BUKIT LANJAN: Why is Malaysia’s education standard perceived as weak?

BUKIT LANJAN: Why is Malaysia’s education standard perceived as weak?

Is weak policy implementation the reason for Malaysia’s perceived poor education standards?

Is Malaysia’s education woes the same as other issues? Great launches but lacks maintenance and sustainability?

Gerakan Deputy Speaker Syed Abdul Razak Alsagoff said it would do well for both the Education and Higher Education Ministries to take note of some of the views of the Harvard professors at a recent forum.

“It is heartening to note that the Education Ministry has responded positively to the views of the professors. There is no harm in conducting a major review and try to add value or make changes to try and do better or achieve better results.

“There is a glaring weakness that we must all admit. The majority of our graduates cannot even string one decent sentence in English,” he added.

Syed Razak, who is Gerakan’s nominee to contest N.37 Bukit Lanjan in the coming 14th General Election (GE14), said online news portal Free Malaysia Today (FMT) quoted Harvard University Professor Michael Woolcock as saying Malaysia’s education worked well for the middle class and the rich but the bottom half of the population was unable to catch up.

“The needs of the rich, middle (class) and the poor in Malaysia are wide (ranging). The different layers and gaps need to be enriched to close the gap,” Woolcock said.

“Is that an accurate observation and comment on why many of our graduates are unemployable? The federal government is urged to treat Woolcock’s views positively and seriously.

"In the case of rural communities, more expenditure should be allocated to build schools with 'Asrama' or hostel facilities with qualified wardens and qualified teachers of excellent quality to ensure rural, as well as disadvantaged or marginalised families are given entrance into these schools and taught well to catch up with urban kids so that there will be quality when they are given opportunities in tertiary education at local universities.

"Thus the emphasis for more meritocracy will achieve the desired results for our beloved nation," he added.

“To achieve real academic excellence, we must always be flexible in our education policies and adapt to global changes and needs in education.

“This is the only way to produce quality graduates and a quality workforce to help Malaysia forward socially and economically,” Syed Razak said.

Here’s the NST Online news report that Free Malaysia Today had misquoted the Harvard professors’ remarks:

"Education Ministry upset over news portal's misquotation of Harvard professor's remarks on M'sian higher learning


New Straits Times

January 21, 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: The Education Ministry has expressed regret over how the opinions of Harvard researcher Prof Lant Pritchett, on the state of higher education in Malaysia, was wrongly characterised in the headline of a news portal recently.

In a statement yesterday, the ministry said the headline had misquoted Pritchett’s remarks, which seemed to characterise the state of higher education in the country as poor.

“What is even more unfortunate is that Prof Pritchett himself has openly chided the headline, resulting in an apology from the portal,” Education Director-General Datuk Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof said yesterday.

In the statement, Khair said the ministry is always open to different views to further strengthen and develop the national education policy, and that it values any differing opinions on the implementation of education programmes and initiatives.

“The ministry also values the opinions given by Pritchett, that a learning process that is too focused on rote memorisation and intensive exercises for examinations in school will not help students and pupils at the tertiary level,” he added.

The statement centred on a recent report by the portal, which carried a headline quoting Pritchett as saying: “Local grads only as good as Danish high school dropouts”.

Pritchett has since clarified that he had said nothing of the sort at the Asia Public Policy Forum 2017, organised by the Harvard Kennedy School and the Jeffrey Cheah Institute of Southeast Asia.

In the report, published in the independent news portal, Pritchett was quoted as citing research in Indonesia, which found that the level of literacy among Indonesian adults could be compared to that of junior high school dropouts in Denmark.

He had therefore been misquoted about Malaysian local graduates.

The portal had cited Pritchett as saying he feared the same could be true with Malaysian graduates, if their schools fail to prepare them for university-level education.

The portal has apologised for its error.

© New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd

"Local grads only as good as Danish high school dropouts

Minderjeet Kaur

| January 18, 2017

Harvard professors say Malaysia has great education policies that however fail to be filtered down to students who need them most.
Professor Lant Pritchett

SUBANG JAYA: Malaysian graduates have been equated to Danish high school dropouts, despite the government having invested sufficient funds in education and impressive teaching tools in schools.

Harvard professor Lant Pritchett said he had carried out research in Indonesia and found the Indonesian situation to be similar to Malaysia’s.

“Research was done on graduates in Indonesia on literacy, creative thinking and on other aspects and the results were the same as junior high school dropouts in Denmark. The same features appear in Malaysia.

“The reason is because students leave primary school without mastering the subjects and the same with secondary (school students). By the time they reach the tertiary (level), they are left far behind. There is no deep understanding of the materials. Instead, it is rote memorisation, applying theory and regurgitating it during exams,” he told FMT.

Pritchett was in Malaysia for the Asia Public Policy Forum 2016 co-hosted by Harvard Kennedy School and the Jeffrey Cheah Institute of Southeast Asia here.

He said the real measure of education should be mastery of the subject with practical application, and which was not confined to rote memorisation of the subject.
Professor Michael Woolcock

Redefine role of education

He added the system should redefine the role of education “to not just schooling that focuses on butts and seats but on ideas and hats so that children emerging out of the schooling system were adequate for the 21st century.”

Another Harvard University professor, Michael Woolcock, said the big challenge for Malaysia was making sure the system worked for everybody.

“(Take) the European system (for example). They have been doing it for 200 years and it has worked very well for them. They have developed a good traditional practice and a strong sense from the community and parents to help students learn critical thinking skills and apply what they learn.”

Gaps between the rich and poor

He said in Malaysia, the system worked well for the middle class and the rich but the bottom half of the population was unable to catch up.

“The needs of the rich, middle (class) and the poor in Malaysia are wide (ranging). The different layers and gaps need to be enriched to close the gap.”

Woolcock will return to Washington today after 18 months of researching the Malaysian education system.

He said a study showed that 51% of those from the lower classes, who work in factories, were unable to read manuals or perform basic procedures.

“They are unable to apply theory or understand English. It is not a geography issue. In Malaysia, it is a class issue. For a system to work really well, it has to work for everybody.

“The education system works fine for the top half but the big challenge is to make it work for everybody, including rural villagers and isolated communities.”

English a big barrier

One of the biggest barriers was proficiency in the English language. Woolcock said that just like in European countries, debates raged on whether using English would compromise use of the mother tongue.

“These debates always happen but they have figured out how to do both. They teach English very well. So much so Europeans are good at both (English and their native language).”

For instance, in Iceland, they take their mother tongue seriously. But they recognise that they are from a small country and if they could only speak Icelandic, their economy might not be functional and meet the needs of the world economy.

“Everyone (there) speaks Icelandic and English. They learn English to do deals with the Italians, Spaniards and others.”

He said in Malaysia, those who spoke English were from the upper and middle classes, and were the ones who attracted foreign investors into the country.

However, Woolcock said an education system should find ways to benefit all.

For instance, he said his study in Palestine showed that a school in the middle of a war zone, and located in a desert, scored high marks of international standard.

“That was a phenomenon. We later found out the community was coaching students to apply what they learnt. It worked for them.”

Better tracking system

He said Malaysia needed a system to track the reasons why a school performed better or worse than others so as to close the gap between schools.

He added Malaysia had all the right ingredients for an efficient education system but that the problem lay with policy implementation.

Woolcock added it was good that Malaysia spent large sums of money on education and on tools like the blackboard and smart boards. “All the raw materials and money are there but the implementation is not there.”

Teachers need space to work well

He pointed out that the state of education in the country was not the fault of individual teachers. “It is not that they are not smart or capable or diligent in doing their job. The problem is the system they are part of. If we want to change the system, you got to change the rules and practices.”

He said teachers needed space to try something different. This was because in some countries like India, a teacher was only considered good when he or she completed all the chapters of a textbook. They were not judged on whether the child had learnt anything.

“If a teacher has to show that all the subjects are completed to get a salary increase, then that is what the teacher will do. The prioritising is crucial.”

He praised the government for implementing higher order thinking skills as well as the dual language programmes in national schools and hoped these would be filtered down to the system.

“Because again, there may be variations with the top half class taking off well. Some schools might pull through and others might be diabolically off."



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