Malaysia’s education system has failed, and is in need of a drastic and radical change, former finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said today.
"The reality is... We have failed in international rankings, we have failed to foster racial integration, we have failed to produce educated, principled and thinking models," he said in his speech at a convocation ceremony in Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) today.
His comments at the convocation came as the country’s local universities continued to decline in international education surveys, with the World Bank expressing its worry that the poor quality of Malaysia's education system is worse than the level of debt in its households.
Malaysia failed to get on the list of the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) 100 under 50, which is now into its second year. In the first rankings list in 2012, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) was ranked 98th.
The bad showing followed Putrajaya's remark that Malaysia has one of the best education systems in the world – better than the United States, Britain and Germany.
Saudi Arabia and Iran were also on the THE list which comprised 29 countries – one more than last year, with the addition of India, which made it on to the list for the first time.
Tengku Razaleigh (pic), also known as Ku Li, said that it was important that the international evaluations were accepted openly to immediately begin, and be committed to, a process of improving education.
"As soon as we accept the fact, we can also work to improve our philosophies, implementation, delivery, acceptance and living out the system," Ku Li said.
He lamented that the current education system does not produce graduates who can think effectively and excellently in challenging, unpredictable and varying situations.
"I still remember how, once upon a time, we were respected and revered by the world. In international forums, we were always given the honour to prepare the discussion reports, the communiqué and even become moderators and more."
"Those things happened because, relatively, our ability to think and mastering of languages were much better then. Unfortunately, things have really changed now," Ku Li said.
The education system is supposed to contribute to strengthen racial integration. But now, racial polarisation is at a severe and worrying level, he added.
"As someone who has seen Malaysia go through its pains and suffering, I am very sad to see what is happening.
"I still remember when Wong Peng Soon won the 1950, 1951 and 1952 All-England Badminton Championships. All the kids who played the sport would call themselves 'Wong Peng Soon', no matter what race they were.
"But today, racial polarisation is haunting us. What is most saddening is that this polarisation also exists in higher learning institutions where the community is educated," he said.
Taking South Korea as an example, he said it had once used Malaysia as its yardstick for success in many areas, including sports. But the effectiveness of their education system has pushed them forward, leaving Malaysia behind.
"South Korea's effective education system is what contributed to their success today. It's true that the diversity of races here is not relevant in this case but we can learn so many things from them in other areas."
In 1980, he said, South Korea's income per capita (US$2,322 or RM7,500) was lower than Malaysia's (US$2,351). However, today, theirs stand at US$24,328 – twice the amount of Malaysia's, which is at US$10,547.
"Now their economy is better than ours. The question is, what did they do that was so great and where did we go wrong in developing our country?" he said.
"Only if we are truly honest in answering these questions, then only can we come up with effective approaches to develop the country for all our benefit."
Ku Li said Malaysia now needs an education system that is revered by all; national schools where parents fight and race to get a place for their children.
"We hope that the National Education Blueprint (2013-2025) will take this opinion into account with implementation in mind," he added.
Ku Li also stressed on the importance of mastering the English language, failure of which would mean that Malaysia is left behind in the "race".
"It is the language of communication in many areas such as commerce and business, Internet and technology, medicine and diplomacy.
"So let's not fight about languages. We will not lose our identity, culture and customs if we master more languages. In fact, we will appreciate our culture and customs even more," he said, adding that the delay in this would only set Malaysia back. – May 10, 2014.