July 30, 2012
Brutal Truths About Our Education System
by Dr. Ranjit Singh Malhi@http://www.thestar.com.my
The fact that our education system needs immediate and drastic transformation is evident. In the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) around 20% of Malaysian students failed to meet minimum benchmarks for both Mathematics and Science, compared to only 5% in Science and 7% in Mathematics in 2003.
According to the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) 2009+ report, Malaysian students ranked 55th out of 74 countries in terms of reading literacy, 57th in Mathematics and “only marginally better” in 52nd position for Science literacy.
The number of unemployed graduates with either a diploma or degree from local institutions of higher education has risen since the 1980s to a record of 24.6 % in 2010.
Our educational system generally promotes surface and passive learning instead of deep and active learning which is crucial for creating a quality learning environment. The products of our school system are generally ill-prepared either for higher education, work or life in general.
Our students lack critical and creative thinking skills because our education system promotes conformity and uniformity.Worse still, they have been “conditioned” to be spoon-fed.
Our graduates lack soft skills sought by employers, particularly communication skills, a strong work ethic, achievement-orientation, proactivity (initiative), planning and organising skills, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and human relations skills.
Mediocrity has also crept insidiously into our universities. A 2011 World Bank study has found that the academic standards of the Universiti Malaya have fallen due to race-based quotas and political interference in the university’s management.
Based on my recent interactions with hundreds of university lecturers (including numerous professors) from four local public universities through my workshops on effective teaching and graduate employability, the vast majority of them have a poor understanding of critical thinking and lack basic presentation skills.
What we need is to face the stark reality and brutal truths of our education system. We have sacrificed meritocracy and quality teaching for mediocrity, politics and an overdose of social re-engineering.
We have sacrificed “quality” of graduates for “quantity” of graduates. The first step in transforming our education system is to “begin with the end in mind”.
The million-dollar question is to ask what should be the desired attributes of our students and graduates i.e. what kind of knowledge, skills and personal traits should they have to meet the challenges of the 21st century world.
Malaysian students and graduates should possess adequate disciplinary knowledge; self-confidence; be achievement-oriented; persuasive and effective communicators; demonstrate integrity and a strong work ethic; be self-directed, self-reflective and lifelong learners; be resilient; demonstrate good interpersonal and teamwork skills; be good problem solvers with analytical and creative minds; computer literate; and productive and responsible citizens with inter-cultural tolerance.
Towards this end, schools and universities should provide a high quality, broad-based and holistic education with emphasis on cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, moral intelligence, spiritual intelligence and physical well- being.
Various measures are needed to transform our education system. First, the main driver of the variation in student learning at school is teacher quality. Research shows that over 30% of the variance of school student achievement resulted from professional characteristics of teachers, teaching skills and the classroom climate.
Indeed, students placed with high-performing teachers are likely to progress three times faster as those placed with low-performing teachers. In this regard, it is crucial to get people with the right competencies to become professional and highly motivated teachers who practise self-reflection, self-correction and continuous improvement.
Next, transformational leadership with a strong focus on instructional leadership (enhancing the quality of teaching and student learning) is the second most important determinant of student learning. Transformational leaders are visionary, inspirational, change-adept. More importantly, they nurture a high-performance school culture which brings out the best in others and transform them into peak performers.
Third, high-performing schools generally have high and realistic expectations of teachers and students; a nurturing and motivating classroom climate; effective assessment (primarily formative) and feedback; a close community-home-school partnership; and adequate funding and resources.
Fourth, it is important to adopt an integrated and systemic approach (and not a piece-meal approach) towards transforming schools.
School transformation efforts must encompass clear educational outcomes, a broad-based and holistic curriculum, competent teacher recruitment and development, effective school governance, varied and student-centric instructional strategies, optimisation of e-learning, appropriate assessment and feedback, and a high-performance school culture committed to excellence and continuous improvement.
May my frank and sincere commentary stir up a healthy and frank discussion among fellow Malaysians. The destiny of our country lies squarely in our hands.Failure to transform our education system based upon systemic and brutal change will erode our nation’s global competitiveness, organisational productivity and individual well-being.