Friday, April 10, 2009

A New Education Minister: More of the Same?

So our Prime Minister has reshuffled his Cabinet, and our new Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is now also our new Education Minister. Unfortunately, my sense of things is that this probably will not mark a significant change in direction for Malaysian education.

Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein didn't really turn things around, if you ask me; Kian Ming is impressed by his administrative competency and I would agree that he probably kept things from getting worse. But I think it is very hard to say that things improved under Hisham. The government took some very tentative steps towards tinkering with the school system, but nearly every complaint that held water five years ago is still valid today.

I am not optimistic about Muhyiddin because the Education Ministry seems to have become a political football; you often become Education Minister because you're expected to eventually become Prime Minister, and this certainly seems to be true in this case. There is still little sign that the government recognises what's wrong with our school system, let alone how to fix these problems.

The number one issue which Muhyiddin must address is that of teachers: they are overworked, underpaid, poorly trained, and mostly powerless. There is no incentive for bright people to enter the teaching profession, and even those who are selfless enough to serve barely earn enough to cope, especially in urban areas. Teachers are often expected to not only teach, but handle paperwork and take on administrative duties. Yet, they barely get much training, and they are so shackled by the system that they are assigned to posts that make no sense; it is unusually common for a science teacher to wind up teaching history, for example. Fortunately, this is beside the point, because teachers have no power to determine the curriculum; what they teach has already been decided by a handful of bureaucrats and Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka textbook authors, and they are just responsible for vomiting up whatever these people want them to say, so their pupils can dutifully do the same on their exams.

There are a lot of other wrong things with our education system, but all my experiences in the school system point to teaching as the main problem: we aren't treating our teachers right. And when we don't properly treat these mature adults who we actually pay to be in school, is it really surprising that we often treat our students and youth even worse? We have good teachers, but we don't trust them to teach. We have good students, but we don't trust them to learn. Is it then surprising that so few people in our schools want to teach or learn?

When you empower the good teachers, you also empower the good students. I just finished watching this fantastic lecture on molecular biology which illustrates this perfectly; the speaker is a Princeton University biologist who not only loves her field, but lectures clearly and explains obscure concepts in a simple way. And if you watch the whole way through, she gives credit to all the students who work in her lab, because everything she presented was first discovered by one of them: "when you learn things like about how the natural world works ... it was done by a child. Science is done by that demographic."

It is hard to imagine a Malaysian academic saying something like that, and that says a lot about the way we think about education. We have trouble with giving academics freedom, and we have trouble with giving students freedom. This is unquestionably true in primary and secondary school, where the curriculum is completely dictated by the state and federal governments, but almost as true in our universities, where faculty and students are less free to speak their minds than any ordinary member of the public.

When you get to the heart of it, the problem with Malaysian education is that we are afraid of setting our people free, to explore our world. The attitude of our modern education system and our modern education policymakers is that minds are something to be controlled, not freed. And for all the talk of reform on the part of our new Prime Minister — and even his two predecessors, both of whom promised scores of reforms in their own times — none have dared address this problem which cuts to the core of the rotten apple that is our education system. Certainly, the new Education Minister is no exception to this rule. Until someone in government recognises this, I will have a very tough time believing there will be any kind of meaningful change in our school system.

11 comments:

Ah Fong said...

We just look and see...

There is a lot to be improved, especially quality of teaching and learning..

The attitude of teachers must be mould to be more positive towards the needs of the people..

Anonymous said...

Ah Fong,
The trouble is our teachers who are teaching now are products that have been pampered, succoured for a long time. Now dont expect them to changed when they are not weaned off until now
My opinion is that the examination system need to be leak proof and tampered proof. Quality must be upheld even if it means that it is an unpopular move. If you no good or failed, you need to be kick out and not rewarded

Vanguard said...

doubt anything will change...
same people from the same zoo with the same brains...
change the brains, then the zoo, then maybe the system will change..
some of them will need to go through proper education again before they even try to manage our education system...

Anonymous said...

Sigh. Public examinations are merely tools of Bee End propaganda, to serve their own agenda. Will they fail Bumiputeras who fared badly, and reward non bumiputeras who did well? The brain drain will continue.

Will corruption end, so that funds can be directed to those who really need it, bumiputeras or otherwise?

If we answer in the affirmative, we are lying to ourselves. Bee End is sill Bee End. We have to endure this for another 3-4 years and speak our minds at the next GE.

PR please bulk up your talent bank.
Show us an alternate, better Malaysia and we will vote for you. We will finish the job this time.

Anonymous said...

There are some many communists and socialists on this blog like the anon above.

PR stands for "Pembelot Rakyat" or "Pijat Rakyat".

Absolutely NO WAY the capitalists of Malaysia will unclench our fists.

We own this nation.

We won it by using our tongues. The democratic way and we will defend it (our government, our way of life, thinking, ideas and capitalism economy) with guns, bombs and bullets!

Anonymous said...

who says so? hehe
You need C4 too

Niel said...

In Malaysia, politics come first. Hence the mess -__-

丽庭 said...

i dont think any really good decisions for our malaysians' edu will pop out within this ten years~

err..
although i know it is quite pity n pessimistic to think in this way~~

Anonymous said...

What kind of society isn't structured on greed? The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm; capitalism is that kind of a system.

-Milton Friedman

Anonymous said...

I think that the education system needs to be revamp. Students are bogged down with too many subjects which are redundant - P.Moral and P.Sivik and Kewarganegaraan for instance seems like an overlap. Additional subjects stretches the existing timetable and students are forced to stay back in the afternoon for "Luar Sidang".

I'm a teacher and I think that there are many teachers in school who do not regard themselves as professionals. As a result, shoddiness persists at every level - from the support staff to the management to the teachers themselves. Committed and dedicated educators are but a few.
How can our education in Malaysia move forward if that is the case?

Anonymous said...

Addressing the issue at hand is one problem.

Changing the problem to create another bigger problem becomes a a more improved and advanced problem,
an unresolvable trouble in the future.......

back when the british was in rule..... how was everyone's english ? education standards was once the regions pride..... Look at form six.... equavalent to or tougher than A Levels...... where did these standard go to ?????
It went to BAHASA BAKU !!! the start of the malignant cancer in the education system........ and for what reason? to drop the education standards so that something can be done to seemingly change the bad situation....... and the disease spreads like AIDS.......... get the picture......... it all started long time ago....... no CURE !!!!