The bleak and bright side of Malaysian Education
Malaysia may be getting dismal marks for education but there are dedicated people making a difference to improve scores.
IT’S probably the best definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
The famous quote is often wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein but whoever said that, it makes sense, especially in the context of the Malaysian education system.
It’s madness to continue spending billions on education without seeing any improvements in quality.
The Education Ministry has been allocated RM56bil this year, RM1.4bil more than what it received last year.
Our expenditure on basic education is more than double that of other Asean countries and also South Korea and Japan.
Yet Malaysia remains stuck at the bottom third of the global schools league, as confirmed by the results from recent assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2012 study, based on test scores in mathematics and science among 15-year-olds in 76 countries, shows that Malaysia is languishing at 52nd, way below top-ranked Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
Our students were out-performed by Vietnam (12), Thailand (47), Kazakhstan and Iran (51). In Asean, Malaysia only ranked higher than Indonesia (69).
In March, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said he was shocked by Malaysia’s poor results in international education assessments and admitted that the standards were not good enough.
He said the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (Preschool to Secondary) and the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) were designed to improve the system, stressing that time was needed to see the changes.
The truth is, we don’t have the luxury of time and patience is wearing thin.
We inherited a solid education system after independence, just as Singapore did. But over the past three decades, successive ministers of education have made a mess of tinkering with the system, mostly for political motives.
Earlier this month, Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar suggested that Malaysia emulate Singapore’s education system with English as the sole medium of instruction.
Urging the people to be open-minded about the proposal, he said Singapore’s single-stream education system had not only helped to foster unity in the republic but also created a prosperous society.
It is still not too late to bring back the era of racial harmony and unity experienced by people of my generation, who are products of English schools during the 60s and 70s.
As the Johor Sultan has pointed out, there would always be a gap between the races in the country if our education system continues to be based on race and language, not to mention the increasing influence of religion.
But in spite of the weaknesses in the system, it is heartening to see committed parent-teacher associations and non-governmental organisations pushing fervently to get situations improved.
Last Saturday, I was at Sunway University where groups of eager teenagers were taking part in a Young Inventor Challenge, organised by the Association of Science, Technology and Innovation (ASTI), an NGO of volunteers who have been mentoring and encouraging students to excel in science.
ASTI is led by the unassuming Dr Mohamed Yunus Mohamed Yasin, who is credited with bringing about change in the attitude towards science and maths in Tamil schools across the country.
I wouldn’t have known about the quiet science revolution if not for blogger Syed Akbar Ali’s recent post about what Dr Yunus and his group of dedicated friends have been doing over the past 12 years.
As a result of participating in ASTI’s Science Fair for Young Children, Tamil schools are scoring top grades for science and maths in the UPSR.
Last year, SRJK (Tamil) Taman Tun Aminah, Johor Baru, emerged as the top school for the UPSR with 43 pupils scoring straight 7As while others scored 7Bs.
They are making headlines abroad too. In March, three students of SJK(T) Ramakrishna, Penang, beat 300 contestants from all over the world to win first prize at the 35th Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition.
Durgashini Srijayan, Kumurthashri Ponniah and Sugheson Ganeson won the gold medal under the Excellent Youth Science Creation category of the contest for their invention of an eco-friendly thermo container.
In October last year, SJK (T) Kulim’s R. Prevena, V Susheetha and former student R. Rasyikash won the Double Gold Award at the British Invention Show in London for their energy-saving drinks-dispensing machine.
Building on the successes of the science fairs, ASTI started the Young Inventors Challenge, which is open to all secondary schools, three years ago. From the initial 19, the number of schools has since increased to almost 200, including a team from Singapore.
ASTI also organises Creative and Critical Thinking Camps designed for primary schools up to tertiary level, and the ASTI Innovation Community Award to recognise the contributions of individuals or groups using science and technology for beneficial projects.
It also works with Germany’s Goethe Institute in organising the annual Science Film Fest to produce documentaries and teaching films about science.
And it has been doing all these with an annual budget of RM800,000, raised largely from well-wishers, including its 400 volunteers.
Dr Yunus’ philosophy is simple: “Stop complaining, get involved. As patriots, we can help the country do well too.”
By Veera Pandiyan
> Associate editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes William Butler Yeat’s definition of education: it is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.
Take OECD education report as a wake-up call
– The Star Says
ITS 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.
He 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.
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 enrolment 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 underperforming 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.