Instead of limiting students’ growth with radical policies and reversals, the country’s education system should be preparing future generations for greater heights.
Developing the right human capital to build upon these plans, however, is a different matter altogether.
As Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim points out, there is a gap between these ideals and the country’s current education system.
“My question is, where is the manpower going to come from if we cannot prepare our own students to be scientists, mathematicians and technologists?
“The GTP places particular emphasis on the growth of science and technology, because it’s time for us to start being producers rather than just be consumers.
“As it is we have started to import scientists from India for the field of nanotechnology – if we had planned our education system properly, we don’t have to deal with the outflow of funds that comes with the importing of expertise,” she says.
Noor Azimah is also quick to point out that the mastery of the English language is crucial in this aspect.
“Take for example the problem my husband faces as a cardiologist when it comes to the new batch of trainee doctors.
“They (the trainees) tell him that they don’t even know basic information from the textbook because they are not comfortable with the English terms used!
“As a result, my husband has to be on call all the time, because he can’t rely on these doctors,” she says.
The teachers of tomorrow come from
the class of today... we have to
start somewhere if we are to progress.
— DATIN NOOR AZIMAH ABDUL RAHIM
Those who have been following PAGE’s work will know that the group’s main area of focus is to reinstate the Teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (also known by its Malay acronym PPSMI) policy.
The PPSMI policy was initiated by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and implemented in phases, beginning with Year One, Form One and Lower Six students in 2003.
In 2009, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced the reversal of the policy, set to take effect next year.
Among the reasons cited for the reversal was that teachers as well as rural students were struggling to cope with the language.
“I think the reason the policy ‘failed’ was because the subjects were still taught bilingually,” says Noor Azimah.
“The teachers who had to teach in English under the policy were given special allowances and training by the ministry – if they couldn’t buck up, maybe they should have given the money back.
“If the policy failed after so much money and effort had been pumped into it, then it’s a poor reflection on our teachers.”
She adds that if Malaysia is serious about transforming itself into a high-income nation, radical policy decisions should be made on the basis of facts rather than emotions.
“Plus, teachers are really important in mobilising this transformation, because they have the responsibility of nation-building.
“We used to have capable teachers who could converse well in both Bahasa Malaysia and English, but now we have to resort to importing English teachers from abroad.
“The teachers of tomorrow come from the class of today; it will definitely be hard to keep the PPSMI policy option but we have to start somewhere if we are to progress,” she says.
Option to choose
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the Education Ministry would study if it was possible for the subjects to be taught in English in selected schools without interrupting the teaching and learning process.
Noor Azimah welcomes this allowance, saying that the move makes sense in terms of the law as well as practicality.
“The Education Act 1996 provides that children should be educated according to the wishes of their parents.
“In this respect, we are merely exercising our rights by asking that the PPSMI be available to schools who want it.
“On a practical level, some of our schools are already doing well in both Bahasa Malaysia and English, so why not let them move to the next level by allowing them to teach Mathematics and Science in English?” she says.
Going down this line of thought, is it foreseeable that PAGE will one day request for English medium schools?
“I think that would be a very drastic move,” says Noor Azimah with a smile.
“I’ve always been an advocate of single stream schools, but looking at the trend now, it looks like our education system is becoming increasingly fragmented.
“Aside from vernacular and religious schools, we are seeing an increase in home-schooling activities, English-medium religious schools, and international schools.
“If this is going to be the new direction, then why not allow parents the option of national English-medium schools?”
She adds that this fragmentation would be the real blow to national integration.
“In fact, the ETP aims to introduce more international schools and relax the existing restrictions on them.
“If the education system itself is going to be based on race and class, I’m concerned about how these students are going to interact with each other as adults.
“I feel that English is a neutral language that could be used to bring the different races together.
“At the end of the day, all languages are important, so what’s the harm with equipping our students with an additional language like English if it is going to help them make Malaysia a developed nation?” she says.