Sunday June 24, 2012
No more flips, nor flops
By Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim
Will we ever be world class if the nationalists and mother tongue language activists continue to insist on their education agenda solely by the language perspective?
HAVING announced that the 40% Malaysian quota for international schools is to be lifted, the Government, it would appear, has taken the stance that the new direction which education is to take is that there is no one-size-fits-all and complete liberalisation is the way forward.
In justifying this, proponents of international schools claim that it is a worldwide phenomenon that parents are becoming more affluent and therefore desire a more global approach towards the education of their children.
Prior to Merdeka, we had two international schools catering mainly to the British. These spiked in number when English medium schools were abolished in 1970 and by 2000, we had 29 such schools. It spiked again when the policy of teaching and learning science and mathematics in English (PPSMI) was abolished in 2009.
To date, we have 71 international schools with 24 yet to be approved, over-achieving the target of 87 by 2020 under the Economic Transformation Programme.
However, this may well open Pandora’s box to a whole spectrum of the return of affordable English medium schools, designated PPSMI schools, the revival of mission schools, more independent Chinese high schools, the beginning of the end of private schools, maybe even more international schools and what have you.
If the Government thinks that it would jump-start national schools by liberalising international schools, this is rather far-fetched and perplexing.
While competition among schools has been just among national/vernacular schools with a handful of private schools in tow, there has never existed competition with international schools. It is not only comparing apples to oranges but it is in fact giving international schools a headstart by enticing local talent and resources, leaving national schools gasping for air.
Currently, as a stopgap measure, the better national schoolteachers, particularly those teaching English, and Science and Mathematics in English are being quietly wooed by local international schools that will offer such a syllabus but not necessarily to be taught by expatriate teachers.
In the long term, these international schools will probably train their own local teachers. The more established international schools catering for the expatriate population are happy with offering foreign teachers who continue to fetch a premium.
There is also the other side of the coin.
In 2010, Parents Across America (a group launched just weeks after PAGE was registered) was formed to raise the voices of public school parents to condemn increasing privatisation, high stakes testing and the closure of public schools in order for private schools to be opened in its place. Students who cannot afford the fee hike are asked to seek other avenues.
Finland, which prides itself in being ranked top in the world in education, has a comprehensive high quality public school system, which encourages stronger students to help weaker ones. It does not have gifted programmes, it does not tolerate selective admissions and the few private schools available are strictly faith-based.
In South Korea where a 1980s education reform prohibited tuition, which was seen as giving wealthy families an unfair advantage, tutors offering such services were dismissed from their jobs and cash-strapped students doing the same were suspended from school. Again, the few private schools that existed were to accommodate a small demand for a total English immersion.
This year, beginning in Brisbane, Australia, a movement advocating “public schools for our future”, in response to the independent Gonski Review, is seeking more funding for better teacher training and professional development to ensure that “quality education is a right and not a privilege”.
Dare I say more? Is it truly the reason that the demand for international schools is due to the fact that parents yearn for the global knock-on effect of such an education or is it really because the national school system has failed us miserably? What about the 1Malaysia school, if there is one, with tongue in cheek?
Closer to home, Khazanah Nasional has provided a RM100mil fund to set up Yayasan Amir that has over the last two years kick-started trust schools – five in Johor and another five in Sarawak – spanning over five years. It is a lot of money. Could this be the answer to eventually turning around the massive number of national schools and returning public confidence into the system?
With trust schools, it is hoped that in “closing the gap through public-private partnerships”, a picture perfect combination of “private sector expertise and resources, autonomies to the private partner and its school leaders, and support from the school community will accelerate improvements in transforming specific student outcomes”.
The idea is to then shake off the reservations the Education Ministry may have and influence it to adopt the concept, its best practices and apply it across the board.
Along with international advisers on education in place, the likes of McKinsey, Fulbright, Kirkby, Teach for Malaysia, Strive, and OECD, to name a few, we should be world class in no time.
But will we ever be world class if the nationalists and mother tongue language activists continue to insist on their narrow education agenda solely by the language perspective?
The haunting process of implementation and the effectiveness and efficiency of intervention programmes set in motion are crucial and must be acutely addressed and not left at any point in time unattended, not even when the minister ends his term. This is the crux.
The cooperation of respective education departments and district education offices is vital in its success and all little Napoleons along the way must be admonished.
The teachers will have to want to believe in the transformation, to be able to see the light or else they too will tire.
And last but not least, who will the private partners be, will there be enough partners for all schools to go round, and how will it be sustained?
We surely do not want to see yet another red herring. No more flips, nor flops. Give it time for it must succeed. After all, education is about a better quality of life and parents should want their children to achieve more than they themselves have.
> The writer is chairman of pro-progress Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia or PAGE.