Malaysia’s vision is to become a developed nation by the year 2020. Central to the fulfilment of this vision is enhancing the productivity and competitiveness of the country. This will involve both moving up the value chain into higher value-added industrialization and services, and developing new areas of competitive advantages. A major precondition for competitiveness is the availability of skilled workforce through the provision of education and training.
Recently, Malaysia is preparing national level education reforms based on tactics pioneered in the US that are successfully raising student success throughout the school system, from very early childhood through completion of university or college.
The "cradle to career" approach of the Strive framework involves, among many measures, identifying specific interventions such as day care or home visits by social service workers that best prepare a child to start kindergarten on the right foot. The students are then helped to meet carefully tracked indicators of critical progress in, for example, math and reading proficiency along their educational journey.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister proposed reforms would help ensure every child enters school well prepared, eliminate disparities in academic success, and link the community and family supports available to students—all important steps in the transformation of Malaysia's economy with greater human capital in science, technology, and innovation.
But despite the Malaysian government’s concerns, surprisingly, very little is being done to rectify human capital issues. They are being drawn up on the assumption that skilled workers are readily available: the areas specified for moving up the value chain are those dependent on high-quality labour.
On top of all this, there are complaints that fundamental education reforms have diluted the spirit of nationalism and the rights of the majority. In 2002, the direction was that science and mathematics be taught in English, with the medium of instruction otherwise remaining in Bahasa Malaysia. The reason for this sudden shift was so Malaysians could be better equipped to keep abreast of developments in science and technology, making Malaysia more globally competitive.
But now the teaching of science and mathematics is revert back to Bahasa Malaysia. This is representing yet another flip-flop in the government’s education policy, is also unprofessional in its approach towards strengthening the level of English. Again, the resulting implications for the development of human capital are not good.
Nevertheless, the quality of undergraduates remains an issue in Malaysia, since the students find it difficult to grasp the English language. Private sector companies in Malaysia continue to complain about graduates’ communication skills in general, and English skills in particular.
Poor English standards may affect Malaysia’s international competitiveness, saying that multinational companies may struggle to find graduates with good English. Our generation will have to face international standard and competition in terms of job market, as part of globalisation.
A labour force that is educated, creative and innovative is the foundation for economic growth. Unless education reforms, including the teaching of science and technology in schools, are approached in a realistic and far-sighted fashion, it may be difficult to achieve substantial changes.
Note: Still speaking broken "kele-lish" (Kelantan English) in Australia