January 9, 2014
FMT LETTER: From S Ramakrishnan, via e-mail
It is no longer a point of contention: Our education system is indeed failing, and failing the economy. Even International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapha Mohamed, has called for a total overhaul of the education system if Malaysia were to reach the goal of being developed by 2020.
The 2012 international student assessment (Pisa) results point to the stagnant bottom position held by Malaysian students in maths, science and reading. The results rank Malaysia at 52 out of 65 countries.
Even the launch of the Malaysian Education Blueprint does not seem to make any impact to allay the fears that the education standards are slipping, and slipping badly. All the ETP and GTP initiated by Pemandu since 2009 have not brought about any significant achievements.
Bottom of the class
Malaysia came out 55th out of 74 countries in reading literacy, 57th in mathematics and “only marginally better” in 52nd position for science literacy. How can we achieve vision 2020 developed nation status when we are languishing at the bottom of the world’s classrooms in our education standards?
The irony is that the Education Ministry is always considered the stepping stone for all our prime ministers. A country in search of growth must invest in education. And the double irony is that ministry receives the highest allocation in every budget.
Despite the generous spending on education, Malaysian students are getting a poorer and poorer quality of education, says the World Bank report. The Ministry of Education is focused on schooling the students then educating them. I wonder whether the ministry ever thought what education is.
Emperor with no clothes
Malaysia urgently needs to revise the ways it formulates and implements the education system. So much is written in the media about the shortcomings in the Malaysian education system. Much like the emperor with no clothes, the education ministry appears oblivious of the situation and goes about as though all is well in the system.
Education policymakers do not seem to pay attention to the numerous works, writings and positive contributions by people outside the ministry. Indeed it’s such a pity that many people who can identify and articulate well about the problem are outside the system.
And people who don’t seem to understand the problem, or uneducated about the problem, are in the system and holding high positions. In this stalemate and mismatch, the ministry ignores the services of people who can turn around this dire situation.
The ministry is all for indoctrination to make the whole education system dogmatic and inculcate a non-questioning attitude among students and regurgitate what has been given in notes and lectures.
Good teachers and real educators could never survive in our backward education system that seems to perpetuate ignorance rather than knowledge. In this highly centralised system, only the mediocre and those that slavishly follow instructions will thrive and even get promoted to their level of incompetence. Creativity, skill, original and critical thinking are alien concepts in our system.
Vietnam, which was war torn for decades, has overtaken Malaysia in the Pisa assessment and even the recent SEA games medal tally. Foreign investors too seem to be moving to Vietnam and Myanmar.
Garbage in, garbage out
While others are running forward, Malaysia seems to be running on the same spot, or even running in reverse and watching other nations pass by. Malaysia is already facing a brain drain and lacks skilled workers. One thing consistent about the education ministry is the flip flops in policies despite having spent billions setting up the hardware and software.
It is also puzzling that all these shortcomings and failures do not seem to get any counter or corrective action or open consultation. There is no learning, relearning and unlearning by the education ministry.
The World Bank report also highlights that “most countries whose students perform well on international student achievement tests, give their local authorities and schools substantial autonomy over adapting and implementing education content or allocating and managing resources”.
The Malaysian education system is too centralised, with schools and teachers having very little autonomy. In the 60s and 70s, Malaysia had headmasters who were par excellence and made their schools the envy of others. Alas, those breed of educators faded away with heavy heart with what was being dished out in the later years.
Can Malaysia become a developed nation come 2020? A failing education system can never lead the country to developed status. But the Umno-led ruling coalition will never admit that our education is substandard. If the others don’t agree with them, they will be asked to migrate. And this is an incentive for the very brain drain they are trying to prevent. Irony of ironies!
Quo Vadis educare? (Where is the education system going? – Latin)
The writer is a former senator
~ Free Malaysia Today