Friday, October 14, 2011

The sorry state of our education system

Recently a friend, who is a senior professor in a local public university in the Klang Valley, related to me his experiences in conducting classes for his undergraduates.

He said that as part of his educating process, he would ask his students – all from creative studies department – to identify countries from a large world map in his classroom. Sometimes he would also ask them to identify Malaysia.

To his utter chagrin, he said, some of these students even failed to correctly locate where their own country is on the global map!

Worse still, some can’t read the names of the countries in the map, with at least one saying that Greenland “looked like Malaysia”.

The friend also had other anecdotes to share. Like how most of his students had no idea about the tsunami which hit Japan in March this year. They also did not know about the nuclear reactor meltdown caused by the tsunami. Neither did they know about many other local, national and international happenings.

He added that most of his students do not read. They don’t read their study materials. They don’t read books. They don’t read magazines. And they don’t read newspapers.

Coming from a part of the world where reading is almost part of the culture, he was dumbfounded by the attitude of his students.

But his biggest shock is that his students like to plagiarise, not just in their daily worksheets, but also for their courseworks, and this seemed to be an acceptable culture in the university although it has a strict policy against copying.

There is simply no enforcement but there is a subtle approval from the university management as long as the pass rates are kept at a good level, he reasoned.

This is not a joke. This is reality. This is happening in a popular local public university in the Klang Valley.

I am not saying that this is the scenario in all our universities but a snapshot from this one particular institution is sufficient to show how bad our education system has become.

This university, or at least this particular class of undergraduates, symptomises how bad things have become.

A scary future

These students are the leaders of tomorrow but they are ignorant, clueless and products of a system which is only interested in churning out graduates with paper qualifications but not amply educated and not adequately equipped for the highly competitive job market.

Add to this a recent news report that there were thousands of national service trainees (Form 5 school leavers) who were illiterate. This is shocking when Malaysia is supposed to have a high literacy and school attending rates, even endorsed by the United Nations.

We should not be blaming these students at all. They are the victims here. Unknowingly, they have been programmed in a system established, tweaked and reworked over and over by the politicians.

Under this programmed system, our students have forgotten how to ask questions, discuss matters and debate issues. They have become so lame that they wait for their teachers, and then their lecturers, to spoon-feed them with what is necessary to pass with flying colours.

Some of them will then end up as teachers themselves and this cycle will continue. If this goes on, there is little hope for our education system.

The government has got its priorities wrong. In the Budget 2012, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak announced allocations to increase the salaries of civil servants, including teachers.

In all he allocated RM50.2 billion for the education sector. This will include:

- development allocation amounting to RM1.9 billion on all types of school;
- a sum of RM1 billion to be provided through a special fund for the construction, improvement and maintenance of schools, particularly to cater for the immediate needs of schools;
- the abolition of school fees for primary and secondary education;
- tuition fee assistance to civil servants, including teachers, to further their studies on part-time basis; and
- offer of 20,000 places for diploma teachers to pursue their undergraduate studies.

However, glaringly missing are any specific allocations for re-training in teaching methods and self-improvements for teachers and other educators so that their quality will improve collectively. Likewise, there is no mention of allocations to improvise the numerous teachers training schools nationwide.

Re-educating our teachers

In order to kickstart a change in our education system, the government should start with the teachers and educators first.

One reason for the failure of the teaching of Science and Maths in English (PPSMI) is that the teachers themselves failed to fully grasp the use of English to teach the two subjects.

Just ask any student, particularly from the rural areas, and they will say that the use of English is almost non-existent. How will the policy be a success then?

Many of our teachers are ill-equiped to produce global leaders. They will have to be re-tuned first. They should be given re-training. Where is the money for this? Where are the opportunities for this?

Money should also be allocated to take away clerical tasks from the teachers. Let them just concentrate on creating brilliant students who can stand equal in the global market.


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