January 6th, 2016

Past lessons, future challenges, Right to education

Right to education

GENERALLY, the complaint is one of classes that are too large. Thirty-five children to a class is about average. Imagine, however, a child who has a whole school with three teachers, including the headmaster, all to himself. It is the ultimate in educational privilege and this is the fortunate fate of a little boy in Pulau Pasir Hitam near Trong, Perak.

But, had it not been for a philanthropist, the school would be closed, and the boy probably put in a boarding school, or even the whole family has to move.

If education is a right, however, there should be no need for a philanthropist to keep the school open. Indulgent though the statement may seem, a child should not be disrupted from his or her familiar environment, not even for education. Instead, the ratio to households per school should be maintained, despite the absence of demand, because the possibility of need can easily arise as long as there is a community.

For, access to education is a child’s right. That many countries do not meet this basic human right would be no excuse for Malaysia to follow suit.

Where education eludes a child, it is usually caused by poverty; and the claims of this country to a per capita income of around US$10,000 (RM43,000) puts it well out of that range.

Should poverty exist in this country, then, it means that there is dire inequality. Is there? Not according to the authorities, which act proactively to close the gap through wealth redistribution policies.

And access to education is the fulfilment of equal opportunity, as it is a received instrument of social mobility and is, therefore, wealth redistributing.

Remote communities are many and children in those areas do have to travel miles to school daily, sometimes even crossing rivers. Granted that manageable distances mean pupils can be bussed to the nearest school.

To maintain schools for a single student under these circumstances, is then, may seem an extravagance. Furthermore, facilitating their attendance in a regular school makes for a child’s socialisation.

But isolated settlements must be catered for, irrespective of whether enrolment is one or a handful. Primary schoolchildren should not be put in boarding schools, irrespective of the practice of the very rich, where a child as young as 5 is sent into exclusive boarding preparatory schools.

In fact, if schools are to be made available in each community, there will be little need for boarding schools like SK Pos Tohoi in Gua Musang, Kelantan, from which the seven young Orang Asli children ran away last year.

Furthermore, the demands of primary education is nowhere near impossible for a couple of teachers to accomplish, much like that of the Primary One boy in Trong.

And, of course, the infrastructure is rudimentary. It is then not expensive to provide a school. If at all obstacles exist, it is to make available qualified teachers when, already, there is a national shortfall.

That teachers are a valuable resource, not least because of their scarcity, must be recognised.

Terms and conditions of service must be improved to attract the required number and quality into the profession.

Using “barefoot” teachers — those not fully-trained — should be avoided, as every child is entitled to quality teaching. Malaysia’s stage of development warrants nothing less than the best.
NST Opinion Editorial 6 January 2016 @ 11:06 AM


Past lessons, future challenges

A new year and a new beginning, but we cannot say the same for the education scene in Malaysia. While 2013 was the year of the Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2015 was the year of higher education reform.

The launch of another document for the country’s higher education completed the design and plan of action for how these blueprints would shape our country’s education in the next decade.

Only two years down the road, critics are already making judgments, harping on the earlier-launched blueprint as nothing more than an unrealistic and implausible attempt at reforming the education system.

Many are still sore with the ministry’s decision to revert to using Bahasa Malaysia to teach Science and Maths in 2012, abandoning the teaching of these subjects in English after 10 years.


2016 will, without doubt, be a year for more collective action in transforming education.


To inflame the situation, the application of English as a compulsory pass subject at the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia level has now been postponed indefinitely, giving more ammunition for critics to attack the flip-flop decisions and policy U-turns while increasing further public scrutiny and debate.

When the teaching and learning of Science and Maths in English (PPSMI), the policy aimed at improving the command of English for students at primary and secondary schools, was announced in 2002, it took only six months for the policy to be implemented.

 The beginning of the year 2003 saw students, who enroled in Year 1 and Form 1, starting the school year with the switch in the medium of instruction. The reversal, indeed, gave valid arguments on the wasted years that were spent training and preparing for the change.

Call it Malaysia Boleh — textbooks, activity books, teacher’s guides (with scripts for teachers), CD-ROMs and glossary books were prepared within the short period of time.

Teachers were given intensive English courses and provided with scripts to use in their classrooms to “ease” the process of change in the medium of instruction.

Six years after its implementation, the same problem came to a head when studies showed that not only had PPSMI not improved the students’ command of English, it had also managed to hamper their understanding of mathematical and science concepts.

It was then back to square one. In the 2013 English Lab under the Government Transformation Programme, conducted by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) of the Prime Minister’s Department, 1,191 secondary schools were identified with SPM English failure rates exceeding 23 per cent.

This is backed up by data from the Malaysian Examination Board that showed an almost consistent failure rate for English — between 20 and 23.3 per cent  in the SPM  exams from 2011 to 2014 — among those students who went through PPSMI.

The real lesson to learn from the past is that policies rushed through with little or no thought caused by the lack of time, do not allow a thorough planning and is not the answer to reforming education in Malaysia.

What we need is a structural reform.  As a plan, these blueprints were the result of multitude of analyses, interviews, surveys and research conducted involving education experts from Malaysia and other countries, parents, teachers and almost 12,000 members of the public and various stakeholder groups on multiple aspects.

Time was spent to actually pause, think and look at results and research to see what it is we really want and need from an education system in Malaysia.

Just as with any architectural plan, we should change a blueprint’s framework if the one we have might not produce the results we seek at execution, evaluating time management and strategy to achieve the desired outcome along the way.​

 The postponement of English as a compulsory pass subject for SPM certificates cannot be claimed as a U-turn of a policy.

Students should not be disadvantaged and denied the opportunity to pursue their tertiary studies, which at the same time, enables an education that is relevant to the economy and society. But that’s not to say the blueprint hasn’t left its mark yet in some way.

Over the past two years, we have become more serious about teacher’s education. From 2013, a potential candidate for the foundation course in Teaching English as a Second Language at Institutes of Teacher Education in the country has to obtain at least 7As in SPM, with an A in English.

The school-based assessment is in its second year of implementation, focusing back into quality over quantity in the value of As in public examinations.

For once, when the PT3 results were announced at the end of last year, my Facebook newsfeed was not swamped by picture postings  of students showing off their strings of straight As on their exam slips.

In September, we will see the first batch of pupils who started school with the new Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Rendah (KSSR) syllabus — introduced in 2011 to overcome the shortcomings of the older syllabus due to challenges of the current times — sit for the new format of Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah, with an additional paper on English that has higher weightage on acculturing the elements of Higher-order Thinking Skills.

Unfortunately, teachers are still complaining and listing the amount of non-teaching work that they have to do. But that is another discussion altogether.

And I have not even touched on higher education yet, with its blueprint going into the second year. As Malaysian universities continue to “soar upwards”  (a catchphrase popularised by the Higher Education Ministry) in global education rankings. I look forward to hearing more on globally-relevant research being produced by our universities and how TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) can transform the employability components of future graduates.

If English is a basic requirement for job seekers in this increasingly globalised world and their skills drive their earnings, it is time for university students to start realising that it is also their responsibility  to better themselves in the language. Opportunities are out there — from online education that is attracting many working professionals to improve themselves, to radical expansion of the job market for employers to hire any right person from anywhere. 2016, without doubt, is the year for more collective action of transformation for every one.