Stakeholders had their say yet again on the Education Blueprint which was the focus in The Star’s on-going campaign of highlighting the importance of English language proficiency.
WITH the Malaysia Education Blueprint yet to be finalised in Cabinet, many are still pushing for their voices to be heard.
This was reflected during the Q&A (question-and-answer) session duringThe Star’s two-hour public forum titled “Does the Blueprint Mean Business?” held last week.
The mood of the audience of at Menara Star, Petaling Jaya was perfectly encapsulated by questions posed by possibly the youngest and oldest participants in the room.
“I am 80-years-old, and I am ketinggalan zaman (out of touch),” said columnist M Noor Azam to the crowded room.
“When I was a teacher in Alor Setar, Kedah in 1952, we had about 12 or 13 classes with just two English language teachers.
“Now 60 years later, we’re still talking about a shortage of English teachers and bringing in foreign teachers on short stints – what has happened?
“We’re still talking about unity, so what has happened?” he asked.
Meanwhile, 16-year-old Sharifah Nurul Aiman Syed Omar stunned the audience with her bold questions.
Ask the students
“Were children’s opinions taken into account in the making of the blueprint?” asked the MRSM Pengkalan Hulu Perak student.
“I think that they (the ministry) should not simply rely on teachers’ words and assume that they know the best for the students,” she said.
Equally on the ball were the panelists, particularly the forum’s moderator and former Education deputy director-general Datuk Noor Rezan Bapoo Hashim who was quick to reply with insightful soundbites.
Commenting on the shortage of English language teachers for instance, Noor Rezan pointed out that real problem had always been placing teachers.
“I’ve always fought for the redeployment of teachers to areas that need them the most.
“Why are we sending Mat Sallehs to schools (outside big cities)? It’s because locals don’t want to go,” she quipped.
The forum was held as part of the “English for More Opportunities” initiative, The Star’s on-going campaign on highlighting the importance of language proficiency in helping people get ahead in life.
Representing different education stakeholders, the four forum speakers were Dr Habibah Rahim of the Education Ministry’s Project Management Office; Taylor’s University deputy vice-chancellor Pradeep Nair; Bukit Jalil Sports School principal Datuk Marina Chin; and SMK Convent Bukit Nanas parent-teacher association chairman Amiruddin Sahudi.
A key officer involved in developing the blueprint, Dr Habibah said that this was the first time the ministry had consulted lay people and international experts, to come up with a long-term plan.
She added that the ministry will set up “charters of the initiatives”, where divisions will be tasked to either lead or support specific programmes.
“This will break barriers and allow people to work horizontally in the ministry,” she said.
Right off the bat, the audience was concerned about whether the blueprint was politically motivated and if the Government was truly committed to see it through.
“The process of developing the blueprint was not politically-driven,” replied Dr Habibah.
“But we do need the political will to drive it (the implementation).
“Even after the launch, we had open days for the rakyat to give us more feedback ... so of course once the final blueprint is done, the ministry is definitely going to do this.”
As a Super Principal (recognition given to principals who have brought about exemplary changes in their schools), Chin spoke on the importance of appointing competent leaders in schools.
“There is no good school with a weak principal ... if we don’t have the correct people to implement the purpose of the programme (the blueprint), it is not going to work.
“I do think the ministry is moving away from appointing principals based on seniority, and becoming “braver” in selecting younger and capable people.
“You (educators) need to be passionate enough to be able to make decisions with the child in mind,” she said.
Tackling the teacher quality issue from a higher education standpoint, Pradeep stressed the need for a re-examination of how teachers are trained.
Explaining that tertiary education has shifted its focus to producing graduates for the job market, he pointed out the importance of providing a liberal arts approach to teacher education.
“Our universities are flushed with very highly specialised degrees ... and I fear the Bachelor of Education has fallen prey to (this), with too much emphasis on teaching.
“Teaching is not manufacturing; it’s about values and beliefs,” he added.
As expected, the poor standard of English in schools was a common lament expressed by parents.
Parent Victor Moy said the country will not progress if English is not given its due importance.
“English should be given more focus in the schooling system so that students are exposed to a more global platform.
“Both Bahasa Malaysia and English must be given equal importance,” he said after the forum.
Meanwhile, Pradeep was of the view that the main cause of low English proficiency is poor teaching.
“In half our classrooms, teaching and learning is not up to mark – but the problem is being sold by various people as a language issue, not bad classroom practice.
“Unless we de-politicise the debate, we won’t be able to move forward,” he added.
One issue that struck a chord with the audience were Pradeep’s statistics of school enrolment based on race.
According to him, 96% of Chinese students and 56% of Indian students are enrolled in Chinese and Tamil schools while 90% of most national school students are Malays.
Additionally, the number of parents sending their children to private schools is increasing at a staggering rate.
“I think providing choices for schooling options, while it may have a lot of political justifications to it, may eventually lead this country to an ethnically homogeneous learning environment - and perhaps even in the near future a less egalitarian society.
“I’m not sure if in the near future, our learning spaces for our young boys and girls can be neutral or representative for all,” he said.
Dr Habibah assured the audience that the Government was committed to maintaining the diversity of schools available.
“This is a legacy we have inherited, and it was also the choice of our parents and society.
“How do we inculcate togetherness among children? It is through activities like the Rancangan Integrasi Murid Untuk Perpaduan (Rimup)or Student Integration Plan for Unity.
“It’s not just race, we also need to integrate students across socio-economic lines,” she said, adding that students of different races ultimately come together in secondary school.
Parent Christina Joseph felt that students of different faiths should be brought together as well.
“Muslim and non-Muslim students are separated for Islamic Studies and Moral Studies lessons.
“I think this in itself causes a divide amongst the students as it creates a label among the two groups.
“Students should be brought together and be taught Civics in primary schools as it promotes unity,” she said when interviewed after the forum.
However, former teacher Yee Yoke Chai said that a varied school system would not necessarily lead to a racial divide.
“I don’t think students from all the schooling streams have any problems being patriotic or loving Malaysia.
“The root cause of tension among the races is politics, not schools,” he said after the forum.
As the the audience and panelists slowly trickled out and tried to reconcile seemingly opposite views, it would be safe to say that most participants would agree there is only one real focus of any reform – the students.
Or as Sharifah Nurul Aiman said: “We are the real victims. Enough of excuses, it is time for change.”
English is more than just the universal language of diplomacy, business, science and technology. It opens the door to more job opportunities, good universities, career advancements and increased earning power. English for More Opportunities (EFMO) is part of The Star’s on-going efforts to highlight the importance of the language in helping people get ahead in life. PRIYA KULASAGARAN and SHAREKA LOGENDRAN firstname.lastname@example.org To share your views and inspiring stories or give us feedback, please e-mail email@example.com.. The STAR Online Home Education Sunday December 2, 2012