Opening Ceremony Of The International Conference On Education For All 2009

Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

Salam Sejahtera.

Good morning to all.

Beta bersyukur ke hadrat ILAHI kerana dengan izin dari Nya juga Beta dapat berangkat untuk menzahirkan titah di Persidangan Antarabangsa Education for All 2009 pada pagi ini.

  1. I am delighted to be here this morning and to address you on this very important topic. Education is so important that it is regarded as a basic human right and enshrined in legally binding instruments. The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has a right to education”. The same right is guaranteed in many national constitutions.
  2. The “Education for All” concept was initiated by 155 countries with the commitment to provide quality basic education for all children, youth and adults. This concept was taken up by UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Bank at the World Conference on Education for All in Jomitien, Thailand in 1990.Ten years later in 2000, member nations met in Dakar, Senegal to re-affirm their commitment to achieve “Education for All” by the year 2015 and identified six key goals to guide its implementation:
  3. First, to expand early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;
  4. Second, to provide free and compulsory primary education for all;
  5. Third, to promote learning and life-skills programmes for young people and adults;
  6. Fourth, to increase adult literacy by 50 per cent;
  7. Fifth, to achieve gender parity in primary and secondary enrolment by 2005, and gender equality in education by 2015;
  8. And sixth, to enhance the quality of education.
  9. There has been progress towards these goals since the Dakar accord. But the progress made must not mask the progress that we have yet to make. If we proceed at the current pace, these targets will likely be missed. And given increasing world population, whatever progress achieved runs the risk of being eroded over time.
  10. The opportunity to be educated continues to elude millions around the world. An estimated 75 million children of primary school age are not in school. Millions of teenagers have never attended school, and millions more leave school without the skills they need to make their way in the world. More than 700 million adults worldwide cannot read or write and two-thirds of these are women. Sixteen percent of the world’s adult population is illiterate because they were denied the means and access to school.
  11. Education is a means – perhaps the most effective means – of reducing poverty and narrowing social disparities. Yet poverty, geographic isolation, gender and ethnicity form the very stumbling blocks to obtaining an education. That all this can happen in the 21st Century, an age of great human achievement and technological wizardry, can only be regarded as a dark stain on humanity. This denial, for whatever reason, should violate our sense of decency and justice to the very core. For how can we claim to be enlightened when we deprive others of being enlightened? We must abhor the misguided souls who would withhold education as a means of social control.
  12. Without access to meaningful education for their citizens, countries will be unable to develop. The health of mothers and children, especially, will continue to be at high risk. Citizens cannot make rational decisions that affect their lives, let alone participate meaningfully in their societies. The cycle of grinding poverty will be passed down from one generation to the next.
  13. Large global disparities in education reinforce the extreme divides between rich and poor nations in income, health and other aspects of human development. Being born in a poor country is an immediate indicator of diminished opportunity. In an increasingly interconnected and knowledge-based world economy, the distribution of opportunities for education will inevitably have an important bearing on future patterns of globalisation and international wealth distribution.

Future Directions

9. Malaysia has made considerable progress in achieving the “Education for All” goals.

10. Malaysia realises that it can no longer rely solely on a manufacturing and commodity-based economy but instead will have to move towards an economy that relies on the innovative abilities of its people. In an industrial economy, wealth is generated from leveraging on tangible assets such as land, labour and machines, whereas in a knowledge and innovation economy, wealth is derived from the exploitation of intangible assets of its people such as experience, know-how, skills and knowledge.

11. Such a goal can only be achieved if the education system is able to turn out individuals who are well-equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to work in a knowledge and innovation economy.

12. There have been many reports stipulating the competencies and skills required in the knowledge and innovation economy. Generally, there is consensus that individuals who graduate from our school system, polytechnics, community colleges, colleges and universities should have the following:

  • Information skills which involves the ability to acquire, organise, interpret and evaluate information;
  • Learning to live together which involves the ability to work with others of diverse backgrounds, to negotiate and work in groups;
  • Learning to be which involves the ability to manage stress, self-awareness, self-confidence;
  • Technology skills which involves the ability to select from and apply a variety of technologies;
  • Thinking skills which involves the ability to think creatively, make decisions, solve problems, know how to learn and reason;
  • Life skills such as responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self-management, integrity and honesty;
  • Learning literacy such as the ability to read, write, compute, listen and speak several languages;
  • Systems thinking which involves the ability to understand complex relationships.

13. A serious effort should be made to ensure these skills and competencies are developed from preschool to tertiary education. They have to be operationalised in the curriculum, assessment system and daily teaching-learning methodologies at all levels of education.

14. The adage “if it isn’t broken why fix it” has left many education systems failing to keep pace with the demands of a rapidly changing society. I would like to dwell on FOUR key aspects of the education system that should receive special attention if we are to make progress in meeting the demands of a knowledge and innovation economy.

15. First relates to the curriculum at all levels of education. Our curriculum is too bogged down with teachers and university instructors dispensing chunks of information with students being passive recipients. Perhaps it is time to reduce the amount of content disseminated and spend the extra time on developing the skills and competencies needed in the 21st century. Oftentimes, school teachers and university instructors lament the fact that they have insufficient time to complete the proverbial ‘syllabus’. Educators fear that reducing the content will deprive learners, not realising that “less may in fact be more”.

16. The “more” comes from students learning to inquire and discover the facts and concepts of a discipline by themselves. With the billions of web pages available at the click of a mouse, the earlier notions of the “sage on the stage” may have to give way to the “guide on the side”. For example, students should be encouraged to use original sources to construct historical accounts; design experiments to answer their questions about natural phenomena; use mathematics to model real- world events and systems; and write for real audiences.

17. Second relates to the assessment system. We have a very “examination-oriented education system” with students having to sit for four public examinations before entering university. Undue pre-occupation with examinations has led to neglect in the teaching of many of the skills and competencies required of individuals in the knowledge and innovation economy. Hence, non-examinable subjects are given less emphasis and sometimes completely ignored and preference given to examinable subjects. Emphasis is on memorisation and regurgitation of facts and teaching tends to be examination-driven. Teaching for the test tends to be the dominant pedagogical strategy leading to the development of a narrow range of skills and competencies.

18. Perhaps we could do with less national examinations and reduce the burden and anxiety of teachers, school administrators and parents. We tend to glorify the few high achievers and neglect the underachiever. The examination-oriented system has led to schools focusing on high achievers to the exclusion of underachievers, who unfortunately tend to be from poorer socio-economic backgrounds.

19. These academic underachievers are streamed together for the better part of their schooling life and left to their own devices. Studies have shown these learners exhibit low self-esteem and a sense of hopelessness. They have negative beliefs about their abilities which tend to be reinforced by the school and the community. Hence, it is not surprising that they invariably pose problems in schools and the likelihood of exhibiting maladaptive behaviour is high.

20. Alternative assessment methods that are more reflective of learner ability should be more widely implemented. While the number of ‘As’ scored by learners is important, it is also equally important to ensure that all students master the knowledge and skills required of them to function effectively and efficiently in the workplace of the 21st century.

21. We can ill-afford to leave out a section of our students because they are not high-achievers. They need special attention and specific teaching-learning approaches have to be employed to equip them with the skills and competencies to excel.

22. Third relates to teaching-learning methods and strategies. Teacher-centred pedagogical strategies will have to give way to more learner-centred strategies. Only when learners are actively involved in the teaching-learning process will the skills and competencies required be developed.

23. Teaching-learning methods will have to focus on students engaged in projects, analysing case studies, solving real-world problems, making decisions in different situations, making presentations and arguing their case, interpreting and constructing their own knowledge. These are not new teaching approaches. They are being used in schools and universities in some countries. Oftentimes, teachers lament that they would like to use these learner-centred strategies but because of the amount of content they need to cover, are forced to resort to the lecture method because a lot more content can be disseminated to students.

24. Fourth relates to the English language. English is of paramount importance in the 21st centuty workplace. It is the lingua-franca of the knowledge and innovation economy and those proficient in the language will enjoy many advantages in the global workplace. Many employers are using English proficiency as one of the deciding factors in selecting workers.

25. Every possible teaching-learning method should be employed to enhance the English proficiency of all learners, irrespective of ethnicity, economic standing, location and ability level. Teachers should be better trained. Standardised tests could be introduced to allow teachers to determine at each level of schooling how their students are fairing and, if necessary, to undertake immediate remedial measures.

26. On the subject of teachers, a study conducted by McKinsey and Co. in 2007 concluded that teachers were the most important determinant of the quality of an education system[1]. If pupils of average ability are put under the care of teachers deemed in the top fifth of the profession, these pupils end up among the top ten percent of student performers. The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers, yet most education systems do not attract the best. But the best education systems do. In Finland all new teachers must have a master’s degree. South Korea recruits primary-school teachers from the top 5 percent of graduates; Singapore and Hong Kong from the top 30 percent. In these countries, teaching is a high-status profession. And in these countries, education produces the best outcomes.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

27. The route towards education for all is far from smooth. But the commitment many nations and international bodies are giving to this subject is heartening. This Conference is a case in point and I congratulate the organizers, the University of Malaya and the Malaysian National Commission for UNESCO.

28. We have made a promise to the children of the world. Let us enable them to have what is rightfully theirs. Let us ensure that education is no longer a figment of their dreams. Let us keep our promise and make their dreams a reality.

29. May this conference be the forum for the exchange of ideas and best practices towards achieving these goals. I wish you all success in your deliberations and to our international participants a warm welcome to Malaysia. I hope your stay in our country will be both enjoyable and memorable.

30. It now gives me great pleasure to declare the International Conference on Education for All 2009 officially open.

Wabillahi taufik walhidayah

Wassalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.

  1. McKinsey & Co, “How the world’s best performing schools systems come out on top”, September 2007.
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