Look education






squarely in the face



WHILE the ranking of a country’s systems or institutions by world bodies can be used as an indicator of comparative performance, it cannot be used as the ultimate measure of their achievements.

While commissioned surveys and studies provide quick statistical indicators, they are no less contrived in the respondents selected or the Yes/ No questionnaires devised. The criteria used are often skewed towards getting particular data from a sampling of the population.

Very often, they do not elicit a full or complete response from respondents who find the questions vague or ambiguous. The statistics derived are thus not always conclusive and, at best, provide a partial reading of the situation.

What must be considered as more relevant indicators are the articulations on the ground, that is the people’s reasoned expression of their concerns about the nation’s mechanisms such as its education system.

While much of the rakyat’s input will be anecdotal and personal, the sum total of their subjective experiences will give a more comprehensive picture than any survey or ranking can.

They would have identified the positive attributes to be maintained and consolidated. More importantly, they would have experienced the many loopholes and shortcomings. What better knowledge than first-hand experience?

A great part of any education review is feedback from specialists and education experts who should be equipped with a wide perspective of education philosophies and policies and their translation into the curriculums of schools and institutions of higher learning – not only of their own country but also successful systems established in other countries.

The review panel must therefore comprise the wisest and most informed group of individuals who will be able to manage, select and prioritise the enormous data in order to come up with a set of pragmatic and workable recommendations.

While the country’s education philosophy and its policies must be definitive at the macro level, its resources, including its human capital, must be operable at the day-to-day level.

It is in this spirit that we welcome the National Dialogue Townhall – a series of dialogues to be held throughout the country from April 29 with the general public as well as specific groups, such as students, teachers and community leaders.

A category that should be formally identified are education associations representing the different subject areas such as the Malay language, English language and history.

The Malaysian English Language Teaching Association, for instance, is a long-established organisation with a huge following among the country’s English school language teachers.

The Malaysian Association of Modern Languages has as its members language and linguistics experts, university lecturers and students who have on-going research programmes and activities on the ground. They must be invited to give useful and up-to-date input.

As stated by the chairman for the National Dialogue on Education, Tan Sri Wan Mohd Zahid Mohd Nordin, in the newspaper advertorial, the dialogues will focus on nine priority areas among which are teachers, school leaders, school quality, curriculum and evaluation, multilingual proficiency and the role of parents and the community.

The promised transformation of the education system is directly linked to the bigger mission of producing “holistic individuals with a mastery in several skills, namely leadership and communication” and “high quality students” who will contribute their expertise in making Malaysia a “high-income nation”.

It is hoped that outstanding business and corporate individuals such as Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Tan Sri Zarinah Anwar on the education review panel will be able to synergise their pragmatic concerns with the academic concerns expressed by the equally eminent vice chancellors and academicians in the group.

Through their goodwill and influence they must urge the greater collaboration and commitment of the private sector in contributing their resources in more formal and definitive ways. The Malaysian corporate world must rise above their token CSR handouts to adopt more substantive measures to turn around the country’s education system.

For instance, in the area of language teaching and learning which is the bane of the system but which forms the bedrock of the teaching and learning of all other academic subjects, there must be private sponsorship of language labs and language learning equipment like recorders and tapes.

While the former is expensive to have on a large scale, the latter are cheap and readily accessible to teachers and students.

I would like to urge multinational corporations producing audio-visual equipment and the numerous service providers like Celcom and Maxis to be truly innovative and come up with Malaysia’s own mobile, personal language labs and learning devices.

It will be part of their national service to come up with user-friendly equipment for nationwide distribution. Public universities can be mobilised to produce software in the form of high-quality language tapes and CDs.

It is this kind of clever thinking and wise decision-making that is required for education transformation, not more rhetoric please!

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May 2012
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