Tuesday, September 26

Wither our education system?


ABOUT six years ago, I was invited by a Kuching-based NGO, a think-tank of sorts, to listen to a talk on the Malaysian Education Blueprint (2013 to 2025). By the time we heard of it, the Blueprint was in its final stages of preparation; this was a bit too late for new ideas, let alone the politically incorrect ones that I ventured to mention.

Nevertheless, the organisers of the talk kindly provided space and opportunity for some representatives of the local non-governmental organisations in Kuching to find out more about the Blueprint. Its designers would also like to get some feedback from the ordinary locals, official view of the Sarawak government having presumably been obtained much earlier. I did not know anything about this.

A 12-year roadmap

We were told in general terms that a 12-year-old roadmap was necessary in order to revamp the whole system of education in Malaysia. It sounded good; we did suspect that the devil would be in the details! And details were not forthcoming.

The first phase of the Anjakan (shifts/waves) would begin from 2013 to 2016. During this period, the foundations of the existing education system would be greatly strengthened.

Then beginning from 2016, some structural changes to the system would be made and new ideas tried out. By 2025, the Malaysian education system would be able to produce students with standards comparable to, if not better, than the standards achieved by their counterparts in the OECD countries.


Apparently, studies of the Malaysian system have found out that centralisation of power in Kuala Lumpur was one of the main obstacles in the way of smooth policy implementation in Sarawak.

The problem has been that we have not fully implemented the colonial Education Policy of Malaya – as reviewed in the Razak Report 1956 – though it was adopted almost without question at the time when the Malaysia Project was being mooted.

The chairman of the Cobbold Commission Report 1962 wrote, “Education should be on the Federal list, but integration of Federal and State practice should take place gradually after careful study by a Working Committee. The British members, with whom I agree, stress the importance of maintaining existing policies regarding the use of English as the medium of instruction.”

Nobody can tell me what the Working Committee recommended. I understand that ‘English Language as the medium of instruction’ was the stumbling block.

In 1971, the flip-flop began. A political lobby from the peninsula howled loudly for a ‘One language, One Nation, One Religion’ policy. It was impossible to accommodate what the Cobbold Commission had recommended, nor was the co-existence of both languages in the system acceptable.

Then in 1989, teachers were told to teach Maths and Science in English. Few teachers could master the language, so how would the pupils understand it? Confused teachers can confuse students and their parents.

Every new minister of education has tried to put this discrepancy right for the past 40 years; but every new minister has his own store of ideas for implementation, a euphemism for ‘reorganisation’, of the system. The students are left dangling in a void.


Politicisation of schools was yet another rattling cog in the wheel. At the Umno General Assembly in December 2013, the then minister of youth and sports was talking about wooing youth as potential supporters of his party because “Young people voting for the first time would likely vote for the opposition.”

Wonder why?

As a result, quality education in Malaysia was compromised, Sarawak students suffering from the additional handicap of dilapidated school buildings without proper facilities.

Reading, Maths and Science

The information I got from some source reveals that many Malaysian students score below the reading literacy scale compared to students of the same school age in OECD countries. In other words, our students are on par with Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Montenegro, Thailand, and Trinidad and Tobago. Wow, illustrious company to be in.

In Maths and scientific literacy, our students generally are better than those in Brazil, the lowest-scoring country. Wow again!

Teacher training

Then there’s the problem of teacher training. A couple of years ago, teacher training colleges in Sarawak were to be closed down despite the shortage of teachers.

And temporary teachers, graduates from a certain university, had to undergo tests before they could become permanent teachers. This is at a time when we are short of teaching staff.

Teachers are not teaching

I am told by some teachers that many of them are not teaching but are doing clerical or administrative work. They just keep quiet while waiting for a favourable reply to a request for transfer to another school. There they hope to find happiness and job satisfaction in pursuing their chosen vocation.

With the best intention in the world, when teachers are not happy, how does one expect them to perform well?

And now some officials talk about doing away with exams, relying on school-based assessment only. Are these ideas part and parcel of the Blueprint? I don’t remember.

To be continued.

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