Friday, June 17, 2005

Our Education System Not So Bad

I'm currently "on leave" with my extended family, on a visit to my wife's eldest sister in Yogjakarta (Yogja- pronounced 'Jogja'), Central Java. So, obviously, my postings will be fairly limited (in fact I just managed to get myself connected to the internet after two days. Well, the fact that I didn't bother looking very hard didn't help :)) Will be back in KL on Monday, so more posts then :)

But I thought I'd post a quick comment on some interesting discussions over the last two days - before the "expedition" to Borobudur begins this afternoon.

My sister-in-law, Ting Hwee is married to an Indonesian Chinese in Palembang, Sumatera. She now has 3 kids aged 11, 9 and 7. Their pursuit of a better education for has led her to "migrate" to Yogja approximately a year ago. In Indonesia, the cities with a better reputation for educational excellence are basically, Bandung, Surabaya and Yogja. Yogja was selected due to its reputation as a "safe" Indonesian city, as well as the fact that my brother-in-law was a high school alumni here. Yogja is also known as a "university town" due to the number of universities located here. One of Indonesia's most prestigious universities, Universitas Gadjah Mada is located at Yogja.

Like Mencius mum [孟母] who moved three times in order to ensure a better education for Mencius [孟子] , Ting Hwee is likely to have to move one more time when the eldest child completes her primary education. In Southeast Asia, the obvious choices for quality education is actually in Singapore and Malaysia. I would rate Singapore's education system to be significantly ahead of that of Malaysia. While at the same time, Malaysia's quality of education is fairly ahead of the other neighbouring countries, although it is understood that the gap may be narrowing. Singapore, is however, an expensive city to send your children for a private education. Hence, Ting Hwee is likely to move with her children to Kuala Lumpur in the near future for the children's further education.

Why is Malaysia a natural choice? For many years since the ASEAN scholarship offered by the Ministry of Education in Singapore in the 1970s, the receipients were wholly dominated by Malaysian students. Only in rare instances were scholarships awarded to Indonesians or Thais. And for many years, we have suspected that the ASEAN scholarship was named such to camouflage Singapore's blatant attempt to "recruit" specifically Malaysia's best minds from young. It was only in the late 1990s and early 2000s that ASEAN scholarships were offered to students from countries such as Vietnam, although Malaysians still contribute a large but reduced majority. Singapore has also started separate scholarship schemes for China and Indian students.

While perplexing for some, Malaysia do have a fairly "decent" primary and secondary education. The reasons why Ting Hwee would like her children in Kuala Lumpur, as well as the fact that Malaysians contribute significantly to the pool of ASEAN scholarship receipients is as follows:

  1. As much as I've lamented about the degradation of the quality of English amongst our recent graduates, their English competence is fortunately still substantially stronger than our neighbours (ex-Singapore). Having conducted business and visited most of Southeast Asia, English literacy is extremely limited outside of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. Besides being an international language of commerce, English is unfortunately also most widely acceptable academic language for universities, particularly in United Kingdom (UK), United States (US) and Australia.

    My wife asked me to pick some books from the Times Bookshop to bring as gifts to our nieces and nephew. Recalling that I spent a large proportion of my time reading The Famous Five, the Secret Seven, the Hardy Boys and other books by Enid Blyton (ok, a couple of Nancy Drew novels as well) from primary 4 to 6, I bought a stack of these (varying degrees of difficulty). Unfortunately, having lugged them across to Yogja, we now realised that these books are way too advanced for even the eldest of them. The are still pretty much limited to the picture-based storybooks.

  2. Malaysia, for all its national vs vernacular school debate (something I'm in the midst of writing about), it's also a country where mother tongue education is readily available. If not in the school, it's abundantly available in the form of private tuition.

    Hence, my nieces and nephew will be able to "upgrade" their literacy in Mandarin beyond a smattering of heavily (Bahasa Indonesia)accented Mandarin words. Listening to the conversations between them and their grandparents will no longer be a fairly comical mix of Mandarin, Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia. :)

  3. The Malaysian education system is based largely similar to the British system, although the similarities have tended to be less, particularly in our "newer" UPSR primary school system. To be fair, the certications at SPM and STPM has been regarded as equivalents or near-equivalents of the internationally recognised and accepted 'O' and 'A'-level system. Some would even argue that the STPM syllabus is 'tougher' than 'A'-levels. Even if one decides instead to sit for the 'O' and 'A' levels, there is sufficient private schools available to make this option a ready alternative.

    Hence, relative to other secondary school certifications available in the other Southeast Asian countries, sans Singapore - Malaysia is an attractive education choice in terms of obtaining the necessary qualifications for relatively easier access to overseas universities, particularly in UK.

So, to put things in perspective, our "beef" with our education system is not so much that it's a terrible education system. Our education system is fairly well accepted globally, and that's a testament that it's actually "not so bad". However, we are often dismayed because with the talent pool which we possess in Malaysia, the education system could have been so much better - "world class", if you like. In addition, we are often dismayed by certain policy and non-policy decisions which are likely to reduce the quality of Malaysian education. These negative policies, if unchecked will ultimately dislodged Malaysia as one of the countries with a better education system in the world, or possibly even in the region.


Mabel said...

"Not bad" is not a valid excuse to disregard the fact that our education system still needs to go through a revamp.

Anonymous said...

It was very good to realize how good your country is in terms of education and english-speaking skills. I admire the vast opportunities of getting student's loans and scholarships in Malaysia, which are not easily available in countries such as Indonesia. With much attention poured to the education, your government has done so much better to improve the Malaysian's minds and talents. Malaysia itself has been considered as "newly industrialized nation" as the result of this policy. Further, the country's system resembles British system as well with clear and straight rules of law. If I were a Malaysian, I would have extremely treasured such opportunity.