ISSN 2330-717X

Under Pakatan Harapan, Shouldn’t MARA’S MRSM Be For All Malaysians? – OpEd


I read with bigger concern the way we let ethnocentrism prevail through elitist and well-funded schooling that will continue to reproduce society “separate and unequal” especially when the new government has been talking about “Education for All”. The MRSM (Mara Junior Science College) system is one example of what I’d call a “successful failure”.  Successful it is in running the school but failing it is in the more important goal of national integration. In fact, it is an example of a system that has both the hidden and open agenda of promoting a newer brand of Ketuanan Melayu, something that needs to be abandoned.

Need a special council for MRSM

The MRSM system needs to be taken over by a body that will oversee the restructuring of society ensuring equality, equal opportunity, and social equity be the basis of modern-day Malaysian schooling. It has to be driven by a philosophy of social-reconstructionism to “correct newer racial imbalances” through the MRSM system itself. 

The original early 1970s idea of MRSM conceived after the formulation of the NEP, through its “Batik Papers” proposal was to “correct racial imbalances”. That was fine then, after May 13, 1969, after Mageran (NOC), after Risda, after early Mara. Today, the notion of imbalances must be re-interpreted so that Mara-MRSM will become more intelligent in playing the role of this massive-monstrous-moneyed machine of social changeable to provide opportunities for children of all races rather than Malays and bumiputera primarily, or perhaps only.

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 the 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 AI, Blockchain, Gene-Editing, 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 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-bumiputera’. 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 harnesses the power of multiculturalism rather than the one-race-dominant idea of bumiputeraism.

This is where MRSM places need to be available to 50 percent of “non-bumiputera” 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. Today, the slogan by the former education minister is “Education for All”. Honour this.

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.

Revamp MRSM wisely

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 policies to maintain the withering Malay-bumiputera hegemony?

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

MRSM must be about “Education for All”. Regardless of race, ethnicity, religion. Isn’t this what the Pakatan Harapangovernment is talking about anyway? I suggest MRSM be taken over and managed wisely by a council of multicultural educationists concern with the issue of equality, social justice, and the slogan by the Education Ministry: “Education for all”.

Revolutionise MRSM to be truly marhaen and multicultural. This is my call, as a human-engineered product of the earliest MRSM system.

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Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman is an academician, educator, international columnist, and author of nine books He holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in international education development and Master's degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies, communication, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Columbia University chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here. His latest book, a memoir, is published by Penguin Books is available here.

One thought on “Under Pakatan Harapan, Shouldn’t MARA’S MRSM Be For All Malaysians? – OpEd

  • January 14, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    Let us persuade the chinese and indians to accept one school system first before asking the government to open mrsm for other races. It is totally unacceptable to do the latter without the first not being avail.


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