Building blocks for the nation

AS our visionaries start to champion the Malaysia 5.0 initiative, we need to ask whether we will have sufficient human capital at every level to achieve it.

Malaysia 5.0 is inspired by Society 5.0, a concept proposed in 2016 by the Japanese government and wholeheartedly embraced by its entire population. Before Japan, a few other countries had introduced similar national plans, including Estonia (e-Estonia), Germany (Industrie 4.0) and Singapore (Smart Nation). When they adopted their plans, these countries initiated rigorous educational reforms which they saw as the key factor for success.

A few important aspects can be discerned from analysing changes in the education system introduced by these countries. These are focusing on developing human strengths, early inclusion of 4IR elements into the curriculum, and transcending the divide between humanities and science.

It is somewhat erroneous that the early AI (artificial intelligence) systems were built on the principle of memorisation, pattern-matching and knowledge recall. An attempt by the machine to find a solution that was not previously encoded into its memory led to a rapid growth in the complexity of the problem. As such, the machines were taught how to independently create their own rules of data interpretation.

In our curriculum, we still test students’ ability to simply recall knowledge. In the era of Google-search and copy-paste culture, humans must be trained to excel at something that will remain out of the reach of AI for some time.

As such, the focus of education from a very early age should be to develop ethics, creativity and the ability to see non-obvious links between concepts to produce knowledge. This kind of training will create wisdom workers who would be demanded by Society 5.0.

When we say that 4IR elements must be introduced in the school curriculum at primary level, we must also ensure they are the right ones. If we want to have shared prosperity and prevent the concentration of powerful technologies in the hands of a few, we will need to produce at scale not only active users but also active creators of the technologies. And we must start minting them immediately.

To produce individuals who can apply innovative science and technology solutions to real-world socio-economic problems, there should be no room for segregation of the humanities from maths and science subjects.

The approach is to have a standard, well-balanced set of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and non-STEM subjects which all students are required to take up until university level.

Even at university level, perhaps maths, data science and technology should be made compulsory disciplines for a number of years. Some universities in Singapore, for example, have gone as far as making computational thinking, statistics and programming a basic requirement for students regardless of their major.

Developing well-balanced individuals will reduce the problems of unemployment and underemployment and also help to enhance job mobility.

These changes in the education system are crucial and must be started immediately if we want to succeed in achieving Malaysia 5.0.


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