IT is certainly an ambitious undertaking. The document provides the future of higher education — spelled out with clarity and with breathtaking details. It is a blueprint unlike any other in the history of the nation’s education. It is also perhaps the boldest and the most comprehensive ever document, thus raising the bar for expectations, standards and results.
The Malaysia Education Blueprint (Higher Education) 2015-2025 (MEB) is monumental in its planning. Anchored on studies, researches, engagements and reports, the blueprint is the product of two years of preparation. All said, 10,500 people representing stakeholders, school administrators, unions, associations, alumni and even students were engaged over the years. The voluminous publication is the handiwork of 14 chapter-writing teams and 20 lead authors. It claims to be a blueprint “that was developed by Malaysians, for Malaysians, and that will equip Malaysia for the final leg of its journey towards becoming a high-income nation”.
Why bother coming out with such a document, some would argue. After all, according to its detractors, all is not well in the state of Denmark, education-wise. The standard of our higher education is suspect. Our universities have yet to make commendable marks on global rankings and ratings. Higher education warrants a total revamp, a reboot, if not a total clean-up to spruce up its image and to rid it of negative perceptions.
Education is everyone’s business, not just that of the Ministry of Education. Everyone claims his or her birth right to education. Everyone is an expert, pseudo or otherwise. Higher education is even more critical. Little wonder a document like this one will attract debates, discourses and criticism long after it was launched by the prime minister last week.
Cynicism won’t help. Education is simply too precious for us. We can have our views about education. But we need to move on and to move forward and fast. We need a comprehensive plan for higher education. It is the cornerstone of our future planning in terms of human capital.
The fact remains that the number of students is increasing dramatically over the years. We reached the gross enrolment rate of 48 per cent in 2012, a 70 per cent increase in enrolment over the last 10 years. Our student enrolment at higher learning institutions now stands at 1.2 million. In the last decade there has been a sixfold increase in bachelor’s degrees and a tenfold increase in master’s and PhD enrolment. That speaks volumes about the future of higher education.
Numbers are only part of the complex equation. Higher education is not just about filling in places for students from secondary schools, preparing them for the job market or building sprawling campuses. Higher education is about creating the ecosystem for learning in an environment that is both conducive and appropriate. It has to reflect the desire of a nation in nurturing its young subjects. Thus the blueprint spells our five “system aspirations” namely Access, Quality, Equity, Unity and Efficiency.
But what matters most is the philosophy of a balanced education as its foundation for individual aspirations. The blueprint emphasises on the balance between both knowledge and skills (ilmu) as well as ethics and morality (akhlak). The attention given to matters of the heart and mind — ethics and spirituality — is commendable. We have largely ignored that in various planning prior to this, even if we did, it was not spelled out as the pillars of aspirations. In assuring the right mix and balance, students are being prepared for leadership skills, national identity, language skills and critical thinking.
The future is one that is unpredictable. The odds for individuals to succeed are insurmountable. Succeeding at all cost is not the acceptable. Issues pertaining to integrity, morality and spirituality matter, too. Thus the 10 shifts outlined by MEB which include, among other things, producing a holistic, entrepreneurial and balanced graduate; creating an innovative ecosystem and ensuring a nation of lifelong learners are critical.
You can’t fault the ministry for putting forth such a blueprint. It is part of the proposed major reforms to the education system as a whole. More importantly, it reiterates the government’s promise to provide the best higher education of international standards. Last but not least, it calls for a “more intensive and frequent industry and community commitment, collaboration and partnership.”
Let’s make it work.