Dr Mahathir pushes for practical approach to education

PRIME Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is pushing for a more practical approach to education with his emphasis on language proficiency and understanding of sciences to address problems of job mismatches and lack of local innovation that could drive the country’s economic growth further.

In his official address as acting Education Minister on Feb 6, Dr Mahathir outlined his vision which included updates to classroom teaching methods and the addition of more applied subjects into the school curriculum. This, he said, would prepare students for an increasingly modernised future.

“Malaysia is faced with multiple challenges from globalisation and developments in communication technologies. As such, educational transformation must be done in line with global advances,” he said, speaking to an assembled crowd of about 3,000 ministry officials in Putrajaya.

The PM, who previously served as Education Minister in the 1970s, said it was important for every Malaysian to equip themselves with sufficient knowledge and be efficient to make their lives better.

Improvising teaching methods

The government is expected to introduce new learning materials in schools – set to be developed by experts – to help teachers with their syllabus in the classroom, said Dr Mahathir. This will be used particularly in the teaching and learning of subjects in the English language.

“The old method of teaching depends heavily on the teacher. If the teacher is good, the students are good. If the teacher is not good, the students suffer so we want to change that. We are looking at using learning modules developed by experts which will be showcased on screens in classrooms.

“The class teachers will provide guidance on the lessons. This way, all students will have access to the best lessons and be exposed to a single standard,” Dr Mahathir explained.

Apart from learning materials, the government is also working to expand the school curriculum to include elements such as Internet of Things, encoding, robotics and big data in primary and secondary school subjects to facilitate the mastery of the knowledge among students.

Dr Mahathir had also highlighted the importance of financial management. He said financial literacy is crucial, especially in businesses.

“Trust is also crucial. Businesses will not succeed without trust. Another aspect that needs to be emphasised is on bookkeeping,” he said.

Learning math and science in English

Dr Mahathir also made clear of his intent to use English as a medium for the teaching and learning of mathematics and science in schools, a policy that was first introduced in 2003 during his first term as PM.

He emphasised the need to learn the two subjects in English as translations fall short of delivering accurate meanings in a field he described as non-static. “There is a new terminology coined every day which makes it difficult to understand, translate and decipher into our language,” he said.

“If we fail to grasp new knowledge and discoveries, we will he left behind,” he added.

In Malaysia, mathematics and science are taught in at least three different languages which make it difficult for exchanges of ideas, problems and solutions to be made in the scientific field.

At the international stage, local scientists will find themselves in a handicapped position if they are not able to develop their thought and share their discoveries in English, Dr Mahathir said.

Instilling human values

With his emphasis on technical skills comes also his attention to fundamental human values. Dr Mahathir said success will not come to those without good values.

“If we instil good values in our lives, it will be easier for us to succeed in life. On the contrary, if we fail to instil them, we will not thrive in dealing with the challenges we face in life,” he said. These values included the willingness to work hard, to be diligent, disciplined and to persevere.

“These life values need to be taught to students in our education system,” he stressed.

In view of this, Dr Mahathir is proposing for a new Islamic education curriculum which will inculcate values espoused by the faith to Muslim students. Additionally, the ministry has also provided a detailed map on civic education which includes manuals on school assemblies and the practice of good values in the curriculum.

Among higher learning institutions, the cultivation of values will be done through activities set out under the Service Learning Malaysia – University for Society (SULAM) programme, which is a form of learning done through experience and engagement in solving communal problems.

Vision Schools and TVET

Another concept Dr Mahathir wants to bring back is one on Vision Schools in which three vernacular schools would share common facilities and organise select school events jointly. The idea, first mooted in the early 2000s, is designed to foster racial coexistence and solidarity among students in Malaysia.

“Vision Schools will allow students from different racial background to interact with one another at an early stage. This can help foster a sense of unity,” Dr Mahathir said. He, however, has not set any timeline for the reintroduction of the schools as the matter was still being deliberated.

Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir will also continue efforts to make Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) mainstream, alongside academic curriculum. The government has allocated RM5.9 billion in Budget 2020 for this purpose.

“In 2020, the Ministry of Education and other ministries will continue to emphasise the implementation of the TVET Empowerment Strategic Plan to produce TVET graduates who are balanced, holistic and entrepreneurial who can contribute towards the productivity and growth of the country’s economy,” Dr Mahathir said.

He said all stakeholders must work towards realising an industry-led TVET to reduce problems arising from skills mismatch and high dependency on foreign labour.

“I would like to highlight that we all have the same goal which is to ensure that quality education is delivered to the people. The education agenda requires commitment, effort and hard work to implement which we hope will result in a knowledgeable, skilled and ethical society,” Dr Mahathir said.