By Ivan Huang Hung Ji
As education minister, Maszlee Malik has been entrusted by the rakyat to improve our nation’s standard of education as an initiative to put us on the same footing as other progressive countries.
But for this to happen, the Malaysian education system must first undergo a major reformation in terms of resolving the current flaws and pitfalls that have resulted in the dwindling quality of education over the years.
As a Malaysian, and a student subject to the current education system, I would like to voice my opinions on the current flaws and offer some suggestions on how to improve our education system.
1. Our current education system tries to force square pegs into round holes. It does not realise that every child is different. Not everyone is interested in certain subjects taught in schools.
Instead, the whole system revolves around meeting the needs of industrialisation, where producing obedient workers that contribute to the workforce and economy is deemed more important than nurturing creativity and individualism among the youth.
The current system provides a “cookie-cutter” education, which forces children to vie for petty rewards instead of cultivating their intrinsic love of learning, which would serve to enhance their individual gifts and talents.
In 2014, our former prime minister vowed that 60% of secondary school graduates would specialise in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects by 2020.
This decision was a double-edged sword where, on one hand, it encouraged students to delve deeper into STEM-related fields – but on the other hand, students disinterested in STEM would be pressured by adults and peers into taking STEM courses anyway.
Due to this, our education system should introduce equally celebrated pathways where students are given full opportunity to develop their potential.
The focus should be on providing a solid education for students to pursue what they are best at. Feigning multiplicity by introducing the science and art streams but incentivising and putting more importance on one stream while disregarding the other isn’t going to contribute to the cause.
2. Malaysian teachers in general. Teachers are often loaded with non-teaching work, making it almost impossible to improve their teaching skills. The job of school administration is handed down to teachers, as if they are not already burdened with their compulsory co-curricular participation.
Teachers frequently have to rush through their syllabuses before a major test instead of focusing on students who are lagging behind. Teachers are being instructed to prepare menial paperwork for the school, instead of concentrating on preparing better teaching materials for students.
More often than not, this is caused by the lack of respect teachers receive in this country. Teaching is not regarded as a respected job in Malaysia, where there seems to be the idea that those who cannot do, teach.
We fail to realise that most of us owe our academic accomplishments and success to our teachers. People have forgotten that to become what you want to become, you have to be taught the skills and have the knowledge given to you by someone.
Sir Ken Robinson, in his TED Talk, put it this way: “If you’re at a dinner party, and you know, they say, ‘What do you do?’ and you say you work in education, you can see the blood run from their faces. They’re like, ‘Oh my God,’ you know, ‘Why me? My one night out all week.’ But if you ask about their education, they pin you to the wall. Because it’s one of those things that goes deep with people.”
Due to the negative perception society has of teachers and the system that promotes this mindset, teaching isn’t a desired job in Malaysia – or anywhere else, for that matter. And that needs to change.
3. Malaysian schools promote an atmosphere of fear – fear of failure, fear of humiliation and fear of disapproval. This atmosphere severely affects a student’s capacity for intellectual growth.
Current teaching strategies cultivate a fear of humiliation in children, and do more to harm young people than to meet their needs. Such fear drives students to develop various coping strategies or defence mechanisms such as mumbling, acting like they do not understand, acting overly enthusiastic so they won’t be called upon, etc, to dodge the demands placed upon them by adults, or to avoid being humiliated in front of their peers.
External motivation or rewards such as certification for good grades and “murid sasaran” privileges only serve to reinforce children’s fear of failing exams and receiving disapproval from the adults in their lives.
Rather than learning the actual content of the lessons taught in class, students instead learn how to avoid embarrassment by practising rote memorisation and regurgitation in order to get an A.
This atmosphere of fear not only kills a child’s love of learning and suppresses his native curiosity, but also makes him afraid of taking chances and risks which may be necessary for true learning to occur.
All in all, as Malaysian citizens, we should not shy away from addressing the current hurdles and limitations of our education system.
We should be able to open up to each other in a congregational manner to discuss these issues, as a building block to reshape and improve the educational system of Malaysia.
Ivan Huang Hung Ji is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.