By Dr. Azly Rahman

Here is my early thought on Malaysian education, after having many conversations with fellow Malaysians over the last few years.

Of late we hear the concern for the teaching of Maths and Science, closing down of vernacular schools, and on the quality of education. The issue is access to success. The vision is to collaborate and not to compete, and to bring in cultural perspectives into teaching so that each child may learn, learn well, learn meaningfully, and be able to live a good life as good, ethical, thinking and world-wise citizens.

It is in the realm of thought, language, education system, teaching strategies, nature of human intelligence, and how these relate to the economic condition that is central to our approach to designing an equitable and just principle and practice of education. We need to teach the nation how to celebrate the beauty of all languages and draw out their peaceful and ethical dimensions and not to politicize them at the expense of the advancement of human intelligence.

The issue is the commitment to explore new dimensions in teaching using Concept mastery and Constructivist principles as foundations, and approach “Ethno-Maths and Science” meaningfully.

If we stop politicizing education, stop dumbing down our students, teachers, and schools and start giving them the time to explore the concepts, skills, and motivation to succeed in their respective fields using high standards, we’ll have a great society and nation. I once wrote a piece on “education in the yellow states” as somewhat of a tribute to the shape of things to come when a new regime “that understands education” comes into power.

Japan and Korea have consistently been tops in the International Maths and Science Study. But then again, there is a difference between being at the top based on standardized score alone and being top in making the students understand the subject matter through “process and not merely product approach”. Herein lies “process-based” approach to teaching. A lot of times, we trumpet “top scores” (how many As students can bag in SPM, UPSR, or in any State tests, etc.). Of course if we “teach students to the test” and have a billion-Ringgit tuition industry to support rote-memorization learning, we’ll be happy to showcase the achievement of “this or that” race.

Consider how much time is wasted in class – due to teachers missing in action, absent without official leave, attending weeks-long courses without replacement, politicians visiting schools and disrupting learning, poor accountability of student attendance, poor teaching skills, poor teacher motivation, way-too-large classes, etc. All these need to be addressed and corrected – fast. We are losing a generation of the best and the brightest Malaysian of the millennial generation. We still have not talked about the issue of equity and equality in education – the issue of access to success. We still have not talked about redesigning the entire system based on the concept of  “small learning communities” and “teaching to the child’s multiple intelligences”. A long road ahead. But you and I trust the educational experts in both ministries – Education and Higher Education – have their strategies well laid out to prepare our children for an everchanging world of post-Obamanomics Depression.

So, what will we be good at as a nation? Worse, how many children of all races are going to end up as “strangers” in society reproduced as drop-outs because they failed in schools – not because of their own doing but because the school system has perfected the art and science of failing them. This has to radically change. I repeat – radically changed, including in the realm of leadership. After 50 years, we should have had an educational system that is a model of multiculturalism, higher standards, and evolving vision of success for other nations to study. We should have been a “premier” nation and achieved the “world-class” standard we hear being trumpeted so often.

Education however, is about hope, as the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire once said. We need to capture the essence of those “glory days way back then …” and recast the vision and work seriously in putting it back to practice and making the lives of our children in schools happier and more challenging intellectually. We will continue to be in this “long haul” situation, but there are macro- and micro-strategies for success. Any child’s mind is a terrible thing to waste and this notion has kept me passionate about my calling.

Collectively, what then must we do? Do we need to write a new Manifesto of Malaysian Education right here in this forum?


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