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Education, our perennial concern

Dr Maszlee Malik speaking at the launch of the 2017 Annual Report of the Education Blueprint in Putrajaya last month. - NST FILE PIC


THERE is no subject other than education that attracts the attention of most Malaysians. It just lends itself easily to debates and deep discussions.

Reasons are not hard to find. On one level, Malaysians care too deeply about the career development of their children. On a much broader national level, education has an impact on the country’s human capital development. And ultimately, education dictates the direction the national economy takes. Whether our economy goes north or south depends on what the country does to its education system.

To put it simply, education influences wealth creation and the quality of our lives.

Education is not to be taken lightly. Hence the deep discussions about what is right and what is not right.

Given Malaysia’s multiracial society, a debate has been raging as to whether our schools’ medium of instruction should be in the national language, English or even in the vernacular languages. We have been caught up in this debate for far too long.

Rather than debating the more substantive issues of curriculum content or the mastery of high-level professional skills such as medicine, law, engineering, physics or economics, we are engrossed in a seemingly ceaseless debate about the medium of instruction.

Perhaps Malaysia is the only nation in the world dwelling on this subject matter.

Others, for good reason, focus more on matters more weighty, such as issues of content, relevance, and the effectiveness of school output.

The recent statement by Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik on the need to review the education policy is welcomed and is indicative of the significance and importance of the subject to the future of the country.

My exposure to economic and social development planning in particular and the civil service in general has compelled me to pen this commentary with the hope that people in leadership positions will, through education as a discipline, make this country great in three areas I have in mind: social integration, technical skills, and global reputation.

Let me state at the outset that any policy review should continue to emphasise the command of an international language such as the English language.

Given the strong link our economy has with the global economy we should never compromise on this.

Indeed, the time has come for us to strongly encourage a good working command of a few international languages, including the English language. Mandarin and Arabic can be considered important languages to be promoted given their social relevance in Malaysia.

Having a good command of a few international languages will enable our youths to access a wide base of knowledge and technology.

Another essential element of the policy should be the promotion of human capital development.

Science and mathematics must be emphasised to enable our students to master technology not only to meet their career requirements but also to assist in the country’s economic development. The elements of science, mathematics must form a good part of the curriculum content of all grades and streams.

Even students pursuing the Islamic stream should be allowed sufficient exposure to English, science and mathematics to enable them to be employable upon completion of studies. Islam does not discourage us from acquiring this knowledge. The contribution of the Muslims in Spain to the advancement in knowledge for 300 years is a case in point.

The place of soft skills in the core curriculum of our schools must not be overlooked. In a study undertaken by the World Bank more than a decade ago, soft skills were found to be wanting among our industrial workers. It is hoped that this issue has been addressed by the relevant authorities.

If this isn’t the case then the education policy review must address this.

To summarise, I have suggested three concerns of education content that need to be factored in our policy review, namely: the need for a mastery of an international language, sufficiently deep exposure to science and mathematics, and the inclusion of good social skills in the core curriculum.

If history is any guide, let us be reminded that the Islamic civilisation in Spain contributed much to science and technology, and that our history of Melaka taught us that Hang Tuah mastered six or seven regional languages, and that our neighbour, Indonesia, united its hundreds of ethnic groups by adopting the Johor-Riau Malay dialect as the basis of its Bahasa Indonesia.

That said, let us wish the review of the education policy every success.


This original articles was published at

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