May 18, 2015
COMMENT: For Malaysia’s sake, the Najib Administration must fix the education system as a matter of top priority. If the Minister of Education who is also the Deputy Prime Minister cannot do it except to think that our education is still world-class, he should hand over his education portfolio to someone else with the political will , vision and passion for reforming the way we develop our human capital in the race to meet the challenges of a digitized and globalized world. We are laggards in this race.
We cannot just turn a blind eye to the OECD education report. Certainly, we need to worry about out ranking. And The Star should not be polite with our Ministry of Education by suggesting that we should… “not get hung up on these rankings”. As citizens and taxpayers, we have the right to demand quality education because we want our young to be trained to think critically, be imbued with moral and ethical values and have character and leadership qualities.
Cambodia and Rwanda, nations which experienced genocide, are working hard to rebuild their education system so that they can integrate with the world. Their leaders (Hun Sen and Paul Kagame) realise the need to develop their human capital for sustained economic growth. More importantly, they are taking action with gusto.
Urgent action is, therefore, needed if we are to arrest this decline in our educational standards. As HRH The Sultan of Johor suggested, we should look at Singapore’s single-stream education system, which uses English as the medium of instruction with emphasis on science and mathematics. Learn why the Singaporeans are tops in the OECD ranking. That takes humility and the courage to admit our weaknesses and then start taking drastic action to remedy them.
Let us end this leisurely pace of dealing with this serious challenge of educating young Malaysians. Implement the two education blueprints on preschool education and primary and secondary schools, and higher education in earnest, and end the habit of changing our education polices every time when we have a new Minister of Education. Let us also not delude ourselves into thinking that we are world-class . We are not.
We need to catch up in the race to develop our people and boost national competitiveness. In this race, the quality of our human resource is decisive. Education is a good investment and our tax ringgits will be well spent if we do it right by getting politics out for the way. –Din Merican
Commenter Kellen’s Rejoinder:
I am sorry to point out the obvious but decades of affirmative action in favor of the majority Malays in Malaysia have lulled them into believing that Malaysia is doing well, that they can live comfortably without working hard and there is no need for improvement or more education, much less reforms. The more enlightened ones who challenge this utopian state of mind are often slapped with labels of ingratitude or conspiring with the so-called “pendatangs”.(emigrants)
But there is a cost to this. The “pendatangs”, who know full well that the state does not owe them a living are learning and acquiring new languages, skills, knowledge and competencies in the latest fields to remain professionally relevant and employable. This will inevitably widen the skills and wealth gap between the “pendatangs” and the indigenous majority (and definitely not the elites), and put more pressure on the social fabric that we can do without. Then accusations of the “pendatangs” controlling the economy and discriminating some of their fellow citizens will follow.
The Malaysian government on its part is contented to allow the majority to remain in this state of mind with a keen eye on preserving political power. Then there is an unwillingness to learn from others, especially from a tiny neighbor to the south who has shown the ability not only to survive after being unceremoniously kicked out (of Malaysia in 1965), but also to thrive, succeed and overtake Malaysia in every field imaginable. Today the government views this upstart nation irritatingly and a indictment of what has gone terribly wrong in Malaysia and more so, what Malaysia could have been and indeed more.
Even a country as advanced as the United States realizes that to maintain its competitive advantages, educational reform is the most important endeavor. In the past year or so, there has been intense and sometimes emotional debates across the United States about the new common core standards which recently came into effect. These new education standards are designed to focus learners on developing the critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills they will need to be successful in college and in the workplace and compete globally.
Arising from this, the tests for kids will become a bit more challenging and requires more thinking and understanding of the subject, be in in mathematics, science, language arts or social sciences. Because the teacher’s performances will be tied their students’ performance, there has been pockets of massive inertia against this change. Some teachers have readily welcomed these changes while others have mounted strong resistances. But I am glad that the federal government and most state governments have remained steadfast in having these new standards implemented even if there is going to be much short-term pain and adjustments, strong likelihood in students’ grades dropping for the first few years and probably losing some votes.
But such is the resolve of responsible and far-sighted federal and state governments that know that unless reforms are undertaken, the US runs the risk of being challenged and overtaken by a resurgent Japan, China, Germany, possibly even South Korea and others.
In Malaysia, it must first start with humility which is why Muhyiddin’s admission is encouraging. Then we need to put aside our pride and airs to learn from those who have succeeded, but make sure we send competent people to learn, not some fat lady leading study trips that include shopping and sightseeing on the side. Then have competent women and men draw up blueprints to stop the rot, strengthen the education infrastructure (teaching resources, languages of instruction etc) and improve the education curricula focus (for e.g, more STEM and less religious studies) from Grade 1 to the Universities.
Today we can still learn from Singapore, Hong Kong or Australia. If we do nothing now, in a decade we will need assistance from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and Rwanda.–Kellen
Take OECD education report as a wake-up call, says The Star
IT does not feel good to know that a new report by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development places us at 52nd among 76 countries in terms of our students’ grasp of basic skills.
Singapore takes the top spot, thus reinforcing the recent call by Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Sultan Iskandar that we emulate the island nation’s single-stream education system, which uses English as the medium of instruction. His Royal Highness said having schools in only one stream would unite Malaysians and boost their competitiveness.These developments tell us that our education system can be a lot better. Then again, we all know that.
Wake Up and Stop Shaking Hands
The fact that Malaysia has two education blueprints – one focusing on preschool education and primary and secondary schools, and the other on higher education – shows that the Government is already taking steps to transform our education system.
The blueprints’ plans stretch until 2025, which means we should not hope for many overnight improvements. Meanwhile, it is wise for us to keep enhancing our understanding of exactly how our shared prosperity is built on education.
New ideas and insights in this area are valuable because they help us to shape and refine policies and practices relating to the education system. At the very least, they encourage us to see things in a different light.
It is clichéd to say education is the cornerstone of development, but what if somebody comes up with projections of how much economies can benefit if school enrollment and education quality go up?
In fact, the OECD has done just that in a report titled “Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain”. Published on Wednesday, it is the same report that has Malaysia in the bottom third of the class based on our teenagers’ mathematics and science scores in international tests.
Let us not get hung up on these rankings. The report is 116 pages long and has a lot more to offer than bragging rights and naming-and-shaming opportunities. For instance, it makes abundantly clear that an under performing education sector costs a country dearly. The OECD warns that poor education policies and practices will result in a loss of economic output amounting to a permanent state of economic recession.
The organisation also points out that high-income status does not automatically eliminate shortcomings in education.It is also interesting that the OECD argues that when there is universal achievement of basic skills in a country, its economic growth will be more inclusive.
The report suggests that there is still much to learn about how we can strengthen our education policies. We should be open to fresh thinking and approaches. At the same time, we must not waver from the commitment and noble intentions reflected in the blueprints.