Building blocks for Malaysia 5.0
By Margarita Peredaryenko December 2, 2020
- Machines are taught creativity, but students still tested to recall knowledge
- No room in M’sia for segregation of humanities and math & science subjects
As Malaysia’s visionaries begin to champion Malaysia 5.0 initiative, the stumbling question is whether we would have sufficient human capital at every level to successfully carry this initiative into the future.
Malaysia 5.0 initiative is inspired by Society 5.0, concept proposed by Japanese government and wholeheartedly embraced by its entire nation back in 2016. Even before Japan, few other countries introduced similar national plans, including, for example, Estonia (e-Estonia), Germany (Industrie 4.0), and Singapore (Smart Nation). Importantly, simultaneously with adopting these plans the above countries initiated rigorous educational system reforms seeing education as the key success factor.
By analyzing educational system changes introduced by these countries, a few important and conspicuous common trends can be discerned. The first is a focus on developing human strengths. The second is very early inclusion of 4IR elements into the education curriculum. The third is transcending the humanities/sciences divide.
Focus on human strengths
It is a somewhat erroneous fact, in the context of this discussion, that the early AI systems were built on the principles of memorization, pattern matching and knowledge recall, which was soon shown to be a weak approach. An attempt by the machine to find a solution to a problem which was not previously encoded into its memory would lead to combinatoric explosion. As such the machines were taught how to independently create their own rules of data interpretation.
Why is it then that even when the machines are taught creativity, in our curriculum we still test students’ ability to simply recall knowledge? In the era of google-search and copy-paste culture, the highest levels of the Bloom’s taxonomy should have disproportionally greater importance for the purpose of curriculum development. Humans must be trained to excel at something which will remain out of AI reach for at least some time to come.
The higher progression of knowledge is wisdom, which is the ability to make the best and most proper use of knowledge, sensing the universal laws and relationships stretching beyond the known models or seeing the unseen. This unseen will remain inaccessible to AI which is trained on physically available data. Therefore, the focus of education from the very early age should be on ethics, complex communication, teamwork, creativity, ability to see non-obvious links between concepts, and, the ability to synthesize and produce knowledge, not just consume it. This kind of training will eventually supply not knowledge- but wisdom-workers which would be the ultimate demand of Society 5.0.
Early inclusion of 4IR elements into curriculum
When we say that 4IR elements must be introduced in the school curriculum starting from the primary level, we must also ensure that correct “elements” are being introduced. It is a self-deception to think that we are familiarizing children with 4IR by simply introducing them to the use of technologies or allowing them to play, even though educational, computer games in class. Introduction to 4IR needs to be taken more seriously.
User of technology approach might be sufficient for the society 4.0 or information society. However, it is clearly inferior approach if we want to transit to a society comprised individuals who can skillfully navigate in 4IR reality—Malaysia 5.0 as envisioned.
If we want to have equitable shared prosperity and avoid the concentration of powerful technologies in the hands of few the nation will need to produce at scale not only active users, but also active creators of the technologies and for that we must start minting them immediately, at scale.
As Tiit Paananen of Skype, one of Estonia's born unicorns, previously noted: "Your capability not only to use, but also to create IT components will give you a competitive edge". Notably Estonia has been introducing programming and coding to children as young as 7 years old for more than a decade by now. Not surprisingly the country is one of the leaders in terms of the number of unicorn companies born.
The active creator approach must be prioritized over mere user of technology approach starting from the primary school level. A great emphasis should be made on teaching programing logic, building algorithms, functional programming, object- and service-oriented programming (even if at elementary level). These are important tools to learn, understand and eventually see the modular and complementary nature of the 4IR frontier technologies such as blockchain, AI, IoT and many more to come.
Only by imbuing this strong modular thinking, can we produce individuals who can become visionaries of the tech future – the backbone of the country’s economic growth and prosperity who can start seeing clearly how revolutionary technologies can be applied to solve specific socio-economic problems and elevate human life. This is the essence of Society 5.0.
Strengthening programming logic and modular thinking would also enhance desired human skills such as imagination, ability to synthesize conceptual ideas and eventually create knowledge and make sound judgement.
Transcending the humanities/sciences divide
To produce justly balanced individuals who can apply innovative science and technology solutions to real-world socio-economic problems demands that there be no room for segregation of the humanities and math and science subjects.
Even though Malaysia’s education system has become stream-less since 2020 where students can freely decide on which subjects, STEM/non-STEM to take, still does not remove the barriers between subjects and disciplines effectively.
The approach which is needed is to have a well balanced, standard set of subjects, STEM, and non-STEM which all students are required to take, up to university level. Even at the university level, perhaps, at least for the first two years, math, data science and tech should be made compulsory disciplines. Some Singapore universities, for example, go as far as making computational thinking, statistics, and programming as basic requirements regardless of one’s major, be it in the humanities or sciences.
This approach will also help to increase job mobility, which is not actually a problem of 4IR but rather the innate and, in fact, desired characteristic of 4IR reality. Developing justly balanced individuals, all prepared and equipped for this extremely fluid and dynamic reality will reduce the unemployment and underemployment problem.
All the above changes in education system are crucial and have to be made immediately if we want to succeed with Malaysia 5.0, as the experience of other nations indicate.
Let us rephrase, that, time and 4IR tide wait for no man. When it comes to education, any small change today or a delay to make such a change is truly felt and amplified, as an exponent of time, years down the road. Given the speed of development brought about by science and technology innovations every minute of procrastination may cost us years of falling behind.
Dr. Margarita Peredaryenko is Chief Research Officer at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research