Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Education Excellence - A Dialogue With Our Neighbour Downsouth

Last night, I attended a private dinner hosted by several prominent Malaysians to welcome the vist of Dr Tony Tan, a retired politician and an ex-Minister of Education of Singapore. He visited Kuala Lumpur in his capacity as the chairman of Singapore Press Holdings.

At the dinner, we consciously stayed clear of getting into any discussion which touched on the Chinese community in Malaysia. However, we did share to a great extent on Singapore's development as an education hub.

Dr Tan told us that he is amazed that we have so many public universities in Malaysia, almost one in every state. In Singapore, he told us that there are 3 universities and 6 polytechnics. The emphasis is not so much on paper chase and general education but these institutions are encouraged to teach specialised courses e.g. early childcare programme, technical certification and others. He told us that this is the direction of Singapore.

On the contrary, he told us that the more qualified and knowledgable graduates a country can produce, the more job opportunities can be created. In today's investment climate, many MNCs are looking for accessibility to qualified people when deciding where to locate their capital investment.

In Malaysia, many colleges and polytechnics are rushing to be recognised as a full-fledged university. We are too preoccupied with creating more graduates with paper qualifications but forgot about the quality part. As a result, our productivity growth lags behind that of Singapore's. It is not enough to just build universities but we must ensure that these universities are staffed with the best as well.

In his recent article, Dr Azly Rahman asks 'What will RM23 billion buy for our education system under the proposed reforms? What is the relationship between education and economic development in the context of globalisation and international cut-throat competition and predatory capitalism?'

He commented that most often, policy makers in the education ministry fail to understand the ‘big idea’ of change and the philosophical paths required to be taken based on political-economic considerations.

We should by now learn that throwing money into programmes and blueprints alone will not generate the desired results. We must know what we want to create out of our education system. Thus far, what we have done to our education system is often targetted at appeasing several ethnic communities.
To move forward, as being said many times before, we have to depoliticize and deracialised the education system and rid it off the old baggage if we want to succeed.

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