Monday, December 08, 2008

Malaysian Education: Where are we headed to?

Lately, there has been much to comment on the social contract in Malaysia that exists between the different races in Malaysia. The social contract has become a major issue of content, contest as well as discontentment among politicians and leaders of Malaysia. However, there is one social contract that has been largely ignored by the Malaysian leadership as well as the population.

The education curriculum in our schools is, in fact, a social contract between the population and the government (or those in power) on how our future generation is educated. Therefore, we, the people, have the right to question and take to task the development and progress of our education system in the country. So, the questions boil down to “what we want?” and “what we have?”

In the 50 years since we obtained independence, we are still not able to say that our education system has evolved accordingly with the development and progress of the world. We have yet to realize a comprehensive curriculum that is aligned to the needs of the society as well as the development of the country and the world.

In essence, I expect the curriculum to provide for the children the mastery of facts, principles and concepts of a discipline, emphasize the development of critical and creative thinking as well as providing the context for developing the character of the students. According to Al-Farabi, the whole activity of education is the acquisition of values, knowledge and practical skills leading to perfection and the attainment of happiness. Therefore, I come to realize that curriculum on our schools is a reflection of our values, choices and perspectives in differing contexts.

The only significant piece of news to crawl out of Barisan Nasional’s bottomless pit of foolishness on education is the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English. The fickleness on the issue itself is a disgrace to policy-making as well as leadership consistency.

The teaching of Mathematics and Science in Malay, English, Mandarin or Tamil is not very important or significant. It has to be understood that both these subjects are fact, principle and concept based subjects. Therefore, it is imperative that the emphasis is put on the delivery and understanding of the concepts. By coupling the subject with English, importance is put on the proficiency in the language and this creates a distorted perception that knowing and understanding the language is much more important than learning the subject itself.

Most primary school students are not well versed in the English language and this language barrier inhibits the mastery of subjects’ core principles and concepts. This lack of understanding further translates into the reduction of critical and analytical thinking of the children.

Furthermore, the inability to speak up and voice their opinions in a language that is unfamiliar simply stunts the student’s emotional growth. The students will tend to become shy and lack the confidence to speak in public.

The most disturbing component of this fiasco is the manner with which this policy was implemented. Half thought out, at best. The proper context and environment must be provided before such a drastic policy is implemented. The current teachers need to be fluent in the language and the current teaching students must be trained to not only speak and converse in English fluently, but also trained to communicate the facts, principles, and concepts of Mathematics and Science effectively.

The graduating teachers must also be trained to handle dual language usage in the classroom to effectively allow the transfer of information. This should include training on the process of motivating the children to speak confidently in the language and yet feel at ease. Apart from that, the needs for psychological training for the teachers become imperative to counter the possible resistance and lack of interest from the students due to the language.

The inability of the present government to take heed to these requirements doomed the program from its infancy. As the old cliché goes, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

So, where do we go from here? The recent call by Mukhriz Mahathir to abolish the vernacular schools was met with harsh criticisms and comments from all quarters including the government and opposition. I agree with Mukhriz Mahathir, to a certain extent. Mukhriz wants to abolish the vernacular schools, full stop. I am proposing we establish a single schooling system that combines the best of both worlds.

Schools do more than simply transmit knowledge from one generation to another. Students learn things that are not actually taught in the formal curriculum. It is an entire range of educational experiences promoted by schools and teachers through practices that are not necessarily written down. This unplanned, informal curriculum deals with socio-psychological interaction between students, teachers, administrators, especially in relation to their feelings, attitudes and behaviours.

Utilizing the presence of this informal curriculum, I am proposing the establishment of a school system that teaches 11 years of Bahasa Melayu, English, Mandarin and Tamil to all students, irrespective of race, religion or nationality. The teaching of all the languages to all the races would create an environment of integration in the school since all races are required to attend these national schools.

It is hoped that through this “forced integration”, a new generation will arise with a unique culture. This culture might not be the same malay, Indian or Chinese culture that we know of today. Instead, we would expect a truly “Bangsa Malaysia” culture. Through this, we hope that the children will create their own destiny, future and culture. The children will not only learn, but redefine the “rules of the game” in the canteen, in the playground, and specific relationships between races.

To achieve this, we need to let go of our own cultural attitudes toward education (however minute it might be). We have to come to terms that a new culture is needed and our next generation will determine what form and function this new culture will have. The current situation of vernacular schools will continue to propagate racial polarization and thus never, allowing true integration.

To achieve this, the government will need to plan effectively the growth of students and the number of language teachers. The university course will need to adapt to include the teaching of Malay, English, Mandarin and Tamil as a second language and as a primary language. The constant supply of language teachers must also be projected and planned. A detailed compensation plan needs to in effect to attract more graduates to become language teachers. The writer would love to see a Malay teacher teaching Tamil.

The new school system, apart from teaching all the three major languages, should also be a single session school. The school system is expected to start early in the morning and end in the evening. With this single session school system, we expect all children between ages 7 to 17 to be in school between the hours of 7am and 5pm. This will allow the government to monitor the movement and truancy of school children. Most importantly, the government will be able to identify the students that are not able to attend school for various reasons. For parents, the single session school will ensure that the children’s time is spent fruitfully at school. This is a mutually beneficial agreement for the government and the people.

Implementation of single session schools will need to be planned meticulously. The contextual environment such as class rooms, amenities and manpower need to be addressed. A significant amount of the country’s budget needs to be allocated to increase the size of existing schools so that they could accommodate all the students in one session. Amenities such as locker rooms, gymnasiums, and shower rooms also need to be considered and factored into the equation.

Apart from providing subjects of facts and concepts such as Mathematics and Science, subjects that encourage creativity and critical thinking such as music, art and outdoor studies should also be included. Literature, Logic (Mantiq), Geography and History needs to be taught at younger age. Classrooms should also fully utilize the information technology available. Information Technology should also be considered as a subject.

Apart from that, the government needs to develop curriculum to suit this new environment. The development of the curriculum does not only include the development of subjects and processes but also the development of character and behavior. Al-Farabi suggests in Talkhis, that virtue is a state of mind in which the human being carries out good and kind deeds such as wisdom, common sense, inventiveness, cleverness, temperance, courage, generosity and justice. Therefore, the curriculum must include such qualities to be effective. Al-Farabi adds that “virtue can only be attained within society, for it is society that nurtures the individual and prepares him/her to be free!”

To encourage critical thinking, subjects such as Logic (Mantiq), Philosophy as well as political science must be included in the curriculum. As Confucius aptly put it, “Study without thought, is labor lost; thought without study is dangerous.” Subjects like these will encourage the young mind to think critically and question at a very young age. This will, in turn, prepare the young students to face the uncertain future.

The government will need to plan and forecast the number of teachers it needs to teach the subjects. It needs to decide on the curriculum to provide and how to provide it effectively. Apart from that, the development and improvement of schools should also tie in and be consistent with the supply of teaching manpower.

The political will and people’s will must converge today to ensure that our current education system is revamped to make certain that our future generations are nurtured and prepared for their destiny. Our complacency to uphold this social contract will not harm or affect us, but it will destroy our future generation’s ability to survive. This is my humble two cents.

Mohd Prasad Hanif
Secretary, PAS Kawasan Klang

*I came across this on Malaysian Today some time last week. I will write a detailed response later, but I am reposting it here because I don't want it to be lost, lest someone decides to curtail MT again...