Monday, November 29

Still searching for the right one?

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Give them all a chance at education.

I’M referring to the seemingly endless quest for a system of education which is suitable for our country. After half a century of merdeka, it seems that we haven’t settled for the best yet!

On Oct 19 last year, Bernama reported that the newly-minted Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik was willing to try out the system in Finland, hoping that the cooperation between the two countries in this matter would “help us to learn from the Finnish experiences and good practices in improving the standard of the education in Malaysia”.

Then on the 15th of this month, Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian, Minister of Local Government and Housing, urged China to consider setting up university campuses in Sarawak. The Borneo Post quoted him as saying, “With both of us together, we can have better development of education.”

First the Finnish, then the Chinese – who else?

What’s gone wrong with our own National Education Blueprint (2013-2025)?

I remember attending a talk organised by a local think tank on that blueprint, some six years go. There was to be a revamp, in phases or shifts (anjakan) of the national education policy that had been used for the past half a century. The period beginning 2013 until 2016 was the time to ‘strengthen the foundations of the system’, whatever that means. Any necessary changes or injection of new ideas would be introduced before 2025, by which time the Malaysian education would be able to produce students with standards comparable to, if not better than, the standards achieved by their counterparts in the 34 OECD countries.

This timeframe leaves us barely enough time to produce the Malaysian Standard. The ordinary folk do not know if the anjakan have been successful, or what caused the problems, if any, for not revealing to the public what is going on.

With the change of federal government in May last year came this toying with the Finnish idea. And before you can say, ‘Jack Robinson’, another proposal was being floated here in Sarawak. This idea came from the president of a political party, a partner in a ruling coalition, in Sarawak, not the state minister of education as one would have expected.

Frankly, I am confused.

Why don’t we wait for the various anjakan of the national blueprint to run their course before we embark on a new system?

Cobbold Commission recommendations

Get back to the start. The Cobbold Commission said, “We are agreed that education should be a Federal matter. This is particularly important in view of the progress in education which the Borneo territories expect with their entry into Malaysia. We think therefore that special attention must be given to the question of Federal scholarship and other educational training schemes both at home and abroad for the benefit of the people of the territories. Care should also be taken to ensure that the dialects of the indigenous people are preserved and that measures are introduced to enable the teaching of these dialects. At the same time, we are anxious that due heed must be paid to the wishes of the people of territories regarding the policies to be adopted …” It’s all there!

However, before education ministers and their advisors crack their heads to find a more suitable system, start offering open tenders for the repairs of those schools in Sarawak which are about to collapse, now that at least RM100 million is available for the purpose.

And training more teachers for Sarawak. Some 210 university graduates who had been working as temporary teachers in Sarawak were retrenched a couple of years ago. Many of them found it difficult to go back to teaching unless they could pass a psychometric test, whatever that is. None of the Mission school teachers in Sarawak underwent any psychometric test (except for pregnancy). Yet so many good students have been produced over the years, before and after Malaysia.

Train those who wish to continue teaching. We have wasted a good source of manpower by being fussy on testing the ‘teaching skills’ of those university graduates who wanted to be teachers – at the same time, teacher-training colleges are being closed down.

Whatever system we eventually adopt as being the most suitable for our country, please spare a thought for the preschool children of the longhouses and remote villages in Sarawak. Otherwise, we will see a glaring difference in formal educational standards between the rural children and their urban contemporaries. In the towns and cities such as Kuching and Sibu, one can see rainbow-coloured buildings – kindergartens and preschools for boys and girls. Most are privately funded and managed. In addition, all private schools are only found in the cities. They prepare students for internationally accepted ‘A’ level standard for students who intend to study overseas.

In this context, what chance do the kids from the longhouses and the villages have compared to the opportunity available to the students in the cities? Talk about digital education! What sort of nation are we building by allowing an education system that discriminates against the rural children to continue? We might as well fall back on Mission Schools.

The Christian missions of various denominations have contributed tremendously in terms of education and literacy in Sarawak. The only thing they lack is the money. There was nothing wrong with the old system. No, we had to have a new system because we were no longer a colony of any Western country! Now we are thinking of adopting the Finish model, which is not at all Eastern. I don’t know about China’s system. All that I remember about China is the old Malay saying ‘Menuntut ilmu sehinggalah ke Negeri China’. It means get the best education anywhere, not necessarily in China or Finland (an OECD country).

We must have our own national education system incorporating the best elements of the Razak Report (including those of the 1960 Review Committee), the relevant recommendations of the Cobbold Commission Report, as well as the National Education Blueprint. Plus, any suitable ideas from the OECD countries, especially those in the Commonwealth – Australia, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand, to name a few.

Meanwhile, make education available to every child in the longhouses, short houses or tall houses, as early in life as possible. That’s my idea, for what it is worth.

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