Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Malaysia's Education Setback

We need to know where we truly are and accept that before we can move the education system forward.
Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysian Minister for E...
Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysian Minister for Education.>
THE experts tell us one thing about any programme of self-improvement. That includes the whole gamut of losing weight, improving self-confidence, widening your knowledge base, playing a better game of tennis, speaking well, aiming to win a gold medal at the Olympics, climbing Mount Everest, and, yes, to drastically improving the education system.

We must know our starting point.

If you want to lose weight, you must accept that you are overweight and chart a programme to reduce your weight over time. It’s a good idea to lose it healthily. You don’t want to lose too much or you may put it back in half the time that it took you to lose it.

You want a permanent solution to the problem. You want to take the weight off and keep it off through a re-education of your eating and lifestyle programme so that the changes that you institute are for life.

But before you choose a programme you need to know if it’s good for you, if you can follow its regimen, if it makes sense and if it is in line with all known scientific principles.

You have to be sure that it has a good chance of working and it does not make you worse off than you started with.

Choose the wrong programme and you wreck your body and physique forever and make it nearly impossible to reprogramme your body so that its metabolic rate does not always stay on starvation alert caused by your ill-considered move to go on a severe diet.

Changing the education system is similar to weight reduction, only enormously more complicated.

But you first have to admit that your education system needs changing. If you hang on to that mistaken, myopic belief that your education is better than those of most developed countries, you are sunk.

If you are 200 pounds and five foot three, there is no way you are not overweight even if you have tonnes of muscle!

The authorities now quote a study by Introspek Asia that in a survey of 1,800 Malaysian adults, 55% believed our education system to be comparable to other countries, without saying which countries.

And 35% believed education standards to be higher than developed countries, again without stating which countries.

The short and long of this is without much more detail, this survey amounts for little if anything, and if its methodology is right and defensible, we may even have to come to the unpalatable conclusion that Malaysians are a rather misinformed lot.

Let me put down here 10 clear symptoms that our education system is sick and needs a major overhaul to move forward.

It’s my hope that those responsible for coming with up with yet another major blueprint will take heed for I am sure many fellow Malaysians share the same sentiments. Here goes:

> By the end of Standard Six we still have whole classes unable to write their names. If the authorities don’t believe this, let them make a survey of the schools through the administration of a simple test — and use independent auditors and make the results public.

> The quality of teachers and schools has fallen steadily. This is reflected in the poor quality of those who leave school, many of whom can’t read and write in Bahasa Malaysia, let alone English.

> The quality of English has plummeted. Employers in the private sector where English is commonly used as the de facto language of choice, lament the poor English skills of even graduates educated in universities where English is the medium of instruction. Government flip-flops over English has only exacerbated the problem.

> It has become much easier to score A’s. The seemingly easy manner in which thousands score straight A’s in end-of-school exams has raised serious doubts over the integrity of the education system and whether our standards are set too low.

> We don’t have a proper system of vocational and technical training. We have a system which is academic based and does not provide enough vocational and technical training for those who may want and need it.

> We have a racially polarised school system partly largely because of falling standards. There was a time when most students of all races went to national schools simply because they were considered the best.

But Chinese schools are now seen to be much better with most Chinese enrolling their children there.

We have at least four, perhaps five, educational systems — national, national type Chinese and Tamil and religious schools. The fifth are private schools, both with international and Malaysian curricula.

> We produce thousands of unemployable graduates, especially from public universities. We moved a long time ago to quantity instead of quality.

> Qualifications from public universities are not as well recognised as before. Most people opt for non-public universities if they can afford it, a sad change from before when getting a place in Universiti Malaya was considered prestigious.

> We don’t have a top 100 university, and university standards have declined. While most Malaysian university qualifications were recognised worldwide at one time, that’s no longer the case.

> We continue to politicise education at the expense of students. Why do our politicians insist that our education is tops and then promptly send their children to private schools and overseas to educate them — in English?

For changes to take place, we must recognise where we are right now, we must get our bearings first.

Let’s open our eyes, absorb the unvarnished truth, seriously soul-search, and provide a real, deep, thinking education to young Malaysians without politics, propaganda and proselytising so that education is wholesome, complete and secular.

Comment by P. GUNASEGARAM

 > Independent consultant and writer P. Gunasegaram likes this quote from Horace Mann: A human being is not attaining his full heights until he is educated.

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