Perceptionally, yes, but practically, no. Not unless the education system is first rebuilt from scratch. Perceptions are formed by looking at English-medium schools in Singapore, and in the case of senior citizens, also looking back at our own English-medium schools set up by the British.
We see rosy pictures of English-medium schools when we look at these. The authorities had bungled in the management of these excellent schools.
They had forgotten that English is an important international language. They forgot, or did not care, that English is the language of knowledge.
In short, they messed up the education system to a state that can be aptly described by the Malay proverb “nasi sudah jadi bubur”(the rice has become broth).
In the situation that our education system is today, resurrecting English-medium schools will not do what people think it will do.
The glory of the English-medium schools of the 1950s and 1960s had nothing much to do with the language-medium per se, but with the school culture, the quality of teachers, school heads and those responsible for the system from the top to the bottom.
Due to nationalism, meritocracy was thrown out the window. Paper qualifications became more important than decades of classroom experience.
Human rightism blinded education policy makers to the vast difference between the concepts of “child discipline” and “child abuse”, resulting in prohibiting teachers using light canes as an effective disciplinary tool (when other methods fail) to maintain school discipline.
The light cane was a standard disciplinary tool in English-medium schools of the 1950s and 1960s. No study has been made to determine the deterioration of our schools.
For instance, Sekolah Kebangsaan Tunku Abdul Halim in Alor Star, Kedah, used to be the top primary school in the district year after year in the 1950s and 1960s. By the late 1980s, it had become one of the worst primary schools in the district. Why? How?
The head teachers of yore who were master teachers had been replaced by heads who were anything but master teachers.
Child discipline was allowed to deteriorate. When teachers couldn’t even control the children, how could teaching take place?
In education, continuity is important. Continuity of a proven system, meritocracy, a good school culture, which in turn requires continuity of teachers.
In the 1980s, a teacher training college principal, returning from a study tour to Scotland, told his staff how he had told the education authorities there that Malaysia had introduced the 3R system (3M in Malay — Mengira, Menulis, Membaca) and asked them about theirs.
He was stunned with the answer: they have been using the 3R system for the past 200 years. The Education Ministry proudly points to the “Blue Book”, the education review carried out a few years ago at a cost of tens of millions of ringgit, as the panacea to the system. It is not.
The experts who prepared the book do not seem to have seen the ills of the schools and the system. Why haven’t they mentioned anything about the indiscipline in schools and the co-relationship between discipline and academic performance of schools? What measures have they proposed for checking the deplorable state of discipline? None.
But they spoke of schools that would produce well-cultured persons. The Malaysian education ship is so corroded that charting courses for it on paper is not going to take it to the lofty ideals in the blue book.
A re-building of the ship is required if it is to take the children anywhere meaningful. Merely reviving English-medium schools is not going to bring us back to the educational standards of the 1950s and 1960s.
With teachers burdened with many non-teaching duties, with Year One children carrying heavier books to school than Form 5 students of the 1950s, English-medium schools, if they do come about, will be no better than the national schools.
We cannot compare our national schools to those of Singapore based just on the medium of instruction there and, on our own hindsight, of the English-medium schools in the then Malaya.
There is much more to it than meets the eye. Educating children is a complex matter. It is an area that needs special skills, not just book knowledge and degrees.
A majority of the master teachers of the Malaya era were not degree holders, let alone master’s or PhD holders. Yet, they were excellent teachers who maintained discipline and produced good academic results and all-rounded young adults.
The system and a lot of manpower must change and not just the medium of instruction, if we want to truly educate our children and not just teach them a little bit of reading, writing and counting without any character development.
Does moving forward not allow for looking back at what was good and reverting to the time-tested and proven system?
Education is not something to be experimented with like what has been going on in this country, not for any better, but for the worse.
The authorities have to get out of the denial mode and stop the propaganda that our education system can be counted among the best in the world.
Can they even give an honest post-mortem report on SK Tunku Abdul Halim from its top position in the 1950s and 1960s to its bottom or near bottom position in the late 1980s? Ravinder Singh, Penang NST Letters to the Editors 16 June 2015