When should the Anwar Government overhaul our education system?

Right now, before it is too late.

[1] Lat’s ‘mosquito’ cartoon

Long ago, Lat published a cartoon.  It concerned a study of tropical mosquitoes and the diseases they bred. Two scholars had each published a thesis on it. One was local. The other was a western scholar.

The result of the foreigner’s scholarship, Lat shows, is a huge  5-volume work. 

The Malaysian scholar shows a wafer-thin manuscript. One page of it has an arrow that says: ‘Ini adalah nyamuk.’ 

Do you remember that?

That just about sums up the state of our educational institutions

Currently, most schools and universities do not reflect – whether in their teachers or the students they produce – top-notch talent. 

Lat’s artistry – and his deep insights that made one laugh, snigger  – is the product of ‘old-school’ education.

It is the same old-school education that produced the Comedy Court and Allan Perera.

What happened to those schools of thought?

Where have all these insights gone?

[2] A secondary school at Kota Raja, Klang

When I went to cast my vote during May of 2018 polling, I was directed to a secondary school at Kota Raja, Klang.

The lines were long. The 140 minutes I was forced to wait allowed me to observe the school.

The condition of that overcrowded, government-funded institution was abysmal.

The toilets were bad.

The classrooms were dusty and antiquated. Cement rendering across the corridors was cracked and pitted.

The metal rails were rusted. Horizontal metal braces were welded into rusted uprights. These were strung across corridors. The welding was flimsy.   On the ground and on the various metal appendages, there were dangerous sharp edges. They posed risks of injury.

What was meant to pass for landscaping was dreadful.

The grounds lacked water. There were no shady trees. Plants had wilted in dry, caked soil.

The shrubbery across the tiny grounds sat forlornly in dry, packed, dust-encrusted earth.

I would never send my child to that school.

No one should have to.

That was in 2018.

As I left I thought, “It is time we rebuilt our schools”.

[3] The same school in November 2022

I had to go back to that school last week.

It was still a voting centre for the 2022 November polls.

The school had only become worse. 

[4]  Our education system used to produce world-class scholars

The Malaysian system was regarded as one of the best in Asia. We also produced world-class athletes – take badminton for example.

After decades of ‘independence’, what is the standard of the national education system? It is anything but ‘independent.’ After decades of the previous regime’s ‘selective education,’ it is a mess.

For decades, our education system has been rotting. 

The school syllabi, the quality of the teachers, and the students they produce have neither academic nor ‘life skills’, let alone the heart of a child’s education: the need to lead a virtuous life.

[5].  The purpose of education is to impart core values

We have, in the last few decades, produced graduates who are unable to analyse. The are incapable of independent thought. They cannot solve real-life problems. They cannot write, and cannot reason at the same level as their peers in developed nations.

The purpose of education, as a great being said, is ‘to impart values’. 

If we as teachers merely ‘impart facts,’ we fail our kids. 

This is what the modern system of education has become. It does not allow a student to become the very best version of himself/herself.

[6] Our current education system proceeds on the assumption that all children must think uniformly

We are more interested in memorising, and then afterwards spewing out, rote-learnt facts.

If the students do not think or act as teachers tell them, we label them.

The words and phrases we use are not only injurious to the pupil: we are ignorant of the principle that different children gravitate to different subjects.  When a child is more interested in soccer and is not interested in arithmetic, instead of creating a Messi, and make arithmetic more interesting, we judge the child: ‘Poor in academic work’; ‘playful’. ‘not disciplined;’ ‘disruptive;’ ‘and exhibits short attention span.’

All our grading of As, Bs, Cs, Ds, Es and Fs are premised on a uniform system of measurement and testing.

In this great race for 10As, all values are lost.

[7] The current Malaysian education system produces children who do cannot function in the real world

Our children and grandchildren are all lost in a maze of facts.

They are forced to conform to some idolised system of study created by educationists with poor understanding of child psychology. We assume that all the old systems are bad; that teaching doctrines spouted by untested educationists at in the United States or the Middle East are the more desirable.

We must come away from this ‘conformist’ trap. Certainly, we must accept good systems. Granted that not all that is old is good.  By where is our principle of ‘kaizen’: improving continuously in small quanta?

[8] It is time we seek a value-driven education

We don’t need a nation full of automatons. 

It is all this ‘Saya menurut perintah’ rubbish that has gotten us into a state.  The civil servants do it. 

The judges do it.

The policemen do it. 

So much so that in May of 2018, Mahathir remarked,

“I don’t think the county has any more educated people”.

He said the Malaysian education system was ‘outdated’.

[9] One cannot resurrect the dead

The Malaysian education system does not need buffing.  It does not need repair. It does not even need an overhaul. These are measures for a viable system that is inefficiently and ineffectively run.

[10] What we need is to ‘replace’ the education system, not ‘repair’ it

Reforming a broken system takes time. 

Replace how?

Q[11] Mazslee’s efforts  in 2018 are under-appreciated

In 2018, the then Education Minister, Dr Mazslee was unfairly criticised for encouraging students to wear black shoes. These were decisions taken by the previous regime — but Maszlee bore the brunt of it, and was vilified. 

The moment  Maszlee said children ‘must play more in school’, should ‘not carry heavy bags’, and ‘teachers should only teach instead of doubling up as administrative staff,’ it became clear that he was going in the right direction.

He is trying to follow the world-renowned Finnish system.

But his efforts were stopped by the backdoor government.

[12] My suggestion? Use the Finnish system.  

That should be a good place to start.

Each year, the World Economic Forum releases its Global Competitiveness Report. 

Data collated is analysed for, among other things, a study of global education systems. 

Finland routinely tops the list.

Its education system is famous for having a ‘no banding’ system – all pupils, regardless of ability, are taught in the same class.

As a result, the gap between the feeblest and the best pupils becomes – according to their measurement – the smallest in the world.

[13] The good news?

The Malaysian education system is so bad, that it has only one way to go – up!

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