Blueprint focus should be on process and not on decision itself.
“The purpose of education in Malaysia is to enable Malaysian society to have a command of the knowledge, skills and values necessary in a world that is highly competitive and globalised, arising from the impact of rapid development in science, technology and information.” — Preamble to the Education Act (1996)
When the policy of teaching and learning science and mathematics in English (PPSMI) was abolished in July 2009, the Deputy Prime Minister provided three major justifications: the rural-urban gap was widening; the deplorable results of TIMSS 2007 (Trends International Mathematics and Science Survey) was caused by the introduction of PPSMI and one cannot learn English through science and mathematics.
The Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (MEB) states that the achievement gap between rural and urban schools has been narrowing over time. Six years ago, the gap, in favour of urban schools, was under four percentage points at UPSR and eight percentage points at SPM. Both gaps have since reduced by five and two percentage points respectively. While early intervention is crucial, suppressing the urban schools is not the answer to closing the gap; we should instead be uplifting the rural schools.
The MEB goes on to say that Bahasa Malaysia and English language questions were both provided as options in the TIMSS assessments for Malaysia, therefore results should not have been affected by the language of testing used. Again, the MEB disputes the minister’s justification.
Lastly, PPSMI was introduced to learn scientific knowledge through its lingua franca which is English and not the other way around, which many have been led to believe.
The minister also claimed that the decision to abolish the policy was not political. Months earlier, the opposition parties (PAS-dominated) took to the streets mistakenly thinking that it contravened Article 152 of the Federal Constitution. Days later, the by-elections of Manek Urai took place; weeks later, Permatang Pasir. Both PAS strongholds retained their seats.
Is the abolition truly justifiable?
We are not convinced that the National Education Action Council and the National Education Review Dialogue Panel under the quiet yet strong and dignified leadership of Tan Sri Wan Zahid Wan Noordin and the Education Review Panel headed by visionary extraordinaire Tan Sri Dzulkifly Abdul Razak believe so. Relegating it to a mere paragraph of its shortcomings in Appendix 3 is an insult to policy-makers and stakeholders alike.
A review of the education system, in my mind, and in the minds of many, would have been to re-assess and re-consider all aspects of the education system regardless. Every major education policy, past, present and future, should have been deliberated at length and in depth. The focus should have been on the process it had taken to come to a decision and not on the decision itself.
The MEB had not taken heed of the independent international panel reports: South Korea spends half of its education budget not just on the teaching of English but also on the teaching of science and mathematics in English; Singapore is top notch because of English-medium schools; Unesco recommended as a high priority for the medium of instruction of science and mathematics to be reviewed.
The Education Ministry (MOE) must analyse every single recommendation provided by all independent reports and justify each one. We want to be assured that there was transparency at every deliberation before a decision was made. It appears that the MEB had chosen to use the review to endorse what exists and not start on a clean slate.
Take for instance MBMMBI (Upholding Bahasa Malaysia, Strengthening the English language), a language policy, which was concocted to replace PPSMI, a science policy, which should not have been meddled with. If it is the language that is the weakness, then address it, and do so appropriately.
The graph shows a comparison of MBMMBI and PPSMI at national primary school. While there is an increase of exposure from 15% to 20% in the English language, the net effect of replacing scientific English (in the form of science and mathematics in English) with scientific Bahasa Malaysia has reduced total immersion in English to merely half of what it was before!
The MEB, under Chapter 4: Student Learning, states “international research indicates that Malaysia’s 15-20% instructional time in English language may be insufficient for students to build operational proficiency”.
The prescription to improve English proficiency is to allow for more exposure but PPSMI which provided just this for the last 10 years has now been abolished to win over the Malay grassroots support. Such exposure would have ultimately contributed to the 2025 target set by MOE that “70% students achieve Cambridge 1119-equivalent minimum credit in English at SPM level”.
Are we now to do this by wishful thinking or precision delivery by JPNs and PPDs? What was once a win-win situation has now become a double loss.
Political meddling in education with ethnic undertones is harmful to our unity and economic progress. It is evident that some groups of people get preferential treatment and flexibility in their demands and some do not. Education cannot be used as an election commodity, and for that, it must be kept in check and be placed above politics at all times.
The MEB which speaks of the shift from “school to system learning”, “self-paced”, “accelerated” and “distance” learning is timely, so is 4G Internet access and a virtual learning environment via 1BestariNet. An MOE initiative called “e-Guru video library” is frightening if it prohibits scientific English.
To students, the world is their oyster, as borderless connectivity to other sources of scientific knowledge the likes of Khan Academy (which taps on enormous Google servers) and Britannica (which boasts of servers the size of 200 football fields) become just a click away.
Congratulations to SMJK Sin Min Kedah on winning the coveted Prime Minister’s trophy days ago in the annual National Science Challenge organised by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and conducted 100% in English.
The fact of the matter remains that English is the lingua franca of the scientific community.
Can parents make the respective education panels responsible for gambling our children’s future away?
A total 74% of the student population are in national primary schools, rising to 88% at secondary level or close to five million children at any one time. To deprive them of expanding their horizons just because decisions on education are made for political survival and expediency is immoral. While the education system attempts to evolve from a one-size-fits-all approach to implement context-specific solutions, not giving students an option to choose the medium of instruction for science and mathematics best suited to them is contradicting.
Unesco recommends that “as a general principle, it must be acknowledged that children should be taught in a medium in which they will learn most effectively, and which, especially as they mature, will give them the best access to career and life opportunities”.
It is from this exposure that higher order thinking skills can develop, for without its mastery, children “will be less likely to succeed in today’s rapidly changing economy and globalised society”.
The MEB, sadly, is not worthy of the stature of the intellect that has been given the great honour and heavy responsibility to review the education system and provide the transformation it so desperately needs. Amends are still acceptable.