Can we find the political will to bring Malaysian education to the next level in this generation?

OUR education system is getting nowhere. Unless efforts are carried out to overhaul the system, we will continue to deceive ourselves as among the world’s best.

Suffice to say that both the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2022 and the recent World Bank report do not offer anything flattering on the country’s standard of education.

If something is to be done, the Higher Education Ministry has to acknowledge that there are weaknesses in the system and start addressing them. Sarawak is able to revamp its education system because Sarawakians are ready for it.

In West Malaysia, the question is even if Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim wants change, are people willing to stand by him against a small group of rabble rousers?

Education system revamp

It is timely for Johor regent Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim (TMJ) to call for a national education reform but I am sure the TMJ is only talking about changes to the national syllabi as just the starting point.

This young netizen in an undated video which has gone viral is trying to wake us up on why Malaysian graduates are not employable or sought after – something that we have all known about for a long time – but are people willing to stand by him?

If not, one cannot blame young Malay boys for abandoning their pursuit of higher education with some rather working as Grab delivery boys or for the more adventurous ones to seek employment in Singapore.

In the meantime, Chinese parents pay through their noses just to provide their children with a decent education at local private higher education institutions (PHEIs) where the quality of education is found wanting.

Unqualified professors aplenty

In one particular year, immediately after a PHEI in the Klang Valley received its university college status, some nearly 40 teaching and non-teaching staff received their glamourous academic titles but many of them did not even have a doctoral degree.

By comparison, a search on the staff directory of Monash University Malaysia yielded more lecturers with PhDs than professors or associate professors.

To address the education rot, the first initiative is to carry out a thorough review of our professors and associate professors based on stringent standards established by worldclass universities.

This cannot even be done even with the best syllabi if the teaching staff are unqualified themselves. What then can we expect of the graduates they produce? Netizens do not coin the moniker “kangkong” professors for no reason.

While fanciful titles can be an ego booster especially to PHEIs, they do not lend weight to the quality of their teaching and research.

Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Zambry Abd Kadir (second from left) witnessing the recent memorandum of exchange (MOU) ceremony to make Malaysia as a global higher education hub between Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and the University of Brunel (UB) and University of Portsmouth (Image credit: Zambry Abd Kadir Facebook)

Raise the bar for entry requirements

The second initiative is to raise the bar for entry requirements. Entry into top universities around the world are based on the entry requirements than the quota. These universities attract only the best students into their degree programmes.

This will be the acid test to see if we are ready for change. If not, we can continue talking about brain drain but our home-grown talents will always look for greener pastures elsewhere.

Suffice to say that our universities will end up as just degree millers and graduates will have to be contented with lower paying jobs.

What can they expect when unexplainable high numbers of postgraduates are produced every year and they themselves are unable to get the jobs they want?

The third and final point is to keep politics out of education. The reasons are obvious and it needs no further elaboration. – April 23, 2024


Stephen Ng
Kuala Lumpur

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

Main image credit: Universiti Malaya Facebook

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