoes during the debate in Parliament. Jokes about the black shoes topped the topic of public discussions to the extent that there were cartoons about education reforms coming from the feet.
Are all these jokes about the black shoes fair to Education Minister Mazlee Malik, who is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and promising appointments to the cabinet in the country’s history?
To understand the black shoe furore, I watched the Sinar Harian live talk show “Program Bicara Minda Bersama Menteri Pendidikan” moderated by veteran journalist Johan Jaffar.
It was slightly over two hours, and Mazlee spent 30 seconds talking about the switch to black shoes for school children from next year. More than two hours was spent discussing education reforms.
He spoke on topics such as ensuring lighter school bags for the students, improving the school curriculum so national school students are of international standard, freeing teachers from non-teaching tasks, providing more space for art, music and literature in the classroom; improving special need schools, restoring academic freedom in the universities, etc.
Two days later, the Education Ministry clarified that the black shoe switch would only be implemented in stages, beginning next year. He said the ministry would consider all factors, including the burden on low-income parents.
But the damage had already been done. The public had a false impression that Mazlee was only interested in trivial issues and cosmetic changes and was incapable of addressing more the serious issues of educational reform.
Political leaders like the BN deputy chairperson and opposition MPs who made the black shoe furore into a hot-button issue without watching Mazlee’s two-hour talk show or deliberately ignored Mazlee’s proposals for educational reform are doing rational and intelligent public discourse a grave disservice.
LIM KIT SIANG is Iskandar Puteri MP
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.