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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

An Education System Worthy of Malaysia #4

Basis For Reform

In making my reform proposals, I am guided by the following principles. In a plural society, education must serve more than just to educate the young. It must also be a force for greater social and racial integration, that is, nation building. This is not a novel idea; I am merely reiterating Tun Razak‘s vision first enunciated in1956. Also as a consequent of this plurality, there is no “one size fits all;” we should expect and indeed encourage different models. Such diversity must however, have a common underlying theme or core commonality lest young Malaysians would develop along divergent paths. As a corollary to the first two, there must be parental choice. Parents must be free to choose the school that best fits their children. Parents know their children better than any educational expert or ministry official. Parental choice leads to parental involvement; this could only bring positive consequences. The education system must also prepare students for the challenges of the global marketplace. With globalization, good enough for Malaysia isn’t. To compete effectively in this K-economy, Malaysians must be fluent in English, science literate, and mathematically competent. Malaysians can no longer be insulated; they have to compete with the outside world. There must also be private sector participation at all levels. This would not only encourage new and innovative models but also lessen the burden on the public purse.

The focus of my reform revolves around three major areas: efficiency, equity, and quality. Efficiency is defined simply as getting better or more with the same resources or input. This efficiency could be viewed technically from the business viewpoint (how many schools can be built for X dollars) as well as the social aspects. That is, the government should help those most deserving and not squander its resources on those who do not need them. This goal ties in with the second theme of equity. Everyone regardless of race, gender, social class, or intellect must be given every opportunity to develop his or her full potential. We should remove all barriers, overt as well as subtle, which prevent a child from getting an education. In Malaysia, the glaring divide between urban and rural schools is a crime, for we are in effect dismissing all those precious minds in the villages. And the last point, quality, speaks for itself.

These issues are very relevant but often ignored. Building a successful school is not the challenge. I can create one where the graduates would qualify for top universities if I choose carefully to admit only the children of the rich and highly educated. Such a school may be considered very successful or “very good” but in effect it has not added much value. The probability of those children achieving superior results would be high anyway regardless of what school they would attend. Their parents would ensure that. The purpose of a good school is to break the vicious cycle where children of those with low socioeconomic status and limited educational achievement would repeat their parents’ pattern.

The World Bank describes the three pillars of a good education system: access, quality, and delivery. Access refers to where students are ready to learn in a supportive and healthy environment with adequate supporting elements such as shelter, nutrition, and health. A supportive environment is where the leadership is interested only in education, and where there are clear goals and expectations. Quality means a relevant curriculum that will produce competent products that would thrive in a global economy and contribute to the social development of society. The teaching staff should be well motivated, solidly trained, and have ample avenues for professional growth and enhancement.

They should also be adequately compensated. The delivery system should be where the governance has clear responsibility and accountability, and where significant decisions would be made by those most affected by it. Thus there should be appropriate decentralization. The changes I am proposing follow these themes. My reforms do not question the basic assumptions of nor radically change the present system. The existing structures (number of school years, supremacy of Malay language, national and national-type schools) remain the same.

The emphasis is on strengthening the evident weaknesses, and enhancing and replicating the successes. The changes I am advocating are incremental and evolutionary, not radical and revolutionary.

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