Side Views

Education the key to a better Malaysia — Hussaini Abdul Karim

NOV 26 — “Education is the most powerful weapon, we can use it to change the world.” — Nelson Mandela. 

The country needs to change for the better and whoever leads the government that will be determined by the results of the coming 13th general election (GE13) must make change happen as soon as possible and not just continue with rhetoric only. 

Given the political situation in the country now, and with the “help” of the Internet, regardless of whether it is spreading nuisance or pleasantries, I do not think it is possible for any coalition of political parties, either Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat, or individual political parties to win by a two-thirds majority anymore.  

Those days are already gone as hinted in the last general election when a political tsunami favouring the opposition happened. In the coming GE13, I think it is more realistic to believe that it will return results such as a simple majority, split votes or even a result that will culminate in a hung Parliament and there will be individuals who contest as independents or candidates who represent smaller political parties in selected constituencies to play the role of “kingmaker” after winning their respective contests in those constituencies.  

It is therefore “smart” for all political parties to think about how to handle the many fence-sitters all over the country; their number is perhaps more than the total number of voters with set minds, who will determine the outcome of GE13.

In order to win, I suggest, all contestants in GE13, either coalition of political parties like Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat, individual political parties or independent candidates to consider the following factors very seriously:

(Since I am discussing education here, I shall confine this discussion to education only.).

Education may not be the “cure-all pill” to solve all diseases (problems) but it will definitely be able to solve many of the country’s existing and future problems.

Many countries have proven that they are what they are today because of education, giving their citizens proper, high quality and the right education. China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea are excellent examples.

Education helps in national development, it is in fact a catalyst for national development, nation building, building solidarity especially in a multi-racial, multi religious country like ours; it helps in the development of our human capital to make them able to compete globally and they can also be independent and not depend on the government all the time.

Whilst the Ministry of Education has made a policy decision to stop the use of the English language in national schools since 1982 when Bahasa Malaysia fully replaced English as the main language used, it seemed to be unsure whether to actually stop the use or to continue the use of the language. As such, from time to time flip-flop policies were introduced and implemented, confusing students and angering parents and teachers. To complicate matters and realising the lack of mastery in English among our students, from primary to university levels, several stop-gap measures were introduced and implemented by the ministry, and after spending a lot of money on them the result or outcome is still zero, zilch!

Even as recent as two weeks ago the deputy prime minister, who is also the education minister, and his team were still evaluating programmes in Australia on the use of the English language in national schools.

Our country’s education policy was changed in the early ‘70s and the one major change was to switch the use of the main language from English to Bahasa Malaysia. Fast forward to the 21st century, about 40 years or so later, the Programme for International Student Assessment’s (PISA) latest report places our country’s education level at 55 out of 77 countries, i.e. in the bottom third, and in the report prepared by Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2012-13, our universities are not even listed in the top 400 in the world. If these are not the consequences of the policy change that the country has made in education, what are they then? 

Every progressive nation knows that the way to economic success and global prowess starts with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.

The perpetual discussion to increase the number of STEM students needs more than incentives offered to make it successful. Inevitably, a transformation of the science and mathematics curriculum is essential to revive interest in STEM.

The improved teaching pedagogy must also be flexible and be able to evolve with the times. It needs to be more proactive to the fast changing world of science.

Improvements for transformation must address the current method of learning science and teaching by rote, as this is no longer effective in this day and age. Science must be taught in a more enriching and interesting manner to keep the curiosity going.

If we are to transform the way we do science, we must begin to transform the STEM teaching pedagogy, the continuous teacher-training programmes, and also the teachers. 

The current batch of science and mathematics teachers have the advantage in their ability to function in scientific English, making them more receptive and adaptable to learning at the same pace with the rest of the world. 

The seven years we have left to achieve Vision 2020 is a blink in time. We don’t just need a transformation but a revolution to jolt STEM education to get it up to the OECD average. This is why we need to do it in English. There are more enriching experiences and up-to-date information available and we need not spend unnecessarily. 

Countries like Serbia have opted to renew their STEM curriculum with La main à la pâte in stages in 2001 after their bad performance in the PISA test. 

This method encourages students to ask questions, experiment, make mistakes, and use their own resources to discover how and why things work.  

The latest science PISA 2010 result, although lower than the average Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, saw Serbia placed at 46th position, which is slightly higher than Malaysia at 55 out of 77 countries. The OECD average ranks at position 28.

Our country, in spite of being placed lower, instead of doing something to improve the situation, just does not seem to care at all and insist on continuing to stick to a policy which has been in use for the last 30 years or so that has proven to be a failure. Many suggestions, ideas, proposals, all supported by proper studies, to improve the policy submitted by people from all walks of life, ranging from parents, students, practitioners, educationists, professionals, etc have all fallen on deaf ears. 

The majority of the people here recommend and support the use of more than one languages, or at least two with equal emphasis, for use in national schools but the authority concerned, and especially politicians from both sides of the divide, insist on sticking to just one, which is Bahasa Malaysia (BM), with only a token attention given to English and vernacular languages. What is so wrong in making our people bilingual? 

Subjects in the fields of science, medicine, technology, engineering, mathematics, for example, are best taught in English at the higher levels. Many local dons, scientists, doctors, engineers and mathematicians disagree and believe that they can be taught in BM but they forgot that they all mastered those subjects learning and researching them at overseas universities in the English language and I do not think they can be as good as they are if they did all that in Malay. Are there enough books and references written in BM for them to use and refer to at that level and are the people responsible to write or translate books and references in BM keeping abreast with the rapid development in the areas of study mentioned. So, why deprive the young people who are keen to study and carry out research to be as good as or even better than the best in the world from learning those subjects in English like what their seniors went through before? 

The US, with a population of 311 million people, needs 280,000 science and mathematics teachers by 2015 to ensure its global competitiveness. Malaysia, with a population of 27 million, has 400,000 teachers. On the basis of per capita population of science teachers’ equivalent to the US, we need 21,600 science and mathematics teachers or only 5 per cent of the total teacher population for our country.

The Education Ministry should look at the syllabus and curriculum to teach and train our young to be educated and be smart. They must be taught and trained to be globally competitive as for them to get jobs or do business in a relatively small country like ours will not be easy anymore. They have no choice but to look elsewhere for jobs or do business. This makes learning in English very important and necessary.

Many, including me, have criticised the Malaysian Education Blueprint, saying that the blueprint does not touch the basic issues and is not offering any progressive change at all. 

However, looking at the resolution prepared by Yayasan Selangor on behalf of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and comparing it the Blueprint, their six-statement resolution stated in their “Mereformasikan Pendidikan Negara” is totally hopeless. While the Education Ministry in its blueprint is at least still willing to extend PPSMI until 2016 so that all students who started Form One using this policy can complete Form Five using the same policy, PKR wants to scrap PPSMI immediately and start the 2013 school year using Bahasa Malaysia, much to the chagrin of the majority of parents and students who have been, for the last three years, arguing for PPSMI to be retained or at least, increase the English language content to enhance MBMMBI.

While it took the ministry from April this year starting with the countrywide National Education Dialogue involving thousands of Malaysians from all walks of life and culminating with the launching of the Blueprint on September 11 this year by the PM, PKR through Yayasan Selangor just took one Sunday at an event called “Konvensyen Halatuju Pendidikan Negara — Mereformasikan Pendidikan Negara”. 

The convention held at Unisel, Seksyen 7, Shah Alam discussed some papers presented by some retired professors, who have mostly passed their prime, and some disgruntled teachers and a school principal from Sabah and Sarawak in an attempt to show that the whole country is involved. It was attended by some 200 participants who predominantly came from just one community and only one state, i.e. Selangor, and came out with their resolution in the evening. This only shows how little emphasis they give to education in the country. The impression many people and I get is that (PKR) is either not interested in education or their way of treating important matters is just wishy-washy, at best. 

It looks like only the DAP in the Pakatan Rakyat coalition seems to support PPSMI and the use of the English language in national schools and a senior party member told me recently that his party members will keep adding the pressure to see how they can gather consensus in the group.

Nonetheless, I believe BN is able to change the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 overnight and to make it people friendly, progressive and effective as they already have more than 2,500 ideas, suggestions and proposals that was collected by the ministry from the three-month town hall series of the National Education Dialogue that they organised. 

BN can always direct the ministry to make the necessary change. PR has none. In drawing up a better, a more progressive and a more effective people-friendly education policy, that is the advantage BN has over PR (Pakatan Rakyat). 

Education is also able to:

Address and cure social ills

The social ills include corruption at all levels, Mat Rempit, snatch thefts, drug addiction, baby dumping, wife beating, single mothers, child abuse, school bullies, playing truant, vandalism, reckless drivers, road bullies, cheating, rudeness, no ethics, selfish, racism, etc. 

Create law-abiding citizens

Education can build civic-minded citizens, a caring society, good, loyal and responsible citizens and who are able to contribute to the nation’s development, build solidarity (perpaduan) in a multi-racial and multi-religious country like ours regardless of race, language or religion and instil in our young integrity and confidence, etc. 

Touching a bit on non-educational matters, please stop this nonsense of cash handouts, shops selling cheap goods and issuing discount cards to selected groups. Doing all that isn’t the way to a high-income nation. Our currency has low purchasing power and the subsidies are not directed to the relevant groups. Change that.

Change incapable ministers, there are many of them. There are many good, qualified and capable individuals that BN can pick and choose as candidates to contest in GE13 and they may not necessarily be members of the parties in the coalition. Scrap the AES piratisation and also stop nepotism, cronyism and favouritism, the bane of our country’s progress and move towards being a high-income nation and First World status, which also gives us a very bad image in the international scene. 

Finally, practise meritocracy to the letter.

If BN wants to retain power, please listen to us the people and make the necessary changes.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

 

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