Education ministry still trying to find its feet, says educationist

It’s too early and not cost-effective for Malaysian schools to switch to the digital text book, says an educationist. (Bernama pic)

SUBANG JAYA: A private education provider has chided the education ministry for some of the announcements and policies it made in the past year, saying they were not as well thought out as they could have been.

Sri Kuala Lumpur School CEO Hanif Othman Merican referred to the decision to introduce digitalised textbooks for students in Forms One to Three this year as an example.

“Until a computer or whatever it is you’re going to use for your digitised content is as cheap or almost as cheap as a textbook, and as replaceable and durable, you’re going to have a problem,” he told FMT.

He said laptops used in school would often break down or get stolen and digitising all textbooks would be a waste of money.

“Perhaps a better return on investment could be made in providing more expert teachers to handle learning disabilities, particularly among the bottom 40 (B40) income group,” he added.

He believes the ministry should be focusing on the teaching of Malay to those who were not raised to speak it. He said this was the case for at least 40% of the population.

“If you teach Malay by assuming that every child going into Year 1, for example, has been educated at home and at pre-school in Malay, then students who do not come from a Malay-language background will have absolutely no idea what is going on in their Malay class.”

Instead of working to address this issue, he said, those responsible for designing the Malay syllabus would speak of Malay as the “emblem of national unity” and say its teaching should never be compromised, not realising that proficiency among non-Malays was much lower than expected.

He also said Bahasa Malaysia teachers, being primarily Malay, tended to teach the language to non-Malays as if it was not a shared national language but a “cultural phenomenon” belonging to the Malays.

Hanif singled out Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) promise to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) as the “hottest potato” in its election manifesto.

“If PH wants to recognise the UEC without making it into a racial issue, then it should recognise every other system out there as well, be it English-medium or Arabic-medium schools, Cambridge, Taiwanese or Japanese school certificates.”

He suggested “a simple solution” to the conundrum: insist that any school not offering the national curriculum would not have its examination result recognised unless all Malaysian students sat for the SPM Malay paper and obtained a credit.

Sri Kuala Lumpur School CEO Hanif Othman Merican says not everything from Finland can be applied to Malaysia’s education system.

In this way, he said, no one race would be favoured and no-one sidelined, making recognition easier to accept by everyone.

“The PH government obviously recognises that the whole nation has a stake in the UEC issue and not just the Chinese community. This may account for the current paralysis in its decision-making.”

He praised Education Minister Maszlee Malik for ordering the change from white shoes to black for primary and secondary school students. “However,” he said, “it’s not what we do but how we do it that’s most important.

“He could have initially said that students could still wear either black or white shoes and socks for a couple of years before switching to exclusively black while at the same time saying all new students entering Year One must wear black shoes.

“By making the switch without giving parents, particularly in the B40 segment of society, a grace period to make the switch, the honourable minister has left himself open to criticism.”

Hanif also said the ministry could stop looking to Finland for everything.

He recalled going to an education conference some years ago, where a delegation from the Finnish education ministry advised him that not everything done in Finland was appropriate to other countries’ education systems.

In Finland, the literacy rate and rate of proficiency in English is high. Moreover, only those highly qualified are allowed to teach at public schools. For example, a PhD is needed to teach at government pre-schools.

“Things are much different here,” Hanif noted. “For a start, those who barely qualify in SPM are accepted to teachers’ training colleges. The opposite should be the case.

“Teaching as a profession needs first and foremost to regain its prestige to attract stronger candidates to become teachers. That is something we can learn from Finland.”

He said all relevant stakeholders and the ministry must sit down and “first dismantle the basic education system, and then put it back together”.

“We have to set ourselves more revolutionary goals instead of focusing on red herrings and making purely politically motivated choices,” he added.

Nevertheless, he is confident that the ministry and the PH government would do much better in educational reform once they have found their feet.