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Tuesday July 14, 2009

Only good teachers can save our country

IN the past, it was easy for Malaysia to grow from a lower base by grabbing the low-hanging fruit but from now on further growth requires a trained and educated workforce.

My belief is that if we have a trained and educated population, they should be able to generate value-added industries or businesses (without too much government intervention) that will enable Malaysia to move above the middle income trap.

Hence, I read with great concern that the Government is now switching the teaching of Maths and Science back to Malay. We are not like China and Japan where students have access to the latest science books in their native language as their large population makes it economical to translate these books.

We are also not like the Scandinavian countries where almost the entire population is educated and fluent in English and can hence read English books.

The elite urban schools can tailor their curriculum and ensure that English is taught well but with this policy, we are sacrificing the poor rural mainly Malay students, thus widening the gap between the educated rich urban population and the less educated poorer rural population.

Students in a classroom of a rural school in Sabah. The inequality in Malaysia can only be solved through education and better teachers for the poor in the rural and urban areas

The crux of the problem is really the poor quality of teachers that we have; some are even unable to teach Science and Maths properly in English.

When I was in school in the 1970s, the quality of teachers was generally better. My teachers in St Xavier’s Penang were very dedicated and the headmaster, who often carried around a cane, was very strict about discipline and studies. I am certain that we have good teachers even now but is the overall teaching standard good enough?

Judging from the quality of new graduates I interview, I do not think so. A Jobstreet.com survey of 3,000 employers revealed that 56% said the main stumbling block when hiring fresh graduates was their poor command of English, versus 0.7% who cited poor command of Bahasa Malaysia as a difficulty in hiring.

We really have to beef up teaching and send teachers overseas for training if need be. As the process of training teachers takes time, we have to import good teachers from overseas to ensure that students especially in the rural areas are given the best education.

Import English teachers from England to teach English if need be. We may compromise on other things but never on teachers.

In Denmark, students actually get paid to study. Let us not churn out students with certificates from local universities that are unemployable but instead set a proper education standard for passing students on merit which is only possible if students are educated well by good teachers.

We should let the talented excel so elite schools for the talented are fine but then we should not neglect the rural and urban poor. The inequality in Malaysia can only be solved through education and better teachers for the poor in the rural and urban areas.

As for me, I would like to see a more prosperous Malaysia with greater equality.

If the rural population and poor are further disadvantaged by sub-standard education exacerbated by a poor mastery of English, I fear that one day, my property and assets will be expropriated by a leftist or fundamentalist government elected by the angry poor.

We must all pay attention to this problem for altruistic and selfish reasons as it affects future generations of Malaysians and the very nature of our society.

The writer is head of research at Kumpulan Sentiasa Cemerlang Sdn Bhd.

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