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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Education system is our Achilles’ heel now

EARNEST changes are needed in our education system to ensure we can produce the ideal manpower to move Malaysia forward from a middle-income country to a high-income country. These changes must start with our education system.

National schools use Bahasa Malaysia, while vernacular schools use Chinese and Tamil, as their medium of instruction. With the emphasis on these three languages, English has been sidelined for the last 20 years.

In a survey conducted by online recruitment company JobStreet.com in August, 65% of the 1,001 major companies rejected job applicants because of their poor command of English.

Although a company has introduced English Language Assessment, I doubt this will be of much help to job-seekers. Proficiency in any language cannot be acquired overnight.

Some parents today, at times, struggle against the odds to send their children to private or international schools rather than national schools they themselves went to, simply because they want to ensure their children have a sound education.

As for people with the means, even those who are patriotic about our national schools send their own children to private or international schools or overseas. One only has to go to some of these schools in Kuala Lumpur to see what I mean.

A senior civil servant friend of mine told me the other day that he was the “Last of the Mohicans” in his agency doing the type of job he was doing. He did not mean to be conceited, but just highlighting the fact that he was the last of the English-medium civil servants who had the ability to write good reports and speeches.

He also lamented the fact that the younger officers in his agency lacked the ability to think and keep abreast with current developments, and had poor reading habits.

My friend clarified with me that he was not smarter than his peers or the younger officers, but was a beneficiary of the English language, read well and was from a good education system in the 1960s.

From independence until the 60s we had a good education system, with our schools even on par with those in developed countries.

Just make a comparison by scrutinising the examination papers in the Lower Certificate of Education, Senior Cambridge and the Higher School Certificate examinations in the 60s, and compare them with the current examination papers. You can see for yourselves how much standards have plunged.

A good start to revamping our education system would be to draw up stringent guidelines for candidates who wish to enter teacher-training colleges, followed by a review of the salary structure for teachers.

We must have only excellent candidates entering the profession.

Perhaps it is also time a high-level parliamentary or Cabinet committee be established to address these issues.

JAMES GONZALES,
Kuala Lumpur.

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