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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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, February 18, 2009

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #92

Chapter 13: Deteriorating Institutions

Educational Institutions

In 1976, after being away for over a dozen years, I visited my old school in Kuala Pilah. I expected it to be much improved in concert with the nation’ development. On the contrary, it had declined, but not enough to shock or concern me, until I compared it to the International School.

This is the problem with the decline of institutions. If you were close to the situation, you would not notice the deterioration, as it is imperceptible, initially. This is particularly true if you keep comparing yourself to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, as Malaysian leaders readily do.

Today the decline of schools and universities is obvious; they have deteriorated almost to a point of no return. Top students rarely end up at elite universities, the few who do come from other than national schools. Local employers prefer graduates of private to that of public universities. Headlines carry news of thousands of local graduates unemployed, or more correctly, unemployable. The government would then have to allocate additional hundreds of millions to prepare them for the marketplace, money that should have been given to the universities in the first place so they could better prepare their students.

Public schools can no longer be reformed from within; the rot is too deep. There are too may entrenched interests blocking the effort, from diehard language and political nationalists to favored Bumiputra contractors grown gluttonous on bloated school contracts. Then there are the teachers’ unions, ambitious politicians, and radical Islamists. The same could be said of universities, except that they are now forced to reform themselves because of competition from private institutions.

It is unrealistic to expect those currently brought up under or benefiting from the present system to undertake reform. They would be the last to admit to the system’s inadequacies. Reform however is inevitable; it will be forced upon the system by external events. Malaysia is an open society; it cannot insulate itself from outside forces. The only option would be to acknowledge these forces and then try as best as possible to maximize the benefits. Anything less would by default reduce the nation to being a helpless bystander, unable to influence events, reactive rather being proactive.

Take the use of English. For years the government resisted all efforts at increasing its use in schools and universities. With globalization, Malaysia is forced to adopt English or risk seeing its graduates becoming unemployable (except by the civil service).

The rich and influential have, as always, options. The poor and near poor have no choice; they are stuck with the present rotten system. Most of them are Malays, which should spur UMNO leaders to reform the system. Instead many, including Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak and Education Minister Hishamuddin, choose to escape the system by sending their children abroad or to private institutions.

The other loser, and a very significant one, would be the Malay language. When Malaysians abandon the national schools, they are in effect also abandoning the Malay language. The decline in Malay language is already evident. Note the widespread use of “rojak” or pidgin Malay, reflecting the public’s lack of respect for the language, and not just by non-Malays. Another is the lack of market value for the language, as evidenced by the low employability of those conversant only in that language, and the Malay media’s market share of the advertising dollar.

Perversely, the best way to enhance the status of Malay language is to ensure that Malays are fluently bilingual, in Malay and English. Were that to happen, fluency in English will lose its competitive edge, to be replaced by those fluent in both languages.

Next: Reforming The Schools


Blogger Chahya said...

Salam to you.
Old school in Kuala Pilah?

Students in schools and higher institutions today are Digital Natives, a term coined by Marc Prensky (2001). According to him, students today are “native speakers” of the digital language. He asserts “our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach”.

Obviously, there's a major need to revamp our education system and delivery.

Your silent reader.

6:01 PM  

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