AT long last, parents’ voices are being heard by educators, ministers and politicians, as they should have been as early as 1996, when the Education Act incorporated the statement that “pupils should be educated according to the wishes of their parents”.
Parents should take responsibility for decisions regarding their children’s education and not pass the buck to teachers who may, more often than not, share their aspirations but fail to maximise the potential of their students, to the future detriment of the nation.
We would like parents to pay attention to “Chapter 4: Student Learning in the Malaysia Education Blueprint” (2013-2025), in particular on language, where “Wave 2 (2016-2020): Introducing structural change” would build upon the successful execution of Wave 1 initiatives.
The chapter continues: “Only when the education system is able to deliver universal operational proficiency in Bahasa Malaysia and provide high-quality instruction in the English language as a second language will it be in a position to begin to create widespread bilingual proficiency”. This is our cue.
It was early this year that the Economic Council, chaired by the prime minister, demanded a radical approach towards enhancing English proficiency, having been made acutely aware of the damaging effects to employment because of a poor grasp of the language.
Pemandu (Performance Measurement and Delivery Unit) was assigned to explore and recommend that desperately needed radical approach.
The public is often critical of Pemandu for its survey findings, which are often unpopular, viewed with disbelief at times, and perceived as overly optimistic so as to make the Prime Minister’s Office look good. We would like to assure readers that as far as the Education Unit is concerned, the whole process was conducted objectively, in great detail and without any prejudice.
A Pemandu English lab was set up and close to 100 stakeholders were invited to participate in finding that radical angle. Critics should not be mistaken that it was just the Ministry of Education, state departments and respective district offices that came up with what will be contained in Wave 2.
Industry players, too, were consulted, including representatives from the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, Malaysian Employers Federation, the British Council, the corporate sector, heads of colleges, university professors, associations, societies, non-governmental organisations and pressure groups such as PAGE. Those invited were rigorously engaged for four solid weeks, initially to brainstorm — starting at “10,000 feet” — and eventually coming out with massive amounts of data and ideas that were eventually refined and consolidated into a workable, concise and detailed “three feet” plan.
In finding alternatives, it is important to note that all stakeholders unanimously decided that it was pointless to extend the number of hours for English in the classroom, but instead to look at other avenues, such as creating new platforms for spoken English and/or exposure to more subjects in English. Every subject was considered, including art, music, physical education and history. In the end, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) stood out as records show that STEM teachers had the largest majority who minored in English.
For those who support English-medium schools, we did try for that. The Economic Council was supportive but the Ministry of Education backed out at the last lap. In time, this idea should be revisited.
For the opponents of PPSMI (Teaching of Science and Mathematics in English) or #hapusppsmi, the “soft landing” will come to an end in 2020, so let us not dwell on it.
For the Dual Language Programme (DLP) that was mentioned in Budget 2016, it is here to stay. It offers parents a choice of medium of instruction for their children in Science, Mathematics, ICT and Design and Technology for Standards One and Four and Form One where appropriate, with specific conditions to be met, reinforcing the philosophy that “one size does not fit all”.
Town hall meetings have been scheduled in six states, starting on Nov 20 in Penang and ending in Kuching on Nov 28, to explain these English initiatives to parent-teacher association chairmen and school leaders. These will then be repeated at school level to provide information so parents can fully understand these programmes to decide on the medium of instruction best suited to their children. Choice of education is paramount, unlike before.
The excuse that teachers are not ready is highly unacceptable. Teachers in the system would have benefited from English training in the past, experienced teaching it since 2003 and paid an allowance for improving proficiency. Most importantly, new teachers in the system are products of PPSMI. If a teacher is unable to teach Standard One Science and Mathematics in English, he/she might as well voluntarily exit the profession and allow others who are robust and energetic to take up the challenge.
In the not-so-recent past, we were neck and neck with Singapore in education. Today, our neighbour is producing among the world’s smartest students. Let us not indulge in idle chatter over which language should be more important or the perceived relegation of the national language.
While the youth of developed countries are achieving proficiency in several languages, we are still arguing over this or that. Enough of the stale argument that being monolingual in Bahasa Melayu, Mandarin or Tamil is sufficient for Malaysians to enjoy a high quality of life because it is not, and reflects poorly on the speaker.
Malaysians want and are capable of excelling, and the way forward is bilingual proficiency at the very least. For those who want to remain mediocre, let them be. Perhaps only self-realisation will eventually wake them up from their slumber.
This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 23 - 29, 2015.