Speech By Chief Minister of Penang Lim Guan Eng During The Official Opening of ESTEEM Teaching at Karpal Singh Penang Learning Centre at 1, Jalan Kaki Bukit, Bukit Gelugor, Pulau Pinang On Saturday, 24 Jan 2015.
Spark the Light – The Importance of Education and Engagement Science Technology Engineering English and Mathematics (ESTEEM)
In this 21st century, it is undeniable that we live in a fast, ever changing environment where one is assured the path to success through a sound education system. To win the future, we must invest in education. If you want to create a virtuous cycle, you must create a labor force that is skilled so that they will have the social mobility to move up. That is why we have to offer them escalators of mobility and lifts of opportunities in our population.
The state government understands that education is an important factor to improve the people’s lives. According to Jacob Mincer, the father of modern labor economy, income distribution is correlated to formal and informal education. Each year of formal education increases a worker’s annual salary by 5-10%, and the same also with informal education, of course albeit at a lower rate of wage increase. With that said, education marks a huge importance to the younger generation as it equips them with social and economic mobility crucial for the foundation of their future and survival in the modern world.
Given the context of Penang as a highly industrialised state, we have little choice but to be the center of excellence in terms of science and technology. As we have no natural resources but only human resources, it is our responsibility to ensure that our education system has what it takes to meet the global challenges and changing market demands. To keep up with this purpose, the state government has set up several facilities. Firstly, the establishment of the Penang Science Cluster to provide scientific education and a RM25 million Penang Tech Dome to showcase Penang’s local scientific inventions. Secondly, the setting-up of Penang Science Cafes to conduct informal teaching of robotics to rekindle interests in Science for young children, and lastly, the establishment of the Penang Learning Centre to improve the capacity in ESTEEM - Engagement, Science, Technology, Engineering, English and Mathematics.
Today, we launch ESTEEM teaching at the Karpal Singh Learning Centre. Why is ESTEEM important? It is important because due to narrow and unnecessary political intervention, our national education system witnessed a decline evinced by internationally-recognised assessments such as PISA showing that Malaysia lags behind in Maths, Science and reading assessments not just to advanced cities like Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam but shockingly losing out to our poorer neighbours Thailand.
The 2012 PISA had placed Malaysia yet again at the bottom 25%, coming in at 39th out of 44 countries in a test on creative problem-solving. 15 year old Malaysian students were reported by the PISA assessment to be 3 years behind students of the same age in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, scoring below average and ranked 52 out of the 65 countries in Mathematics, Science and reading. What is more shocking is that Malaysia is worse off than Vietnam or Thailand in terms of Science and Mathematics. This is unacceptable!
Whilst Malaysia invests more than 20% in education as laid in our national budget, there is no value for money as such investment serves only to satisfy the needs of bureaucrats rather than meeting the aspirations of students in acquiring knowledge and skills in order to realise their talent and potential. In fact, Malaysia spends less than Thailand in terms of education for students in their first ten years of their education, from 6 years to 15 years old.
Unless there is a paradigm shift towards investment in education, accompanied by high aspirations as a nation to build on human capital, we cannot be a high-income developed economy. With that said, one solution towards resolving Malaysia’s education crisis is by rejecting the stultifying “one size fits all” uniformity and return to the basic principles of learning, pursuing excellence and the teaching of both cognitive (factual knowledge) and non-cognitive (team work, leadership and communication) skills.
The time has also come for teachers to be empowered through rewards and thereby getting the best out of them to be able to help students who fall behind. Malaysia has no choice but to develop high-performing education systems with specific focus on both cognitive and non-cognitive skills. We cannot permit our education to fail our economy.
That is why the Penang State government cannot just sit idly by and wait to die when our education policy-makers fail our children. We must be confident and daring enough to invest in education. We must provide our youths with opportunities and supply them with platforms to demonstrate their talent and strengths. For, it is only when we are bold enough to invest in education can we truly win the challenging future.
In this light therefore, the Penang state government will be adopting a 3-pronged approach towards strengthening our education system namely:
1. Providing an annual funding to all existing half-funded vernacular and religious schools;
2. Building Learning Centres adopting the concept of STEM - Teaching of Science, Technology, English and Mathematics as their main focus; and
3. Attracting world class universities as well as adopting the German vocational school system within multi-national corporations. We look forward to be the first state in Malaysia that conducts German vocational education in Malaysia.
For Penang to have a digital technological cluster that works, it must be a profitable one in the market place. Therefore, we must firstly have a sizeable start-up colony (“ecosystem”) followed by hundreds of start-up schools (“accelerators”) to drive and propel the ecosystem forward. In between of course, there is a need for entrepreneurial talent with digital knowhow or techno-preneurs to make digital technology work in the marketplace by being profitable.
The Karpal Singh Penang Learning Centre marks this starting point. While the Penang state government can provide the seed money and platform, the basis of success however, still depends on private sectors, individual entrepreneurs and digital experts. To this, I must credit ECM Libra Foundation for having allocated RM 4 million for this project. The Penang state government has allocated a total of 2.63 acres land for the site and it took a good whole 14 months for construction to be completed. This is a classic, successful example of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model in action.
Apart from the Learning Centre, there is also a Penang Badminton Academy within. The badminton hall is equipped with 6 badminton courts, and the Penang Badminton Association is currently using it as a training ground for a young state player.
With the kick start of ESTEEM in the Karpal Singh Penang Learning Centre, we believe that this will mark the most important step for Penang to move forward and invest in our future, via education and STEM teaching. We have started STEM teaching - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics through our learning centers not by using teachers but using engineers who leave work and breathe science.
In concluding, I would like to thank our sponsor, ECM Libra Foundation once again for the building contribution and M-Summit Group for the addition support in terms of renovation and CCTV provision. Not forgetting ESTEEM’s main partner – the Penang Science Cluster & Livingston House of Language, who willingly joined and agreed to take the lead in teaching.
I hope we can expand this ESTEEM group and provide our youth with lifts of opportunity and escalators to mobility. Thank you.
LIM GUAN ENG
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