The measure of an education


To gauge the success of a system, you have to look at the individuals it produces.

Scott Ng, FMT

What is the measure of an education? Does it determine the character, the spirit of the child who receives it? What difference does it make to a child’s future if he studies in a national, international, or vernacular school? Which will give him a higher station in life? Are these even the questions we should be asking in the ongoing debate on the education system?

Well, it seems that according to Lim Kit Siang, these are the only pertinent questions that need to be asked in the face of the large, complex mess we’ve made of Malaysia’s education system over the past couple of decades. With due respect to the veteran statesman, he is wrong.

A short recap: under the guise of protecting the flawed and ineffective vernacular schooling system, Kit Siang decided to agree with his longtime arch-nemesis, Mahathir Mohamad, that there is a widening socio-economic gap appearing in the country with the children of the elite being sent to international schools. He thus challenged the 33 ministers to reveal if they sent their children to national or international schools.

And, of course, the hidden blade in his blog entry was an endorsement of the vernacular school system, disguised as praise for the Korean, Chinese, and Singaporean students for rating higher than their Malaysian counterparts in mathematics, science and reading despite being of the same age and, theoretically, the same educational level. This of course failed to address the concerns voiced by Mahathir in regard to the racial polarization created by the vernacular/national school divide.

These are valid concerns. Mahathir’s opinion is that the national school system would have brought children of all races together, and they would grow up together with an intimate understanding of each other’s cultures and customs. But with the protestations of the Chinese community, the government was forced to make a political decision to allow the vernacular school system — a case of the Chinese community kneecapping itself.

The vernacular system’s failings have been documented in detail in previous columns, and so we will not go too far into the topic. But as a primer, the vernacular system, which is based on the Chinese/Korean ideology of memorization and regurgitation, may produce award-winning students in terms of academics but stunts the social development of children in favour of a grind of school-tuition-homework, and stunts the development of creativity and soft skills like communication and leadership.

But perhaps what damns the vernacular system is that it promotes division between the races, which the Dong Zhong claims is not the case due to a 20% non-Chinese enrollment rate, never mind that the dominant ideology and culture is that of the majority. As covered before, this does not necessarily lead to racism, but failing to establish a connection to other cultures may lead to xenophobic tendencies.

We digress, however. The main issue at hand is this perception that one system is superior to the other within the context of Malaysia. Let us be unequivocally clear on this issue — all sides are producing rubbish results, especially when taken into consideration the funds poured into the system, and in the case of international schools, the exorbitant fees charged to the gullible parents who only want their children to get a better start in life. In fact, the only thing that international schools get right is that the medium of instruction is English, which is crucial for today’s international marketplace. Their Malay education could use work, however. One is hard pressed to find a non-Malay international student totally conversant in Bahasa.

What truly rubs me the wrong way is this idea that vernacular education is somehow the be-all and end-all cure for all our educational woes. The success of a child in life comes not from which educational system he passes through because there is no superior system right now in Malaysia. It instead comes from their role models and their upbringing, that is, whether or not they’ve been taught how to work hard and think outside the box to find exactly what it is that will lead them to the best possible path for them in life. If anything, our education system places handicaps on the students who go through it.

The measure of an education does not and should not hinge on the empirical evidence produced by testing. This is merely a case of convenience for our competitive society, a way to boast and live vicariously through the students for our own petty needs. Testing does not empower them as individuals. It only produces statistics.

The measure of an education is in the individual it produces, and not the numbers the individual produces in examinations, because the instant one steps out of school, everything will fall away like so much sloughed skin. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether that student has the drive, the passion, and the inclination to pursue a certain interest.

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