The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) recent report on global school rankings highlights both the potential and challenges of Malaysia’s education system.
The study found that if every single 15-year old in our country is provided with a basic level of education, our gross domestic product (GDP) could increase by as much as 500 percent.
This, of course, will not be news to many people as we all know that education is essential for accelerated and sustainable development.
Nevertheless, as the OECD report also highlights, Malaysia has a long way to go in this regard. To take just one metric, Malaysia was ranked 52nd out of 76 countries in terms of mathematics and science proficiency.
Malaysia clearly needs a paradigm shift in terms of education.
We need to give parents, teachers and students a greater voice in policymaking rather than concentrate power in ambitious Federal Government politicians and faceless bureaucrats in Putrajaya.
Moreover, there has to be greater decentralisation, with states being given more power to compete among themselves. This should be further delegated to districts and schools.
At the same time, we need to ensure that our teachers are treated, paid and held to the same standards as professionals, rather than civil servants.
Prejudice in public institutions of learning and the marginalisation of certain students due to race and religion must be combatted.
Also, the politicisation of education—including the prosecution of student leaders and the shameful clampdown on freedom of speech such as has been occurring in UM and UIA—must cease.
I repeat, Malaysia’s education system clearly has great potential, but only if we have the courage and imagination to make difficult but necessary choices and to think outside the box.