February 17, 2015
Good Ideas but bad policies on Education
Ambitious education policies don’t work because they are premature given the current inadequacies of the system.
COMMENT by Wan Salman Wan Sallam
Although he is actively critical of the Najib Administration, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad seems to be still in possession of his sense of humour. He quipped recently that he’d want to be Prime Minister again if he had the chance. He said one of the things he would do would be to bring back the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI).
PPSMI is one of the many things he gave the nation during his tenure as Prime Minister. It was intended as a means of globalising students at an early stage. But things didn’t turn out as nicely as they should. It did not, for instance, succeed in narrowing the gap of educational opportunities between the urban and rural populace.
The problem of availability of extra materials and classes to reinforce learning has always been more severe in the rural areas. To worsen the situation, English language education has always been less effective in the rural areas. It is an open secret that in schools with large majorities of Malay and Bumiputera students, English teachers speak more Malay than English during lessons, perhaps thinking that this would help the students better understand the lessons. This happens even in secondary schools.
The students therefore do not have enough opportunities to communicate in the language, let alone enhance their skills. At the end of the day, they essentially don’t learn much. They experience problems not only with English, but also with understanding the basics of Mathematics and the Sciences. Thus the urban-rural gap is widened even further, and we can conclude that Mahathir’s policy was premature and problematic. It was premature because it was implemented without the conditions being ready for it.
After Mahathir retired, PPSMI was abolished and Science and Maths are now taught in Malay again. A problem may have got solved, but another one arises.
A step forward
In 2014, the Ministry of Education introduced a more thorough implementation of the School-based Assessment System (PBS). Formerly, it was implemented mainly in the form of oral tests for language subjects.
It is good that we have finally found a way out of an extremely exam-oriented system and made a step forward. But yet again, the implementation was premature, with the pre-conditions not satisfied beforehand.
The enhanced PBS makes it necessary for teachers to keep updating students’ achievements in the system, adding yet another burden to their teaching duties.
Generally, we can assume that a classroom has about 40 students. Unlike a university lecturer, a school teacher must get to know his students individually and constantly give them personal support. Now that they are burdened with greater workloads, their chances of nurturing the pupils through the personal touch are reduced.
It has been reported that nearly 30% of schools in Malaysia are categorised as “schools with very small numbers of students”. One would think that the PBS system would work better in these schools. But no, 90% of these schools are poorly funded. Some of them even operate in other schools’ buildings and use their facilities. These schools, due to having few students, practice multi-grade teaching. As far as we can see from the environment of these schools, this is not a conducive condition for the implementation of PBS.
If that isn’t bad enough, the PBS management system (SPPBS) adds to our compilation of the worst things about PBS. With the system continually lagging if not hanging, we have another huge burden to add to the tons of workload already piled upon the shoulders of teachers.
Furthermore, the Internet speed also argues against the implementation of the online system. According to an Asean report, Malaysia’s average Internet speed is only around 5.5 Mbps, far from the global average of 17.7 Mbps, let alone Singapore’s 61 Mbps. Even Vietnam beats us.
With the implementation of PBS, both teachers and students are expected to make use of information and communication technology (ICT). But from a study done in a rural secondary school by a team from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, almost 80% of the students don’t have computers at home and more than 50% of them are not competent enough to use them. In fact, 70% of them get to use a computer for only about an hour a day. A good 42.9% don’t know how to use Microsoft Word and 60% aren’t familiar with e-mail.
PBS is, after all is said and done, another premature education policy. So if Mahathir wants to be PM again or if anyone else has the ambition to take over from Najib Abdul Razak, I’d ask him to please make sure that education policies are made to be compatible with current conditions. What is the point of an education policy if it benefits only a certain group of people, and a small one at that?
Wan Salman Wan Sallam is an FMT reader
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