TEACHERS have long realised the illiteracy problem in school, says National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng.
In fact, claims Lok, it was their concern that led to the introduction of the Education Ministry's Literacy and Numeracy Screening (Linus) programme in 2010.
“It's not because no one realised there was a problem or did not care. We realised that we had a problem; that's why we have Linus.”
Introduced as part of the Education National Key Results Area (NKRA) of the Government Transformation Programme (GTP), Linus aims to provide a strong foundation in basic literacy and numeracy skills within the first three years of primary school education.
The programme conducts a screening process three times a year to identify students who face difficulties in reading, writing and basic arithmetic.
They are then enrolled in either a Linus-dedicated remedial class or a Special Education programme for those with learning disabilities.
In 2010, the programme aimed to achieve both literacy and numeracy rates of 90% for the then-Primary 1 students.
While the literacy target fell short by 5%, the numeracy target exceeded the original aim with a 91% rate.
In 2011, the Primary 2 students were set a higher target of 95% literacy and numeracy, while the current Primary 1 students must continue to uphold the strong results of 90% set for their cohorts this year.
To date, the students have shown some strong improvements, putting the 100% literacy and numeracy rate among Primary 3 students target right on track.
Linus has also helped in identifying possible students with learning disabilities.
Last year, the screening test revealed that 3,900 Year One pupils failed to grasp the basics of 3Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) after a year.
The ministry is working with the Health Ministry to ascertain the severity of each student's learning difficulty and draw up the best programme for him or her.
National Autism Society of Malaysia chairman Teh Beng Choon believes that screening for disabilities should be done earlier.
“Screening for disabilities when children are in primary school is rather late. Parents and early childhood professionals should be vigilant and taught to detect and respond if their children do not meet developmental milestones. The milder cases may slip through the cracks and enter primary school undetected, and that's where the school system can pick up on their special needs and help them,” he says.
As he highlights, affected individuals and families are anxious that the improvements are not fast enough.
“It takes years to train special education teachers. The system does not have enough of these professionals to serve the disabled community effectively,” he says.
The Government must take an urgent view of the issues surrounding children with disabilities or they will be left behind, he stresses.
“A national plan for early identification of children with disabilities should be immediately implemented. Non-government agencies should also be empowered further to deliver the intervention.
“In the meantime, the Education Ministry should set up special need support offices in every school,” urges Teh.
Educationist and Former Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) commissioner Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam proposes for facilities to get school dropouts back to school.
“If they are extremely weak, there is no need to send them out of the school system. We can do it in the school itself, make it a part of the mainstream system.”
Lok agrees that the ministry needs to consider the plight of a small group of pupils who slipped through the system, especially pupils with special needs or learning disabilities as well as those who are simply not in school.
More importantly, she opines, “We need to look forward. Earlier we didn't have a specific programme to address the problem. Linus has proven to be effective, so now we need to build on it to include other students.”