Sunday May 27, 2012
A benchmark for our schools
By TUNKU MUNAWIRAH PUTRA
There is a need for national schools to be on par with the international school system.
The lifting of the international school quota for Malaysian students may be a positive step towards a better education system, gainful for the fortunate elites who can afford to cough up at least RM30,000 per year per child.
It makes economic sense to fulfil this niche market demand. PAGE is happy that parents and their children, who are on the waiting list or aspire to enter these schools, can now breathe a sigh of relief.
Perhaps this is a step towards affordable international schools or PPP (Private Public Partnership) schools and would serve as a benchmark for the new era national schools.
The national school system must step up and strive towards providing equitable education for all, regardless of the socio-economic status of its students. It should be on par with the international school system, especially in terms of its teaching pedagogy.
The lifting of this quota should jumpstart the national schools to become more competitive. It cannot be allowed to regress any further.
Perhaps in future, students from international schools or Malaysians living abroad will return to the national school system. That would be the measure of the success of national schools.
Although this decision has very minimal impact on national schools directly, the masses must be given the right to choose between the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI), Bahasa Malaysia (PPSMBM), Mandarin and Tamil and the recent much talked about English medium schools. The non-affluent masses cannot be sidelined.
There are some parents who can afford the international schools but will not jump at this opportunity. They prefer to stick to the national school as they themselves are a product of national schools. They place the Malaysian identity and put values inculcated only in national schools as priority for their children to experience. They want their children to remain grounded by understanding the national culture and develop the unique Malaysian character.
This spirit of national pride should be encouraged even more so by elevating the national school as the school of choice and not the school for the ones with no choice.
The hope for the national school transformation process towards equitable education is through the national education blueprint which is to be announced later in the year.
The transformation preparation process has already begun with national education dialogue roadshows every week from April 29 to July 14, nationwide.
The issue of bringing back the English medium school system is being hotly discussed since the announcement by Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong that the Government is reconsidering it.
Whether it can be implemented successfully and for free depends on a lot of factors.
It is clear that the National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP), although in favour of the English medium school system, is highly concerned over the implementation process, especially in providing able teachers, should such plans materialise. Perhaps if we focus on continuing Science and Mathematics in English effectively first, we can be reassured that the English medium schools will be a successful undertaking. The foundation of the English medium school system must be established before all else, or it will risk the same fate as PPSMI.
The ongoing operational issues of PPSMI need serious intervention in order to make it work. It is imperative that we get this policy right first, then move on to the next level.
We are confident that teachers can be encouraged, motivated, recognised and duly rewarded to carry out this Herculean task of taking our national schools to a level that we aspire to reach. But in order to achieve the goal, much is needed to support the effort through every level of the education chain, including making the teaching profession attractive.
Teachers are largely passionate towards their vocation although a handful may be somewhat clueless; however, they all have the same aspirations for the betterment of their students. This attitude was quite evident at the national dialogue in Alor Setar two weeks ago, which I had the privilege to attend, and to see my fellow countrymen in action.
I had raised the issue that we must strive harder and buck up on our English proficiency level and that we should look into our teaching successes in the past. Teachers should be given the opportunity as they did then, to be engaged in higher level teacher training like the days of teacher training colleges of Kirkby and Brinsford Lodge. If only the Science and Mathematics teachers now have the exposure equivalent to Brinsford Lodge training, PPSMI would have been a widespread success story.
Our education system has huge room for improvement; things can and should only get better.
The planning of the national blueprint is the easiest part – just like a business plan of a company, no business plan shows that the company will end up as an epic failure. The challenge is to ensure that processes and control measures are in place to reach the ultimate goal.
To ensure success, each and every process in the chain must meet its individual objectives. Things can and will go wrong in any business, but if these are not checked, managed properly and put right, then it will surely stray from its objectives. Accountability and transparency must be clear and embedded into the system.
The policy of PPSMI should serve as a lesson for many more policy executions in the future. Currently, although students are given the option to continue until 2020, it is done so in a half-hearted manner.
What happened to the bilingual books? It seems that students have been left with no choice but to take BM books or use tattered English textbooks of previous years. Where is the intervention to put things right?
In another instance, NUTP announced last week that 100% of teachers must be degree holders. The target set in 2010 as part of the previous national education blueprint was for 50% primary school teachers to have a degree. But the reality is that in 2012, only 45% of primary school teachers possess a degree.
This proves yet again that no intervention was done to ensure that the objective is met.
Teachers need all the support to be engaged with various intervention programmes and collaboration work to make their job more effective.
Administrative tasks seem to be their worst nightmare. If only that can be reduced, they would be able to spend more time teaching.
If they are asked to be innovative, are they given the kind of support that they need via leadership, rewards and recognition?
We can do a lot of things at the planning stage, review after review, dialogue after dialogue and statement after statement but let’s be honest with ourselves. We know what needs to be done, but have we the willpower to carry it through?