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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.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

An Education System Worthy of Malaysia #28

Chapter 5: A Look At Other Models

In this chapter I will examine the education system of three countries: United States, Canada, and Germany. American universities are the best; many countries are now adopting its system of broad-based liberal education with emphasis on languages, the sciences, and mathematics. Canada’s biculturalism and bilingualism are of special relevance to Malaysia. For Germany, the superiority of its vocational education is widely acknowledged.

There are many other countries with superior systems of education, but I choose not to include them. Britain is one. Its public schools and rigorous matriculating examination–the GCE Advanced level–are universally highly regarded, recent scandals on markings notwithstanding. Students with A level pass are routinely granted first year college credits at American campuses. I have not included the British system simply because Malaysians are already very familiar with it.

Nor will I discuss except in passing the excellent schools of some Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. Their schools are widely lauded and their students consistently score at the top in international tests. The world may sing praises for their system, but their own students and parents think differently. To them their school is nothing but a relentless and uncompromising system of rote learning, regularly punctuated by grueling examinations. Their young hardly had time to enjoy their childhood as their waking hours are spent cramming for tests after tests. And when they are not doing that they are busy at private tuition or attending “cram schools.” Their leaders and educators erroneously equate test scores as the be-all and end-all of education.

A measure of the inadequacy of their system can be gauged by the fact that South Korean parents would do anything to have their young escape the torture that is their school system. Many are sending their young to Canada and America, accompanied by their mothers while the rest of the family are stuck back home, with the father busy working hard to pay for that expensive education abroad. A more recent phenomenon would have pregnant Korean mothers flying to America for delivery so as to obtain an automatic American passport for the baby. After delivery both mother and baby would fly back home. When it is time for high school, that baby–now a young teenager–would be back in America as an American. All these elaborate schemes are designed simply so Korean parents could spare their young from attending the torture system that is their high school. If Korean parents go to such extremes, I do not think their schools are worthy models for Malaysia.

Singapore, despite its excellent schools, has little to offer Malaysia. Like Japan and South Korea, Singapore does not have problems of cultural and linguistic diversities. Sure it has small minority groups but Singapore does not exactly demonstrate much sensitivity to them. Singapore’s treatment of its minorities is not exactly the one that Malaysia should emulate. In terms of size, Singapore’s schools would be the equivalent of a midsize American school district. There is not much that Malaysia can learn from Singapore or any of the other two Asian countries.

Singapore does have something going for it. Its schools have high standards of English, science, and mathematics. Its teachers are well paid and highly regarded. Teaching still attracts top talent, a far cry from the situation in Malaysia.

In addition to reviewing the education system of the different countries, I will also review two exemplary programs at opposite ends of the spectrum. First is the International Baccalaureate (IB), widely recognized as a superior matriculating examination, and second, Brazil’s Bolsa Escola program which deals with problems in the polar opposite–of how to keep children in school.

Next: The American System


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