Wednesday, 29 March 2017


I was invited to speak as a panelist in this year's ASLI Education Summit on Tuesday, March 28. I was honoured to be in the company of Roger Schultz, Head of Alice Smith School, Bill Ironside, Principal of Sunway International School and our panel was led by Daniel Chian, Chairman of Fairview International School. One topic to be discussed was whether Malaysia should pursue its own national curriculum rather than relying on overseas accreditation via CIE, IB, SATs, etc.

It's an interesting question and posed some lively discussion. My own view, in response to the accusation that overseas qualifications diminish the standing of Malaysian national education was to refute it at some length. International education, for the most part, is conducted through the medium of English. Like it or not, English (and frequently American English) is the world language of today and anyone who can't converse well in it is at a serious disadvantage over those who can. The fact that Cambridge and International Baccalaureate are world class (and internationally accepted) qualifications is not to be disputed. It's like saying they are the education equivalents of Google, Microsoft or Apple as global brands. I understand there are moves afoot to offer IB through the medium of Bahasa, but I think this is ill-judged. Some years ago, a country where I was based in the Middle East wanted to offer a locally-based, culturally appropriate version of the IELTS English Language examination. It cost a great deal of money to create and accredit, but was abandoned after only a few years. It was later referred to, rather disparagingly, as the "Falcons & Frankincense IELTS." It had no international validity simply because its candidature was too limited, and far too small.

The point about A-levels and their equivalents is that they are truly international in scope and reach. Students getting an A* grade in Malaysia, Argentina or Belgium know that they are all equally valid because of the dependability of international benchmarking. 

One critic in the ASLI audience stated that if you send Malaysian students to an international school to be taught History or Literature, they won't get exposed to Malaysian versions of these subjects; their heritage is therefore bypassed or ignored. It's a fair comment, but I was at pains to point out that at KY all our students take MQA subjects where a lot of these areas are covered. I said that we need to be clear that in taking AS and A2 examinations, we are not diminishing Malaysia or the "Malaysian-ness" of our students. In fact, our extracurricular programmes here enhance the cultural, religious and social identity of everyone.

It has become a cliche to speak of the global village, but the truth is that work opportunities may well take us anywhere in the world these days. Cheap and freely available air transport has shrunk the globe to a very manageable size for all but the most timid employee. I was recently re-reading Anthony Burgess's "Malayan Trilogy" much of it written about his time spent as a teacher in Malay College in the 1950s. His trips back to the UK were limited to once every three years and took nearly a month to complete each way. I believe MAS can currently fly you to London direct from KL in 13 hours.

Portability of qualifications is essential for people who are prepared to travel for meaningful work, and this may well be the case for the next generation of employees. However, predicting the future direction of education is dangerous because things change so fast and in ways that are mostly unpredictable. A prediction that is often made with a degree of confidence is that tomorrow's employees are likely to change their job functions more than five times during the course of their working lives. Moreover, there are jobs lurking over the horizon about which we yet know nothing or indeed very little. If you add the international nature of the work environment to this mixture, it is clear that many of the workers of tomorrow will want (and be expected) to travel the world. Hence, the value and validity of international qualifications has never been more necessary, but in no way should that fact dilute or undercut national values, culture or identity.

The time spent at ASLI was interesting, challenging and rewarding. It was also ironic to note that that of my six panelist colleagues, at least three of us were grandfathers. While we are ever conscious that our role as educators should be to pass on the baton to the upcoming generation, we old timers still have something to offer. I think it was Immanuel Kant who said: "The school of experience is the finest school in the world; but its fees are the most expensive."

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