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National science policy matters in the education blueprint

September 10, 2012

FMT LETTER: From Tunku Munawirah Putra, via e-mail

Muhyiddin Yassin, the Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister said in February this year that a total review of our national education system is expected, to zero in on the weaknesses and find ways to rectify them. He was also addressing the declining interest in Science and Mathematics.

The manner in which Science and Mathematics are taught and learned is also to be evaluated, on top of the best language to be used, since it is a comprehensive review. The science buzz word is now enquiry-based learning.

But to discover at one of the national dialogue sessions that some schools are not equipped with laboratory facilities, yet still get their not-being-able-to-use lab materials and left with not-even-able to pass it on to other schools, is it any wonder there is a declining interest in Science.

The blueprint must be thorough in its analysis of the current situation, the strengths and weaknesses to prescribe the best education to propel us into the 21st century.

At the national education dialogues sessions held in 16 cities recently, there were 11,800 people nationwide who attended the town hall sessions. However in a recent NST report on Sept 2, 2012, it was stated that only 153 proposals and memorandum or 1.3% of total attendees’ feedback was considered, which includes all the duplicates or similar suggestions. This is rather perplexing.  As to whose feedback was considered is also in question.

With reference to the report, we are concerned that “the use of the students’ mother tongue as the medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics in all vernacular and national schools” is still being bulldozed through despite the agreement and the repeated calls at the national education dialogue sessions for the option to maintain the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI).

This somewhat explains why some schools which opt for PPSMI are still facing the problem of inadequate resources, and inability to proceed with PPSMI as per previous years. Evidently, the ministry is forcing the use of mother tongue for the two subjects.

Must the students wait nine to 12 months for the blueprint to be announced in order to ascertain the direction of Science and Mathematics as a medium of instruction? The fate of suffering students caught in the web of waiting and uncertainties are ignored while the ministry deliberates on the issue.

What is needed is a vision in its Science policy, but the outline reported is heavily skewed towards language policy by prioritising mother tongue education. The other related question is, will removing PPSMI while focusing on mother tongue education help national integration in national schools?

Careful steps must also be taken so that it does not impede on the national science policy’s attempt in “Intensifying efforts to increase S&T language competence to facilitate the flow of information.”

State of the art information and collaboration efforts on science and technology are done in our second language, English, the language for science and technology in the 21st century.

It is reckless to let our language policy cloud our judgment over a science policy that is needed to grow the country’s wealth. The growth rate for ideas and innovations is dependent on our science and technology policy.

Even Unesco recently agreed with the choice of English as the medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics as it realised the decision to abolish PPSMI was a political decision. This was information conveyed at one of our roundtable meetings.

It is unlikely that the Education Review Panel and the National Education Dialogue Panel would agree to this plan of somewhat not being truthful with PPSMI. At least we are aware that the review panel unanimously agrees to maintain PPSMI and most members of the national education dialogue panel also agree with PPSMI.

PPSMI must be addressed thoroughly in the blueprint. It too, deserves a comprehensive review, without prejudice or being selective. The public has the right to know that the RM5 billion invested in this policy over a period of 10 years since its inception is not for nothing.

Therefore, a thorough post analysis evaluation of this policy must be made public or the ministry risks being perceived as not being transparent.

We cannot afford to slack and fall behind in global competitiveness anymore. Moreover, what would become of our reputation globally when we speak of achieving the world’s best but in reality always over-promising and falling short?

We must be able to tap the world of knowledge in its best form to get ahead in the 21st century.

The writer is Hon Secretary, PAGE Malaysia


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