UPDATE: FMT has released an apology saying that they have misquoted Harvard professor Pritchett. Read their update here.
A Harvard University professor has equated local graduates to Danish high school dropouts at a recent forum in Malaysia
Lant Prichett, a Professor of the Practice of International Development at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, said local students pay too much attention in memorisation for exams instead of understanding the study materials.
“Most students leave primary and secondary school without mastering the subjects.
By the time they reach the tertiary level, they are left far behind. There is no deep understanding of the materials. Instead, it is rote memorisation, applying theory and regurgitating it during exams," he said as quoted by Free Malaysia Today.
Pritchett has conducted research in Indonesia and found out that the situation there is similar to Malaysia's
At the Asia Public Policy Forum 2017 which was held yesterday, 18 January, the professor also cited a recent research on literacy, critical thinking, and other aspects among Indonesian students, which found their level to be similar to junior high school dropouts in Denmark. He said the same applies in Malaysia if students are not well-prepared for university.
He added that the true mastery of a subject is with practical application, not memorisation.
Meanwhile, another Harvard professor, Michael Woolcock, has emphasised that the education system in Malaysia doesn't work well for the lower class
"They are unable to apply theory or understand English. It is not a geography issue. In Malaysia, it is a class issue. For a system to work really well, it has to work for everybody," Woolcock said.
His recent study in the country showed that 51 percent of those from the lower class were unable to read manuals due to their poor proficiency in English.
Poor English proficiency is a major concern that should be addressed, according to the educator
He used Iceland as an example, a country that takes their mother tongue seriously, but also recognises the importance of the English language.
“These debates always happen but they have figured out how to do both. They teach English very well. So much so Europeans are good at English and their native languages. Everyone speaks Icelandic and English. They learn English to do deals with the Italians, Spaniards, and others," the professor said.
While it's easy to point fingers for the current state of education in the country, Woolcock insisted that teachers are not to be blamed
“It is not that they are not smart or capable or diligent in doing their job. The problem is the system they are part of. If we want to change the system, you got to change the rules and practices," he said.
Do you agree with what the Harvard professors have said about the current state of education in Malaysia? Let us know in the comment section below!
On a related note, undergraduates studying in certain local public universities can take the gap year option soon: