Room for improvement

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Malaysia is continuously making efforts to create a well-rounded and well-educated workforce (photo credit: BAE Systems)Malaysia is continuously making efforts to create a well-rounded and well-educated workforce (photo credit: BAE Systems)Malaysia is continuously making efforts to create a well-rounded and well-educated workforce (photo credit: BAE Systems)

Despite the notable progress that has taken place since the implementation of the new education roadmap, there remains a great deal that still needs to be done in order to create a well-rounded and well-educated workforce in Malaysia, according to Minister of Higher Education Dato’ Seri Idris bin Jusoh (Minister II of Education prior to yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle).

Speaking to a capacity crowd at a recent #TanyaGomen session organised by the Economic Transformation Programme held in Kuala Lumpur recently, Dato’ Seri Idris highlighted the various achievements that have already occurred.

Under this blueprint, for instance, Samsung has partnered with UTeM to create a centre of excellence dedicated to studying and preparing for the Internet of Things – a world first for such institutes. “We are also bringing in guest lecturers and speakers from overseas – as well as locals – with business acumen and proven track records, in order to expose our students to a spirit of entrepreneurship and critical thinking.”

Amongst the various speakers are the CEO of Rolls Royce’s R&D division as well as AirAsia boss Tony Fernandez.

idris jusoh

idris jusohDato’ Seri Idris (pic) also pointed out that a great deal of effort is being focused on the TVET (technical and vocational education and training) sector. “Our community colleges are becoming more and more capable of producing highly-skilled technical people; for example, the MRT tunnelling works were accomplished by such graduates. Gone are the days when these colleges focused solely on home-making skills such as baking, cooking, and fashion. Today’s community colleges can also teach and train people up in animation, O&G, civil works and so forth.”

When host Zan Azlee asked Dato’ Seri Idris whether there were any systems that efficiently and effectively identified the aptitudes of students and channelled them towards areas that suited their capabilities, he replied that this was precisely the reason that the government took the landmark decision to eliminate the PMR (Penilaian Menegah Rendah, or Lower Secondary Assessment) exam in Form 3.

“We have had the LCE, followed by SRP and then PMR. But now, we have decided that we should not be too focused on exams, and have replaced it with the PT3. We also have a psychometric test for all Form students – the only country in the world to do so on such a large scale – in order to identify their inclinations and skills.”

The importance of English

Dato’ Seri Idris also acknowledged the importance of English for graduates entering the workforce.

“The PM himself is constantly asking me about our English skills and about the MUET system. But I have to say that the MUET numbers are encouraging. We have made English a compulsory subject to pass at the SPM level – yet another landmark decision by the government – and by the end of the year, we will hopefully have 22,300 school teachers being trained so that their English proficiency is at the C1-C2 level of the CPT exams,” he said.

In addition, 60 native English-speaking teachers have been brought into the country to mentor 5,000 local teachers in the language, as well as 100 Fulbright Scholars from the USA who will act as English TAs, as well as various other comprehensive programmes aimed at improving the command of English in Malaysia.

Malaysian universities have gradually been climbing up in a number of global ranking systems, something that continued to please Dato’ Seri Idris. “UM, for instance, has gone from being ranked 167th in 2013 to 151st in 2014, according to the QS ranking system – one of the most popular and venerable ranking systems out there.”

Additionally, Malaysian academics were publishing – and having their papers cited – more than ever, overtaking Singapore’s academic publication rate in 2010.

However, he reminded the audience that there was a long way to go before Malaysia achieved its goal of having its universities numbered amongst the top-ranking universities in the world, especially the top 25.

Dato’ Seri Idris believes that there is no harm in having students go overseas to some of those top-ranking universities. “We’re not there yet, although we’re working on it. But people should be able to make the right choices for them,” he clarified.

He also added, “Yes, we are ‘soaring upwards’ in terms of our rankings, but rankings aren’t everything. We want to ensure that we turn out well-rounded students, which is why we’re introducing the integrated CGPA over the next few years, which also takes into consideration the co-curricular activities, leadership skills and social contributions of students, and not just their academic performance.”

Responding to a question from the audience concerning the role of scholarship and universities in preserving and advancing learning, Dato’ Seri Idris highlighted the fact that in the process of creating holistic, well-rounded students with critical thinking skills and an entrepreneurial mindset, the universities are also passing on “the love of knowledge” for its own sake.

In answering another question regarding the transition from the (mostly) BM-medium secondary schools to the mostly-English-medium local universities, Dato’ Seri Idris expressed his confidence that Malaysians are capable of being as multi-lingual as other Southeast Asians. “I met a number of people from Timor Leste (East Timor) who spoke five languages; their mother tongue, the Timor Leste national language, Indonesian, Portuguese and English. I don’t see why Malaysians can’t do something similar; I, for one, would like to master Mandarin and Tamil. So I believe there is no problem: it is just a question of making ourselves used to the idea of being multi-lingual.”

Dato’ Seri Idris believes that this current blueprint is one of the most comprehensive and farsighted, reaching until 2025. “I hope that the rakyat, having seen how effective this blueprint is in achieving our educational goals, will themselves ensure that it is seen through to completion,” he said.

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