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5 Wishes for Education in Malaysia For 2013

Which is why, we have to look forward and strive to do much much better this year. Here's a list of 5 things everybody from the government to the ordinary citizen should look into for the sake of our children.1. A revamp of the History syllabus
The issue: The History syllabus as it is, is too myopic in its scope. The Russian revolution, Ottoman Empire, Alexander the Great, Kublai Khan all used to be part of Malaysian history syllabus. It is little wonder that a complaint against fresh Malaysian graduates is that they lack general knowledge. Important figures of history like Yap Ah Loy have also been reduced to a mere footnote. The History Syllabus is also incredibly rigid: the textbook lists a few factors causing an event, and anything out of the book is usually considered wrong. History becomes an exercise of pure memorization. I highlighted many of these failings in greater detail in another article here.

The proposal: We need to broaden the syllabus to reflect an increasingly globalized world. It is ironic that while the rest of the world has become more inclusive of other cultures and histories, Malaysia the melting pot of cultures, better positioned than many others to take advantage of globalization has gone the other way.

The increasingly insular nature of our education is most apparent in Geography. In-depth learning is restricted to Malaysia and superficial discussions of weather across vast swathes of land in Europe and Asia. Again, the lack of general knowledge is disconcerting. I probably learnt more about the world through TV than Geography!
2. A less rigid, more flexible style of education
The issue: This was mentioned briefly regarding History, but I think perhaps Moral Education is a far better example of the sheer frustration of the system. Moral Education is an exam-based subject, where students memorize the definitions of various values such as responsibility and tolerance, and regurgitate them word for word. Should there be a mistake in terms of the specific words used, even if they carry largely the same gist, marks are deducted. By doing this, Moral Education becomes the one thing it should never be: a theoretical exercise in futility that has no practical applications.

The proposal: The problem is widespread in the education system. Rigid mark schemes and teachers fearing to make their own decisions make the safer choice the premier choice. Certain syllabuses need to be restructured: Moral Education being one of them. For example, Moral Education should include community service and discussion of current ethical issues such as the crime rate in Malaysia. And for crying out loud, don't make it a SPM exam subject.

3. More opportunities for all
The issue: There is the perennial problem of scholarships for tertiary education. While those are important and certainly should be maintained, we should also recognize that university-going students are a minority in Malaysia and that it will likely remain so. We need to offer opportunities for vocational education and improve the capabilities of our skilled workforce. To offer an anecdotal example, my father's mechanic finds it increasingly difficult to hire good mechanics. The reason being that many graduates are given little practical experience, or have a poor command of language that rules them out from reading car manuals.

Students at Benz Training School.

The proposal: In Germany, a rich and relatively egalitarian society, only 16% of the population has university degrees. Bear in mind also the fact that university education in Germany is virtually free ( for the average German) at 500 euros per term with easy loan terms and scholarships abound. Their secret, and the real driving force of the German economy are their skilled workers, who go through vocational education centres that are partnered with firms like Mercedes Benz. These companies send trainers to these schools, as well as offer top students apprenticeships with the company.

Malaysia should do the same. The government should encourage companies to partner up with vocational training centres, and incentize these companies in setting up training centres of their own. Perhaps some CSR tax benefits may be in line. This way, the government reduces unemployment, companies get tailor fit and capable new recruits, and we all benefit along the way.

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