Student leaders share views on local education system

Curtin Sarawak

The three student panellists (L-R): Huda Mahmoud, Prabhsimran Singh and James.

Miri – 11 October 2011 – There is much that ails the Malaysian education system, according to three university student leaders who were panellists at the recent Education Nation Conference 2011 held in Kuala Lumpur, including Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia’s (Curtin Sarawak) Student Council president James Chai Chung Zeng.

According to them, the local education system’s weaknesses include an inability to produce independent and critical thinkers, not allowing students take ownership and responsibility for their own learning experience, and a lack of flexibility.

“Our students are not able to solve problems by themselves or take ownership of current issues. Ultimately, passive learners become passive workers, passive employers, passive citizens – which all in turn lead to a passive nation,” remarked James.

Curtin Sarawak

Curtin Sarawak Student Council president James Chai Chung Zeng.

Organised by the Asian World Summit, the two-day conference themed ‘Paving the Educational Roadmap for Malaysia and Asia’ aimed to discuss and present solutions for Malaysia’s education-related issues by gathering experts and practitioners from the field.

However, instead of experts, the session that generated the most feedback featured James, Universiti Teknologi Mara’s Mass Communication Students Association council member Huda Mahmoud, and International Medical University’s Student Representative Council president Prabhsimran Singh.

With the students’ eloquent presentations and lively audience debate, the entire session aptly summarised how the local education system is failing our youth.

The way students are currently assessed was held up as a major reason as to why schools are not producing independent thinkers.

According to Huda, teachers are pressured to ‘teach’ students to follow the answer scheme. As a result, she said, students were not thinking of logical and intelligent answers that would reflect what they had learnt in school. She asked that teachers mark papers according to students’ intelligence and not follow the answer scheme blindly because it does not do students any good.

James, meanwhile, questioned whether students were being taught in a manner suited to the influx of new media.

“There is a vast and diverse range of information available to students now, so we should teach students how to absorb, filter and digest the right information. Instead, we promote submission; teachers who forbid their students to ask questions in class imply that we don’t want students to question anything,” he said.

He added that instead of separating the arts and sciences, students should be allowed to take up whatever subjects they wished to study. According to him, this will require students to take ownership and responsibility for their own learning experience.

Prabhsimran said the ‘theoretical measures’ in place to inculcate soft skills among students were not effective at the grassroots level. Though participation in extra-curricular activities may be compulsory, he contended, the fact is that a lot of societies and clubs in schools are redundant. He said students just show up to get marks for attendance but don’t actually do anything, and he queried how this was going to help students build leadership skills.

Prabhsimran added that students should be encouraged to take part in class discussions and debates from a young age. According to him, there is a need to cultivate a culture of ‘speaking out’ in our classrooms. By doing so, he said, we can improve students’ skills in language, articulation, and critical thinking all at once.

Pointing out the acute disparity between urban and rural schools, Prabhsimran said that policy-makers need to be more aware of how policies will impact both sides of the divide. He commented that, with the Teaching of Science and Mathematics in English policy for example, there were so many implementation problems because rural teachers could not cope with the change. Likewise, there is no point in introducing initiatives such as providing free laptops if some rural schools still do not have regular access to electricity.

Huda said her main concern with local tertiary education is its lack of flexibility. She said those who strive to do more and go further than what is required by the university should be compensated for their efforts – otherwise they will become disenchanted and stop trying to better themselves.

Highlighting the uncritical nature of local university students, James said, “When I went to university, I was expecting a change (from secondary school). But because the students are products of the local system, it’s the same thing all over again – narrow mindsets and passive thinking – sometimes I feel like I’m in a ‘high school university’.”

Prabhsimran acknowledged that the youth had to realise their role in nation building and that many initiatives are underway to bridge the urban-rural gap. He cited Interact Clubs, Teach For Malaysia, and other student leadership programmes as examples.

He said, however, that these projects have to be expanded and reach out to more students so that they understand the importance of their contributions in helping to develop the country.

Curtin University

James addressing the audience.

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