Thursday 13 September 2012

Education reform, again — Lim Mun Fah

SEPT 13 — There are some things to look forward to as well as some questionable things in the voluminous and magnificent preliminary report of the Malaysian Education Blueprint (2013-2025).
There is no absolute right and wrong in education reform. All reforms have their advantages and disadvantages. The most fundamental point is how to implement them?
Let’s start with reforms in primary schools. From 2013 to 2015, up to five hours of intensive remedial classes will be made available each week for Chinese and Tamil national-type schools to help Year 1 to Year 6 students who struggle with Bahasa Malaysia. 
National or national-type students will use a standard Bahasa Malaysia curriculum starting from the Year 4 cohort in 2014. In 2016 to 2020, Year 1 to Year 6 students who are struggling with the language will receive remedial after-school Bahasa Malaysia classes, while Year 4 to Year 6 students must also receive remedial after-school English-language classes.
Such an education reform seems to be overly dependent on the time of learning. There is, of course, nothing wrong to strengthen the learning of Bahasa Malaysia and English language. However, we should avoid spoiling the efforts by being over-enthusiastic. Instead, we should attach importance to the improvement in terms of the content and methods of teaching and learning.
As for the reforms in secondary schools, only the abolition of the PMR starting from 2014 and the removal of the “Remove” or Peralihan class from 2017 onwards are mentioned. It seems to lack more concrete reform plans.
The commendable points of the report are that it has extensively collected views of different parties and addressed the fact that the primary and secondary education standards of our country are lagging behind international standards. 
For example, Malaysia was ranked in the bottom third of 74 participating countries of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009+, below the International and Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average. 
A difference of 38 points on the PISA scale is equivalent to one year of schooling. A comparison of scores shows that 15-year-olds in Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Shanghai are performing as though they have had three or more years of schooling than 15-year-olds in Malaysia!
However, when we look at the entire report, it seems to have neglected the enhancement of the standards of mathematics and science. How should the two major subjects be improved from primary to secondary schools to make them achieve international standards? Hopefully, the Education Ministry will mention specific solutions in future reports after further listening to the views of various parties.
Education reform affects the people’s competitiveness and therefore it is urgently needed and it must take all aspects into account, instead of emphasising only on having additional or remedial classes, or requiring students to sit for a six-hour long examination to answer three papers for a subject.
Of course, the report has many merits, like retaining various vernacular schools which reflect the diversified yet integrated education characteristic of Malaysia. Unfortunately, Chinese independent schools are still excluded, showing a less ambitious pattern.
The pattern decides the ending. The world is changing and thus Malaysian education requires changes too. From what to change and what to teach to how to change and how to teach, as well as the content, method and form, discussions and dialogues among experts, scholars, teachers, parents and even students are necessary. 
I hope the ruling and alternative coalitions can really think out of the political box and come out with viable constructive suggestions to improve our education system, instead of making use of the opportunity to start another round in the political war of words! —

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