Over the long-term real change will be facilitated through a revamp of the education system which, as Teacher’s Blues describes, now falls desperately short of expectations.
Of late, there have been calls and suggestions to have the proposed single-stream school system implemented in our education system. We have been made to believe that for a multiracial, multi-cultural and multi-religious country like ours, getting our younger generation to freely mix, play and study together under one school roof with the national language as the common medium of instruction would serve to promote national unity and instil in our kids the 1Malaysia spirit.
Well, undoubtedly having a single-stream school system is an ideal goal that we should all strive for. However we need to first address the many ills and shortcomings plaguing our education system before we even contemplate such a move.
National unity and misconception
To begin with, it is both naïve and simplistic to claim that making our students conversant in the Malay language will by itself forge national unity and instil in them a strong patriotic spirit. It has been pointed out that this is a misconception as many countries with a common predominant language are bedevilled by communal strife, making national unity an elusive dream.
Forging genuine national unity means more than mere racial tolerance and being fluent in the national language; it involves deep communal understanding, a deep sense of fair play, genuine respect and sincere acceptance of the cultural and racial diversity in this beloved land of ours. Just ask those Malaysians (now adults and busy pursuing their careers) formerly educated in the vernacular Chinese primary schools who secured an A in their UPSR Malay paper and were still made to waste one precious year in attending remove classes not too many years ago (although this irrational move has now been scrapped) – simply because they failed to get an A for their Chinese paper – how they feel about this issue and you will get the point.
Secondly, let’s not merely talk about change for the sake of change without examining the root causes that are responsible for racial polarisation and the drastic decline in the quality of our education system. Our education system has a “grade inflation” syndrome where grade As are so easily secured with questionable standards and marking methodologies so that we have students awarded scholarships to study in foreign universities simply because they secured so many wonderful As in their SPM papers. Yet many of these students failed to measure up when subjected to open and robust competition at varsity level without the benefit of quotas and positive discrimination.
Malaysian parents desire quality education
Having a single-school system is fine for Malaysian parents in general, provided that the quality of teachers and teaching standards are in place, open-minded, practical and dynamic school heads selected based on merit are entrusted to run such schools, no unwanted religious overtones are allowed to prevail in such schools causing unease among non-Malay students and there is a favourable school environment where wholesome education and sound learning can take place. Such schools would even be more attractive if the POL (pupils’ own language) classes are given serious attention and the school heads have enough autonomy, with the blessings of their respective Parent-Teachers Associations, to select from a broad-based, flexible and creative curriculum. Malaysian parents in general desire quality education for their kids. I wonder if a single-stream school system can live up to such expectations.
This seems like a tall order. We should reflect on the time when English-medium schools of the 1950s and 1960s were the preferred choice regardless of ethnicity. The increasing demand for private and international schools today is surely an indicator that our national school system falls far short of public expectations. And the fact that 15,000 Malaysian students are currently attending schools daily across the causeway and some 60,000 pupils from other ethnic groups, notably Malay kids, are enrolled in Chinese primary schools speak volumes for the fact that sound and solid education is what Malaysian parents want for their kids, irrespective of race. Surely, the thousands of Malay parents who chose to send their kids to Chinese primary schools can’t be accused of not being patriotic or not having the interest of the nation at heart?
Now, for all the perceived shortcomings and flaws in their school system, the Chinese primary school teachers in general tend to be hard working, have good work ethics and often take a no-nonsense approach in educating their young charges. Parents with children in such schools are happy that if their kids work hard, the latter would be placed in better classes based on academic merit the following year and not along racial lines or quotas. And that their kids, with their impressionable young minds are unlikely to be subjected to extreme religious views or suffer from sexual assaults by their so-called teachers.
Teachers poor in quality, curriculum irrelevant, administrators political
On the other hand, let me just quote a line from Zaid Ibrahim’s latest book I, too, am Malay, where he wrote, inter alia “ …We are afraid to admit that the teachers, most of whom are Malays, are poor in quality, that the school curriculum is irrelevant and the administrators too political…” (Page 245). With so many national schools in such a bad shape, any wonder why the calls for a single-stream school system just do not go down well with many knowledgeable and practical Malaysian parents?
Over the years, we have seen far too many poor choices for the many important jobs in the teaching profession, right from the running of education departments to schools, and perhaps higher up at the Ministry level. If we just bear in mind how much havoc one mistake in recruiting a bad candidate for teacher training can create in the schools over a period of 30-odd years of teaching service, you can well imagine the damage done to our education system with the lax recruitment of teacher-training candidates made possible by over-zealous implementation of the New Economic Policy over so many years. It is only of late that the policy makers realised the folly of such shortsighted moves, but the damage has already been done to the education sector.
Once in the system, many of these poor quality teachers subsequently get promoted to head this and that section, department and school, and soon enough, the tyranny of mediocrity becomes an established fact in our education system. And when over 95 per cent (to be generous) of our Education Ministry’s staff are headed or manned by one ethnic group, will the policy planners be open-minded and far-sighted enough to deliberate on important policy matters with the overall interest of all Malaysians at heart? The answer cannot be very encouraging, not when in spite of so many calls to scrap the impractical Moral Studies and give students more flexibility in choosing the subjects they like under the so-called open certificate exam system, things remain largely intact. Otherwise, the maximum 10-subject for SPM would easily accommodate Chinese and Tamil languages and literature – if the impractical Moral Studies and humdrum History (half of the Form Four syllabus is focused on Islamic civilisation) are not made compulsory subjects for SPM students.
It is well said that the heart of education begins with the education of the heart. The proposed single-stream school system will remain a pipe dream as long we do not have enough enlightened, courageous, practical and far-sighted minds in the Education Ministry who are prepared to realise this dream. In spite of any political backlash, what Malaysian parents in general truly want is quality, sensible and sound education for their kids.
Teacher’s Blues is based in Ipoh
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