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Education review blueprint: Panacea or Placebo?

September 10, 2012

FMT LETTER: From Sandra Rajoo, via e-mail

People seem to be all excited recently with the education review blueprint which is due to be made public on Sept 11. Some even prematurely hailed it as the best thing since sliced bread, and this is before they even know the actual content. Let us hold the applause until after we read the whole document and see where it is taking us.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so to speak.  Will this ‘mother-of-all-solutions’ blueprint stand up to scrutiny? Is it going to be a solid, excellent-for-education master plan or will it be a glitzy, complex and tricky-to-implement blueprint? A plan is only as good as its implementation, and judging by the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) track record, execution has never been its strong point.

This effort at revamping the education system, which is long overdue, has to be commended though. Nevertheless I am not holding my breath. Decades of failed endeavours by the MoE tend to make people cynical, and I am wary of those who throw out feel-good statements to pacify a sceptical public. Clearly, there is an inability to look at education holistically and plan accordingly. Piecemeal and ad hoc initiatives which have been the norm will not bring desired results.

Recall the time the ministry tried to design a curriculum aimed at producing creative and critical thinking (CCT) learners. Learning was going to be fun and enjoyable apparently. Unfortunately, it didn’t look very good on paper, and fared even worse in the classroom. Obviously, the desired outcomes did not materialise.

Majority of teachers had no idea what CCT entails, and heads of schools were not too eager to encourage critical thinking, lest students start asking questions and forming opinions. So that became a failed venture. What became evident and has remained entrenched were the obsession with grades, dropping of literacy levels, robotic methods of learning, emphasis on rote-learning, ‘invisible’ teachers, lack of concern for students’ welfare, demotivated students and indifferent education officials.

The teaching and learning of Maths and Science in English (PPSMI) is another issue that makes our hackles rise. From its inception about 10 years ago until today it has been fraught with difficulty and mired in controversy. The education ministry appears helpless and at a loss, what with the flip-flopping and the inability to train competent teachers.

The vagueness of the ‘soft-landing’ which promises the continuation of PPSMI for certain groups of students and the current situation where many teachers have reverted to teaching in BM reflect poorly on the ministry. There has so far been no effort made at monitoring the situation on the ground. Is it any wonder that droves of parents are moving their children to private or international schools, or resorting to home schooling?

Another point of contention was when the Prime Minister announced that Literature in English will be incorporated into the curriculum. This was picked up by the media and was heralded as the panacea for all our English language woes. But Literature has been in the curriculum for a decade or so already. This subject is not something new. It is amazing that the people pertinent in education circles are unaware of this fact.

English woes aside, we need to also ensure that our children receive proper instruction in Bahasa Malaysia. The disorganised way in which BM is being taught in schools does not augur well for the present and coming generations. When English was the medium of instruction, it created many proficient and competent users of the language which cut across all ethnic groups. The same cannot be said about BM. How many are really competent in the language? This problem has been neglected for too long. Let’s see what the new education blueprint has in store for us.

Going by the 153 proposals adopted by the Review Panel, our education system does appear to be in a bit of a shambles, doesn’t it? Concerned groups have been voicing their views and giving suggestions over the years, but were largely ignored. Was the ministry waiting all this while for a ‘saviour’ to come save the day? Is this blueprint going to be the saviour?

The implementation of the blueprint will stretch over 13 years which is a long time. Is the ministry committed to carry the momentum over this long period? The revealing of the blueprint is expected to generate debate amongst stakeholders.  We hope any critique given by the public is looked upon as feedback to how things can be improved. Any comment deemed unfavourable to the ministry should not be frowned upon and disregarded.

All the same, I believe that responsible and dedicated educators will have their own personal education blueprint which they use to plan, guide, execute and monitor their performance. If people involved in education, from the director-general to the school principal to the classroom teacher, have been doing this all along, the nationwide review exercise would not have been necessary.

Good teachers don’t wait for directives from the top before giving their best to students. Ultimately it is not the blueprint per se that can save our education system, it is whether officials and educators can save it through a good understanding of their roles and a commitment to the responsibilities they hold.

We want to reach a stage in our education where we can say with pride that our children are bright and capable because of the education system, not despite it.


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