Sunday, November 17

Resolving the ‘streaming’ dilemma

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Dr Annuar Rapaee at his office.

SWITCHING the current system of streaming to non-streaming in Malaysian secondary schools is no simple matter.

Given the complexities and implications involved, many have said that such a move requires careful study, thorough planning, and detailed engagement with stakeholders.

While in Frankfurt, Germany, on Oct 16, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik was quoted as calling for an end to subject streaming after students got their Form 3 Assessment (PT3) results.

He had said that from next year, fourth formers might be able to combine arts or science subjects according to their choice.

This unprecedented move drew brickbats from the teaching profession. Subsequently, on Oct 20, Maszlee clarified the Education Ministry was in no hurry to abolish the arts and science streams in Form 4.

He assured a decision would only be made “when the time comes”.

with Dr Annuar Rapaee

For the record, science stream students generally take up additional maths, physics, chemistry, biology, and English for science and technology.

thesundaypost spoke to Assistant Minister of Education and Technological Research Dr Annuar Rapaee recently to hear his views on the issue.

He had a dialogue with undergraduates in conjunction with ‘Lan Berambeh Anak Sarawak 2019’ in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 19.

 

Q: Can you share the undergraduates’ views on the proposal to abolish the streaming system?

A: While in Frankfurt, the Education Minister had announced there would be no more streaming for Form 4 students from next year. He admitted his office had said this could not be done in time but he would somehow push for implementation.

I had a dialogue with about 150 students from both public and private institutions of higher learning in conjunction with ‘Lan Berambeh Anak Sarawak 2019’ at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre, Kuala Lumpur on Oct 19. I asked them what they thought of switching to non-streaming as suggested by the Education Minister.

Most of them opined Malaysia is not ready to implement non-streaming because of the nation’s current need – which is moving towards a technology-driven economy.

I shared my views with them on why we should not hastily implement the non-streaming system.

 

Q: Being a former science stream student, what is your stand on the matter?

A: Dr Maszlee was reported by the media on Oct 20 as having made another statement, claiming there was no hurry to implement the non-streaming system for Form 4 and 5 students.

I take this as another U-turn or some form of a retraction or perhaps, even an afterthought on the implication of what he had said in Frankfurt. Although I agree with what he said – that this is not meant to be a policy yet – at this level, whatever we want to say, especially on education, we must first do very thorough research and study, and engage with a lot of people before making such a big statement on policy change.

That’s why in one of the news portals, I said changing streaming to non-streaming is not like changing white shoes to black shoes – which only affects your feet.

But changing streaming to non-streaming will change human capital development and the way people think and seek employment in future. So, it’s not as simple as changing the colours of shoes.

The move requires a lot of engagement and study. Many of the implications have to duly considered.

Nonetheless, I’m very grateful to him for making that ‘reverse’ statement. I think he must have realised the implications of that (earlier) statement. I’m glad he agrees there is no hurry.

Q: Does the non-streaming system augur well for Malaysia in becoming an industrialised nation?

A: In Sarawak, the enrolment of students in Form 4 science stream for 2014 was only 31.6 per cent and in 2017, it dropped to 19.7 per cent, according to the state Education Department’s statistics for 2014 to 2018.

I’m not saying arts stream students cannot take up high technology subjects, but they must have a basic foundation in science to do high tech studies.

Yet here, we’re talking about doing away with the streaming system. Without streaming, I wonder would there be more students interested in doing science compared to arts. As it is, we’re actually ‘forcing’ them (students eligible to do science) but still, we notice a downward trend. So if non-streaming is implemented, do you think more students will be encouraged to choose science subjects, knowing the perception among most students is that science subjects are more difficult to pass?

I’m making a presumption here – that if we open up by adopting the non-streaming system, there will be fewer and fewer students willing to do science subjects. This is the adverse implication of the non-streaming system. So should we implement it? Students will want to do things which are easier for them, coupled with some parents preferring their children not to do science.

Additionally, schools may encourage students who are not that good to do arts because the schools don’t want their pass rates to drop. With the sum of these factors, I can assume there will be fewer and fewer students taking up science subjects.

 

Q: What is the implication of a lower number of students taking up science subjects?

A: This will be very bad for the country because as we know in Malaysia, only 3 per cent of the workforce is in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field whereas in highly industrialised countries such as Germany, the US, Japan and Singapore, some 30 per cent of their workforce is under STEM.

Hence, it’s apparent the non-streaming approach does not augur well for the country in terms of scientific and technological development and advancement.

Also, according to the 2015 Report of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM), the country needs at least 270,000 science students sitting for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination annually.

Now only 90,000 science students are sitting for SPM – much lower than the annual requirement of 270,000. We have a deficit of 300 per cent, which may hamper efforts to make Malaysia a developed nation.

At one point, ASM even suggested making it mandatory for students, after their PT3, to opt for the science stream. As you can see, even with the strong emphasis, only 90,000 students enrol in the science stream after PT3 when, in fact, we need some 270,000 science students annually.

In this regard, I’m rather sceptical of the numbers if we were to do away with the streaming system, especially when students, some parents and teachers believe non-science subjects are easier to pass.

 

Q: Do we have the necessary infrastructure and manpower to cope with the implementation of the non-streaming system?

A: Let me put it this way. Are we going to close down Sekolah Menengah Sains (SMS) in so many of the states and Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM), which are meant to improve the number of Bumiputera science students?

Are these educational facilities to be closed down or opened up for non-science students? And if it’s the latter, do we have enough teachers to teach arts subjects?

Do we have enough time since it’s just two months to the new schooling year? That’s why I said Dr Maszlee had made a U-turn on implementing the non-streaming system by next year. There are pros and cons to this approach.

While it’s true there is no streaming in the US, we must first look at our country’s demographics. For us, trying to become a developed nation and embarking on high technology, I think we must focus more on producing more science stream students if ASM’s 2015 statistics are anything to go by. Once, we have the numbers, then we can open up the streaming system.

We can teach humanities to not only arts stream but also science stream students. But there is one question we have to look into. Can schools provide enough classes?

For example, in School A, all the students decide to do science subjects. Now, do we have enough labs and science teachers for them? In School B, let’s say all students are keen to do arts but do we have enough teachers and classrooms for them?

 

Q: What should be the way forward?

A: To me, this (proposed implementation of non-streaming) is a big move. So it’s important to ensure any move we make will not end up in failure. We certainly don’t want school children to be made guinea pigs. It seems the education policy changes every time a new minister comes in.

That’s why I said in my previous statement whatever good and beneficial done by the previous administration, please maintain it. Don’t change for the sake of changing.

As the adage goes – why reinvent the wheel? I think engagement should be made with not only the policy-makers but also the stakeholders – parents, teachers, students, and universities.

In closing, Dr Annuar opined Malaysia may face a serious undersupply of science stream students if non-streaming were hastily implemented.

He is concerned this would translate into a dearth of scientists in the country, saying the way forward is to increase the number of scientists and engineers from STEM.

In this regard, he is glad Dr Maszlee has made a U-turn.