TODAY is a very important day for the future of the country, because today is the day in which the proposed National Education Blueprint will be revealed.
For the next three months, the public will have access to the blueprint and the opportunity to express their opinion on it, at the end of which, the blueprint will be finalised and become policy. This policy will determine the direction of primary and secondary education in this country until 2025, at which point Malaysia is hoped to be one of the world's top nations. This policy will light the way to the future of our children and, by proxy, this nation. How brightly or dimly that light shines will depend on what is adopted, and how it is applied.
In making its decision on the final policy, this country must decide what it wants the education system to achieve. Whatever its aspirations, it must not skimp on teachers. And, happily, one of the nine priority areas in the blueprint is revitalising the teaching profession, by improving teachers and teaching quality. Teachers, acknowledged the education minister, "are the frontliners in educating students". The ministry intends to retrain its teachers (of whom there are currently 400,000) and prepare an exit plan for low performers. New entrants will face more stringent entry requirements -- those chosen must have at least 8As on their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), as opposed to previously, when those with just 4As were accepted.
What difference does this make? Granted, academic excellence is not everything; those who are to be teachers must still have the EQ (emotional quotient) that is needed to guide young minds. Good teachers must be in it for the children, for the long haul, and for the sincere love and commitment to the vocation. But how to attract such people? Finland, which consistently ranks among the highest in the world in terms of education, and whose schoolchildren outperform those from other Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development countries, does it by making teaching a prestige occupation, right up there with being a lawyer or doctor. Only the cream of the crop of university undergraduates (the top 10 per cent) are accepted into its teacher training programme, and all teachers must have a master's degree, which is fully funded by the government. These teachers are experts in their area, having done their undergraduate studies in that field (Mathematics, Science, Geography, etc). And though Finnish teachers aren't even the highest-paid in the world, knowing that one has to be highly qualified to be chosen makes it an attractive occupation. Children in Malaysia deserve such teachers, too.