‘Future aware, future ready’

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 19 Mar 2019

EDUCATION is a topic that is very much in the national limelight at the moment, and the Education Ministry has been the focus of some public ire.

A well-known educationist’s letter recently noted the “endless talk about it” becoming even more confusing as everyone weighs in. He called this state of confusion “eduphobia”.

I think eduphobia is not confined only to primary and secondary education but also applies to tertiary education, as evidenced by concerns about jobs of the future. The World Economic Forum identifies two drivers of change that will determine these future jobs: demographic and socioeconomic trends, and technological development.

According to one analyst, new technologies threaten 40% of existing jobs in the United States, and two-thirds of jobs in the developing world. Another statement that causes public concerns is, “around 85% of the jobs that today’s learners will be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet”.

These opinions remind me of an old quotation: “The future is not what it used to be”. Its origin is debatable but its first use in the English language is said to be in 1937. If it has been recognised for a long time that the future is not going to be what it used to be, then it follows that jobs in the future are not going to be what they used to be either. Indeed, many current jobs did not exist not so very long ago.

So the changing nature of jobs in the future is not a new phenomenon. What is new is the speed of technological change and the fluidity of factors driving socioeconomic trends, making it impossible for universities to keep up with market demand. The idea of universities producing industry-ready graduates is, therefore, a fallacy.

Albert Einstein once said, “Education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think.” So university education is not so much about preparing for the immediate job market as for developing one’s intellect and critical thinking skills.

Another quotation relevant to this discussion is, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”. This was said in 1940 by the 32nd US president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. This is where quality education comes in and where universities have a major role to play with innovative ways of preparing the young for “the future that is not going to be what it used to be”.

In this context, one starting point in the preparation for the future is accommodating the Unesco’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisa­tion) 21st century skills comprising 13 components that have been condensed into critical thinking, media literacy, communication, and collaboration and creativity.

In addition to critical thinking and creativity, one analyst has added people skills (the ability to “work with people, getting in touch with your emotions, having empathy and listening”) and interdisciplinary knowledge (“capacity to pull information from different fields to come up with creative solutions for future problems”).

I myself have, since 2006, been promoting the Holistic Human Capital Development model comprising:

> Intellectual capital – critical thinking;

> Skills capital – core competencies;

> Social capital – communication, collaboration, cooperation, ability to debate and negotiate;

> Entrepreneurial capital – creativity, innovativeness, entrepreneurship;

> Psychological capital – commitment, passion, dedication, self-confidence; and

> Spiritual capital – ethical and spiritual values, transparency, integrity.

However, the generally accepted graduate attributes for the future that emphasise the soft skills are the 4Cs: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration.

The Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025 recognises six student attributes: knowledge, thinking skills, leadership skills, bilingual proficiency, ethics and spirituality, and national identity. These should apply to graduates as well.

Applying the C formulation, I am recommending for Malaysia a set of seven Cs of graduate attributes, namely: critical thinking, core competency, creativity, communication, collaboration, civility and compassion, and civic nationalism. These encompass elements of the Malaysian Education Blueprint as well as most universities’ targets, I am sure.

Civility and compassion and civic nationalism are important elements to be nurtured in multiracial, multi-ethnic, multireligious and multicultural Malaysia. The other five components, comprising both technical and soft skills – which must include the language for international communication, cooperation and collaboration, English – form the foundation for preparing our youth to be future aware and future ready.

(Although it can be argued that the language for international communication can be German, Russian, French, etc, the one Malaysians would be most familiar with would be English.)

Recognising the graduate attributes necessary for future jobs is one thing, effectively delivering them is another. Innovative ways must be explored over and above the formal, non-formal and extracurricular formats.

To be really effective, students must be primed for the 7Cs during their primary and secondary education through a curriculum that integrates technical and soft skills. The American STEM programme is an example of an attempt at integration designed “to transform the typical teacher-centred classroom by encouraging a curriculum that is driven by problem-solving, discovery, exploratory learning, and that requires students to actively engage in a situation in order to find its solution”. And, “STEM education is to help teachers and students understand how the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics impact their world and prepare them for the workforce of tomorrow”.

The current STEM programme in Malaysia, according to the chairperson of the National STEM Move­ment, Prof Datuk Dr Noraini Idris, “is facing a downward trend”. She goes on to say, “The problem is not just about the students; there are various factors, including the school management not seeming to be confident of the ability of the teachers and students in STEM areas.” (“Experts: Fewer STEM students will affect nation’s talent pool”, Nation, The Star, March 18; online at bit.ly/star_stem)

In implementing our Education Minister’s proposal of STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Maths), the formulation of the integrated curriculum and method of delivery are of paramount importance. For the latter, our teachers must be suitably trained, and teacher training programmes revamped. Additionally, school management must be in tune with the programme and parents must be encouraged to be more supportive.

The recent statement by our Prime Minister that “we will be changing the curriculum in schools to focus on mastering real Islamic teachings, English, as well as science and technology so that we can stand tall among other people in the world” augurs well for the future of education in Malaysia.

This ought to change the gloom of eduphobia to the optimism of eduphoria at the prospect of an improved education system.


Senior Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia


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