ANYONE who is concerned about education — which means everyone, as all of us are stakeholders in one way or another — agrees on the need for changes to the education system. The basic problem in reforming education, however, stems from the lack of agreement on what this entails and its direction. The problem in debates on the restructuring of education is a surfeit of opinion rather than a dearth of ideas. What is, therefore, most significant about the Prime Minister's keynote address at the Malaysian Education Summit 2004 on Tuesday is the clear statement about the goals of the reform agenda. While there is nothing new in the "twin mandates" of improving the quality of education and promoting national integration, in clarifying the objectives, the Prime Minister provides a sense of collective purpose so crucial to the success or failure of the complex and challenging undertaking of moving Malaysian education to different and higher levels.
It would indeed be difficult for anyone to disagree with the Prime Minister that "our greatest challenge" no longer lies in "improving access but in dramatically enhancing the quality of our education system". The goal of education for all has been virtually achieved at the primary level, and dramatic gains have been made in secondary and tertiary enrolment. This shift in emphasis not only affirms the great strides made in achieving educational equity but also reflects the need to develop the kind of human capital required by the globalised knowledge economy.
The differences in opinions, approaches and emphases in the debate on education reform should not develop into protective postures in defence of sectional and sectarian interests but into priceless perspectives on promoting national unity — the overarching goal of education policy since Independence. The reiteration of this objective reflects the need, in a society as culturally diverse as ours, for conscious efforts to develop shared values and ideals. Any reconstruction of Malaysian education should be dedicated to the achievement of this collective goal.