We used to be great, Ku Li laments in UiTM speech


(Malay Mail Online) – Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah today delivered a blunt message to graduates of University Teknologi Mara (UiTM) to press upon them the need for English skills and to decry the country’s fall from its halcyon days.

In his speech delivered during a graduation ceremony at the university’s Shah Alam campus this morning, the Umno veteran said it had been the mastery of English that once set the alumni of the institution apart and made them the choice of employers.

Stressing that English was the international medium of communication in business, technology, medicine, and diplomacy, the former minister popularly known as Ku Li said a proficiency in it was necessary in order to open up opportunities.

“If we do not master it (English), we are left behind. We need to realise that our competition is not just among ourselves, but also from all the countries that use English as their lingua franca.

“Let us not bicker over the issue of language. We do not lose our identity, culture or tradition simply because we know more languages,” he said in his speech.

The former finance minister then aimed his criticism at the country’s education system, which he said both failed to produce effective thinkers and high achievers capable of excelling in testing climes, and for failing to bring together the various communities.

“I remember when once the world held us in high regard. In international forums, we were often given the honour of being moderators or readying the communique,” Ku Li said.

“Sadly, the situation is now different.”

In reading out the laundry list of weaknesses with the education system, Ku Li condemned it as collapse that requires a drastic and radical change to reverse the slide in international rankings and disunity among the races.

Using South Korea as a yardstick of how far Malaysia has fallen behind its former peers, Ku Li pointed out that the East Asian country once had a per capita income of US$2,322 (RM7,662) in 1980, behind Malaysia’s US$2,351.

Today, Korea’s per capita income was US$24,328 while Malaysia’s was less than half that, at US$10,547.

“The reality is that our education system is ineffective.”

Malaysia scored poorly in two recent international benchmark studies on education: the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

In the 2012 edition of PISA, Malaysia was 52nd overall out of the 65 countries, and firmly entrenched in the bottom third of the survey.

Aside from the stagnant PISA performance, Malaysia has also face a continued decline in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) benchmark in which the country once performed well.

While Malaysian students were once above the international average between 1999 and 2003, their scores in TIMSS began to decline sharply in 2007 and further in 2011.

Critics have accused the government of allowing political interests to creep into decisions on education policy, most notably the decision to abandon of the Policy of Teaching Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) in 2010 that is alleged to have been a nod to Malay nationalists.

Parents and education lobbyists said the inconsistencies in education and a refusal to put greater emphasis on English was to blame for the country’s prolonged drop in standards.

Following concerns from parents, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin launched the education blueprint which among others aims to uplift the performance of Malaysian students from their current place in the bottom third of the PISA ranking to the opposite end.