The revised education blueprint 2013-2025 will soon be out. Judging by the proposals in the preliminary report I am not optimistic that this new version will adequately address our education woes. Will the eleven strategic ‘shifts’ reverse the current situation? The people in the education ministry (MoE) seem to think so, yet concerned educationists, this writer included, are not convinced. These so-called new initiatives are not new. Every now and then authorities rehash them to appease critics and justify their role as custodians of education. Attempts made to get feedback from the public were half-hearted, leaving many disappointed and annoyed. Where is the sincerity?
But what is alarming, in my view, is that this blueprint and its ‘transformation’ hype is not addressing the real problems which have distorted foundations and created deep cracks in our education system. It has merely scratched the surface of our predicament. Pumping in millions of ringgit will not make any difference if the analysis is wrong and the bottom line is ignored, and nicely phrased words make no difference if not properly translated into action.
Shift 2 emphasises language proficiency. Where English is concerned, ‘upskilling’ English teachers or giving students “remedial coaching” do sound hollow when the ministry cannot even ensure that the textbooks under its purview are error-free, especially at the lower levels.
One of the objectives in Shift 4 is reducing teachers’ administrative duties so that they can focus on teaching. Haven’t we heard this before? The fact is, every time this statement is made, it is followed by an increase in administrative and clerical work. Ask any teacher.
Pumping more money into ICT (shift 7) and providing “internet access and virtual learning environments” sound nice on paper, but how do you ensure that the subject is properly taught? It is not uncommon to hear of students being directed to copy notes during every ICT period! The same goes for essay writing and science experiments, where students copy long texts from reference books into exercise books.
Shift 10 is particularly interesting – maximising student outcomes. What are these outcomes – producing more straight-A students? Who is responsible for the pressure exerted on schools to produce students with A upon A, and letting all else that is important fall by the wayside? Many can’t seem to get out of this mindset; this kind of thinking is reinforced in the media and by educators themselves.
I would like education ministry officials to take cognisance of what is really happening on the ground. Have these officials analysed how national schools are run, how teachers teach, and whether school heads implement sound education practices? What kind of learning environment do you see? Is anything being done about the existing polarisation or the ugly racism that has taken root in schools? Does anybody realise there is a dangerously poor racial mix of both teachers and students? We should view with concern the existence of subtle and open intimidation, demeaning language, politicking, and unreasonable, irrational and unprofessional behaviour, to name a few. We need to ensure that quality communication, interaction and teaching, respect, logic, honesty, sincerity and integrity flourish in schools and, for that matter, all institutions of education.
Consider sincerely the basic tenets outlined in our Philosophy of Education which specifically proposes character building and the holistic development of a child. They are not just ‘quotable quotes’.
One example of a lack of professionalism and sincerity is the way PPSMI (Maths and Science in English) has been kicked about. The MoE’s guidelines on PPSMI are either ambiguous or ignored by schools. Even though the advice is for certain batches to continue learning the subjects in English, what is happening presently runs contrary to the recommendation. Schools have made decisions not based on sound reasoning but according to the whims and fancies of the person in charge. If logic and common sense had prevailed, schools would not have reverted to Bahasa Malaysia (BM) midway as doing so will jeopardise the learning process.
Allowing different interpretations by heads of schools gives the impression that MoE has washed its hands off the matter. It is no coincidence that results of the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) 2011 show Malaysia in a dismal position. PAGE (Parent Action Group for Education) has got its finger on the pulse in this matter yet the ministry, with its misplaced pride, is reluctant to engage or consult with this professional body which has willingly provided some succinct and plausible suggestions.
Students nowadays are ‘taught to the test’ which only serves to undermine learning and demoralise them, in my opinion. Imagine, there are secondary school students who may have ‘passed the test’ but are not aware, for instance, that America and Australia are two different countries, and that Singapore is not a state in Malaysia. Then there are those who don’t ‘pass the test’ because they cannot cope with their studies. These students get left behind as they do not get the help they need. Do we want to see more unemployable graduates and social misfits in our society?
Students need to be motivated to learn, something which is not happening today. They should be encouraged to read, and not just textbooks. We want to create a reading society but this habit is not inculcated in schools. Do education officials ever check school libraries to see if there is a good stock of proper reading materials? Do principals? The library has become a place that students are sent to when teachers do not enter class for some reason or other.
The education blueprint may appear to be ‘the solution’, but the truth is, the ministry has completely missed the plot, as it has done many times. Many pertinent issues are not examined, while topics discussed are couched in dodgy, ambiguous jargon and rhetoric. Padding a rotten core with money, new curricula, ICT, packages for principals and teachers, certification etc. can only do so much. Sooner or later, the rot will spread outwards again and we will be back to square one. The MoE has a duty and moral obligation to do the right thing, especially for our children whose future is at stake. Keep self-serving officials and politicians in the backroom. Something is wrong with our system, but systems are made up of people, and those manning the system should be accountable.
All things, good or bad, stem from education. Let’s return to the fundamentals in education and move the focus back to students and their development.