Let’s do our part to help build Malaysia

A radical revamp of our education system

The Education Blueprint is comprehensive but implementation is key

I was probably luckier than most kids who grew up in rural Malaysia. My father was both my teacher and the village school headmaster which meant learning was not just confined to school. Classes continued at home too.

He instilled in me a strong learning discipline and impressed upon us the importance of education. Without a doubt I believe it was education that lifted the lives of many of my classmates out of poverty in remote Bario.

Education has the capacity to profoundly impact lives. This is why I continue to advocate its importance and believe that a nation must allocate as much resources as possible to this area.

Recently I was at a forum with the World Bank senior economist for Malaysia Frederico Gil Sander. Responding to a question, he said that the level of Malaysian household debt although concerning was not alarming. We should be more concerned about education if we want to remain competitive especially since countries like Vietnam did better than us in international test scores such as Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), he said.

As the World Bank pointed out in the “Malaysian Economic Monitor” titled “High Performing Education” Malaysia does well in terms of access to education but it has to make improvements when it comes to quality. Our Education Blueprint aims to do exactly this.

Education is imperative for our transition to a high-income nation with a minimum per capita income of US$15,000 by 2020 and this is to be done in an inclusive and sustainable manner.

We need high quality leaders to move forward. Also, in becoming a more competitive nation, we need to not only attract talent but to build it continuously from within our own system.

The Education Blueprint provides the plan to do this holistically because we simply cannot afford to fix this problem in a piecemeal basis as we play catch-up with the rest of the world.

The Blueprint features 11 shifts (see below) to be undertaken. But a strategy document alone is not enough to ensure success.

The 11 Shifts of the Education Blueprint
1. Equal access to education
2. Ensure proficiency in Malay and English
3. Develop Values
4, Make teaching a profession of choice
5. Have high-performing school leaders
6. Customise solutions based on needs
7. Leverage ICT to scale up quality
8. Transform delivery capabilities and capacity
9. Partner with parents, community and private sector
10. Maximise outcomes for every ringgit
11. Increase transparency for accountability

The success or failure of this radical revamp lies in implementation. There is full leadership commitment to implement the National Education Blueprint, led by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who is also the Minister of Education and Dato Sri Idris Jusoh, Minister of Education II. They have the full support of two deputy Ministers. Top civil servants in the Ministry are also fully aligned and committed to implement. To help them ensure that the Blueprint is implemented to the tee, a new high powered unit – Performance and Delivery Unit or PADU, has been established.

Let’s look at some examples of what is being done to improve Malaysian education.

We are doing all we can to increase English proficiency among students and this needs to start with teachers. And so we took the bold and unprecedented step of testing them.

We put some 61,000 English teachers through the Cambridge Placement Test (CPT), and only about 30% met the C1 or C2 proficiency band based on the CEFR (Common European Framework for Reference).

Subsequently in 2013, we enrolled 5,000 English teachers who have not met minimum C1 proficiency into an upskilling course or ProELT programme conducted by the British Council. Preliminary results of 4,350 teachers shows that 76.4% managed to improve by at least one proficiency band. The training of the second cohort of 9,000 English teachers has commenced with another approximately 10,000 teachers to be trained starting end of this year.

But we must not get too caught up in the numbers, we must also appreciate that our teachers are being stretched to their limits. Upskilling will take time as we cannot just take all the teachers out from the system at one go and train them. They are still educators of our children.

Another example is using technology to leapfrog the quality of our education. Approximately 90.5% of public schools across the country have been connected with high-speed internet access (4G technology) through the 1BestariNet programme and all these schools also have access to a learning programme called Frog’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). It establishes a common knowledge platform for students and teachers and utilises technology to enhance teaching and learning.

Additionally, as part of the Education NKRA Schools Improvement Programme, there is the School Examination Analysis System (SAPS) which allows rigorous monitoring by the Ministry, State and District Education offices to ascertain the performance of schools. Parents can have a real-time view of their children’s results simply by just entering the student’s MyKad number.

Indeed, we are all interested in and have an important stake in education because it shapes the future of our children and our country. But revamping the education system requires more than just spending money. There has to be passion and dedication. Let me illustrate that by pointing to a school in Sarawak which is on the list of best schools in Malaysia.

Sekolah Kebangsaan Ulu Lubai (SK Ulu Lubai) in a remote area of Sarawak, under the charge of headmaster Jaul Anak Buyau, is one of the 55 high performing schools (primary school category) in the country.

Turning parents into the strongest backers for the school’s transformation, Jaul led the SK Ulu Lubai to bag the top prize in the Council of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) Best Practices award in 2009.

This brings me to my final point. Why is SK Ulu Lubai a top performing school? Does it follow a different curriculum from the rest of the schools in Malaysia? No, it follows exactly the same national curriculum. Is it because the facilities in the school are excellent? No, on the contrary, being a rural school, the facilities are no way near the quality of those in town schools. Is it because the students come from well to do families, who can afford to send their children to extra tuition? Not at all. Is it because the teachers are paid higher salaries to incentivise them? No, the teachers are paid normal salaries. Nothing extra.

So why is SK Ulu Lubai a high performing school? Because their principal provides the right leadership, the teachers are very good, dedicated and focused on teaching, the parents get their children to do their homework and encourage them to study hard and finally, most importantly, the students really want to learn and they study hard. This is what we need to improve our education. All the four constellations – principals, teachers, parents and students must work together to do a good job. When they are in alignment, then we will have a good education system. That is the secret.

Living with the environment

We cannot have development without taking care of our surroundings

The recent weeks of choking haze due to peat and bush fires triggered by a long drawn-out drought, and excessive rain which led to flooding in Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan and Johor, suggest that the normality of our weather has been affected.

In the Klang Valley many of us had to experience water rationing and it is no easy thing to have your routine disrupted this way. But having said that, I believe our time in the sun as far the weather is concerned is up and we should be better prepared for these shocks.

Some things will have to change. For example, the haze is due to hot spots happening in Malaysia and many other South East Asian countries, based on the ASEAN Meterological data surveys. There should be concerted efforts across regional authorities to prevent and stop the causes of these hotspots. Presently, there is a Regional Haze Action Plan Co-ordination and Support Unit within the ASEAN Secretariat, established in April 1999 by the Haze Technical Task Force (HTTF) and ASEAN Environment Ministers. Its function is to coordinate and develop programmes aimed at addressing this problem and what we need now is strong will to implement solutions.

Meanwhile, in dealing with drought, more aggressive planning will be required on the government’s part and this is something that is already being done by the relevant Ministries.

I came across an interesting chart by the National Drought Mitigation Centre at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln explaining the ‘Hydro-illogical Cycle’. When drought occurs, society becomes acutely aware of the problem and starts becoming concerned about the impact on their lives. This leads to panic and cries for immediate solutions. However, when it rains and we have enough water, society sinks back into an apathetic state, resumes business as usual and forgets the need to save water.

In my work and social engagements, I am also often asked – how does the GTP and ETP address environmental concerns?

My answer is quick and certain. The single, biggest air quality project under the ETP is the mass rapid transit system (MRT) for Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley which I believe will be the game changer for the environment in Greater KL.

Imagine this. We now have six million people – one out of five Malaysians – living in the Greater KL area, basically the city and the Kuala Lumpur-Klang Valley. By 2020, one out of three Malaysians will live here. Clearly we cannot continue with business as usual. We have to do something drastic to make sure the city does not grind to a crunching halt, ruining productivity and increasing the already high levels of frustration commuters feel sitting in traffic.

But before we can reduce the numbers of vehicles on the road we must improve our public transport to provide an affordable, convenient and comfortable alternative.

What we want to do is to take as much as 50% of the cars and perhaps as many of motorcycles that are on the road now off it when the MRT is ready, up and running. That will result in a major reduction of emissions in the Klang Valley area, improve urban development and go a long way to improve air quality.

The MRT project made significant progress in 2013, with work continuing on the system’s elevated guideway foundation and underground station excavation following the delivery of 10 Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) to various sites. In June 2013, the Land Public Transport Commission, or SPAD presented its final implementation plans for MRT Line 2 and Line 3 to the Economic Council. Just over a week ago, we heard news that Line 2 has been approved by the federal government.

Solid waste management is also something we really need to fix. We are not making much progress here because nobody wants an incinerator in their backyard even though this is an efficient way to manage waste with very little pollution.

Instead, we continue with the old method of landfills with all their attendant problems such as environmental pollution and groundwater contamination. Recycling is extremely slow to take-off and until today for too many households in Malaysia, rubbish is not segregated.

In countries like the Netherlands, if there is no segregation of waste, there is no collection. Australian authorities are stricter – if rubbish is not segregated, a warning is issued followed by a fine if the offender persists.

For Malaysia, it would be great if concerned groups will work with us to encourage segregation of refuse.

If that is done, we will be able to also add economic value through proper waste disposal. The government can make a business out of waste collection because it is possible to recycle with segregation and to isolate biomass materials that can be profitably utilised.

And then there is water. We need to plan forward. Pipes can’t be changed overnight. Tunnels can’t be dug in a few days. Treatment plants take years to be built. Meantime, burgeoning industries need a constant and reliable supply of water. All that cannot be achieved without finding good, sustainable sources of primary water.

We simply cannot pollute our water. If we want to reach our aspiration of raising the water standards of the Klang-Gombak River and its tributaries to recreational standards (Class IIb), as targeted under the ETP’s River of Life (RoL) project, we have to start from the source and go down all the way to the river mouth.

On the government’s part, the river cleaning programme has recorded many achievements since the basic foundation for the execution of the RoL project was laid in 2012. Key achievements include DBKL’s installation of 69 gross pollutant traps under its jurisdiction. The Department of Irrigation and Drainage Malaysia exceeded its target by completing the construction of 359 gross pollutant traps, log booms and trash rakes. Other achievements recorded include the continued reduction of oil and grease levels from a total of 63 communal grease traps installed within the areas under the Majlis Perbandaran Selayang and Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya’s jurisdiction.

Public awareness campaigns are also actively being carried out through engagement of local communities living along the river as well as events like the RoL River Carnival held in conjunction with World Rivers Day on 29 September 2013.

Do remember that the results of river cleaning also require a longer period of time to become apparent, as shown by the experience of Singapore, which took 10 years to clean its river.

The public must realise that preservation of the environment, which is a key part of sustainability, comes with a cost. We as a nation and as a people must be prepared to pay this cost. We have to change, we must become more responsible, and become much more environmentally aware.

Remember, our purpose in transformation is not only to achieve developed status by reaching a per capita income of US$15,000 by 2020 but to do it in an inclusive and sustainable manner. That means spreading development to as many people as possible and to ensure that our resources, including our environment is maintained and sustained for future generations to enjoy.

Let’s bear this burden willingly and joyfully for now, for we will surely reap the benefits not long after. Hopefully, with some tender care and attention, the environment will see a quick recovery.

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