I’ve always thought Dr Hamid Pawanteh wasn’t your average Umno type. He’s not strident but reflective and quite unlike the sort of doctor who might confuse the Spanish flu for an aphrodisiac not quite from Spain.  

Now 77, the former chief minister of the tiny northern state of Perlis predicted that the country would become the world’s worst unless “its custodians change how they conduct themselves” as leaders.

Many of us know what ails the system. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise that there is something wrong with our education system. Dr Hamid agreed. In a word, it had “failed.” To his mind, it was the cause of our bad leadership.

The problem: while everyone agrees that, yes, this is so, no one wants, or knows how, to fix it. 

When he became premier again in 2018, Dr Mahathir said the curriculum had become too Islamised and promised to repair it. 

His choice for Minister wasn’t inspiring to begin with. Nevertheless, we heard that a report was commissioned to find out exactly how much time religion featured in an average school-day. Like a damp squib, nothing came out of it and there were whispers that the report was so damning that it was classified “secret.” 

There are other whispers. It’s said that the grading system for the harder subjects like Math and Science had been relaxed: a grotesque reclassification of merit that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Math for Dummies.” 

This particular whisper has been going on for years. 

Indeed, the cynicism is so great that when the latest SPM results showed dramatic improvements despite months of school lockdown, Sheriff Kassim, a former senior civil servant, wondered if it had to do with grade manipulation and urged an investigation.  

Nowhere is the failure of the education system more apparent than in the current problem of the contract doctor. The reason is clear – too many doctors chasing too few jobs. And its blame, crystal – the ruling politicians in Umno. 

The party seemed to think more universities meant more votes and soon most states boasted their own university. Whether there were sufficient faculty of competence seemed irrelevant. Similarly, whether the demand for those graduates were there was even less relevant.

As far back as a decade ago, people like Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, himself a doctor from the 1970s University Malaya, warned Parliament that the sheer number of local medical faculties coupled to the increasing recognition of medical degrees from Russia and Indonesia, was leading to an oversupply of doctors. 

That the government ignored these warnings is lunacy. Pity the poor wannabe Malaysian doctor. That they might not get employed, after almost six years of study in a field that’s near Godlike, is mindboggling and only attests to the government’s negligent stupidity.

An oversupply almost always results in a certain drop in quality. Recall the furore a few years ago when a local doctor confused chicken pox for chicken chop and issued a prescription to that effect. It isn’t clear what the pharmacist thought.  

It isn’t a unique problem. Singapore, too, thinks it’s getting there, according to a local doctor friend who graduated from Ireland’s Trinity College. He told me that he’d recently read that the Singapore government would, in a couple of years, no longer recognise the medical degrees from a number of foreign institutions including Trinity, one of the leading medical schools in the world. The government was giving notice to its citizenry in what can only be deemed a friendly warning, a caveat emptor regarding future employment, if you like. 

Isn’t that what responsible governments do?