Enough talk, time to set right our national schools

We can’t talk our national schools to greatness. We need to have the courage and determination to do something about it. I am referring to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s views on making national schools great again.

For how long have the national schools been in the doldrums or even decline? For how long have we being talking and procrastinating? We engaged consultants and spent millions writing blueprints, one after another. But so far, what have we got to show? We introduced programmes that were piecemeal thinking that there are simple solutions to complex problems.

We tried to do many things except to change and rectify the most important weaknesses staring right at us. We refuse to accept we have been looking at education largely through a parochial lens.

We fail to recognise that the teaching profession is now just another employment creation thing. We employ teachers because they need jobs. It is never about their suitability, interest and competency. Teacher training too has lost its lustre. We pass and certify them with minimal standards. The same goes with employment of university lecturers. Is it any surprise that our schools and universities have lost their shine?

Headmasters are the most important persons in schools. It is in their hands how school discipline, teacher performance and academic and athletic prowess are maintained and pursued. But how do we appoint headmasters? Have we not seen how a well-performing school crumbles the moment a wrong person is put at the helm?

In the mid-1980s, I sent my children to national schools, both at primary and secondary levels. It was not so bad except the school made mother tongue education so difficult. Children were made to go for their Chinese class on Saturday and the teachers were not really committed or supervised. After a while my kids dropped out of Chinese class, which they regret till today.

Today, my children send their children to a Chinese school. I can discern an immediate difference in everything – from discipline, teaching, the commitment of teachers, homework and assessment. They take everything seriously.

Of course, I am aware of the usual criticism of “rote learning” and over emphasis on tests and assessments in Chinese schools. I am no education expert, but I think I have lived long enough to have a view on this.

How did we learn our multiplication tables, was it not by rote learning? And if we make no difference among students by not having any test and assessment, how do we then instil the spirit of competition, achievement and the yearning to do better?

I think we should be careful when comparing our education system with countries that have achieved a high level of development and with a small population. Not every country is Norway or Finland. On the contrary, Singapore and Korea are very “kiasu” countries, but have they not done much better than us in education and manpower development? I hope this is food for thought.

TK Chua is a reader of FMT.

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.