DR ELIZABETH LEE
From my perspective, higher education has always been the focus for all – individuals, the community and right up to the government. I believe the new government is equally keen to find ways to enhance the overall access to education. I also believe that our education system is on track following the Malaysia Education Blueprints, which were very well developed, incorporating inputs from all levels of stakeholders.
The new Education Minister, Dr Maszlee Malik, has announced that he will continue to support both the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 and the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education). Having said that, the improvement of our education system can only be seen with proper and effective implementation of these blueprints. We have to be mindful that we must prepare our young ones for an uncertain future, where many careers of today may be replaced by robots. As such, I would like to see a lot more emphasis on creativity and innovation.
Personally, the key changes that I would like to see would be more autonomy being given to higher education institutions and liberalisation of the education system. We are truly living in a globalised environment, where interaction needs to be at international levels. Hence, there is an urgent need for our students to be proficient in English and learn other ‘world’ languages such as Chinese, Korean, German, Spanish, etc.
Meanwhile, the key changes that I’d personally like to see in the nation’s education system further down the line, even before students even get to college level, would be full access to education or, rather, 100 per cent literacy rate from young, and policies that support teachers in enhancing their capabilities and stature. We need good teachers, who would care to educate their charges to reach their highest potential; teachers who are proud of what they do and are remunerated well for their distinguished job.
Youth today are more discerning in charting their future and more vocal in expressing their thoughts. The way they learn has also changed. Present students know their rights and they question when necessary. They no longer follow the conventional education system, which prescribed their learning. The students would decide how long they choose to take to complete their education, and when they wish to ‘pause’ or take a gap year. Hence, as education providers, we should be conscious of change, whether in or outside the classrooms. To meet the needs of the young ones and the changes which are happening now, we ourselves may even need to un-learn and re-learn, all over again, the whole process of teaching and learning, and co-learn with our students and peers. With the advent of Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR4.0) in Malaysia, change has to happen, and I can see it happening now in the Malaysian education system.
And, yes, education professionals should also receive more public recognition and accolades for the laudable job that they do. Many have maligned teaching wrongly for being a half-day job, without realising that it is more 24/7 than many have given the service the credit it deserves. Students, graduates and professionals of every discipline have a profound effect on future society. So, now in this new environment, I begin to harbour hope in seeing change in our own education system that allows for a more liberal approach, and for science and arts to be studied together. I see in my own children’s needs the inadequacies of set curriculum to bring out the best in them. One of my daughters avoided Oxbridge for a liberal arts education, hoping to be able to choose the subjects and to design what she really wants in the world she is going to live and contribute in. Choosing the subjects you want and designing your own degree has now become a trend. As such, our own universities will have to introduce new curricula much faster and more often. This would require substantial learning on our part, as the providers of education, on how to do this.
The recent peaceful GE14 has proven that our nation has reached a certain standard of maturity, appreciation of individual rights and the meaning of democratic process. It sounds like a ‘new world order’ but it’s actually ‘an awakening’. Therefore, it is timely that ‘new learning’ is cultivated for a progressive nation.
New learning should not be locked into disciplines of study, and academics cannot be locked in their ivory towers. New learning must be transdisciplinary, where academia and researchers need to cross borders and team up to collaborate with other professionals of every discipline to have a profound effect on the future society – we are all interconnected!
The new Education Minister has mentioned that he will encourage academic freedom and university autonomy. I see this as a positive development from the Ministry. In addition, I would like to see an executive board, comprising representatives from different stakeholders in higher education, be set up to promote better understanding and communication between the stakeholders, policymakers and regulators, and to empower institutions of higher learning to developing in tandem with global institutions and trends.
Our Chairman, and Founder of the Sunway Group, Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah, often says that: “If your dream doesn’t scare you, it isn’t big enough.” Therefore, we should continue to dream big and propel ourselves towards a progressive nation. We are all hopeful and, who knows, Malaysia could one day vie to be the new Finland, being the cited benchmark, if not hallmark, of modern and effective education.
TEXT ELLFIAN ABDUL RAHIM AND FLAVIA GALEOTTI