Malaysia was ranked a lowly seventh out of 12 Asian countries in a survey published last September by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), which found that foreign business executives in the region rate Japan, Singapore and South Korea as having the best education system in Asia and the highest quality labour force.
The Malaysian national education system is facing a crisis in the face of the challenges of globalisation. The PERC survey should have been a wake-up call to the Cabinet and Parliament about the urgent need to revamp the national education system to fulfil the government’s oft-repeated objective to make the country the regional centre of academic excellence - but it did not have any such effect.
The present national education system is clearly not in tune with the needs of a K-economy, as it does not give the highest priority to talents, creativity, skills and innovation but only interested in quantity and not quality of higher education in the country.
The planners and implementors of the national education system should wake up to the reality that in the new knowledge economy, human capital is more important than physical capital and that the quality of knowledge generated within our higher education institutions is becoming increasingly critical to our national competitiveness.
Enrolment in tertiary education in Malaysia is comparatively low. In 1999, only 21.4 per cent of the youths in the 17-23 age cohort continued education to the higher level, as compared to the enrolment rate which was as high as 45 per cent for Ireland and 35 per cent for the United Kingdom.
In the revamped national education system, there must be full recognition not only of the right of every Malaysian to tertiary education, but to quality tertiary education as well.
Higher education should no longer be regarded as a luxury but essential to national social and economic development. This is because participation in the knowledge economy requires a new set of human skills.
People need to have higher qualifications and to be capable of greater intellectual independence. Without improved human capital, countries will inevitably fall behind and experience intellectual and economic marginalisation.
DAP calls for a full revamp of the national education system to face the Malaysian crisis of national competitiveness in the era of globalisation with the two-prong objective to improve the national human capital by creating a quality higher-education system and achieve the highest-possible rate of attainment of the work force in tertiary education.