This has got to be the most sombre and depressing article i’ve read in many moons. Why? Because its true. All of it.
Fast forward to the present and it would be very hard for any graduate to follow my act without substantial help from their parents. No, I wasn’t from the privileged class and I didn’t get a leg-up from my parents, save for the education they gave me. Present day graduates start their working life at RM1800 to RM2000 a month, not a lot of difference from 25 years ago but prices of everything have tripled and quadrupled. A hawker meal now cost RM5 (drinks extra), prices of cars and houses have grossly outpaced income and there are new expenses like toll, hand phones, Astro and internet. Our ringgit has depreciated against foreign currencies making consumer goods and overseas travel more expensive. To put it simply, real income has declined.
If its this bad for us of this generation now, imagine how bad it’ll be for the next. Unless we do something about it.
Blaming this on BN’s corruption is convenient (while arguably also being true). I’m not yet convinced, as some others are, that simply voting in an alternative Government in GE13 will make that much of a difference. Of course, i’m ready to be proven wrong on that point, but my gut tells me that there is something systemically wrong with Malaysia for us to have gone down this path. Something that can’t be voted away; a devil in different clothes is still the devil.
Could it be policy errors, has Malaysia focused on the wrong things over the years? The reason why Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea has taken such awesome strides in the last 2 decades could be a result of their economic policies — they focused on financial services (Singapore) and high-technology industrialization (Taiwan and South Korea). While we were stuck with crops and agriculture and tin. We did well when the world needed those things in abundance (circa 1960s-70s-early 80s), but when the rest of the world moved on, did we follow?
Are we making the same mistakes now with our reliance on oil and gas to fuel (pun intended) our economy? I don’t know how much longer that source of income will last, but it can’t be forever, probably not even through my lifetime. What do we do when that runs out too?
Have our forays into high-tech like the MSC or high-industrialization like the automobile industry been in vain? In principle, probably not. After all, it worked elsewhere, why wouldn’t it work in Malaysia? Good ideas are good ideas but its also true that no good idea survives when starved of a solid supporting framework. And, to me, that’s what we’ve missed the boat on.
How good is our human capital? The first thing a manager is taught is that your people are your company’s life. You are only as good as your worst employee. The same must be true of a country. We are only as good as our worst citizen. Sadly, they’ve been just too many of those.
It’s not their fault, not entirely anyways. This is where government comes in, the investment in the human capital of a nation is probably the highest priority of any developing nation, and that’s been our greatest failure. Singapore did it. Taiwan, Korea, and even China today is doing it.
Development of human capital means education. It means taking the roots of the country, our children, and giving them mental fortitude and strength to carry the nation on their shoulders. We didn’t do any of this. The school system, fragmented by the need to have national schools, non-national schools, chinese schools, madrasahs (islamic schools), and everything in between is a mess of epic proportions. By trying to cater to everyone, we end up helping no one.
The syllabus is poor (you can’t expect ill-qualified teachers to teach something beyond their own capacity to understand), the curriculum subject to political whims (English should have been made the language of at least half the subjects in schools) and the bar constantly being shifted in order to ensure a good Ministry of Education report card (doesn’t it concern anyone that straight “A” SPM students can hardly speak English, fail their university Matriculation and do poorly at international-standard exams such as GCE?).
Compare this to what a world-class education looks like:
The following minimum courses of study in mandatory subjects are required in nearly all U.S. high schools:
Common types of electives include:
Taught by, at the minimum, Master degree holders (with wages exceeding US$50k a year), the curriculum is designed to create a well-rounded student. Not everyone is a genius, and for those that aren’t, the education system prepares them with the skills they can appreciate. The truly talented are taken aside and fully rewarded and developed with courses that are meaningful to them. Compare that to Malaysia where teachers are under-paid, under-appreciated, under-trained. Where the good, the bad, the ugly students are all just lumped together — they all learn the same thing at the same pace, with a syllabus designed to train the lowest common denominator rather than being flexible enough to excite the brightest minds the nation has to offer.
Most importantly, their students are given the freedom and are encouraged to think. While ours? Programmed through rote learning at best, punished for thinking out of the box at worst. That’s what you get when life revolves around examinations and the ability to reproduce exact answers for objective questions. The world isn’t white or black, not even A or B, its certainly not a multiple choice question.
We were never taught the difference. Look inside yourselves, you know it’s true. For those of you fortunate enough to study overseas, the truth is even more painfully obvious.
The cycle continues into tertiary education. Far too few good teachers, far too many ordinary students who only know one way to study — swallow the textbook and regurgitate it when requested. It’s no wonder that our universities score so poorly every year on international scoreboards. A university full of weak students will never attract the best educators. Without the best educators, you won’t have research (thus those abysmal world rankings), and you certainly won’t have the development of good students. Of course, exceptions exist. But a country is built on backs of the masses, not it’s exceptions.
Then you get people in the workforce, a product of decades of poor learning. What do you expect then? A miracle? No, you get an average workforce, unable to compete with the best the world has to offer. The very best talent become frustrated and leave in search of recognition and a more challenging environment. 700,000 bright Malaysians working overseas with few wanting to return? If that’s not a damning indictment of our country’s conditions, then nothing is. An already weak, intellectually and talent wise, workforce becomes just that much more weaker without bright stars around it to act as motivators and role models. Then, lack of competition breeds laziness and a dearth of inspiration.
Then you get Malaysia. That’s our recipe. That’s how we arrived.
Seems like a lot to lay on the backs of a country’s education system, but that’s where the truth really lies. The roots of a nation make it strong or weak. The stronger the roots, the greater the tree. Education is the fertilizer of powerful roots.
Scare stories of corruption, lies and deceit from the incumbent may bring an alternative government to power the next time we go to the polls. But until we get our roots right, there is only so far this country will go.