Real reforms in education needed if Malaysia is serious about TN50
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Malaysia’s sprawling and highly ambitious blueprint for 2020 to 2050, popularly known as the TN50, is touted to envision a future where its students will be in the 10th percentile worldwide in the international assessment tests PISA and TIMSS.

To get there, however, would require serious reforms to the education system, economists warn at a sobering forum on TN50 held at Sunway University last Friday, joining a chorus of similar calls made by a state ruler and academics.

“Everything is built on education. We need real reforms in education, from kindergarten to university,” says Lin See-Yan, a former banker and Harvard-educated economist.

“We need the talent, skills and technicalities of labour.”

In 2012, Malaysia ranked 52nd out of 76 countries for mathematics and science proficiency in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 results, with scores below average in both subjects.

Malaysian 13 to 14-year-olds scored 465 and 471 for mathematics and science respectively in the Trends International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015, scoring below the international average of 500.

Lin’s presentation summarised the many economic indicators debunking the country’@ high annual growth between 5.2 to 5.7 percent in 2017, as trumpeted by Prime Minister Najib Razak and his government. These include the falling value of the ringgit, the over-reliance on cheap foreign labour and high youth unemployment.

In Lin’s list of necessary “structural reforms”, he had suggested the need to have more talent and innovation in the workforce.

There is, however, no “silver bullet” towards achieving the future envisioned by TN50, according to moderator Professor Woo Wing Thye Woo, President of the Jeffrey Cheah Institute.

Criticising Johan Merican’s – the head of TN50’s Special Unit – keynote speech for lacking a clear mechanism to translate the goals into the reality, Woo offered his suggestion on how Malaysia can achieve the ambitious goals in TN50, which Merican had described as Malaysia’s “moonshot”.

“How do you get to the moon? You’re not going to get there in a sailboat. You need the right vehicle and for it to work, the ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ must be okay,” says Woo, who is also a Professor of Economics at the University of California.

“The engine of growth has to be a private sector working together with the government not to achieve full capacity, but to achieve efficiency.”

“Software” refers to the governance system, that is, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary and a free press.

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