Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Mediocrity, Dumbing Down Malaysian Students

Written by johnleemk on 12:36:38 pm Aug 12, 2007.
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Some time back, one of my mother's acquaintances told her something about the Malaysian education system: it's only good for mediocre students.

When my mother told me about this, I thought it was quite an interesting remark to make. After reflecting on it, I realised that it was probably a very accurate characterisation of the education system.

The most intelligent people I know have rarely been able to fully utilise their potential in the typical public schools here. Meanwhile, I think it is quite undeniable that those whose intellect is below the median are not adequately served either by the education system.

The biggest problem, I would surmise, is that of emphasising memorisation over understanding. Almost anyone who works hard enough at it can pick up memorisation. It's much more difficult to understand something you learn.

For those of above average intellect, it's not that big a deal to memorise things, but the concepts of opportunity cost and comparative advantage come into play — rote memorisation can be detrimental to the application of that intellect.

Of course, that's not to mention the stubborn few who don't like to play by the rules and refuse to apply themselves to blind memorisation, like me. We end up with mediocre grades.

Meanwhile, those who are below the median intelligence don't have it easy either. They often are not cut out for either memorising or understanding, and so suffer.

Making matters worse is the emphasis of the education system on the academic stream. We need people in vocational and technical areas as much as in academic fields, but all the emphasis is on getting into the science stream, regardless of whether the sciences are the right field for you.

The result is an education system that serves nobody — it dumbs everyone down into mediocrity. The intelligent are forced to squander their talent on memory-centric tasks; the average are not encouraged to surpass themselves but be content with memorising what they cannot understand; the less than average are just ignored altogether.

Why is it that we cannot have an education system which does not give its people the cookie-cutter treatment? Why cannot our education system recognise that every student, every teacher, every community, has different needs and abilities, and give them the freedom to act accordingly? Why?


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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