SEPT 12 — I laud both the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak and the Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who is also the Minister for Education for their motivation, tireless efforts and initiatives to come up with a better education policy to replace the current very much attacked policy which is construed as being a weak one and also the people in MOE who have been working very hard since April this year firstly, to organise the National Education Dialogue that took the team led by former Education Director General Tan Sri Datuk Dr Wan Mohd Zahid bin Wan Mohd Noordin, the National Education Dialogue Panel Chairman to 16 locations throughout the country including Sabah and Sarawak to conduct the Townhall Series of the National Education Dialogue and to prepare the impressive and attractive Preliminary Report – Malaysia Education Blueprint 2103- 2025 in both Bahasa Malaysia and in English which we all, who were present at the launch, were presented a copy each.
The first impression I get of the launch of the Malaysia National Education Blueprint 2013 – 2025 is the seriousness given by the government to education due to the fact that both the PM and the DPM were present at the event and the ‘off-the-cuff’ statement made by the former who is also the Minister of Finance is that he expects the expenditure for education in this country given the new plans, policies, syllabus and systems to be put in place and implemented as stated in the blueprint will be much higher than previous years and as the minister in charge, he will approve it.
This was followed immediately by a loud applause from all present. The PM also made another ‘off-the-cuff’ statement commenting on his pet subject, English literature, which will be introduced from next year and given the situation now, he said, “If you can’t teach them Shakespeare, the full version, try the abridged version first and if that is also too difficult then, start with the books by Enid Blyton”. This was also followed by a loud applause from the audience.
It is most pleasing to note the emphasis the Prime Minister placed on English language knowing that this is the right way for our people to progress. He had earlier reminded the people, in no uncertain terms, to always use and uphold Bahasa Malaysia as this is our national language.
There are many aspects in the blueprint which are commendable but nothing is new, it is more like something old that are sent back to the people in new package.
Given the high-spirited way the PM talks about English language, about its importance, about the need to be good in it and about its usefulness, I would at least expect PPSMI to be re-instated as the re-introduction of English medium schools or national integrated schools may be too much to ask for but it was not going to be.
It is generally acknowledged that PPSMI may not be for all as it’s more for students whose command of English is good, except for some oddball hardcore PPSMI supporters but, the demands for PPSMI are still very high and the numbers are quite significant, comprising people from all communities, and for those who want to do mathematics and science in either Bahasa Malaysia or in a vernacular language of the students’ choice; MOE must cater for them too.
The big demand for PPSMI should be reason enough for MOE to re-instate it. There are already enough of other strong reasons given the members of the public over the years for MOE to consider to re-instate PPSMI and that no mention of PPSMI being re-instated in the blueprint also gives us the impression that the PM and the DPM may not be ‘at one’ in this matter. Is there a compromise here and done at the expense of a large group of interested parties including the many students throughout the country (denied what they have asked for and what they deserve)?
National schools will not be the school of choice for many and many, if not all, of the objectives in Shift One of the education transformation plan, i.e. ‘Provide equal access to quality education of international standard’ will ever be achieved.
More parents living in Johor Baru and as far as Kluang and Batu Pahat will send their children to study in schools in Singapore and more parents will send their children to study in private international schools and private schools and more children will be home-schooled.
Also, many more Malay and Indian children will enrol in SJK(C) schools. On pages 7-15 to 7-18, ‘Enhancement of unity in schools’, the blueprint discusses at length the subject on unity, how to foster unity and how to enhance it but with young people segregated since young into the many different types of schools available in the country, including private international schools, private schools, Arab schools, Tahfiz, etc., the permitted situation will make the implementation of government agendas such as to achieve unity (perpaduan) and making the young people and the people of the future generations true Malaysians and to embrace the true Malaysian spirit more difficult, maybe impossible even.
The prime minister also mentioned in his speech about the unique school system that Malaysia has been having for many years, probably the only country in the world that has many school systems, i.e. the many different types of schools we have here in the country viz. national schools, national type (Chinese) schools, national type (Tamil) schools, agama schools, mission schools, private schools and private international schools. The last two are not under the ministry’s jurisdiction but the ministry’s private school’s division issues the licenses for those schools to operate in the country.
There are no restrictions or limits placed on the number of local students enrolled by these schools. I am not sure whether he wants us to be proud of this uniqueness or otherwise but he did mention it with gusto. I mentioned this because, in a multi-racial and multi religious country, garnering unity (perpaduan) among the people is of high importance. We have this many national school system since 1957 and this has proven that difficult for our government to create unity amongst the people, it is actually doing exactly the opposite.
The people are, from the age of seven, segregated into different communities. No amount of efforts, campaign or even force (which have not been tried) applied will result in moulding unity among the diverse people of this country.
I and many others thought that unity (perpaduan) is best started in schools by putting young boys and girls of different races and religion in the same class and schools and let them mix.
I have suggested a solution for this by introducing the national integrated schools systems, both primary and secondary, and offer all that students or what parents want their child or children to choose in their education, nothing that are being offered now is denied.
Ironically, unity (perpaduan) is not among the eleven shifts to transform the national education system even though it is widely discussed in the blueprint. Has this been overlooked?
We may have citizens in future who are citizens in name only by virtue of being born in the country to parents who are Malaysian citizens who may not know how to sing the national anthem, how to speak Bahasa Melayu, not know how to speak our national language, not know what is Rukunegara, may not be loyal citizens or citizens with nationalistic and patriotic spirit. The first thing they hear about trouble looming, we will see them packing their bags and leave. Do we want these types of people as citizens?
Shift No. 2 of the blueprint states, ‘Ensure every child is proficient in Bahasa Malaysia and English language’, this is an excellent paradigm shift and I believe this will be undertaken by enhancing the recently introduced (MBMMBI) programme.
I do not have any doubts at all about the efficiency of our teachers to teach and guide students to achieve the former aim but, knowing what the MBMMBI programme is like and, I can also expect what the enhanced MBMMBI programme would be like, what it entails and without either re-instating PPSMI, re-introducing English medium schools or put in place the national integrated schools proposal, I and many others, a huge chunk of the rakyat, do not see how the aim, ‘to be proficient in English language’, i.e., the other aim of Shift No. 2, can be achieved.
So, in 13 to 15 years starting from 2013, after the new national education transformation plan is put into place, the poor command of English language among our students including our undergraduates and graduates and all the problems that come along with that, will still be the same or even worse and we all wonder how many great opportunities we would all be losing and how far further down the slide the situation will be.
We can already sense the many more ‘goofs’ and ‘debacles’ happening as a result of this decision and some, not surprisingly, will be ‘goofs’ and ‘debacles’ repeated over and over again because, we notice that, MOE does not seem to learn from the past mistakes they made.
You can see me in five to ten years from now, if I am still around, and waiting for me to say, “I told you so, didn’t I?” But why gloat or regret it, it won’t make things better. So, if I am still around and if you come to see me in five or ten years from now, I will not say to anyone of you that but what you may hear from me is my great feeling of loss and regret because I was not able to get people to make the right change meaning, I have failed. I have failed to do the right thing for people of the younger generation and the generations to come!
The policy and decision makers may also not be around anymore in five or ten years from now and so, the wrong decision made today and its repercussions will mean little or nothing at all to them.
Members of the public, including me, have for years criticised the country’s poor education policies and systems, flip-flopping from one to another leaving many frustrated and our young people, some are our very own children, have become victims of those failed policies and systems.
Almost two generations of young people suffered and calls to the government to make changes to check the decline in standards where in the late 70s and earlier, we had one of the best education systems in the world and for the government, since the mid-80s, changed that for an inferior one baffles many.
Now that a golden opportunity has come our way, the fact that the government is still not going to make the changes that meet the demands of the present and the future, of the people and the country again baffles me.
Personally, given the time taken, the people involved, the efforts put into preparing the blueprint and the hype it has created, not to mention the cost incurred, I do not consider the blueprint as something that is ‘par excellence’ and this is very much contrary to the view given by one of the three international panel members, the former Korean education minister, Mr Byong-Man Ahn.
It is not mediocre either but it is just an average one and it won’t make things better for us, the people and the country. Nothing, to me and to many of us, in there, is new or something that I and the others have never heard of before and say, if the same blueprint becomes the final blueprint, I and the others are still doubtful of its successful implementation, given the poor record of MOE in implementing new systems and policies in the past, in spite of the assurance given by one of the independent national education transformation plan panel members, Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Hapsah binte Syed Hasan Shahabudin who is also the UKM Vice Chancellor, who told me after the launch that this time there will be a delivery systems unit that will monitor the implementation of the new policies, syllabus, curriculum, activities and plans as per the blueprint which will be placed at all state and district education offices and manned by qualified and experienced staff, it still isn’t enough to convince me and many others that policies will be implemented effectively.
There are far too many ‘Little Napoleons’ within and without the whole system, including some politicians, and nothing seems to be done to remove these people who were proven to be creating plenty of obstacles before, and the situation would still be the same now and in the short-term, middle-term and the long-term future.
I and many others (all are stakeholders) are extremely disappointed that the two main issues that have been discussed and talked about umpteenth times since about eight years ago, which have become very big issues in themselves, i.e. PPSMI and the re-introduction of English medium schools, are not given any consideration for inclusion in the blueprint at all.
We know that the government is not expected to come out with a populist type of blueprint that may be wrongly construed as a General Election’s lure but surely, knowing how important English language is as acknowledged by someone none other than the Prime Minister himself, a better and more concrete decision should have been made on English language vis-à-vis the national education policy.
There’s no need for me to stress on the critical situation of this point because I and many others have written numerous articles and letters, in particular PAGE, led by their ever venerable and outspoken president ,a good personal friend of mine and fellow activist, Datin Noor Azimah Rahim, who have been called by many unkind names by her adversaries such as Perkasa and language nationalists (Pejuang Bahasa) in particular which were published by mainstream newspapers as well as alternative online newspapers on the subject of the importance of English language.
However, the fact that neither of these proposals is included in the blueprint as solutions to check the slide of the standard of English language of our students including many university undergraduates and graduates can also be seen as pleasing one party at the expense of the other. I can already feel the ‘drift’ and hear the noisy and loud victory cries and jeers of some people and followed by their loud applause celebrating their ‘win’.
These people, to me, are more interested in pushing their own agendas and are even willing to relegate the importance of national development and they may not realise how much the country would lose and how far behind some more the country and the people will be because of the wrong decision made and also because the present leaders are more bent on pleasing them than making the right decision that will benefit the majority of the rakyat. So, if this is not a lure for ‘GE13’ for some people, what else is?
I am indirectly involved in preparing the intensive English language programme for IPTA undergraduates, a continuous programme which all IPTA graduates will undergo to improve their command of English so that when they leave after they graduate from the respective IPTAs, their English will be as good as their command of Bahasa Melayu (Bahasa Malaysia).
Generally, students in Malaysia go through thirteen years of education before they enter university and they are all taught English language as a subject. However, due to the poor syllabus, poor method of teaching and the lack of good English language teachers, which are the normal complaints that we all hear all the time since the country’s education policy switched to the current policy since the 70s, the general standard of English of our students is considered very poor.
Now, it is the universities (IPTA) that have to handle the problem and shoulder the burden which should not be the case had the Ministry of Education ensured that a better English language syllabus, sufficient qualified teachers and proper emphasis on English language were given at national primary and secondary schools very much like the earlier days when our students’ command of the English language were at par with the best in the world.
If this was the case, local students now need not go through the proposed six month intensive English language programme before starting their degree courses but unfortunately, due to many not having a good command of English and some even with zero English proficiency, they have to go through an intensive crash course and it is hoped that as they go along at their respective faculties, they will use more English in the course of their studies and their day-to-day life, their proficiency will increase and be as good as those who are in MUET’s Band 5 or Band 6.
The continuous intensive English language programme for IPTA undergraduates is expected to be conducted until such time, schools can come out with students who’s command of English is good enough and acceptable by all the IPTAs and that is expected to happen between 12 and fifteen years from next year, However, it looks like, if not much changes are made to the Preliminary Malaysia National Education Blueprint 2013 – 2025,IPTAs may have to continue conducting the continuous intensive English language programme for a longer indefinite period.
During lunch, I was seated with some officials from the Ministry of Education and we had some discussions about the blueprint and the weaknesses in the country’s education system. One of the items discussed, which later turned to be an almost heated argument, is the teacher/student ratio which at 1:13, I think, is inaccurate and it does not represent the actual countrywide situation especially in schools that are located in towns and high density areas.
I believe, the ratio, which even the Minister of Education brags about, include crowded schools in towns and high density areas and schools that have more teachers than students in rural areas in the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak. What, I think, would me more accurate and would reflect the actual situation is to assess the two situations separately; have one ratio for crowded schools in towns and high density areas and one for rural schools.
In an attempt to support my assumption, I also told the people who were on the same table, that a very senior official from MOE has not too long ago, declared that 59% of the time, teachers were ‘absent’ from class. If the teacher/student ratio is 1:13, this should not happen.
The official who was talking to me said that MOE has already done that and it has the two ratios but when I asked what the ratios are, she told me that she cannot reveal the figures and when I insisted (in a raised voice), she told me that she had forgotten the figures so, is she speaking the truth or was she bluffing and does MOE actually have the figures or not?
I believe, when talking to members of the public, officials from MOE must not take us, members of the public, for a ride because, we will eventually know whether they speak the truth or lying and if we later discover that the official has lied, it won’t be good either for her or for MOE.
I do hope the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the minister, other ministers, politicians, policy makers, administrators and the people in MOE would look again at the preliminary report of the Malaysia education blueprint again very carefully this time and re-study all the arguments that support them and those against and re-consider to include all the important components I mentioned above to be made part of the new education policies in order for us to have an excellent national education transform plan and to meet all the aspirations, missions and objectives to raise the country’s standard and become a 1st World country and for the people to enjoy a high income.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.