Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Any Solutions for Our Education System?

Here we are again, in the midst of babi calling euphoria in Dewan Rakyat as well as anxiety on the real possibility of new government these few months, there is a major issue that not be highlighted by our MPs or I may be ignorant so far.

Our Education Minister and his ministry are allegedly very corrupted with some wasteful projects that run into millions. A certain people named F1 project as one big money spinning for UMNO cohorts. I have never trusted any BN ministers for being bersih, cekap dan amanah as well as cemerlang, gemilang dan terbilang in running their ministries and our beloved country.

From Star:-

Dewan Rakyat: Billions on ICT

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government spent a whopping RM2.21bil on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) equipment in 2003 to implement the policy of teaching Mathematics and Science in English, said Deputy Education Minister Datuk Razali Ismail.

He said another RM2.4mil was also spent in buying software, RM317mil to train the teachers and RM638mil as subject incentives.

He also told the House that the ministry was conducting the analysis for the first phase of 2008 on the policy, and the findings would be out next month.

There should be no shortages of evidences, facts if our PR MPs can look into these rampant corruption practices and abuse of power (well, synonymous with BN) in this important ministry that looks after our kids education well being. The country's problems may be rooting from education system which implemented by our BN MPs and cabinet with strategy to keep them in power as long as they can.

All over the world, even in most developed countries, education systems are again at the crossroads. Some major countries are looking seriously to revamp their education systems to keep up with both domestic and global demands. Changes are essential to ensure the main asset of any nation, human resources are always competent with the right knowledge, qualifications, skills, attitude and ethics (bersih, amanah).

In Malaysia, during last decade or so, our examination results seem on the right track record with more students to collect As than previous years. Or is something not right after all when more unemployed graduates in our society?

I would like to share two emails addressing this education issue back home. Whatever the standards here in the UAE, good or bad depending on our level of perceptions and dreams, my wife and me are glad that we enrolled our kids here as well as our kids have fun in learning.

First one from Malaysia:-
rosaini wanhassn wrote:

I HAVE come to the conclusion that not only are there many things wrong with our education system, but we are unlikely to want to do anything about some of them.

In fact, given our propensity to self-inflict hurt, we could more likely prolong the damage done to our children, than to reduce it.

The irony is that many of us know that, but we nevertheless continue with our masochistic tendencies.

I am not talking about our hair- pulling on issues like graduates who are unemployable, or have poor proficiency in English or are lacking in general knowledge. We have gone through these issues many times and there have been many promises made to tackle them. But just like the haze, they would likely re-visit us time and time again.

I am instead talking about the primary school years, or to be exact, Year One, which is where my 6-going-on-7 daughter, is at.

For the past few months, we have been helping Zuleika with her homework, and I have concluded that our curriculum developers are either sadists, or are confusing 6-year-olds with much older children.

The exercises and activities come with instructions best understood by older kids and some of them require a 6-year-old to have the wherewithal and mental maturity to grasp concepts with abilities beyond their years.

In text and exercise books, her innocent view of the world is constantly challenged by weighty socio-cultural issues and matters of heaven and hell, as well as the nuances in between. These are obviously great things to know, if only she understands what they are all about. My daughter is at an age where she is still discovering that there are yet many untruths in fairy tales.

I know now what it means when people say school is tough. It is indeed, for the parents. I am trying to understand the pedagogical impetus for such intensity in the Primary One curriculum, where children are suddenly handed with much more work for class and home than those of decades ago.

There are less of singing along to nursery rhymes to learn the languages. Instead there are books and more exercise books. My child is expected to have the ability to speak, read and write in at least two languages before she even dons her first pinafore. For, obviously, homework awaited her then.

Now my daughter has to take religious class, which also includes the Quran, Jawi and Arabic, the last of which I am of no use to her. I understand the need for a rounded educational experience, but at such a tender age she now has to learn to speak, read and write in three languages. In the end, she could just be put off by all of them.

I know that kids are like sponges, able to absorb all kinds of information, and that it is the adults who are the fragile ones. True, but even a sponge has a maximum absorption capacity, beyond which you get dribbles.

(Incidentally, what do non-Muslim kids do when their Muslim friends go for religious classes? The Ministry of Education must bring back the Pupil's Own Language programme in Mandarin and Tamil. This is a must if we are really interested in making national schools the first choice for all our young, in our effort to solve all kinds of problems, from unity to the state of our football.)

But incidentally, there are many parents who believe in quantity, too. The more homework the better, and, of course, schoolbags that do permanent spinal damage would be the ultimate in early education.

A mother whose child attends a private school in the neighbourhood, rather proudly told me that her daughter, who should be in Primary One, is now doing Primary Two work. She was surprised that rather than envy, what came out of my mouth was, why?

What does it prove that a 7-year-old can do an 8-year-old's work, or a 10-year-old mastering an 11-year-old's? Why, indeed? I suppose in this age when children are expected to be able to read and write when they start formal schooling, my questioning of such haste may be rather out of place.

I believe many of us are obviously aware that we are wrong to be mistaking the ability to do complex work, with that of education. But we just cannot help ourselves.

Second One from UK:-

What are the immediate options? We can dip into our foreign reserves which stands at a healthy USD120 billion now. Bank Negara is actually doing a reasonably good job on the investment front. But spending our national savings now means less money for our children and our children's children. For the long term, we need to grow our economy to get more taxes. But how? Our education system really sucks now which means our students will not be competitive in terms of knowledge and skills and foreign companies will not want to come and set up a branch in Malaysia. Also note that our Trengganu oil reserves are finishing fast which means no more royalties from Petronas in less than 20 years. In short we are in deep shit. That's why I said whoever takes over will have a tough time.

The long term priorities should be the following:
1) Drastic reforms in the education system: Get the smartest Malaysians back as professors in our local universities and pay them well. Listen to them to revamp the primary and secondary education system. Pay teachers well. Remove as many 'dead wood' as possible.

2) Drastic reforms in the civil service. If you have idiots running the gov, nothing will help. Send our brightest students overseas on scholarships then make sure you bond them to serve in the gov. All races. MOST importantly, seriously clamp down on corruption. How? Make sure gov workers are paid decently. Do you know how little Malaysian policemen are paid? Maintain strict controls and send the offenders to long time in jail. Integrity and meritocracy should be key operating principles.

3) Drastic reforms in the economic/finance sectors. My proposals here would be quite technical.

When you have good people in gov, a strong education system and strong economic fundamentals, you can reasonably plan for the future. The problem? All these need money, where is the money coming from? You can raise money from gov bonds, borrow from foreigners etc but don't forget the interest payments. In short you can't do everything at once, you got to go step by step but any wrong step will result in one step forward, two step backwards. Of the 3 above, I think eradicating corruption is key, unless you have good honest people in the gov, everything will go to the drain.

Am I optimistic? Unfortunately not. I think my country has really too many deeply rooted problems and it takes at least 50 years before we can catch up with countries like S'pore. But as they say, hujan emas...

My 2 cents

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