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Educating Malaysia the right way

QUESTION TIME By P. GUNASEGARAM p.guna@thestar.com.my


Improving education quality and making it relevant is needed, not cutting exams. THAT assessment is largely examinations-based is a significant part of the problems of the education system, but right now that is not the major one because there are so many demands upon the education system, the Govern-ment needs to prioritise them. But first, lets deal with the proposal to abolish the Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) examinations, reportedly to make the system less exam-oriented and provide a more holistic education. Will it? Most likely not, simply because the problem is not just these two examinations but the overall emphasis on academic results. There will still be examinations at the end of each term etc. The bad effect of abolishing these exams is we will have no clue as to the standard of our students until they reach Form Five. By then it will be too late to take remedial steps to help the poorer students. We need UPSR and PMR at least as a gauge to measure the standard of our students. But at the same time, we should look at other means to reduce the emphasis on exams by introducing year-long programmes which are project-based and will take into account extracurricular activities. The priority now has to be to improve the quality of education and here are 10 ways to do that. Yes, many of these steps require time but a start has to be made now. 1. Better quality of teachers. This is simply the most important factor. It calls for the raising of both standards and incentives for teacher education and the continuous training of existing ones. Without this, nothing else will succeed. 2. Ensure a minimal standard of physical facilities for schools. While quality of teachers is most important, all schools must be provided with good basic physical facilities such as a playing field, hall, laboratories, classrooms and everything else that facilitates learning. 3. A syllabus that reflects holistic education. The syllabus itself must reflect the aims of holistic education by including subjects that cover living skills. We should look at greater emphasis on daily commerce for example opening bank accounts, budgeting and investing.

4. Real emphasis on extra-curricular activities. Emphasis means teachers who are trained in these. Over the years there has been less emphasis on teachers specialising in sports, for instance. It is necessary to produce teachers who specialise in sports and, within that, in some particular areas of sports. 5. Single-session schools. For proper emphasis on extra-curricular activities and stuff such as additional classes and time for homework, a longer, single-session school would be ideal. This has been talked about for decades but nothing has happened to date. 6. Provisions for English Langua-ge education. With even science and maths not being taught in English anymore, there is a need to come up with more imaginative ways to ensure that the quality of English among our students improves. We all know that English is important but we still do very little about it and allow the issue to be repeatedly politicised. 7. Provisions for mother tongue education. The national school system may see an increase in enrolment if adequate provisions are made and time allocated for pupils own language or POL classes. This must not be merely for show and there should be enough hours and resources for a proper education in the mother tongue. A single-session school system will facilitate that. 8. Less politicisation and greater professionalisation of education. The emotive issues such as language and culture should be taken out of education and a more accommodative and liberal spirit that takes into account the beliefs of all races and cultures should be part and parcel of the national school system. Professionals should essentially run education with policy agreed upon and set by the politicians. 9. Continuity of planning 20-year plans will be good. The education system cannot be left to the whims and fancies of successive education ministers but should be guided by firm policy and a long-term rolling plan of 20 years. Otherwise, key milestones targeted in earlier years will not be achieved as priorities are shifted elsewhere as new education ministers come in. 10. Keep up to date with education everywhere. Education methods and means are not static anywhere and they constantly change and evolve. We have to make sure that we keep with the trends by getting people with both breadth and depth and put them in charge of the educational agencies. Without a doubt, education is a pet peeve among all Malaysians.

The deterioration in quality over the years is terribly worrying and the time for doing something drastic and at the same time constructive is long past. The rakyat will be eternally grateful to anyone who can put education right so that we start producing a new generation of really educated Malay-sians. But the question remains as to who or what that will be.