As the world prepares for the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0, there is much debate on the relevance of the current school system, content transmission, examination-oriented preparation and standardised national curriculum to this day and age. At the moment, no country has the right education formula for being Industry 4.0-ready.
Education policymakers the world over are grappling with designing schools to meet the challenges of the future. What kind of jobs is the education system preparing our children for? What kind of jobs should it prepare them for? What is the purpose of school? Are we obsessed with test scores or should the schools be creating an environment where students will be creative, collaborating and learning to solve problems? What about technology used in schools? Is it being used to amplify teaching and learning or is it just a replacement for the lack of teaching? These are some of the discussions taking place in various forums on designing schools for the future.
The current school system is outdated and failing. It was designed to cater for Industry 2.0, where schools prioritised content delivery for knowledge absorption. It was useful then for the generation of assembly line workers in factory manufacturing. For example, in the first-generation Ford motor plant, workers were tasked with putting together parts on the cars in an assembly line of mass production.
We are now in the early stages of Industry 4.0, where there is complete automation in factory assembly, where robots are replacing the humans of Industry 2.0, where dealers and suppliers are dealing directly with manufacturers through the Internet of things (IoT). The level of automation and productivity is going up. Data is updated through sensors and parts can be tracked for quality and delivery time. Industry 4.0 is the age of automation, artificial intelligence, mobile supercomputing and advancement in medical technology, among other things that can be done at super speed and with precision. We live in an era of digital technology and connectivity.
The future anticipates a generation designed to be wealth and job creators. The output of human capital that is dependent on job markets and job security for their well-being is no longer sufficient. Humans cannot compete with machines for the job; therefore, the education provided must be able to develop the human potential, not be mere expert test takers. Humans have the edge over machines in creativity, social and emotional interaction and, to a certain extent, physical dexterity and mobility.
For now, although no country has yet to develop and implement the perfect national education policy, a few countries are well on their way while many others already have strategic plans in place towards that goal. According to the World Economic Forum, countries that are best at preparing children for the jobs of the future are Singapore, Japan and South Korea. These are the top countries where children are best at working together (highest mean score of 15-year-olds in “collaborative problem-solving” by country).
When Singapore announced that it was reducing the number of examinations and assessments in schools for lower primary, we knew that it already had plans in place to replace the old system and that its children of 15 years and under were at the top of the charts of those who were best at collaboration and problem-solving. But that cannot be said about us. While we agree that our lower primary should have fewer exams, we are unsure if the system replacing it would be effective or have data to prove that it can be effective.
Malaysia must really get into the act and go out of its way to make its education system compatible with Industry 4.0. We need to have a transformative revolution in education. Schools must reform. It is not as simple as teaching coding or making digital textbooks available. That is just the beginning.
Let us aim high and work towards achieving the goal of making Malaysia’s education system the top in the era of Industry 4.0. It is time to act.
We need to take stock of our current education system, prioritise and improve on our shortcomings, draw up wish lists and how to get there and check teacher adequacy and proficiency and the supporting chains within the Ministry of Education and beyond. We need to look at our curriculum and syllabuses and remove what is no longer compatible with the times. Is teaching by subject still relevant?
Project-based and collaborative learning is evidently much more engaging and cuts across different subjects. If we hope to produce creators and innovators, teaching knowledge via an examination-centric system alone will not produce the human potential we want in the Industry 4.0 era.
As a long-term strategy, we want Malaysia to be known as a top education system in the world. We want teaching to be a prestigious career with remuneration that is parallel with the top systems, thus uplifting the profession. Our schools should be the bedrock of unity.
As a short-term measure, the most crucial element is knowing what we have and improving on it. Leadership plays an important role in the success of a school. School leaders must empower their teachers and give them appropriate support and mentorship.
In whatever that we do, striving for excellence is a must. And we need to move fast.
Tunku Munawirah Putra is honorary secretary of Parent Action Group for Education (Page) Malaysia — an educational lobby that serves as a channel between concerned parents, the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders