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10 APRIL 2024

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Malaysia under 'BLUR' Umno misses ANOTHER lesson in economic development

Malaysia under 'BLUR' Umno misses ANOTHER lesson in economic development
As Malaysia strives to grow its economy to catch up with richer Asian countries, such as Singapore and South Korea, doubts are rising about whether its education system can provide the types of graduates needed to fill high-skilled jobs considered key to economic development.
In a recent report, the World Bank pointed out the "urgent need to transform Malaysia's education system" for it to produce the type of labor force required by a high-income economy.
The World Bank defines a high-income economy as one where economic output per citizen is a minimum of $12,616 a year. Last year, Malaysia's gross domestic product per capita was $9,928, putting it among the ranks of upper-middle income economies that include Turkey and South Africa.
Although primary education is required by law in Malaysia, the World Bank report notes, "access to schooling is a necessary, but insufficient condition for building human capital that will propel economic growth."
As demand for more high-skilled professionals has grown in the country, one of Southeast Asia's most developed and steadily growing, the education system has failed to reform to meet these shifting needs, says the World Bank, even though nearly 97% of children in the country are enrolled in primary school, according to government data.
The results of a recent global aptitude test for 15-year-olds that measures knowledge of science, mathematics and reading serves as an example.
Out of 65 countries surveyed in the test conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessment, Malaysia ranked 52, ahead of Indonesia in Southeast Asia, but widely trailing second-ranked Singapore. It even lagged well behind low-income Vietnam, which secured the 17 position.
Ulrich Zachau, the World Bank's Southeast Asia director, attributes Malaysia's dismal performance to the lack of say over employment decisions and spending plans given to government schools, which account for the bulk of educational institutions in Malaysia.
Around 65% of teacher hires are done by the national government rather than individual schools, compared to 5% in South Korea, where public schools have more autonomy.
Schools also have little input when it comes to spending on new buildings or equipment, creating assessments for their students, or choosing text books – decisions that are regulated by the Ministry of Education.
Public information about individual school's performance is also difficult to access, and parents rarely provide feedback to school administrators – all factors that make schools less accountable, said Mr. Zachau.
And while the quantity of teachers is adequate, according to the World Bank, their quality is an issue, say some parents.
"Teachers are no longer committed to educating the young," said S. Balachandran, a commodities trader in Kuala Lumpur and the father of three children who go to government schools. "My son has mentioned in the past that his science teacher has the habit of twiddling on his phone while students are doing their work in the classroom."
Adele Phang, a secondary school teacher in Kuala Lumpur who has been teaching for 24 years, disputes such criticism.
"Teachers today adopt different methods in teaching subjects to students, " she said, calling comments about teachers being uncommitted "not fair."
Other parents say they are concerned with what they perceive as misdirected government policies guiding the education system.
"The government's frequent education policy shifts, such as switching the [language] of instruction to Bahasa from English, just add confusion in an already muddled system," said Sarah-Jane Thomas, a single mother whose three children attend a government school in Ipoh, around 120 miles north of Kuala Lumpur.
Deputy Minister for Education, P. Kamalanathan, admits such shifts may confuse the students in the short term, but says the education ministry is "determined to overcome" the challenges in implementing proposed education reforms.
To improve education standards, the Malaysian government has drafted a detailed policy roadmap called the "Education Blueprint" and is spending heavily to implement it. Launched in September, the blueprint seeks to raise the appeal of teaching as profession, give greater freedom to state and district education offices to manage their affairs and promote greater parent and community involvement.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has also allotted 54.6 billion ringgit ($16.9 billion) toward the education sector in the 2014 budget, the highest amount marked for any sector next year. But doubts remain over how well the government will be able to execute planned-for reforms.
"I think in any country an improvement in education is a long-term agenda, and that's not going to happen overnight," said Mr. Zachau.
Another problem facing Malaysia is that the best and brightest students emerging from its education system often travel overseas for higher study and then seek work abroad. Twenty percent of Malaysia's most highly educated now opt to leave for richer economies, according to a recent report by recruitment consulting firm Kelly Services. - AP

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