Education is the key

Many of us have used Nokia handphones and even those who have never used Nokia before would have heard of the brand. It is one of the largest and most innovative companies in the world, and certainly one of the largest if not the largest handphone sellers.

Nokia is made in Finland, a small country in terms of population. It has a population of about 5.3 million, but is one of the highest income countries, and consistently within the top ten most competitive countries in te world. Size of population really does not matter. Besides Nokia, Finland also boosts of having 800 high tech companies, many times more advanced than our so-called Multimedia Super Corridor.

Finland is also rated to have the best education system in the  world.

Those who have read the many ranking lists that I have posted previously will have noticed that it is not only one of the most competitive , but one of the most innovative, in terms of patent filing and so on..

ANy wonder why they are so successful, when the country is rated to have the best education system.

This is what was reported in a website called “School Matters” run by an AMerican:

Education in Finland starts with preschool at age 6. The preschool emphasis is on fun and THE IMPORTANCE OF LEARNING. Preschool is followed by nine years of compulsory basic education. From 9th or 10th grade one can go to the Upper Secondary school (like senior high school) or a 3 -year vocational school, but the curriculum is so heavy in either of these that one can cross from one to the other, or finish one and then go to the other for emphasis on trade skills. Either branch can lead to a university for a masters or PhD degree or to a Polytechnic College that focuses on trade skills with the possibility of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

Although the great majority of Finns finish their education by age 25, later than most other nations, education is looked upon as a life-long process in any job. People are generally much more educated in any trade or professional jobs than they are in other countries. They do an excellent job in having the highest work force readiness of any nation.

……..Being a teacher in Finland, as in most industrialized countries, is the most highly respected position. Medical doctors come second. I do not think that this is a cultural difference. The education system is set up such that they earn people’s respect every day by the way they are centrally managed in the country to the highest standard in the world and by the level of authority that is given to the teachers. Teachers are also very well trained. Keeping both teacher competence and school quality the best is a national mandate in Finland.

ALso the Finns emphasised quality, class work , year long monitoring rather than sitting for National exams and equality in classrooms . This is from another article:

The Finnish government keeps the pressure on students to a point that they complain of a lack of fun at school. At the same time, there are no nationwide exams or even final tests. There is continuous assessment — a mixture of monthly tests and teacher evaluations

The Finns make sure that all children get fed by providing free meals at school. They subsidize student travel, which they feel is a major part of the education process.

However badly behaved, no student fears expulsion. The emphasis is “getting to the bottom of” whatever behavior problems emerge.

Only 15 per cent of those who apply to be teachers are accepted, even though pay levels are about average for Europe. A master’s degree is required. (Not unrelated, for it’s size this country has one of the highest percentage of Ph.D.s in the world.) Teachers are regularly sent on courses during their long holidays to upgrade their knowledge and skills.

The Finns focus on students in need and reject a class-stratified educational system. They feel that equality in the classroom ends up being a plus and not a hindrance to overall progress.

Thus, the educational gap between the “haves” and the “have-not’s” shrinks, and the overall level of student and adult achievement in the country is raised.

Also note this:

Finland has a national education policy and national testing. Morals and ethics are in the curriculum. This is a big difference between their system and ours. The teachers make all decisions about how their class will be run, how the education material will be presented and what books are to be used. They keep up with the best worldwide. There are two official languages in Finland: Finnish and Swedish. People typically speak four languages in Finland. One is Finnish, then English, Swedish, and one of German, French or Russian at minimum.

Education is the key to innovative and knowledge based society which is the pre-requisite for a country to move up to be among the High Income Country.

Looking at ourselves, I can’t help but ask: If we want to be a HIgh Income country, as suggested by the PM, are we prepared to go the way of the Finns; go for quality teachers’ training (with meritocracy to select those who wish to become teachers), set aside quotas (except for the very poor and the disabled which should be helped), stress on quality rather than quantities, change the curriculum to produce thinking students, give students continuous monitoring and assessment , taking steps to help those who are weaker as revealed by these assessments.

Are we prepared to go the way of the Finns? I believe that if we want to reverse the declining standards in schools, we can do it. Just leave the politicians out of education, and stress meritocracy and quality instead of quantity. The solution is simple, but if we do not have the will,  it can be as difficult as scaling Mount Everest without oxygen…


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Richard Loh
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 17:33:57

    Dr. Hsu,

    Each time you make a posting comparing the realistic against the talk but no action situation, I am really lost for words.

    Read what our PM said about the GST:

    “Basically, the whole world has introduced the GST,” he observed, leaving Malaysia as one of the odd ones out.

    He just pluck out what he wants to compare while leaving the other ugly ones under the carpet.

    Can The PM, DPM Lead This Country When They Show How Stupid They Are

    Will the PM compare our education system, our state of democracy, corruptions and many others with the world?


  2. CYC
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 17:37:06

    Can we scrap the “elite class” (Jing Ying Pan) system in SRJK (C)? It simply does not in congruence with the ancient Chinese philosophy of teaching with equality and ignore difference in background and capability of a student. This system also created a lot of drop-outs, i guess.

    The Chinese schools system simply did not do enough to equip students with ability to express themselves. Hence, we can see most Chinese educated student are not as articulate as English medium students. Why? Perhaps it is due to them not being encouraged to speak. Any comment from Chinese educationist ?

    If the once notorious Vikings can transform to be the most innovative and civilised nation, the rest must also have the same ability provided the approach adopted must be right. We simply need to unfold our blindness due to wearing of differentiation glass for too long and not able to try new things due to fear of unfamiliar environment.

    We need to liberalise our education system from being tied down by the current mass production approach where quality is compromised. Secondly, we need to promote equality and freedom of education where one is encourage to raise doubts and question the unexplained matters. Thirdly, we need diversification in order to reap innovation and inventions. Fourthly, we should raise awareness on the importance of philosophy studies. We are seriously lacking in this field and therefore we never any thinkers. Last but most importantly, give due recognition to teachers (of course i meant the truly qualified and dedicated type) and reward them commensurate with their contribution.


  3. klm
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 20:15:03

    The Chinese schools will be the first to fight any changes. So how to change. The govt will never dare do anything to the education system.

    So forget about the education system here. Better migrate to Finland.


  4. Chabalang
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 21:57:44

    Education system definitely NEED a revamp. Will the Govt. have the political willpower to do the right thing? The recent flip-flop on using English to teach Maths and Science is a fine example of the current Govt. is capable of.

    As an ex-educator (not in M’sia), I can really feel the “ROT” in the M’sian education system:

    (1) According to McKinsey report on school systems, three things matter:
    * Getting the right people to become teachers;
    * Developing them into effective instructors;
    * Ensuring the system is available to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.

    Sad to say that M’sian teachers are poorly-paid and not respected as well as poor-trained (part of the reason to flip-flop teaching in English)

    (2) Meritocracy. Is there any public-funded M’sian universities (beside UTAR & WOU -> they are not fully funded by Govt) with a non-Bumi vice-chancellor? Rather strange? – when Wang Gungwu (ex-Malayan) can even be the vice-chancellor of University of Hong Kong. As far as I am aware there are more M’sian or ex-M’sian non-bumiputera Prof or A/Prof in top 3 S’pore universities than in top 3 M’sia universities.

    (3) Education system hijacked for political and other self-interests. Chinese school system is a fine example. Personally, I feel Chinese primary school standard is fine but the polarization of races is rather unhealthy.

    Oophs, no battery – have to stop…


  5. Atila
    Nov 26, 2009 @ 06:48:03


    I like you articles, sometimes your comparison is like heaven and hell, sky and earth, so is this one.

    Malaysians cannot at all be like the Finns.
    It is a dream when one race the majority slacks too much.

    I dont have the statistics Malays in schools compare to non-Malays. Since population of Malays still at somewhat majority means quite
    a majority Malays at schools.

    Whats happening is the 3rd generation
    Malays are becoming more stupid than the previous which is stupid.

    Education is NOT emphasis in their lives.
    Ignorance has been the excuse from the second generation until today.

    Dont talk of kolej-kolej MARA at Form 1-5 &
    elite schools, talk about the majority in
    sekolah2 kebangsaan.

    Majority of Malays never know what & how to learn until Form 5. Its so common that a 17year
    old cannot construct a Bahasa Malaysia and English sentence.

    The rate is alarming.
    No body bother to make this study on the Malays, UMNO is hiding reality, not addressing facts and problems from roots.

    Do they need more stupid Malays so to retain the elite to rule the country only from
    the Razak’s family, Onn’s family, Tunku’s family, Mahathir’s family, etc?

    I wonder.


  6. Dr Hsu
    Nov 26, 2009 @ 09:31:30

    Our leaders like to compare Malaysia with lower rungs countries like Myanmar, Philippines , Cambodia. They used to compare us with Thailaind but with Thailand poised to overtake us, they have stopped doing so..

    If you compare with nuts, you become nuts. We need to compare with our contemporaries when we started out together in the 60s, like Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and some European countries.

    Just like a middle rank students, let’s say his position is No 30 out of 45. If he keeps on comparing with the No. 44 or No. 45, he will soon go down to that level. If he starts comparing with No .10 or so, he will find himselves moving up the rank in no time…

    Another aspect of our system is that those leaders in charge of education, often you find their children all in either international schools or overseas… To them, formulating education policies is o longer for the the future generations. To them, the worse are the products, the better it would be for their children, who would all become elite class, and these leaders and their posterity soon forms aristocratic clans and they will perpetuate their rules on the country. That was what happened in European countries before the French revolution.


  7. Amin
    Nov 26, 2009 @ 09:59:11


    I dare venture to say that if not for the continuous brain-drain due to the prejudice and discrimination, Malaysia is a credible force to be reckoned with. The huge number of top Malaysian brains that form the diaspora in the USA, Europe, Australia, NZ and Singapore, if locally retained and duely given the opportunity to express themselves in their respective professional fields, would have propelled this country to a much higher strata than the current third world status.

    I also dare to venture to agree with one recent article, that should the current restrictive policy were to persist, then in a not too distant future, Malaysia would be a famous maid-exporting country, just like the present philippines and Indonesia.


  8. klm
    Nov 26, 2009 @ 11:59:57

    Atila. Most of the discussions we have on this topic centered on probably 20% of the student population. The smart kids. The education system, university quota, brain drain etc. No one really care about the remaining 80%. For bumi students there are Mara Colleges. Matriculations and scholarships. What about those who do not excel academically? The Chinese and Malay have not difference when they are in this category.

    Maybe we should forget about the smart people and let them take care of themselves. The govt should focus on developing those who are not academically inclined.

    Maybe we will have more equality.


  9. A true Malaysian
    Nov 26, 2009 @ 13:04:13


    I agree with what you mentioned especially on the points of “Jing Ying Pan” and “lacking in expressing oneself”.

    One thing we have to bear in mind is that Chinese primary schools are under the jurisdiction of the Education Ministry and syllabuses are under their control. Chinese primary schools have no other alternative, put it this way.

    I am a product of Chinese education myself and I know well about the limitations of it, but, in hindsight, I have no regret to go through the system. We really have no other better choice as Chinese schools are still much better than the national schools. What I am doing now is constantly educate my children on the “thinking” aspect and emphasising in the importance of English language, to neutralise the limitations that I am commenting about.

    I still remember I made an effort to discuss these limitations with the headmaster, but ……At least, the headmaster remember me till now.

    I am happy my kid scored a string of As, but I still can’t convince myself to be proud of this achievement. I think most of us here are facing with this dilemma, happy but not proud.


  10. CYC
    Nov 26, 2009 @ 17:30:17


    Even though SRJK (C) is under jurisdiction of Edu. Ministry, MCA and Gerakan can’t absolve their responsibilities. As matter of fact, MCA is the hidden hand that determined the sale of the load of textbook and workbook through a group of selected suppliers. The headmaster has no say on what and which supplier he wanted get those workbook.That is the reason why MCA wants to set foot at almost all SRJK(C)’s board of governor or PIBG.

    A child will develop his/her ability to think provided he is being accorded the freedom, failing which it is difficult to make him think. I am not trained in education field, so this is just my wishful thought. Language is not a barrier to quality education as what that Prof. Khoo assumed. If in actual fact Chinese school produce too may “Copycats”, the fault lies in the educators not the medium of instruction. He may be a professor in history but it is a pity that he never understand Chinese language and hence not able to appreciate the beauty and vastness that may lead him into a realm of treasures which inhibited many great thinkers philosophy. By saying so, it does not means chinese school is more superior to other medium schools. Each has its role to play and shall enhance their more superior aspect and improve on their inferior aspects.


  11. sammy
    Nov 27, 2009 @ 00:23:53

    You forget that the Income Tax is one of the highest in the world. However, since their elected officials are whiter than white, the money is well spent on education, health and welfare. There is a obligated conscription for 2 years and many join for the free university education after they become reservists.

    They also have a very low crime rate and the country is rated as one of the best places to live in. Sex education is not a taboo hence sex scenes are not censored but violence is as not to promote it. Only problem is the cold weather during winter and many get drunk unnecessary especially the immigrants who are not used to drinking excessively. Their immigration is strict as many from the Soviet bloc are making a beeline for these Scandinavian countries because of the excellent health facilities and stable government. Mostly displaced immigrants are accepted due to the UN policies so not easy for us to go there to work and live nowadays.


  12. Atila
    Nov 28, 2009 @ 06:50:51

    Dr. Hsu

    UMNO needs to make Malays stupid to the brink.
    They sent their kids abroad.
    This is what we Malays the one with some education see.


  13. Atila
    Nov 28, 2009 @ 07:04:30


    Was i wrong highligting the more and more stupid Malays majority in sekolah kebangsaan here this column?

    Dr. Hsu explained but we (Malays with some education) know UMNO’s agenda is not making Malays better. The agenda is beyond that.

    There are more stupid Malays today than those in MARA colleges. Pls dont think that by having these colleges Malays are better than non-Malays.

    Maybe the word stupid sound bad but its difficult to get one out of 100 that can write
    proper bahasa malaysia / english sentence.

    If this keep happening, you cannot get education up like Finns coz Malays still comprise majority of the population with stupid quality.

    klm, what Education Equality?

    First, ask Koh Tsu Koon what was his Employment Equality in FTZ Penang?

    What did KTK say at Equatorial Hotel year 2000?
    That sentence KTK said was taken & kept by many professional Malays in Penang in FTZ.

    Rule Penang no more Gerakan tho its takes to achieve 2-3 terms to achieve.

    To be exact two terms, all ended.


  14. Atila
    Nov 28, 2009 @ 07:12:15

    Dr Hsu

    I AGREE with you here. 150%.

    Dr Hsu, how to “revolutionize” our education system?
    1. Change Govt at Fed would make things better?
    2. Still give chance to BN?



  15. robertchai
    Nov 29, 2009 @ 23:18:55

    Talk only and no action is what happening in Malaysia
    education system? is meritocracy applies in our recruitment of teachers? They are a number of issues involving in our education system. They is a big numbers of drop out in our Chinese school students. They can master either BM, English or Chinese. Are we closing one eye on this issues? We need more technical, vocational and skill learning to produce more manpower rather than depending on foreign workers. Imagine our dim sum or Chinese restaurant recruiting foreign waiter/waitress. What happen to our local people?
    We have national type, mission school and national school in Malaysia. Are they given the same treatment in term of allocation for infrastructure?


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