Sunday October 14, 2012
More Blueprint cheer than blues
By MALLIKA VASUGI
Teachers have welcomed the proposed shifts outlined in the Preliminary Report Malaysia Education Blueprint but there are some who see it as a distant dream.
YOU MIGHT think that teachers would be the first to be all abuzz, discussing any new changes or proposed implementations in the education system but quite often this is simply not true.
Reasons for this vary in ranking on the truth and accuracy chart, but some would say that the first main reason which does seem almost self-contradictory, is that they are too busy with the real business of teaching to pay much attention to projected changes or modifications in the education system.
My friend Dilla begs to differ.
“ Uh..Uh, not true,” she said.
“That can’t be reason number one. The main reason why teachers don’t seem to take these changes that directly affect them more seriously is because they are too busy with the non-teaching duties.
“Still, good old-fashioned prejudice is certainly another reason,” she added.
The preconceived perception of viewing any planned innovations as merely “repackaging the same goods under a different label” was being a little biased and judgemental, to be sure, but as Dilla said, could we really blame the teachers?
“After all, they have seen so many of these proposed improvements announced amidst much pomp and ceremony which seem like deflated after-party balloons when someone else becomes master of ceremony.
“This is why teachers have become somewhat suspicious and more sceptical.”
Whether they were genuinely interested or forced to listen to some rather vaguely presented slideshow during their staff meetings and in-house courses, The Preliminary Report Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (announced recently by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak), has been a topic of discussion among many Malaysian school teachers, although in varying degrees of intensity.
Some senior teachers who have weathered the rise and fall and rise again of many policies, regard the whole thing as another “change for the sake of change”.
However, even they seemed to have perked up their ears at the proposed “shifts” or areas of reform outlined in the blueprint, even if it was only a mission to find the loopholes.
Some of these “shifts” of course seem to be heavily laced with grandiloquence and high-sounding words which take some time to decipher.
Still, there are undoubtedly parts of the whole thing that seem sensibly real and almost makes us dare to hope that at last something is happening, and things may be actually heading somewhere this time.
The key points of the National Education Blueprint focuses on six student attributes — Knowledge, Thinking Skills, Leadership, Bilingual Proficiency, Ethics and National Identity.
All in all, 11 shifts are mentioned as approaches to achieve desired student outcomes.
Once again, equal access to quality education of “international standard” is desired.
This brings to mind the other phrases like “world-class education” and “global demands” that are strewn about so often, or sometimes embedded into speeches, primarily to lend importance.
The other shifts range from a totally revised curriculum by 2017 (surprise! surprise!) and a goal towards ensuring every child is proficient in Bahasa Malaysia and the English language.
To those of us who are presently using a strange combination of gestures and a fusion of English and Malay plus mother-tongue and other local dialects (someone called it the true 1-Bahasa) as the only way to communicate with some students, this seems like a dream in the distant horizon.
It seems like something that is so far away and almost unattainable in their lifetime.
But still, it is a pleasant dream and visions are important to ensure that the dreams stay alive until they are realised one day.
Many of us may not be teaching anymore to reap the harvest, to witness the time when every student actually is proficient in both languages.
As much as we would desire to see the fulfilment of this vision, we do realise that it may take more years than we have left to teach.
Nevertheless, we are still glad to be part of its unfolding right now.
Profession of choice
Another welcome proposed shift which although has been a long time coming is one that makes us heave a breath of relief.
This is the goal of transforming teaching into a profession of choice where only the top 30% of graduates will be recruited for teaching. We don’t know the finer details of this proposed shift but most of us believe it is timely.
It is about time that those recruited to become teachers in the future belong to the group who have the best brains with high emotional and intelligence quotients and a sincere passion to teach.
It is about time that the statement “I became a teacher because I couldn’t get into anything else” will sound as ludicrous as saying, “I became a doctor because I couldn’t get into anything else.”
We wait for that day.
We know it isn’t here yet, but the fact that it has been mentioned and that it is an objective, makes what was previously only wishful thinking take some tangible form of reality.
It makes sense after all that the people who are in charge of moulding the best brains, honing talent, crafting thinking, creativity and producing people of quality have these qualities themselves.
We hope that when the time comes, the entry into teaching will be as competitive as other fields.
It should not be just because of job security or as a last resort, but because it is a calling that is held in high esteem.
The national blueprint also announces another shift, that of empowering state and district education departments and schools to customise solutions based on need.
This means that they can tailor their approach for different schools.
We don’t know whether this would in any way decentralise the curriculum to any extent, or if it is just about different approaches.
But teachers who have struggled to adhere to the “one size fits all” demands of the curriculum with the ever-present shadow of the major public examinations in mind, know the heartache and disappointment of having to deal with students who are so far behind.
They know that they will never catch up in time to meet the desired outcomes of the curriculum.
Thus empowerment in the hands of people with vision, judgement and integrity and who, realise that education is about the whole person, and not just marks on a test, may ensure that people who leave school have acquired the education they need.
Whether they become civil engineers or work in hair salons is not relevant.
What we are hoping is that these shifts will bring about generations of Malaysians who study or learn for the sake of knowledge and personal growth.
As for teachers they must realise that the words “education” and “examination” have two different meanings, and are not synonymous.
The following five glorious words “less administrative duties for teachers” also mentioned in the blueprint are however met with several raised eyebrows and a rather justified measure of scepticism by teachers.
The number of times we have heard this is almost legendary and the ironic truth of what really happens is that the effort to lessen administrative duties sometimes actually results in more paperwork, thus defeating the whole purpose.
And yet, on the whole, the blueprint does seem rather splendid with all its promises and vision.
When all is said and done, how much of it is realised will eventually be decided by the key-players in the system and the implementing teachers and it will be on their vision, faith and strength that most of the success of these goals will hinge.
Dilla says that of course a 12th shift about making teacher’s salaries more competitive would have consolidated the whole transformationprocess and “sealed the blueprint deal”.
“Teachers will read the entire document cover to cover, and remember every tiny detail. Down to the last “shift”.
But then again, that may not be such a good thing.
Then everyone might want to become a teacher and then there may be a shortage of doctors, lawyers and engineers.
“Eleven (shifts) as it is now, is a good number and we’ll stick to 11,” she says.