Education woes

The education system of our country has always been a pet concern of mine. And I’m sure that it’s also an issue that most concerns the many parents in Malaysia. So when our Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced the other day that our education system was better than that of the United States, Britain and Germany, I thought to myself, what kind of report is he referring to? And how is it possible?

From the news report from a couple of days ago, it appeared that Muhyiddin was quoting from a World Economic Forum (WEF) report on global competitiveness in terms of quality of education. I must say that at the time of reading this article, I found it hard to believe that such a reputable institution could come up with such findings.

The very next day, Lim Guan Eng appeared in the online news portals, referring to Muhyiddin’s claim and called it “preposterous”. Further along in the article, Lim clarified the method in which Malaysia obtained its ranking of 14th among 142 countries. Lim also referred to the other statistics in the same report, and the comment that stated that Malaysia would “need to improve its performance in education and technological readiness”.

It is extremely disturbing, and at the same time, disappointing, that our Deputy Prime Minister found it fit to pick and choose the ‘good parts’ from the report and announce it, without any background information on how the rankings were obtained, or how we fared in other aspects of education quality. As someone of his stature and position, he should know better than that. Putting blinkers on the citizens, deciding what we see and do not see, is definitely not the way our authorities should be behaving. Not if we want to claim ourselves to be a democratic country.

Perhaps the fact that top business figures found our country’s education system as competitive is a good thing. But it does not mean that we do, in actual fact, have one of the best education systems in the world.

Reports after reports have been made about how our education system has managed to produce graduates who are ‘unmarketable’. We have reports showing that our education system does not encourage critical thinking. We have reports showing that while registration for tertiary education has increased, the quality of tertiary education has not. We have reports that show our local universities dropping in their international rankings.

Surely all these reports should also hold some water when it comes to deciding for ourselves, whether we are in a better position than our foreign counterparts. Surely all these reports with negative findings have to be considered.

While ‘positive thinking’ is a good thing, when one ignores all the negative criticisms and only focus on the good, that is not positive thinking – that is cherry-picking. That is feigning ignorance. That is taking a step backwards, not forwards. And this is not the kind of behaviour that should be coming from our country’s top leaders.

What is important for us, and should also be important for our leaders, is facing up with the facts of the day. Pay attention to what our teachers, who are the real educators on the ground, are telling us. Suck it up and admit that we have a real dilemma on our hands when we have straight A students who can’t string proper sentences together. Be real about wanting to improve our lot, and that of our future generations.

While reports and surveys like this do play an important role in determining the level and quality of our education system compared to other countries, they are not everything. The same way passing examinations should not be made the whole point of going to school.

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