Tuesday September 25, 2012
Human factor - a key to reform
By DR MOHD FARID MOHD SHAHRAN
Senior Fellow, Centre of Economics and Social Studies
Looking at the contemporary challenges education is facing, it is the human factor that includes intellectual, psychological and spiritual dimensions which make up an excellent human being, that should be the key to the solution.
THE preliminary report of the Malaysia Education Blueprint announced by the Prime Minister and deliberated further by the Deputy Prime Minister recently opens new horizons for the country’s future education and will bring it to a new level.
The transformation, which will take place in 13 years involving three waves, nine key areas and eleven shifts, reflects the seriousness of the Government in transforming Malaysian education into a system of high international quality and standard.
More importantly, it will be the compass which points to the direction our education will be heading for at least the next one-and-a-half decades.
The Government has already put considerable emphasis in ensuring the enhancement of the educational system. A substantial amount of money have been invested in the area of education.
Last year, the total Government spending on education accounted for 16% of the annual budget or 3.8% of the GDP which is the highest in East Asia.
Achievements of student enrolment at the primary level is remarkable at 96% while the secondary level is at 91%, both of which are higher than most developing countries.
On top of this, the literacy rate among youths is almost universal at an outstanding rate of 99%.
Crucially, the next question is how to put the priority right in order to get the best quality and standard of education.
Looking at the contemporary challenges education is facing, it is the human factor that should be the key to the solution.
By human factor, we mean the various intellectual, psychological and spiritual dimensions which make up an excellent human being.
The blueprint, in general, seems to rightly address this problem as it aims to produce students with, among others, six key attributes – knowledge, thinking skills, bilingual proficiency, ethics and spirituality as well as national identity.
The stress on these human dimensions is highly important since we had been focusing on the development of schools infrastructure and preparations of technical equipment with billions of ringgit already spent annually furnishing the material make-up of our schools.
It is high time to pool our strengths to focus on the essential aspect of the development of an educational system which is the human dimension.
But before this human development can be achieved at the student level, priority must first be put on the development of teachers.
As rightly announced in the blueprint, the first key area of transformation is the empowerment of teachers.
Needless to say, teachers are the most significant factor in determining student excellence. Research shows that high performing teachers will improve by up to 50% of student performance over a three-year period compared to low performing teachers.
Given this crucial as well as effective position of teachers, the move to raise the quality of teachers should be geared towards enhancing the human quality of teachers.
This should involve at least three factors; the intellectual quality of the teachers, the psychological, interpersonal skills and ethico-religious dimension.
The intellectual quality is important to prepare teachers for new challenges related mostly to thinking.
According to the blueprint, the first shift of the educational reform will move toward the development of the higher-order thinking skills of the students.
With the new shift, exams will be revamped and students will be assessed more on the ability of a higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) which will see the role of teachers becoming more crucial since they are expected to be more active in creating more thinking.
Although one might argue that in terms of the modus operandi in this new approach, classroom activities will be designed more towards student-based learning with more group discussions, field-work and presentations conducted by students themselves, the positive and effective result will ultimately depend on the role teachers play in giving constructive feedback on the activities and proper guidance to the students throughout the process.
Next, psychological and inter-personal skill is an extra knowledge that teachers must be sufficiently equipped, particularly in view of the current rising problem of stress among them, in addition to the increasing number of disciplinary problems among students.
Last but not least, the need for the enhancement of religious and ethical dimensions. Teachers are living examples for students to emulate and they are better heeded compared to parents.
Psychologically speaking, this is so as students only see the good side of teachers during school time whereas the period they stay at home is far longer which inevitably exposes them to both the good as well as the “other” side of their parents. With a strong religious and ethical foundation, the contribution of teachers in charting the future of the education will be greater.
Having said this, another feat teachers encounter is that they can only perform as humanly well should they be given the much-needed space and time to focus on their core task of teaching rather than be overburdened with administrative work.
Yet, knowing the nature of the current educational system, most teachers are much too busy with unending administrative work, including various school committees and co-curricular activities.
Hence, the move relating to the Third Shift in the blueprint on reducing the administrative burden on teachers to enable them to focus solely on teaching is strongly applauded.