Meeting selected education transformation objectives so far paves the way for Malaysia to raise its standards, and be on par with the best globally.
IT took a lot of effort to bring various parties together, but after countless evaluation sessions over the last three years, results from the First Wave of the Malaysia Education Blueprint that began in 2013 now has a report card of its own.
The Education Ministry released the 2015 annual report of the Blueprint, an ambitious undertaking that will transform the education system in three Waves orGelombang, with the first from 2013 to 2015, the second from 2016 to 2020, and the final one from 2021 to 2025. Within the Blueprint are 11 Shifts or Anjakan that will take the country to where it needs to be nine years from now.
The Blueprint contains 100 initiatives of which 25 came under the Blueprints’s First wave.
In brief, the ministry claimed that it had “surpassed the targets it set for itself” when launching the latest annual report at its headquarters at Putrajaya on Tuesday.
Based on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to ensure “education for all”, the First Wave aimed to increase student enrolment, reduce the urban-rural divide, and ensure 100% literacy and numeracy (Linus) rates within the first three years of schooling.
On inclusivity, Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said more students with special needs have been enrolling in national schools.
“The integration of special needs students with mainstream students in daily school activities has been enhanced through the usage of a more holistic and inclusive education model,” he said.
This is done through the Inclusive Education model which saw an increase to 16,899 (23.2%) special needs students in 2015, up from 10,700 (18.4%) students in 2014.
Besides just studying with their mainstream peers in classrooms, students under this model are also included in school events such as the morning assembly and co-curricular activities.
Overall, Mahdzir said the number of special needs students enrolling in schools have increased from 58,006 in 2014 to 72,715 in 2015.
Preschoolers are also not left out of the inclusive education programme.
As of 2015, 46 children have been included in this programme.
There are 860 special needs children in 197 preschool classes nationwide guided by trained special education teachers.
Permata Kurnia director Prof Dr Hasnah Toran, a leading authority on autism in the country, said: “The ministry’s Special Education Division has taken a number of positive steps to improve education for special needs children.”
Firstly, they have increased the number of children with disabilities into mainstream schools.
“And they don’t just leave them there,” stressed Dr Hasnah, who is herself a mother of an autistic child.
The integration programme provides for a “shadow aide” (guru pendamping), where a teacher is tasked to be extra watchful over a student. Teachers and parents are also trained on teaching and caring for these children, while other students are taught to be more empathetic to their fellow special needs schoolmates.
The ministry is also trying to improve the quality of special education by introducing Pentaksiran Alternatif Sekolah Rendah (PASR), which is equivalent to UPSR, but designed for students with special needs.
“This will make teachers more accountable and allows us to track a child’s progress,” said Dr Hasnah.
Then, there are the opening of new vocational schools, such as Sekolah Menengah Vokasional Pendidikan Khas Merbok in Kedah in 2015.
The vocational schools teach skills such as baking and wiring. They also encourage special needs children to find jobs in these fields after graduation.
To keep the not-so-academically-inclined in schools, Mahdzir said his ministry has been actively pushing for more students to enrol in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in schools.
He said 5.3% of students enrolled for TVET courses at the lower secondary level in 2015, compared to 4.6% in 2013.
He also said that the Upper Secondary Vocational Education piloted last year has already attracted 343 students.
Students who opt for this programme will graduate with both Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and Sijil Kemahiran Malaysia (SKM) certificates.
“The number is expected to jump to 4,260 in 2016 due to the high demand (for TVET courses),” he added.
“It was not an easy feat as it involved various agencies at the state levels. However, to ensure our children receive quality early education, we will continue intensifying efforts to achieve our target of 100% enrolment in the Second Wave,” he said.
Mahdzir said preschool enrolment increased to 84.51% in 2015, compared to 80.2% in 2012, while primary school enrolment rates reached 98% in 2015.
“These (enrolment) rates have exceeded the universal enrolment rate of 91% as reported by United Nations Development Programme 2015,” he said, adding that the ministry is aiming to achieve universal preschool enrolment for children aged four and five by 2020.
The report also states that Year Three pupils have achieved 99% Bahasa Melayu literacy and numeracy, while English literacy stood at 94.11% in 2015, up from 78.3% in 2014.
However, those in the education field beg to differ.
Firstly, many English teachers argue that English standards among pupils have declined these few years, a period that coincided with the First Wave.
A recently retired English teacher from Shah Alam, Selangor said many English teachers feel that literacy levels are poor because Science and Mathematics are no longer conducted in English.
“This reduces students’ exposure to the language,” she pointed out, adding that it is only during English Language lessons that pupils are exposed to the language.
A primary school teacher from Perak said that the ministry’s annual report suggesting that 99% of pupils have mastered Bahasa Melayu and Mathematics by the end of Year Three sounded too good to be true.
“The figure does not seem true for my school, for Mathematics at least,” said the teacher with over 30 years of experience in teaching English.
On English, she claimed that the literacy rate has remained stagnant in her school.
“The pupils don’t have the urge to do anything extraordinary. Many of them have lost interest,” she added.
National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Datuk Lok Yim Pheng said it is up to teachers to ensure their pupils are able to read, write and count, which is important to reach the 100% literacy and numeracy rates desired by the ministry.
“Teachers do have enough resources and training from the ministry,” she said when commenting on the ministry’s claim that Bahasa Melayu literacy and numeracy rates have reached 99%.
She maintained that teachers need to be creative and innovative to ensure their charges can read, write and count.
“With advancements in digital technology, the teacher can download resources and come up with something for the children,” said Lok, who added that teachers regularly stay back with their pupils to ensure they can grasp the three basic skills.
“By hook or by crook, the teacher has to do it, because if the child can’t read, write or count, they can’t proceed to the next step,” she said.
An English teacher from Malacca said many of her pupils who come from English speaking backgrounds have the ability to express themselves rather well in English.
“The Primary School Standard Curriculum (KSSR) is good, and if teachers are teaching accordingly, there shouldn’t be any problem,” she said.
She added the increase in achievements for Mathematics could be due to the relatively “simple” questions posed.
“My colleagues tell me the questions are easy, which would have contributed to the high increase in Mathematics scores, as stated in the annual report.”
Parent Action Group for Education chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim shares similar sentiments as the teachers.
While noting that it’s good that there has been improvements for English and Maths, she argued that equal emphasis should be given to the Sciences.
On ways to teach effectively, Mahdzir reminded teachers, especially long serving ones, to embrace the fact that students now are nothing like those they encountered when they first started teaching.
“School-goers these days are digital natives and need to be taught using 21st century learning methods,” he said.
When asked whether teachers are adequately equipped to teach digital natives, a teacher from Klang said that it may be tough for the older teachers to keep up with the changes.
“However, the government is providing sufficient digital courses for teachers, so they (teachers) should be ready for these (digital) changes,” she added.
The onus to improve the quality of education falls not just on schools and teachers. In this regard, the ministry has been taking concrete steps to get the community and parents involved in the education process.
Mahdzir said that since the Blueprint was implemented, more parents have been actively involved in school activities.
The percentage of parents involved in six major school events – including registration day, Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) meetings, and sports day – have increased to 74.6% in 2015. It stood at 57% in 2013.
The number of schools adopted by private companies also rose to 539 in 2015 from 323 in 2013.
SMK Assunta Petaling Jaya PTA chairman Allan Goh Wai Choong said the increase of parental and community involvement in schools is a “good sign” in the long run.
“As parents, we play an important role to help improve shortcomings on issues involving education. We need constant communication with the district education office as well as the ministry to solve issues hand-in-hand,” he said.
Goh also pointed out that all parties play a role in increasing parental and community involvement in schools.
“The ministry is encouraged to conduct more dialogues and activities with parents, while parents would also need to reciprocate the ministry’s efforts and participate,” he said.
Parents would also need to take the initiative in asking their children about their daily activities and the issues they face in school.
“When parents don’t ask, the children won’t tell,” Goh said.
On his part, the minister seems unfazed by the reactions from teachers and parents so far.
“Clearly, we have laid a solid foundation for developing holistic students by providing access to quality education as promised in the Blueprint,” said Mahdzir.