Week in Review: Are our public schools failing?

  • Many students from national schools lack proper foundation and right attitude to succeed
  • Government intervention that costs many millions ends up being unappreciated and wasted

Week in Review: Are our public schools failing?I CAN see how the saying “Ignorance is bliss” rings true. For me, I sometimes wish I didn’t know some of the things that I do. It’s not because I cannot confront them or am not willing to accept the cold reality of the situation.

Rather, it’s because I do not know what I can do to improve things, and feel powerless to effect meaningful change.

In this instance, I am talking about the quality of talent coming out from our public schools. Let me say first that I do not think all of us who came through the same system are that great anyway.
But everything I hear now and have been hearing over the past 10 years indicates to me that our public education system is just not capable of providing students with the foundation on which they can then build their dreams on.
And this was reinforced by a visit to a school in Penang where I gave a talk to a class of 14-year-olds.
But let me first talk about what I feel this foundation should be. There is an educational aspect and an attitude one. This foundation, to me, means ensuring everyone must at least have a good understanding of Maths, Science and English.
And yes, I am biased here because I am in the tech scene. But Agilent Technologies president of order fulfillment and supply chain, Gooi Soon Chai, also feels the same.
And this foundation also includes our public school students having the desire and dreams they want to chase, having the determination and understanding the way the world is – they also need to be continuous learners to avoid being obsolete, and must know that hard work is not an option.
These are the kind of people Chu Jenn Weng, CEO of Vitrox Corp Bhd, is looking for as he seeks to build his company into a multinational.

Wow. That seems like asking a lot! And is it really the school’s responsibility to instill desire, aspirations and determination in their wards so that they can and want to better themselves?
I think it is partly their responsibility. But we don’t have super teachers who can do this all – especially with kids who come from homes where parents do not emphasize the importance of education.
Isn’t that just crazy? Which parent will not emphasize the importance of education? But we do have such parents like this, and this is when the reality of life hits – when putting food on the table today is more important than an education that will help put food on the table tomorrow.
This causes teenage students to work at food stalls till midnight or in factories where heartless owners are happy to look the other way, paying the kids a daily allowance of RM30 to RM50. Then these kids will catch up on sleep in class. Teachers feel frustrated and powerless to intervene as it affects so many of their students.
Still, our teachers try. Some of them, by using threats. “You want to own nice things in life? Keep up with that attitude and you won’t,” said one teacher.
I heard this on Tuesday at the school I was at. Six kids did not show up for class that day. A regular occurrence, I am told. Indeed, another teacher told me only eight kids turned up in his class! No wonder schools have buntings exhorting kids to turn up for school and that it is not cool to miss classes.
This attitude is important because a poor attitude is costing the Government many millions that go wasted in a futile attempt to intervene after students leave school on completing their Form 5.
Bear in mind that only 15% go on to complete a university education. The rest go on to various things.

As Munirah Looi shared at Wednesday’s Disrupt panel, the Government has spent a lot of money giving students specialized training, even an allowance and on
-the-job attachments to prepare them for careers in the outsourcing sector.
“And yet, when they get the offer letter after finishing the program, many turn it down because they do not want to deal with the demands of a corporate environment,” she said.
Worse still, instead of utilizing the skills they have picked up and looking for a job elsewhere, many go back to their home towns and live with their parents. These are your 22- to 25-year-olds. Imagine that.
What can and must we do, to stop this ugly cycle that ultimately hits employers as they struggle to hire the talent they need?
Previous Installments:
Week in Review: What an awesome week for start-ups
Week in Review: Are we Malaysians naturally blessed with smarts?
Week in Review: The rise of the angel investor?

Week in Review: The rise of digital-only publications
Week in Review: The certainty of taxes
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