The problem of Malaysia’s ailing education system

Almost every Malaysian is keen on discussing the country’s rapid political developments, especially after the new government took over Putrajaya, but only a few are seriously concerned about the salient social issues affecting the country.

One area that needs the urgent attention of all quarters is the education sector. It is undeniable that any country that does not place enough importance on developing a sound education system will lag behind.

The sad reality is that our country is among those still saddled with deep-rooted problems in the education sector. No one seems to be treating this issue seriously.

Squabbles and dabbling in petty issues has caused us to stray into unimportant and unproductive matters. The nation has lost its focus, especially in issues relating to education. Even our leaders and the intelligentsia have not reflected enough on our ailing education system.

It is sad and disturbing to see that the younger generation has degenerated into liabilities to the country. But they cannot be solely blamed for this malaise. An incompetent and piecemeal education system is one of the main reasons for this disturbing state of affairs.

We produce “sub-standard” and unthinking young minds, and we often put the blame on parents and teachers. It is important for us to be honest and to find ways of addressing this intellectual and moral decadence among the young right away.

While drastic and fundamental changes are needed at the primary and secondary levels, an urgent revamp of the tertiary education system is of paramount importance. However, we should not forget to conceptualise an education system that nurtures a holistic development of the younger generation.

Schools, colleges and universities have a duty to prepare the younger generation to seek gainful employment. However, what we fail to see is that the education system should also be equipped to inculcate a strong sense of ethics and morality among the youth. Just having religious and moral lessons as part of the curriculum will not suffice to shape them into polished personalities.

Education is now a commodified investment, nay, a platform to gain political mileage and propagate political agendas. It should be instead utilised to inculcate compassion and higher human values.

Educationist, philosopher and former president of India, S Radhakrishnan once remarked that: “The function of universities is not merely to send out technically skilled and professionally competent men, but it is their duty to produce in them the quality of compassion, the quality which enables the individuals to treat one another in a truly democratic spirit.”

This is the urgent need of the hour and what is lacking in our tertiary education. We see “lifeless” university graduates these days who lack compassion and a true democratic spirit.

Radhakrishnan added that “by becoming merely literate without the development of compassion, we become demoniac”.

Academic Tajuddin Rasdi, in his book “Rethinking the University: Towards a Meaningful Career in Academia”, said “… the most important lesson of all is to teach the young that theirs is a responsibility of nation development for their people first and foremost and to mankind ultimately”.

Such right-thinking minds like Radhakrishnan and Tajuddin are keen to see a holistic younger generation churned out by universities.

Developed countries have progressed materially at an astounding pace. Where do their strengths lie? Their firm and strong education system has helped nurture a creative and innovative younger generation. We ought to learn such positive traits from them.

However, we should also remind ourselves that nurturing intellectualism and critical thinking alone will not be enough to produce well-rounded individuals. The educated younger generation should shine as compassionate beings. They should contribute to the overall well-being of society.

Empty slogans and political rhetoric will not help bring the country to greater heights, especially not in the education sector. It is a sound education system that will help shape the country’s future. For this, we need strong political will and unflinching resolve from the intelligentsia to rethink and reshape our education system.

Let us not just complain and point fingers at one another. Let’s all get into action and address the weaknesses in the education system before the younger generation degenerates further. Let’s not politicise education. And let’s not follow the global trend of commodifying education. The country will be the ultimate loser if the weaknesses in our education system are not urgently addressed.

Chandrasekaran Veeraiah is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.