We just crave better standards

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid activist

Early this week, Education Minister Datuk Mohd Radzi Md Jidin acknowledged that the Malaysian education system has been stagnant.

This startling statement caused an uproar among the public – with many views raised on what exactly is wrong about the current system.

From a brief scroll on social media, many who were in agreement with the minister blamed the rut on the past regime – as they always do.

“Governments don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. That is against their interests,” said one Facebook user.

They are many like him who blamed it on some conspiracy theory that the education system is diluted so that some remain smarter than others.

Another user said, “I have expected this to happen. A change of education minister also means a change to the education system.

“The students are at the peril of those in charge of the education portfolio; don’t try to be smarter than past ministers.”

This is a fair assessment – in politics, promise of change is the currency of influence.

I am sure that all newly-appointed members of administration are keen to bring change – most likely it is already in their manifesto and list of pledges.

While good change is welcome, what we fear is change for the sake of changing.

Take a good policy – instrumental and beneficial to the public – but due to political pressure, it has to be scrapped à la goods and services tax (GST).

It is only after GST was binned we were left ruing its supposed contributions to the economy. Same thing here.

Let’s not get side-tracked. In the report quoting the education minister, he said the cause was due to unwillingness of stakeholders to make changes, leaving other countries to surpass Malaysia in terms of education.

Radzi highlighted that during the push for the abolishment of the UPSR and PT3 national exams, some teachers and other stakeholders had opposed the move saying that the schools were ill-prepared for in-class and school-based assessments.

“These in-class and school-based assessments have been introduced since 2011. It’s not new. This thing has been in the system for over 10 years but many said that we were not ready.

“If after 10 years we are not ready, how many decades will it take for us to be ready?”

He has a point – just as the powers that be draft good education policies to benefit school and students, so should these policies be reciprocated.

The parents, teachers and students themselves must be willing to adapt to change – but we, and I cannot stress this enough, must ensure that the change we are making is for the better.

A lot of Malaysians – myself included – are guilty of this; we often romanticise about how good the old days were, when sometimes that isn’t the case. It is better now.

With developments in terms of technology and society, simply put, our education system has not faltered, on the contrary, it has improved – it is the demand for elevated education standards that has increased.

We now find ourselves comparing our education standard to the best countries in the world and benchmarking it and that should be the case. We are looking to improve.

Same goes for Sarawak’s education system, among the myriad of initiatives pushed by the state government, it has greatly helped elevate our standard of education.

It starts from the ground level – ensuring access to education by good infrastructure and facilities and ensuring education of international standards be attainable for the less privileged by building international schools.

At the same time, we have our own university to guarantee tertiary education for those qualified and we taught Mathematics and Science in English at primary one level.

The government is instilling good changes and we, the people, must accept it. That is how it’s done.

Stakeholders must be open to good policies and not reject them on grounds of their own incompetence in present – i.e., the use of English in teaching and learning.

The education that Sarawakians enjoy is reflective of how the national education system could improve if we really put our hearts into it.

Just as state Minister for Education, Innovation and Talent Development Datuk Roland Sagah Wee Inn put it, “I don’t think (the education system in) Sarawak is stagnant. We are actually moving forward.”

So can Malaya. We are not in a rut; we are simply craving better standards.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.  

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