By Margarita Peredaryenko
AS Malaysia’s visionaries begin to champion Malaysia 5.0 initiative, the stumbling question is whether we would have sufficient human capital at every level to successfully carry this initiative into the future.
Malaysia 5.0 initiative is inspired by Society 5.0, concept proposed by Japanese government and wholeheartedly embraced by its entire nation back in 2016.
Even before Japan, few other countries introduced similar national plans, including, for example, Estonia (e-Estonia), Germany (Industrie 4.0), and Singapore (Smart Nation).
Importantly, simultaneously with adopting these plans the above countries initiated rigorous educational system reforms seeing education as the key success factor.
Analysing educational system changes introduced by these countries a few important and conspicuously common trends can be discerned.
The first is focus on developing human strengths. The second is very early inclusion of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) elements into curriculum. The third is transcending the humanities/sciences divide.
Focus on human strengths
It is somewhat erroneous fact, in the context of this discussion, that the early artificial intelligence (AI) systems were built on the principle of memorisation, pattern matching and knowledge recall which was soon shown to be a weaken approach.
An attempt by the machine to find a solution to a problem which was not previously encoded into its memory would lead to combinatoric explosion. As such the machines were taught how to independently create their own rules of data interpretation.
Why is it then that even when the machines are taught creativity, in our curriculum we still test students’ ability to simply recall knowledge?
In the era of google-search and copy-paste culture the highest levels of the Bloom’s taxonomy should have disproportionally greater importance for the purpose of curriculum development.
The higher progression of knowledge is wisdom, which is the ability to make the best and most proper use of knowledge, sensing the universal laws and relationships stretching beyond the known models or seeing the unseen.
The unseen will remain inaccessible to AI which is trained on the physically available data.
Therefore, the focus of education from the very early age should be on ethics, complex communication, teamwork, creativity, ability to see non-obvious links between the concepts, ability to synthesise and produce knowledge, not just consume it.
This kind of training will eventually supply not knowledge- but wisdom-workers which would be an ultimate demand of Society 5.0.
Early inclusion of 4IR elements into curriculum
When we say that 4IR elements must be introduced in the school curriculum starting from the primary level, we must also ensure that correct “elements” are being introduced.
It is self-deception to think that we are familiarising children with 4IR by simply introducing them to the use of technologies or allowing them to play, even though educational, computer games in class. Introduction to 4IR needs to be taken more seriously.
If we want to have equitable shared prosperity and avoid the concentration of powerful technologies in the hands of few the nation will need to produce at scale not only active users, but also active creators of the technologies and for that we must start minting them immediately, at scale.
A great emphasis should be made on teaching programming logic, building algorithms, functional programming, object- and service-oriented programming (even if at elementary level).
These are important tools to learn, understand and eventually see the modular and complementary nature of the 4IR frontier technologies such as blockchain, AI, Internet of Things (IoT) and many more to come.
Strengthening programming logic and modular thinking would also enhance the desired human skills as imagination, ability to synthesise the conceptual ideas and eventually create knowledge and make sound judgement.
Transcending the humanities/sciences divide
Even though Malaysia education system has become stream-less since 2020 the students can still freely decide on which subjects, STEM/non-STEM to take. Therefore, this does not remove the barriers between subjects and disciplines effectively.
The approach needed is to have a standard, well balance set of subject, STEM, and non-STEM which all students are required to take, up to university levels.
Even then, it’s better to have at least for the first few years of education math, data science and tech should be made compulsory disciplines.
Some Singapore universities, for example, go as far as making the computational thinking, statistics, and programming basic requirement regardless of major, humanities or science.
Developing justly balanced individuals, all prepared and equipped for this extremely fluid and dynamic reality will reduce unemployment and underemployment problem.
All the above changes in education system are crucial and have to be made immediately if we want to succeed on Malaysia 5.0 as experience of other nations indicate.
Given the speed of development brought about by science and technology innovations every minute of procrastination may cost us years of falling behind. – Dec 2, 2020
Dr. Margarita Peredaryenko is chief research officer at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.