Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One thing Malaysia can learn from China

According to this piece there are 5 things that the U.S. can learn from China. They are:

1. Ambition
2. Education
3. Looking after elderly
4. Save more
5. Look over the horizon

There's not that much that's in the piece that is new to us. What needs emphasising, though , to the people running Malaysia's education policy, is this part that I am extracting. We've told you once, Muhiyiddin and Wee and we'll tell you a million times ... it's education in English, education in English, education in English, education in in in English :

2. Education Matters
On a recent Saturday afternoon, at a nice restaurant in central Shanghai, Liu Zhi-he sat fidgeting at the table, knowing that it was about time for him to leave. All around him sat relatives from an extended family that had gathered for a momentous occasion: the 90th birthday of Liu's great-grandmother Ling Shu Zhen, the still spry and elegant matriarch of a sprawling clan. But Liu had to leave because it was time for him to go to school. This Saturday, as he does every Saturday, Liu was attending two special classes. He takes a math tutorial, and he studies English.

Liu is 7 years old.

A lot of foreigners — and, indeed, a fair number of Chinese — believe that the obsession (and that's the right word) with education in China is overdone. The system stresses rote memorization. It drives kids crazy — aren't 7-year-olds supposed to have fun on Saturday afternoons? — and doesn't necessarily prepare them, economically speaking, for the job market or, emotionally speaking, for adulthood. Add to that the fact that the system, while incredibly competitive, has become corrupt.

All true — and all, for the most part, beside the point. After decades of investment in an educational system that reaches the remotest peasant villages, the literacy rate in China is now over 90%. (The U.S.'s is 86%.) And in urban China, in particular, students don't just learn to read. They learn math. They learn science. As William McCahill, a former deputy chief of mission in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, says, "Fundamentally, they are getting the basics right, particularly in math and science. We need to do the same. Their kids are often ahead of ours."

What the Chinese can teach are verities, home truths that have started to make a comeback in the U.S. but that could still use a push. The Chinese understand that there is no substitute for putting in the hours and doing the work. And more than anything else, the kids in China do lots of work. In the U.S., according to a 2007 survey by the Department of Education, 37% of 10th-graders in 2002 spent more than 10 hours on homework each week. That's not bad; in fact, it's much better than it used to be (in 1980 a mere 7% of kids did that much work at home each week). But Chinese students, according to a 2006 report by the Asia Society, spend twice as many hours doing homework as do their U.S. peers.

Part of the reason is family involvement. Consider Liu, the 7-year-old who had to leave the birthday party to go to Saturday school. Both his parents work, so when he goes home each day, his grandparents are there to greet him and put him through his after-school paces. His mother says simply, "This is normal. All his classmates work like this after school."

Yes, big corporate employers in China will tell you the best students coming out of U.S. universities are just as bright as and, generally speaking, far more creative than their counterparts from China's élite universities. But the big hump in the bell curve — the majority of the school-age population — matters a lot for the economic health of countries. Simply put, the more smart, well-educated people there are — of the sort that hard work creates — the more economies (and companies) benefit. Remember what venture capitalist Tam said about China and the electric-vehicle industry. A single, relatively new company working on developing an electric-car battery — BYD Co. — employs an astounding 10,000 engineers. China, critics will point out, doesn't produce (at least not yet) many Nobel Prize winners. But don't think the basic educational competence of the workforce isn't a key factor in its having become the manufacturing workshop of the world. It isn't just about cheap labor; it's about smart labor. "Whether it's line workers or engineers, we're finding the candlepower of our employees here as good as or better than anywhere in the world," says Nick Reilly, a top executive at General Motors in Shanghai. "It all starts with the emphasis families put on the importance of education. That puts pressure on the government to deliver a decent system." And the Chinese government responds to that pressure in some intriguing ways. It insists that primary-school teachers in math and science have degrees in those subjects. (Less than half of eighth-grade math teachers in the U.S. majored in math.) There is a "master teacher" program nationwide that provides mentoring for younger teachers. Zhang Dianzhou, a professor emeritus of mathematics at East China Normal University in Shanghai who co-chaired a committee charged with redesigning high school mathematics programs across the country, says recent changes have begun to reflect more of a "real-world emphasis." Computer-science courses, for example, have been integrated into the math curriculum for high school students. And China is placing even more importance on teaching young students English and other foreign languages. If you think China's willingness to constantly fine-tune its educational system is not going to have much of an impact 20 years from now, there's a 7-year-old boy in Shanghai who'd be happy to discuss the issue with you. In English.(emphasis mine)


walla said...

It must be harder for them to learn and use english, what with their world awash in unromanized chinese characters and culture that were until three decades ago insulated from the world.

Their motivation must be because they were pragmatic enough to make sacrifices of their comfort zones. They made a choice to be more relevant to the world. They wanted to improve themselves and make progress. They wanted to earn more. They wanted to open their minds beyond their shores.

That also explains why so many are so enthusiastic when they get the chance to see the world outside their borders.

It's not just geographic borders. Borders of the mind too.

Here we already had a head-start. We were never cordoned off. Our language is romanized. Our geography in fact straddles the busiest trade route of the world. Give or take some years, we have three cultures at least which total over a trillion years with all the wisdom that can see through any foible of human duplicity.

So how come we are not pragmatic too?

Without knowledge, one just repeats what one knows. Because knowledge has to renew, the permutations from each point in time of knowledge then become increasingly limited. Ideas don't come forth. There is no appreciation of new things save for finding superficial attractions. Superficiality will thus reign. Try doing business or advancing knowledge by being superficial. Anything, in fact.

Without knowledge, there can be no progress. The same methods are used. Soon they expire because they are outdated. There is then a scramble to find people to translate. Because of unification to one language only used in one or two countries in a world of over one hundred and ninety aligning themselves quickly to a few lingua francas, the translators soon diminish in numbers until one day one cannot find anyone to translate anymore what is urgently needed. Like a contract in another language. Or a new drug discovery. Or a special quantitative management technique to overcome a complex project that has just landed on the lap. And because progress has stopped, so too earnings. Soon, savings are gone, replaced by inflation and loss of reputation. Word gets around. So it goes a wealthy state has become a poor state. The oil spigots have coughed their last drop. No more, they cry. The govt coffers are empty, save for a family of hungry mice. Clouds are forming, people are leaving.

The first people to suffer will then be those to whom the reversal policy was intended. Then to the horrors of those policy-makers who have not yet packed their bags too, the fate of those first people will be irreversibly reversed. Their children will know nothing beyond what the teachers can teach. The teachers will know nothing beyond what their employer can say. Their employer is the same guy who counted his votes above everything else because he didn't have the guts to offer a better solution, like multiple-streaming for medium of instruction. He also knows nothing of what is happening in the world of science and maths, for that matter all the other subjects whose scope and depth are already beyond his comprehension. He only sees the situation in some places, looks at the data, curses the blinkered idiots before him who have not yet slithered away to rue their colossal mistakes while still trying to comfort themselves that they have done the best for

Meanwhile, all die.

walla said...

What is so difficult to hedge your bets? Multiple-streaming is the only safeguard and guarantee to avoid the inevitable fate awaiting the young. If one stream fails, there will be others in other streams who will succeed. From a national viewpoint, isn't that better than all failing simultaneously in one fell blow?

Say, mandarin medium in vernacular schools. There are more muslims in that country than here. Because of the common faith, they are already receptive. They are already a big customer market. But they will only speak to you in chinese. How if you don't know that language are you going to negotiate specs and price with them?

Back to that child. Being the only child, the whole ancestral line will fete that seven-year old Shanghai boy to go overseas one day. The US, Europe, Australia and so on. There as he grows from year to year, he will imbibe, assimilate and apply the latest knowledge. The governments in those countries know it. They value his money, that's why. They will have sino-philic policies. He will return a grown man, knowledgeable, capable and confident of all he sees. Put a few hundred million of them back in that country, or extend their reach from wherever they will be using the 21st-century's convergence technologies....and what can you envisage of the world in this century and the next, at least?

Meanwhile, our young from urban to rural will find new vocations in this century. In a world of cutting-edge knowledge in all fields, they will work in jom-heboh and as spanner turners, clothes ironers, bud-grafters, politicians even.

No one is unaware why the reversal was done. Because we have the incredible situation of not having any teaching staff to make sure the rural segments can take the subjects in english. Zilch. And how did that situation come about? If anything, the situation we are in presages the situation we will be experiencing in the future, as highlighted above. A fait accompli - where extinction looms and one just cannot do anything about it.

But the parents can. And they are. And they will. Since govt doesn't know best - which they've already concluded long ago without govt saying so - the parents will take charge of their own children's future. They will scrimp and sell their kidneys, if it comes to that. Looking at the history of squanders and mega-scandals of the ruling party, they will say up-yours to the tax-man. They will take their hard-earned money for their children to go join that seven-year old Shanghai boy so that their children will have at least equal chance to survive the forthcoming educational holocaust of this country.

They will create their own streaming. The rakyats' stream.

And they will do it before 2012.

Not because of any mayan prophecy. Just net oil importer.

Don't like how i write? At least i am not alone...

walla said...

see table 3.5 in:

for the report: