Wednesday, 15 January 2014
Edge Education Forum, the what and the why
What factors are responsible for the poor state of affairs of our public education? The mushrooming of international and private schools catering to Malaysians, not just foreigners, best exemplified this situation. Results from internationally recognized assessments such as TIMSS and PISA, highlighting the weaker performance of Malaysian students, is another.
For many, this is the consequence of the poor quality of teachers. While this may be true, it is only the symptom. What are the causes? A lack of training or too low a salary scale, which drives away capable candidates from the profession? Or is it more to do with the absence of meritocracy, where the quality of teaching is not relevant to the teacher’s career development? Is our education policy too “centralized”, driven by bureaucrats that have lost touch with the needs of teachers and students?
What about the language of instruction? Was the change from English to Bahasa a fundamental cause? It is hard to imagine that language does not affect quality of the students and their capabilities when they subsequently join the workforce.
Why must we improve the quality of our public schools?
Quality of education directly impacts the livelihood of the individual and his family, and the growth and prospect of the entire nation. For the individual, it determines his employability, wages and in the longer term, his upward mobility through gaining greater knowledge and experiences.
For the nation, it creates national wealth, innovation and creativity, job creation, higher income, higher tax revenue to fund national development, better institutions and so forth. One is tempted to argue that the quality of education may be the single most important factor to move the country out of the middle income trap.
Two other related issues are equally important.
Education should be a unifying factor for Malaysia, given our diversity in ethnicity, religion, languages and wealth.
Those of us who went to public schools in the 1970s not only remember fondly our teachers, their passion and commitment to the wellbeing and quality of their students, but also our classmates. Every class was multi-ethnic, Malays, Chinese and Indians. We were all Malaysians, we played football and badminton together. We cheered for our school teams, not our race. We ate together, even if at times, we cannot participate in each other’s food.
Are our schools now contributing to racial and religious polarization? The Sekolah Kebangsaan are predominantly attended by Malay children. Chinese and Indian children go to vernacular schools. If the children do not learn to live and play together when they are young, how much more difficult will it be for them to live together later, when their prejudices have already been formed?
Those with the means send their children to private and international schools. Does this not create another layer of polarization? Between the haves and the have nots?
And if education is meant to be the universal “leveler”, giving equal opportunities to all, the fact that we have so many private and international schools, which charges exorbitant fees, is contradictory. These privileged schools will obviously be able to hire better teachers and provide superior resources. A further question is whether education should be a business for profit. Is it more of a social good or a private good? Should everyone have equal access to the same quality or should those with money be advantaged?
I hope these issues and more will be debated at the upcoming “The Edge Education Forum 2014” and I look forward to many of you participating.