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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, August 23, 2006

An Education System Worthy of Malaysia #32

Chapter 5: A Look At Other Models (Cont'd)

The Canadian and German Dual System

The Canadian System

The Canadian system is similar to the American in being highly decentralized. Education falls under provincial jurisdiction, thus variations between the provinces. While most have K-12, Ontario and British Columbia have K-13. Like America, schools are under the local control of elected trustees. Unlike America, there are two school boards: the Public and Separate (or Catholic). Traditionally the Catholics are mainly French-Canadians; their own school board allows them to maintain their religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage.

The curricular pattern is similar to America. Unlike America, Canadian high schools have common exit examinations (“departmental”) that serve as the matriculation qualification. There is no national examination equivalent to the American SAT. Interestingly America too is toying with similar exit examinations but for a different purpose–to ensure minimal competency and not to rank the students.

Most Canadian universities are public, operated by the provinces. Their fees are low and highly subsidized. There are few private universities modeled after the American non-for-profit ones like Simon Fraser and George Williams. Canadian universities too offer broad based liberal education but generally it is less liberal and broad than the American. Electives are often prescribed, you choose among a given group rather than a free wide choice.

Canada is of particular interest in that it has to deal with two languages and cultures (English and French), and has done so successfully. While in the past there was resistance to learning a second language, today all young Canadians are functionally bilingual. Previously it was considered surrendering or giving in for a French-Canadian to learn English (or an English-Canadian to learn French), an attitude not dissimilar to that held by many Malaysians. Fortunately Canadians are much more enlightened today; now it is an asset to be bilingual.

The main lesson from Canada is how it handles the bilingual and bicultural issue, in particular how it successfully integrates the two groups despite having dual school systems. The difference between the Public and Catholic systems is much greater than that of national and religious schools in Malaysia. With the former there are differences of religion and ethnicity (Protestant English and Catholic French), while in Malaysia the clientele of the dual system share the same race and religion (Malay-Muslims). Despite the lesser difference Malaysia still has difficulty integrating the religious with the national stream. In Canada both streams contribute their share of educating future citizens.

In marked contrast, religious schools in Malaysia are fast turning into seminaries; they do not contribute to the education of the nation’s future professionals and executives.

Although both Public and Catholic schools have different curriculum, nonetheless there is a core of commonality such that students could switch from one to the other without much disruption. Further, all fields of studies in higher education are available for graduates from both streams. In comparison, products of Malaysian religious schools could continue their higher education only in Islamic Studies.

In my reform I propose that Islamic schools become more like Catholic schools in Canada.


Germany’s Dual System


German education is also highly decentralized, with each state having its own separate rules. German children are not required to enroll in kindergarten but many do, and they can start as early as age three.

They enter elementary school (Grundschule) at age six, and after Year 4 they are streamed. There is the general school (Hauptschule), Intermediate (Realschule), and the academic Gymnasium where they will spend the next six years. There is a fourth comprehensive school (Gesamtschule) that combines elements of all three so students could switch between streams without changing campus. After Year 10 students would continue for another two or three years in vocational and technical training or academic stream. German universities charge very low fees; additionally, students get a state subsidy, the amount dependent on the parents’ income. There are private schools and universities, but they play a minor role.

I choose Germany to highlight its much-vaunted vocational training, the Dual System. So called because students undertake vocational and occupational training while at the same time attend school. They spend part of their day or certain days of the week in school, and the rest working in industry. Thus students are exposed simultaneously to educators (teachers) as well as master craftsmen and skilled technicians. Students combine the fundamentals of a general education and learning the theories of the trade both by the book as well as hands-on.

The important feature of the dual system is that it is a joint government and industry endeavor. The local government finances the schools, while the state pays for personnel. Industry provides the cost of the vocational training, including paying wages to the students. The role of the federal government is mainly that of a facilitator and regulator.

As employers pay for the direct costs of the vocational training, they (through a committee) control the curriculum and type of skills the students should learn. The committee also determines the suitability of firms providing the training, monitors the quality, and sets the necessary standards and examinations.

Many Third World countries including Malaysia are eagerly importing the German Dual System with varying success. As the World Bank noted, there are many salient features of the German system that must be appreciated. First, Germany has a large manufacturing and service industry providing 90 percent of the jobs. The figures for most developing countries are considerably lower. In Malaysia, government, agriculture, and the “informal sector” are still major sources of employment. These sectors are unlikely to partake or be competent to contribute to the dual system. If Malaysia were to adopt the dual system it would have to be modified to prepare workers for those areas (especially agriculture) and of employing practitioners in the field as instructors. In Germany, vocational education was introduced long after there had been a formal apprenticeship program. Thus it was easy to graft the two together.

Malaysia does not as yet have such widespread skill-training programs. The German system must be modified to cater for these local deficiencies. Second, the German workplace is highly regulated and the workforce heavily unionized. There is greater compliance with safety and other rules that do not normally exist in the Third World. Student safety must be a top priority for the program to succeed. Third, industry controls the vocational component. It sets the curriculum, standards, rules, and examinations. Third World countries trying to copy the system usually have bureaucrats in the distant ministry controlling the program. The government often meddles by insisting on minimum wages and other work conditions that are not tolerated by industry.

MARA’s many apprenticeship programs suffer from this grave error, in particular, lack of industry input. As a result their products are not readily employable. In Germany participation by industry is voluntary. Companies would not lose their government contracts if they do not partake in the program. Fourth, and most important, vocational training is not regarded as a dead end stream or a pathway for those not qualified to enter university. The system provides increasing levels of technical training so motivated students could continue on right up to the highest level of technical colleges and universities. Equally important, the educational and vocational components complement each other.

Vocational training is expensive and should come only after the basic education needs of the citizens are taken care. Countries like Indonesia that attempt to graft the dual system fail miserably because scarce resources are diverted away from basic education. Malaysia however has solved the problem of providing primary and lower secondary education and thus is in a better position to benefit from the dual system.

Malaysia’s many vocational schools would benefit greatly from close industry collaboration. Future schools could also be built near industrial estates or major plants. The important element is that there must be major input from industry.

Next: The International Baccalaureate

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