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Education policy flip flops

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The government’s flip-flop over the use of Malay and English for teaching Science and Mathematics is irresponsible, says Rani Rasiah. What is clear is that these are political decisions to please certain groups and to gain popularity.

Image courtesy of rosmah.blogspot.com

The protest against the controversial switch in the teaching of Science and Maths in English to Malay had barely begun before the Education Minister made another contentious announcement: from 2013, students must pass History to clear the SPM exam. Before this came the decision to scrap the PMR exam from 2016.

All these decisions were sudden, like a shot in the dark, though it can be said that there was an ongoing debate on the issue of the medium of instruction of Science and Maths, though it was nowhere near resolution.

The scrapping of the PMR took parents and students by surprise largely because a school system without exams was outside people’s experience and unthinkable. How to stream students after Form Three? How to be sure standards will not be compromised if assessments are school-based? How to motivate students to work hard in the absence of periodic formal exams? Before people’s anxieties were properly addressed and alternatives clearly spelt out, the government scrapped the PMR! One does wonder if indeed the government has a definite alternative.

From a very liberal stand of not being in favour of too many exams, the Education Minister took a complete swing in the opposite direction by saying it would be compulsory from 2013 to pass History which is now a core subject in Upper Secondary. Looks like a good way of making History a dreaded subject!

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Of the three major changes decided by the government, the most inscrutable one is the decision to use BM as the medium of instruction for Science and Maths. The decision is that all Year One pupils starting school in 2011 will be taught Science and Maths in BM. All other levels in primary and secondary school will be taught the two subjects in BM or BI, or in BM and BI depending on what the teachers fancy. But the textbooks will remain in English. This BM and BI or BM or BI system (?) will remain in force until 2015. Thereafter all levels will be taught and will learn the two subjects in BM only.

Why must our students and teachers be tortured this way? Think of the horrendous confusion that’s bound to prevail over Sains and Science, Fizik and Physics, Kimia and Chemistry … Why can’t they just let the status quo remain for all students from Year 2 onwards, so they can continue in the same medium of instruction until they finish school?

The government’s flip-flopping over the use of BM and BI is totally irresponsible. What is clear is that these are political decisions made in order to please certain groups of people and to gain popularity.

My son belongs to the period after 2003 during which we thought they have been learning the two subjects in English. But his PMR exam papers were in both languages as would be his SPM papers. How to explain that? How well thought out was the change to BI in 2003, and how committed was the government towards achieving its stated goal?

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What is needed is an independent body of experts and professionals in education to carry out an in-depth study in consultation with parents, teachers and students, and to come up with proposals that are sound and convincing. And a government that is sincere and committed to educating the people.

Rani Rasiah, an Aliran member, is coordinator of the Oppressed People’s Network (Jerit)

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