Side Views

Malaysia’s education philosophy revisited — Hussaini Abdul Karim

FEB 9 — “Education in Malaysia is an on-going effort towards further developing the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner, so as to produce individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced and harmonious, based on a firm belief in and devotion to God. Such an effort is designed to produce Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable and competent, who possess high moral standards, and who are responsible and capable of achieving high level of personal well-being as well as being able to contribute to the harmony and betterment of the family, the society and the nation at large”. — Ministry of Education, Malaysia

Over the last 56 years or so, Malaysia’s national education policy has been changed many times. It was first changed when the Razak Report 1956 and the Education Ordinance 1957 which was dubbed the ‘Consolidation Era’ were introduced and the most recent one was the introduction of the New Education Policy (the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2012-2025) which was approved by the Cabinet on January 30, 2013. 

The Rahman Talib Report and Education Act 1961 which saw the ‘Review Era’, ‘Features of the 1979 Cabinet Report’ emphasised on basic education in the 3Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic, strong spiritual education and the desired disciplinary elements. It also emphasised on a Malaysian oriented curriculum. The policy streamlined education management procedure to improve the overall quality of education. 

The Education Bill introduced in 1995 was designed to produce world-class education in terms of quality in order to achieve national aspirations. It also looked at enhancing technical & polytechnic education and introduced provisions to regulate private education. 

The recently Cabinet-approved New Education Policy (the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2012-2025) will be presented to the King for His Majesty’s approval before it is implemented. 

Although all the changes done to the national education policy always maintained the essence of MOE’s education philosophy, none of the changes made resulted in improving our standard of education, as a matter of fact, it continued to drop and is still dropping even further. 

Therefore, besides changing the policy, we may also need to re-look at our education philosophy. 

The education philosophy neither takes into consideration global competition nor making our education standard and quality to be among the best in the world. 

The 1996 Education Act states that Bahasa Malaysia is the main language of instruction in schools and it is meant to uphold Bahasa Malaysia's rightful place as the national language in Malaysia as stipulated in Article 152 of the Constitution. 

The Cabinet Committee Report (1979) also recommended that the Malay language be the main medium of instruction and that English be taught as a second language at all levels of education. 

The MOE recognises that Bahasa Malaysia, as the national language, promotes unity and is also the main language of communication. English is the language of international communication and is necessary to explore knowledge at the global level. 

The major transformation in our education policy was to change the medium of instruction from English language to Bahasa Malaysia which was implemented in the late 70s in schools and the institutions of higher learning. It took about twelve years to complete and is acknowledged to have produced many graduates from first degree to PhD levels. We are all proud of that fact however the quality of science, technical, engineering and medicine graduates is lagging behind if compared to our pre-70s graduates.  Our graduates now are no longer able to compete globally especially with people from the other developing countries as well as from some of the third world countries even. 

Many of our graduates are finding getting employment locally a problem mainly due to their poor command of English and there are now more than 10,000 of them still remain unemployed, some after three years since they graduated.

During the days when we were using English language as the medium of instruction we had many public schools and a public university, i.e. University Malaya, which were considered or listed as among the world’s best 50 schools and universities in the world during that period. Many of our teachers in schools and lecturers in universities were among the best in the world. 

Those days, English medium national schools were the schools of choice of most Malaysians.

We were all mostly bilingual and many were trilingual or better. English language, Malay (Bahasa Malaysia), Mandarin, Tamil, Arabic, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese were some of the languages many Malaysians were proficient at, some less some more, and we even had judges who mastered Latin. The majority of our people mastered both English language and Malay (Bahasa Malaysia). 

I believe, our teachers and lecturers in those days, if required to, can teach in any school or universities in any English speaking country and they will be as good as any teachers and lecturers of those countries. 

Many students were courted during their final years at university by prospective employers and graduates remaining unemployed after completing their studies were not heard of at all. 

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) latest report place 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?

If Bahasa Malaysia was able to lift our standard of education or at least maintain our high pre-70s’ level when we were considered and acknowledged as country with one of the best education systems in the world, then why are we now placed in the bottom third, 55th out of 77 countries, by PISA and that and our universities are not even listed in the top 400 in the world by Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2012-13? 

The number of students taking up science subjects has also dropped to below 30 per cent out of the overall secondary school population of 2.3 million students, which is well below the country’s target of 60 per cent. 

We may still have a few good teachers and lecturers but still, due to their very poor command of the English language, they can only teach in local schools or universities. 

The question is: Is the New Education Blueprint 2013- 2025 designed to correct and improve the standard of education in the country and to raise our education level back to the level we were before? 

Without changing the education philosophy and the education policy along with it, I doubt it will and without a good programme in our education curriculum in our national schools to allow for the proper teaching and learning of English in the new education policy to complement the teaching and learning of subjects in Bahasa Malaysia, it is impossible for our standard to be raised to the high and respected level we were at before. Our education philosophy and policy is however very successful in producing many ‘jaguh kampung’. 

It’s very surprising that the government, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Higher Education and the people at the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education seem to be very happy and contented about it. 

I do not think there is any country in the world where its education policy had been criticised so thoroughly, so vigorously and so heartily by Malaysians from all walks of life, from students to academics and professionals including foreigners, and for so long but unfortunately, most if not all of the more critical and salient points and the more important criticisms, suggestions and proposals submitted, have fallen onto deaf ears.

* 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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