Students sitting the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination at SMK Saujana Impian in Kajang last year. By combining our assets with the world’s best practices, we can develop a world-class education system. FILE PIC

THE discussions to reform the education system are endless and, for too long, the need to change public debate has diverged, leading us into “dark alleys” which we cannot come out of.

Author David Price says the conversation on reforming the education system is fuelled by the idea of recreating the golden age of schooling, even as we head towards a radically different future.

Meanwhile, societal and technological changes, the kind never before witnessed, demand us to rethink every aspect of our lives.

The problem stems from the fact that we are not ready to bring the discussion forward on how schools should help children prepare for the future and what the education system can do for them. For that, we do not need more road maps but rather a paradigm shift that will change the direction of education.

When politicians state their commitments towards education, they usually talk about execonomic growth and job creation. If children work hard and are clever enough, they will land good jobs.

There is no doubt that education can improve the socio-economic status of the poor as it opens up a world of opportunities and employment for them.

But what we want are real reforms in our education system and amend flaws that have caused the quality of our education to deteriorate.

I would like to make some suggestions on how to bring about real changes:

FIRST, learning should not be about exams.

As a lecturer, I am always asked by students during the exam period whether “is it going to be a test because if it’s not, I don’t want to waste my time”.

I don’t blame them as I also asked the same question when I was a student. It is the system that placed examination results as important determinants of a student’s progress to higher education, as well as occupational opportunities.

Such a system, as Guy Claxton argued, “is designed so that a substantial proportion of youngsters are condemned to fail — through no fault of their own”.

The bad news is that exam grades are becoming irrelevant.

Nowadays, international corporations are no longer interested in exam grades. They are asking for applicants’ talent, network and portfolio.

We often cite the Finnish education system as a success story for not having many tests, apart from an exam at the end of the senior year in high school.

Schools in Finland do not have standardised examinations and their school curriculum is different from other countries.

Perhaps it is time we emphasised character building such as good values and attitudes, enhanced creative thinking skills and developed an interest in reading, and move away from an exam-oriented education system.

Studies show that there is a strong link between a child’s leisure reading and academic performance and career readiness.

SECOND , formulate a long-term vision for education.

Apart from the role of education in lifting people out of poverty, we need a long-term vision and paradigm shift in the teaching and learning processes to prepare the younger generation for the future.

The world is changing rapidly, hence our education system must transform too.

What and how we teach our children today will determine the values, beliefs and attitudes, as well as the skills, of tomorrow’s citizens. Creating a school culture that is based on reflection and learning is important.

Incorporating a creative thinking course at an early age into the curriculum could also help.

THIRD, more emphasis should be given to producing quality teachers.

There is a broad agreement among educationists that no matter what type of reform strategies we pursue, the quality of an education system rests on the quality of teachers.

We need to adopt policies to attract, prepare, support, reward, retain and advance high-quality teachers.

In rural areas, especially, more efforts are needed to attract and retain qualified teachers by providing basic necessities and
incentives in the form of allowance, salary increment and housing.

FOURTH, there is a need to globalise the education system.

In line with the increasingly interconnected digital world, towards which we are heading, our education system should go global.

If we combine our assets with the world’s best practices, we can develop a world-class education system for our children and grandchildren.

Some universities offer twinning programmes that allow students to study a portion of their course in Malaysia, and transfer to an institution in another country to complete their studies. Such programmes should be intensified.

An ICEF Monitor annual report states that “internationally mobile students are likely to gain employment compared with those who have not studied abroad”.

The time is right to move the education system forward and start a conversation on how the system can help our children to prepare for a fast-changing world.

The writer is assistant professor, Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia