Event Portal: 23rd ASLI Education Summit by Sunway Education Group and Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI)

The 23rd ASLI Education Summit begins with the MCs of the day, Charmaine and Vermont, addressing the presence of honourable VIPs: YB Datuk Dr. Radzi bin Md Jidin, Senior Minister of Education; Tan Sri Datuk Seri Razman M Hashim, Deputy Executive Chairman of the Sunway group; and Prof. Dato’ Elizabeth Lee, CEO of the Sunway group and the summit’s organising chairperson.

After a patriotic session of singing the national anthem and the newly launched Sekolahku Sejahtra song, Mr. Ismael Ibrahim was invited onto the stage for prayer recitation. Shortly after, the MCs begin the event by welcoming Professor Dato’ Elizabeth Lee, the CEO of Sunway Education Group and organising chairperson of the ASLI Education Summit, on stage to give her welcoming remarks.

Prof. Elizabeth takes the stage and proceeds to share the vision behind the summit. ASLI is guided by Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr. Jeffrey Cheah’s vision and commitment to building a sustainable nation, particularly in the education sector. The education summits (this one being the 23rd in ASLI’s history!) have been an important platform for education stakeholders to come together and engage in knowledge sharing and discussion on the nation’s future.

“Education is not preparation for life, but life itself,” she quotes John Dewey, an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, to emphasise to all 800 attendees, both online and in-person, how education affects all aspects of life.

She emphasises that the focus of this summit is not only on the experiences during the pandemic but also on the challenges that everyone faces in a post-pandemic world. The theme for the summit was chosen to show how they could find solutions to the challenges people face in providing quality education, ensure equitable access regardless of socioeconomic background and provide the necessary resources for educators to nurture the future generation. Besides bringing together a great lineup of speakers, they also have education stakeholders from various backgrounds who are here to share their journeys, insights, and hopes for the future.

Before concluding her speech, she thanked the sponsors, Experian and JobStreet by SEEK, who made this education summit accessible all around the world, as well as the Summit’s collaborators, Sunway Center for Planetary Health and the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development, Sunway University. 

Moving on to the next segment of the event, YB Datuk Dr. Radzi bin Md. Jidin, Senior Minister of Education, Ministry of Education (MOE) Malaysia was called upon to share the various accomplishments and experiences of the Ministry of Education in instituting various reforms for the betterment of our future generation.

He started by sharing that with barely any prior experience in navigating a nation through a pandemic, he and his team initiated home-based learning. Although this was a risky step as not everyone had access to all the materials online, they still proceeded to announce it by allowing the teachers to decide the approach that they were going to take to educate the students.

He highlighted the hardships of recovering from the pandemic, which also opened up plenty of opportunities for them to improve. One of the most salient transformations that they made in the past two and a half years was with regards to the assessment of  examinations during MCO. For the first time in history, they posted all the SPM scripts online. They had to scan 5,000,000 scripts for all the subjects except for visual arts. He agrees that it was indeed a challenging time, but in any challenging time, there will be a plethora of opportunities outside of the box, and one just needs to look beyond the things that they have done so far.

Moreover, for the first time in history, over 400,000 students got their results online. They constructed a stable system that allowed millions of students and families to check results online as an alternative to queuing up at schools. Soon after that, they did a survey to gain parents’ opinions on what would happen if there was no UPSR. Parents’ real concern was how their kids who are  interested in going to boarding schools would be assessed. To alleviate that concern, they introduced “Ujian Kemasukan SBP,” specifically for those who are interested in joining boarding schools.

The MOE believed that students should develop in different areas and after a close study of how countries all over the world deal with exams at the primary level as well as at the secondary level, it decided to abolish the UPSR examinations. Before committing to this drastic change, he did lots of engagement in every state, including with teachers, parents, school administrators, committee leaders, and students themselves.

He briefly explains the theme surrounding Sekolahku Sejahtra, which emphasises values that students don’t often learn in class. In total, there are 14 concepts in this initiative that students are encouraged to learn before exiting the system. Some of the concepts are rational thinking, where decision-making skills are nurtured based on facts and figures. As a final nod to his speech, he returned to emphasise the massive transformation of the education system and shares his hopes for it to flourish even more in the upcoming years.

Following that, we had Eizaz Azhar, an entrepreneur who graduated with an MBA in 2018 on a full scholarship awarded by Bank Negara Malaysia. He started his journey at a musical instrument store as a school dropout at the age of 14. He has no PMR, no SPM, no STPM, or a bachelor’s degree, but the speaker was qualified for the master’s in business administration via the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) program administered by the Malaysian qualifications agency.

Eizaz begins his speech with a stunning saxophone rendition of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper.” Shortly afterwards, he starts outlining his journey to success in life. He received his degree from the Asia School of Business (ASB),which was established in Kuala Lumpur by Bank Negara Malaysia in collaboration with the world renowned MIT Sloan Management School. He was the youngest general manager of Halal Development Corporation Berhad and the former head of corporate strategy (HDC). In addition to investment banking in Myanmar, mobile banking analysis for Bangkok Bank, and other noteworthy FMCG projects with Procter & Gamble, Eizaz has been an entrepreneur his entire life.

Eizaz was fascinated by his father’s management and leadership skills, which drove him to launch a tiny music rehearsal studio when he was 18 years old. He constructed a store from the ground up using furniture from junkyards, and it eventually became one of Malaysia’s biggest music retailers.

He believes that humankind’s true currency is goodwill. He unarguably put a great deal of effort and commitment into doing this, but in the end, he only managed to succeed because he kept his motivation high and kept his word, even though it happened at a time that was extremely inconvenient to him. He amassed a great deal of goodwill, and Eizaz’s current position is largely due to the generosity of others.

The following speaker was the University of Cambridge’s Pro Vice Chancellor for Strategy and Planning, Professor David Cardwell. Cardwell delivered a keynote address titled ‘‘Transforming student and educator experiences for today and tomorrow’’.

The focus of Prof. Cardwell’s discussion was how to modernise the student-teacher relationship. He said that it’s a worldwide process that involves engaging people and changing how they think and act. He started off by detailing what he considered to be the starting point, using the UK as a framework of reference. The prognosis for global higher education suggested that colleges should work much more closely together than they do against one another.

Prof. Cardwell believes that with a good strategy, one will understand where to begin and where to go, and the strategy will bridge the gap. There will be a series of actions you need to take to deliver your vision, and you’ll need to review that series of actions as you go along and evaluate why you’re doing that particular performance and be prepared to change them and take account of external influences.

He cited research where it was discovered that gender inequalities revolve around the myth that girls do worse than boys in particular university subjects. Even though remote examination and instruction have a tendency to even that out, a crucial indicator highlights the fact that there is still a lack of diversity among students and faculty, especially in the UK’s physical sciences. It needs to be changed because there aren’t enough women studying the physical sciences. Even if it’s improving, students still need to be more employable.

‘‘One must admit that there are substantial variations in pre-university global education, and they pose serious difficulties’’,Cardwell postulates. A worldwide institution’s ability to function depends on the long-term development of its faculty as well as its strategy, planning, and technological capabilities. Universities are a really good example of a strategy that is changing; there is a shift towards more extensive international cooperation programmes to support education, Prof. Cardwell zeroes in.

Following the speaker’s presentation, a Q&A session was open to the audience. One of the audience members inquired as to whether Prof. Cardwell had some recommendations on how to counterbalance the complementary nature of the arts, humanities, and sciences in higher education.

His response emphasised the difficulty that lies in providing the arts, humanities, and social sciences with the necessary financing to carry out their intended missions. The arts and humanities struggle to raise money from odd sources, but science is consistently sponsored. Most of the work he’s done has been for those schools because he was amazed at just how disadvantaged they are, and he firmly believes that’s a general problem throughout higher education, so until a coherent and organised funding can be put in place, that target cannot be achieved.

Subsequently, the panel discussion on collective education experiences from Southeast Asia as well as reforms in teaching education and STEM begins. Diverse speakers from Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia were asked to discuss their perspectives and experiences on education reforms in Southeast Asia. The first panel was moderated by none other than Mr. Danial Rahman, a director of the Sunway Education Group and occasional TV host.

Danial opened with the panel’s purpose and a brief summary before proceeding to invite each panellist on stage. 

The first panel speaker was Datuk Dr. Habibah Abdul Rahim, the former Director General of Education at MOE Malaysia. She had served the MOE for more than 34 years, having started her career as a school teacher. She was also one of the authors of the education blueprint in 2013.

The formulation of the education plan was the challenge that emerged as the highlight of her term as a prominent member of MOE. The Malaysian Education Blueprint was first drafted in 2011, but it wasn’t presented until 2013; it covers the period of time from 2013 to 2025. They needed a baseline dating back to independence in order to show how effectively our system functioned, what our strengths and limitations were, and what obstacles we have to overcome to achieve that level of performance, in order to create a vision.

With the Prime Minister’s agreement, they released the preliminary document. Since it was a sample, the general public were still welcome to comment and respond. In 2013, they successfully completed and launched it, but by then, things had already begun to move forward.

Datuk Dr Habibah then went on to comment about the recent COVID-19 experiences. The 40-week school closures during the pandemic had compromised the pupils’ learning and the education system. She cited the Asian Development Bank, which stated that Malaysia has one of the largest learning losses. Since then, there have been numerous enhancements and mitigation efforts taken to close the learning gap. For instance, January saw an increase in applications for teacher training.

She warned that there will be major learning deficits if our schooling system does not obtain the requisite skills and competencies for both the present and the future. She believes that this is the new normal, and therefore we must evaluate how it has changed the labour market’s dynamics and how much more spotlight is being directed at technology-related topics.

The next speaker was Dr. Nisa Felicia, Executive Director of the Pusat Studi Pendidikan dan Kebijakan Center for Education and Policy Studies. She is in charge of aiding the Minister of Education Indonesia by leading the PSPK team.

Dr. Nisa began her opening address by stating that PSPK is a non-partisan, nonprofit, and non-governmental organisation. They are relatively new and their central goal is to promote educational policies that only benefit students. The organisation began in 2015, and it was modest in scale—it was just a body of individuals who were passionate about education and believed that they needed to have even greater influence over the government. They began with research. When Nadiem Makarim was appointed Indonesian Minister of Education in late 2019, the organisation became the ministry’s think tank.

They want education to be a tool for social mobility. Thus, they recognise the importance of early childhood education, vocational training, and equality. Despite the fact that they are a small and young firm, they even suggested that initiative to Mr. Nadiem Makarim for himself before he was appointed, but their proposal was approved due to the good reference.

The organisation works collaboratively on more than just the curriculum. They are also pursuing a number of initiatives, including key policies that Nadiem Makarim is involved in. They participate in SDG Target 4 at the local and national levels and are in favour of the project to create Indonesia’s meta data. Dr. Nisa understands that collaboration is imperative to all and that education is too complex for anyone to handle alone, but with the aid of their partners, they strive for advancement.

The final panellist of the segment was Dr. Ganigar Chen, the Vice President of the National Science Museum in Thailand. NSM is an organisation under the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Digital. It operates four museums now in the Technopolis complex in Bangkok, with an emphasis on areas of science communication in formal education and lifelong learning. Dr. Ganigar also has many outreach programmes in the STEM space.

According to Dr. Ganigar, it’s very important that we create an opportunity to learn, which means that we probably have to see how we integrate informal, non formal, and formal education together. The National Science Museum is a state enterprise and is about 30 years old. Their vision is to be a place where everyone can discover the wonders of science.

Museums in Thailand cover basic science and the history of science and traditional technology, as well as natural science, information, and digital technology. Ecosystems and sustainability are of utmost importance to them, as they are aiming to boost innovation so that the following generation can learn more about thinking, designing, and solving challenges systematically and artistically.

The number of science centres distributed throughout the city and country may be large, but it is still not enough to meet all of the demands of the students and children in the province. As a result, they created the Science Caravan programme, through which they go to every province with exhibitions and introduce all of the programmes they offer at the museum to the citizens.

She concluded her speech by introducing the audience to the National Science and Technology Fair of Thailand, which is among the biggest public gatherings in the nation (over 1 million visitors yearly). Everyone has a good opportunity to honour the valuable work that researchers conduct for society at this time through this festival. Another strategy for capturing the visitor’s interest more deeply, is the education program. Numerous science competitions are coordinated nationally by the museum including the youthful mega contest, a satellite competition, and water rocket competition. It is similar to the problem-based learning approach. They found that students who joined this kind of project-based learning turned out to be excellent  achievers in university, and Dr. Ganigar believes this is an approach that we can encourage students to apply when they are in school.

As the panel discussion nears its end, the MCs extend their gratitude to the panellists, Dr. Habiba, Dr. Nisa, and Dr. Ganikaa, as well as the moderator, Mr. Danial, for sharing some very valuable insights on education reforms with everyone. Education is lifelong learning and not just restricted to our schooling years, as education also comes in the form of experience, which we have in abundance. Souvenirs from Elizabeth were given to the panellists afterwards. With that, the summit’s first segment came to an end following a lunch break.

After a satisfying lunch, the hosts posted a slido question as a recap. Many collectively answered that openness or outcome-based education topics which reforms education have stood out the most from the morning session. 

The afternoon session began with a heartfelt speech on education by Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah, Founder and Chairman of Sunway Group. Unfortunately Tan Sri Jeffrey was unable to join due to unforeseen circumstances, and was represented by Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Razman Hashim, the Executive Deputy Chairman of Sunway Group. Tan Sri Razman has a lifetime of achievements including serving the Standard Chartered Bank beginning 1964 and other bank positions in London, Hong Kong and Singapore. Other accomplishments included Executive Director and Deputy Chief of the bank, and Finance Chairman in MBF. 

A fan of quotes, Tan Sri Razman recited Confucious’s saying: ‘If you plan for 1 year, plant rice. If you plan for 10 years, plant a tree. If you plan for 100 years, educate children’. Tan Sri Razman believes the same, that education cannot be interpreted as a one time event but a prolonged, deep-rooted journey. He then proceeds to deliver Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah’s speech which begins by mentioning the Malaysia Education Blueprint, which was set to ensure students receive high class education that equals the rest of the world. 

As the plan comes to a near-end in 2025, the outcome didn’t match the expected success. In an age of technology, Tan Sri Jeffrey urges education systems to switch up their curriculum to guide students into more than just textbook reading and solving skills but more adaptable skills, as shown in quarantine periods where online classes took place. Rather than depending on solely learnt knowledge, graduates need to be able to efficiently use their creativity and curiosity to learn more, including integrity, humility and empathy. 

The speech then speaks about the future that children will grow up in, a world of global warming and constant corruption, unless ethical values are inserted into current education. He once again quoted Gandhi: ‘The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not  for everyone’s greed’. The next generation must live with not only a fulfilled and content life but one with a higher purpose with ambitious contributions.

Charmaine and Virman, the emcees, then showcased a recorded speech from Nadiem Makarim, current Minister of Education, Culture, Research and Technology in Indonesia. Nadiem strives to ‘transform’ education. His ministry valiantly took a step into foreign territory in Indonesia’s education system, encouraged by the government, to grant students with opportunities to conduct out of classroom learning. Internships, independent studies, entrepreneurship project building and providing tuition to rural schools are just a few examples. Students would register real world challenges into their mindset and be well prepared when their turn comes. Nadiem also connected universities with businesses and the ministry with a cross-match funding system to bring all sorts of research projects to life. By continuing to involve all parties of education from teachers to non-profit companies, Nadiem envisions a finer, reformed education system.

Next up, we had a living legend stepping onto stage. Crowned with countless triumphs in squash, Datuk Nicol Ann David graced us with her presence in the auditorium. Since standing on the squash court as a child, Nicol realised her potential. She pursued her passion and proved unbeatable in highschool, leading her to accept the call to contest professionally on the world stage. The lesson to learn is to not let go when you see an opportunity because it may come once in a lifetime. Yearning to give the next generation the same opportunity before it’s too late, Nicol boosts children’s confidence in the form of sports in her Little Legends programme. Directed at underprivileged kids, Nicol stressed the influential role of sports in education. Little Legends offers both squash and English lessons. Although some may not be proficient in English, squash helps to break the barrier and increase the children’s spirit to become fluent in it. Only operating for 5 months, 62 children have already signed up and shown spectacular results. 

The hosts then welcomed Joash Loh, psychology alumni of Sunway University and People Consulting and Product Analyst. Joash immediately presents factual statistics to prove what students learn in school are not the required skills in the workforce. Elon Musk himself has stated that degrees won’t be necessary to employ in his company. Joash wishes to close the gap between education and employability by discussing ideas with Teoh Jiun Ee (Co-founder of Carsome), Chua Chai Ping, (Experian HR director) and Norazharuddin Pak Din (AKEPT deputy director). 

Jiun Ee, or JT, started Carsome Academy in order to improve his staff’s interpersonal skills. It has since extended to become a standalone TVET training institution for youth from around the country. Alongside interpersonal communication skills, Carsome Academy students are trained in Carsome’s 175-point car assessment methodology which is used in their business. The student technicians can now converse confidently with clients. According to his personal experience, JT claims the opportunity is always there, but it’s your choice to seize it as he did. 

Chai Ping shared that Experian gathers and analyses data from all around the world to service clients in terms of finance, online security and more. She seeks to help graduates find jobs with their talents, but strongly believes it takes more than academic results to prove their worth. A diversity of talents including humility and respect for the system is more critical. 

Pak Din remembers being a loafer in school, then pulled out from his lowest by certain caring teachers, ultimately understanding the significance of bonding and healthy relationships in education. He believes in the essentiality of mentors in students’ lives, that universities shouldn’t decide a student’s path, but pave it with the student after thorough engagements. 

It is undeniable that artificial intelligence has been embedded into education. The next keynote was by Dr. Ronjon Nag, President of the R42 institute and Director of MIT Angels. An adjunct professor with the Stanford School of Genetics, he gave a brief history of his works, which included pioneering speech artificial intelligence alongside cursive handwriting and Chinese speech recognition. Complicated mathematics techniques were used by Ronjon to bypass the problem of differentiating links between 2 words, attracting Motorola to buy his co-founded company, Lexicus. Mankind can strive alongside AI with personalised, better medical treatments, for example assistance robots in Japan. Ideas exist that AI can substitute for arduous jobs so more office jobs, like Chief AI Officers, are created for humans. Nevertheless, the common thought is that AI will replace human jobs and in effect decrease employability for future generations. Industries may profit faster thanks to modern versions of technology, but fewer jobs will be present. Ronjon thinks AI still needs humanity for their empathy, and that’s why lifelong education is vital to improving technology. 

The final discussion of the ASLI Education Summit was on planetary health and sustainability. The showcase was presented by Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood, Executive Director of the Sunway Centre for Planetary Health and Professor Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, Associate Dean of the School of Medical and Life Sciences, Sunway University. Reuben, a conservation scientist and co-founder of Rimba, reminisced about his school years where he had no interest in education. Yet his first road trip in Malaysia gave his life a new direction when he encountered our tropical rainforests. He started accepting lessons from NGO (non-governmental organisations) leaders about forest navigation and their importance to our planet. Currently, his works have evolved to the point where he rescued hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest lands, along with its animal residents from habitat loss. 

Dr Jemilah, joining virtually as she was attending a Planetary Health Alliance Conference at Harvard University, praised Sunway University for its SDG implementation in education, enlightening people from a young age about the influence of quality education on the impact of the world when they enter society. Dr Jemilah reinforced the idea that no matter how hard it seemed to achieve the SDGs, it required every aspect of humanity from economics, politics to social life to change for the sake of healthier planetary environments. Both Reuben and Dr Jemilah jointly agreed that it takes more than just technical, rigid textbook teaching, but exposure to practical, real life experiences for scholars’ hearts to be touched. Only by breathing side by side with trees, morning dew and wild animals can people take the planetary problem more seriously. 

Reuben stated this exposure can come to life in the newly initiated Sunway 5K experience course. The first of its kind in the world, the course welcomes students from all fields, no matter your dream ambition, to sign up and learn how to maintain and improve the globe’s wilderness. This course includes experiences in the wild and 5K laboratories all over Malaysia, with state of the art, ultra modern technology for students to utilise. Furthermore, the course also teaches a diversity of skills including leadership and other interdisciplinary requirements. 

The President of Sunway University, Professor Sibrandes Poppema, proceeded to wrap up the Summit in a suit of elegance and success. He first conveyed his gratitude to all the speakers for their inspirational advice and guidance as well as for sharing their personal hardships that shaped them for who they are today. Prof. Poppema then acknowledged that Sunway University is not merely a single faculty but part of the world’s education system that connects all stakeholders from childhood to adulthood, the same case with all problems that has been discussed in the Summit. It entailed more than just science but various fields like economics and history to solve it. He said, for example, the study of psychology is essential too, because as important as money is to us, we need to grasp the willingness to spend it on more useful aspects like ameliorating education standards or conserving the environment, rather than on unnecessary affairs like warfare. 

The summit comes to an eventful conclusion with the emcees thanking all participants with a feedback form, whilst Eizaz once again serenaded us with his golden saxophone in a live jazz divertimento. 

Written by: Ruby and Ryan

Edited by: Poorani

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