Education is the engine for growth and change

AUGUST 13 — A car is meant to get you from point A to B.

It needs an engine for that. Wheels. The fuel, oils, shock absorbers and struts that keep it going.

That’s basic.

How fast it takes you there, how comfortable, how flashy it looks — well, that’s secondary.

So if you were given two cars — one with just the basics, and the other one a Maserati sans engine — you would have to be very special to choose the latter.

Because no matter how beautiful a car is, it would be worthless without a reliable engine.

Similarly, the country needs a good engine to run. So if Malaysians were the engine that keeps the nation going, the education system would be the blueprint behind that engine’s design.

The blueprint that determines the reliability and sustainability of the engine.

Including how fast, and whether the country gets from point A to B in time. Because many countries are speeding through.

We need to first get our basics right

The education system has essentially three roles.

First is to educate, develop and mould our students into independent, resourceful, dynamic citizens. To equip them with the right tools, knowledge and values so they can pioneer scientific discoveries and breakthroughs, lead innovation applicable across the world sans frontières.

Its success will amplify the success trajectory of the second, which is nation building.

Which is to build and engineer the society into one that is modern, progressive, tolerant of ideas and differences, instead of one that is reclusive, restrictive and phobic to change.

The third is to secure our future by ensuring the curriculum remains relevant throughout time.

These are the basics.

So, are we getting our basics right?

In 2017, the rate of unemployment among our youth was at 13.2 per cent, three times the national unemployment rate.

And among the Bumiputera, those with diplomas/degrees get hired less than those without.

Think about it for a moment. If the chances of you getting hired is lesser when you have a degree than if you don’t — either something is wrong with the degree, or you’ve learned something the industry and the world don’t need.

Or worse, both.

So, are we getting our basics right?

Then in 2018, a study by a job portal on reasons why graduates are not employable found that 64 per cent of those have poor character, attitude or personality, 59 per cent have poor command of the English language, and another 53 per cent have poor communication skills.

Which means, after 12 years of formal education, English is still poor among graduates. Religiously, we are still insecure, sensitive and need people to tell us right from wrong. Morally many are inadequate, with characters and attitudes that don’t meet socially accepted norms.

Our basics can’t be right.

Then there’s this research by World Bank that showed Malaysian students get only about nine years’ worth of meaningful education out of the whole 12. A 1MDB equivalent for our schools where three years’ worth of lessons are unaccounted for, as far as productivity and relevance is concerned.

In other words, a waste of time.

There is a need to look at the engine’s blueprint because the car isn’t getting us from point A to B anymore.

And khat, no matter your opinion on the matter, just like the colour of school shoes — will not get us there.

What got us here, won’t get us there

The education system may have worked in the past but it clearly isn’t anymore. Being incapable is one, but to hold back, or worse to obverse progress of the nation, is another problem altogether.

We need to transform the education system quickly.

And no better way to jumpstart the reformation than by having our ministers and MPs send their kids to public schools.

Not overseas. Not private schools. The Kebangsaan schools. What better way to ensure undivided and unequivocal attention by them, and non-political interference to our education system than having their kids in it.

Perhaps that will make them realise that education and politics shouldn’t mix.

And that schools should be a sanctum that promotes learning. Promotes respect, tolerance, and celebration of differences.

One that is inclusive, not divisive. Progressive, not regressive. One that doesn’t distinguish, identify, nor cohort Malaysians by race and religion.

Because when the education system is right, Malaysians will not be so suspicious of one another. Khat (no matter what you think of its value) will be seen as a beautiful calligraphy and art. Mastering Mandarin language is simply to secure our future. And teaching science and maths in English will only be about hastening technology and intellectual transfer.

No other agenda. No other conspiracies. No racial, cultural nor religious motives. No bogeyman lurking behind the proposals.

Though the resistance to khat is in part because we can’t see it transforming the education system, the other is also due to the education system’s failure to transform our society into one that is more progressive, dynamic and tolerant over the last few decades.

And the operative word here is failure.

Begin with the end in mind

The design of the engine depends on the kind of car you want.

An F1 engine won’t meet the needs of a bus, similarly a crane engine into an F1 car’s. We need to first determine the kind of car we want, before planning and drawing out the right engine.

Similarly, the education system needs to meet the country’s aspiration, vision and goals to be able to fit properly. And whatever we envision Malaysia to be five or 10 years down the road, the designing of its engine must start now.

And the engine, at the very minimum, must be able to carry the aspiration, dreams and values that defines us as people of one nation, one country — and not those of political parties.

That is if truly want to remain relevant in this world, remain independent and truly Merdeka.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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