GAUGING PERFORMANCE: Local education has its merits
EVERYONE is entitled to his opinion. Though opinions are best judged on their logic, more often than not they are based on following the leader. Sadly, the views of someone of high standing tends to be accepted without question.
Harvard University has not accepted a Malaysian for the last two years.
Some quarters have opined that it indicates the sad state of local education.
While many agree that local education is in the doldrums, is failure to gain entry to Harvard the measure of a country's education system?
Compared to many countries, we have done relatively well in using natural wealth to build the economy.
We have transformed from a nation that relied on the export of natural resources into one that sells manufactured goods abroad.
It is hard to think of a former colony -- be it Belgian, British, Dutch or French -- with an abundance of natural resources, which has successfully built a balanced economy after independence.
The success of our transition can be credited to heavy investment in education and a vision that, over time, technology will lower the relative prices of commodities.
Look at the percentage allocated to education in the annual budget. It is a substantial 25 per cent. I cannot recall a country that provides such a high percentage of its annual budget to education.
Schooling results in the formation of human capital. The provision for education in the budget stresses the importance of talent.
Economists believe that the central determinant of a nation's economic growth are the skills and entrepreneurial courage of the population.
Concerned parents send their children to international and private schools that adopt foreign curricula.
Those in Johor send their offspring across the causeway. It is their right. They have the means.
If you read the criticisms of the Malaysian school system, you will think it produces dullards of the worst kind.
But those who sat for A levels or pre-university exams prior to going abroad to study have done this nation proud.
Their performance shows the dynamism of our society is a lot better than what critics say. So there must be something right about our schools. Simply put, it is education that matters, not resources.
Many economic sectors have shown sustained growth performance over the years. If our education system is poor, we won't be where we are today.
Some say that the good performance by several sectors may be due to the efforts of officers who graduated from universities overseas. But how did they gain entry to these institutions?
The A levels, Edexcel, International Baccalaureate and other matriculation exams set by governing bodies abroad have high requirements for entry to tertiary education.
So how did our students manage to get the grades to gain admission to prestigious universities in United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States?
Didn't the formative years in the primary and secondary schools here contribute to their good performance? If the answer is "yes", it shows that our education has helped students to attend respected colleges.
Many argue that the excellent performance of the students at the pre-university tests may be down to the good colleges they attended. But those entrusted to teach at these colleges are no wizards. They cannot do wonders within one or two years.
The argument then is narrowed down to the quality of the foreign universities, especially the Ivy League and Russell Group, the students attended.
These colleges, which are of high quality, efficient, fiercely competitive and well-endowed, retain the best academics.
And they attract the best students from around the world. If our students performed poorly, they would not have gained entry to a single institution in these groups. The academics at these prestigious universities, however good, cannot work wonders either.
The route to the birth of human capital begins at schools in Malaysia. Our citizens have been accepted by the United States Military Academy at West Point, and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, the two most renowned military academies in the world.
Yes, there is a decline in the standard of English among our students.
Their communication skills leave much to be desired. Their general knowledge is embarrassing. However, Malaysia is not alone in facing the drop in the standard of education.
Even the British and Americans complain that their students' command of their mother tongue and grammar is shameful. Their general knowledge is abysmal.
Those skills that are lacking can be acquired as the graduates progress in the workplace.
Organisations expect them to be perfect from the day they step into their premises.
Employers expect all shortcomings of the graduates to be overcome at the universities, without realising that tertiary bodies too have their limitations.
We can never be complacent about our duty to education. All must take responsibility to ensure that what is best is passed on to the next generation.
Every generation is a product of its environment.
Arzmi Yaacob New Straits Times Learning Curve Sunday, November 04, 2012