Skeptical academics are hoping that the Education Ministry's announcement of a plan to revamp the education system is not just another 'quick' feel good 'solution'.PETALING JAYA: The bottom line to the Education Ministry’s ambitious plan to overhaul the education system is ‘political will’ and whether the ruling Barisan Nasional government, which is poised to face a general election sometime soon, is ready to risk it.
Academics here are fervently hoping that the ministry’s latest bid is not just another “quick solution” to cull favour and blanket the deepening problems plaguing the education system in the country.
According to them, any plan or study into the problem would be pointless if there was a lack of “political will” to implement the suggestions.
They were alluding to the ministry’s announcement, two weeks ago, that it was in the midst of compiling a report with the aim of overhauling the education system.
Minister Muhyiddin Yassin however stopped short of detailing how the ministry would go about conducting its study and compiling the report.
Muhyiddin did however say that the revamp of the education system was not merely for students but also “for the future development of the nation” and that the report would be ready by year end.
Academics however chastised Muhyiddin’s announcement saying that it ‘lacked’ details.
Speaking to FMT, Dr Lee Hock Guan of the Institute of South-East Asian (ISEAS) said the ministry should look into the issues carefully instead of looking for continuous “quick solutions” in fixing problems plaguing the education system.
Lee said the government also needed to heed suggestions made by stake-holders of the system if it was serious about the complete overhaul.
He said the system today was an accumulation of unresolved problems from almost two decades ago.
“It is needless to say that the education system is complex and broad.
“The primary and secondary level faces different problems and challenges from the tertiary level.
“Also different schools in different locations face very distinct problems.
“One cannot place a straight-jacket type of solutions on all schools and institutes,” he said.
Urban-rural divide an issue
Lee suggested that the ministry take a comprehensive look into the problem.
“The ministry may need to have a classification system where schools and institutes are divided into rural, small town and urban areas and the problems are addressed accordingly – thats a start.
“Schools in the rural areas face a very different set of problems compared to schools in, say, the Petaling Jaya area,” he said adding that the ministry must be mindful of this when making its report.
He also reminded that the urban-rural divide was an issue that has long been a problem within the education system.
Lee also addressed the standards of polytechnic institutes in Malaysia.
Recounting his experience, he said that in 1997, he had been part of a study group from the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia that had presented a report to the Malaysian government.
The report was on how to improve the standard of polytechnic institutions in Malaysia by comparing them to polytechnics in Singapore.
“If they had implemented it then, there would have some improvement in the standards of our polytechnic institutions today but the ministry did not implement the suggestions,” he said.
Lee added that besides such problems, the ministry no doubt would have to deal with the issue of teaching Science and Mathematics in English.
However he said that the medium of language was merely one aspect of the problem. Of bigger concern was the standard of education involving both subjects.
Education in crisis
Meanwhile Professor Terence Gomez from University Malaya (UM) believed that education in Malaysia was facing a ‘crisis’ situation.
He said the ministry “was dealing with a crisis” as there were so many pending issues to resolve.
He reiterated a commonly held view that the standard of education in the country had deteriorated over the years.
“Even missionary schools that once were highly regarded has suffered from falling standards.
“The deterioration has been happening since the 1980s. It is clear … (look at) the proliferation of private schools.
“If you look at the history of Chinese schools, not until the 1980s was there an upturn (of attendees to Chinese schools) and till now it continues to rise,” he said.
He said people were moving away from the public school system and looking for alternative places where they could attain proper tutelage.
Gomez also brought up the matter of the rural-urban divide saying that students from the rural area were not competent enough to present a logical argument even in Malay, let alone English.
“So there are a whole range of issues that we have yet to see action taken to address them” he said.
Gomez also highlighted several stumbling blocks even if the ministry’s report were to deal with all these pending issues comprehensively.
“The real test is how the ministry will implement their suggestions. I doubt that they will get much support from the teachers.
“What happens to the existing teachers if the ministry suggests that it needs a new breed of quality teachers, retraining then becomes a major problem.
“The government needs to have the political will to act in a decisive manner,” he added.
He said the ministry had to ask how and why they had allowed for standards to deteriorate over the years in order to get to the root of some problems.