Malaysia’s rich heritage of cultures and linguistic diversity must enrich our identity as Malaysians. It plays an essential role with the rise of Asia and how Malaysia is situated geographically between China and India, the new economic power houses of the world.
The recent announcement of the introduction of Jawi calligraphy in the Year Four Bahasa Malaysia syllabus has received both positive and negative responses from the various communities. In reflecting on this theme based on earlier studies undertaken on vernacular schools, the education ministry must invest more resources in improvements in the teaching and learning of BM in vernacular primary schools.
Firstly, the ministry must find effective ways to ensure that the BM taught at all schools is standardised. Currently, there are two sets of syllabi: one for vernacular schools and another which is at a higher standard of BM for mainstream primary schools. This also means there is not a standard UPSR test for Year Six students.
After 62 years, there should be one standard BM subject so as to ensure that no child is disadvantaged in the secondary school system. The priority is, what needs to take place for this improvement? The education ministry in the New Malaysia must make this its first priority.
Secondly, I do not have accurate data on the number of students who pass and fail BM, and those who are able to secure a credit in BM at the UPSR level in vernacular schools. The priority must be on improving the passing rate and increasing the number of students who secure a credit for BM in the Year Six exams. Students’ competency must be increased so that they can manage in the secondary school system which is fully in the Malay medium.
In Tamil vernacular schools, over 30%-40% fail the BM paper although they do well in subjects like Maths and Science. These numbers must drop to ensure that every child is competent enough to handle BM at the secondary school level. It is the responsibility of the ministry to ensure that the quality of teaching and learning BM improves.
Thirdly, in vernacular schools there is the issue of teaching hours. The difficulty is finding the extra hours. It is recommended that students do the extra hours on selected days but funds are needed to pay language teachers for these extra hours. Some students also have difficulties with their transportation arrangements and require additional funds for meals. We must ensure that no child is left behind in language proficiency.
Fourthly, there is an urgent need to improve the quality of teaching and learning BM, especially for teachers at vernacular schools. Community researchers have advocated the approach of teaching of BM as a second language, and the introduction of BM along with vernacular languages or as a dual teaching approach. Therefore, better language teachers to work with students over the six years of primary school are essential to ensure a smooth graduation into the Malay-medium secondary school system.
Fifthly, the secondary remove class system. The real test is to ensure that no student needs this class. So this is a priority at the primary school level.
There have been urgent calls for the improvement of BM in vernacular schools. The ministry must hold dialogues with parents, teachers and community leaders to identify the most essential priorities.
The introduction of Jawi calligraphy or its appreciation is not the most pressing need in vernacular schools. The priority must be to improve the current system for both the teaching and learning of BM, and to increase not just the competency but also the love of the language in students, with the full support of parents, teachers and the community.
Denison Jayasooria is the principal research fellow at UKM’s Institute of Ethnic Studies.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.