IT does not feel good to know that a new report by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development places us at 52nd among 76 countries in terms of our students’ grasp of basic skills.
Singapore takes the top spot, thus reinforcing the recent call by Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Sultan Iskandar that we emulate the island nation’s single-stream education system, which uses English as the medium of instruction.
He said having schools in only one stream would unite Malaysians and boost their competitiveness.
These developments tell us that our education system can be a lot better. Then again, we all know that.
The fact that Malaysia has two education blueprints – one focusing on preschool education and primary and secondary schools, and the other on higher education – shows that the Government is already taking steps to transform our education system.
The blueprints’ plans stretch until 2025, which means we should not hope for many overnight improvements.
Meanwhile, it is wise for us to keep enhancing our understanding of exactly how our shared prosperity is built on education.
New ideas and insights in this area are valuable because they help us to shape and refine policies and practices relating to the education system. At the very least, they encourage us to see things in a different light.
It is clichéd to say education is the cornerstone of development, but what if somebody comes up with projections of how much economies can benefit if school enrolment and education quality go up?
In fact, the OECD has done just that in a report titled “Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain”. Published on Wednesday, it is the same report that has Malaysia in the bottom third of the class based on our teenagers’ mathematics and science scores in international tests.
Let us not get hung up on these rankings. The report is 116 pages long and has a lot more to offer than bragging rights and naming-and-shaming opportunities.
For instance, it makes abundantly clear that an underperforming education sector costs a country dearly. The OECD warns that poor education policies and practices will result in a loss of economic output amounting to a permanent state of economic recession.
The organisation also points out that high-income status does not automatically eliminate shortcomings in education.
It is also interesting that the OECD argues that when there is universal achievement of basic skills in a country, its economic growth will be more inclusive.
The report suggests that there is still much to learn about how we can strengthen our education policies. We should be open to fresh thinking and approaches.
At the same time, we must not waver from the commitment and noble intentions reflected in the blueprints.
The STAR Home News Opinion May 17, 2015