Setting common goals and coming to a consensus on achieving our vision of making the national school the school of choice is the easy part.
Now, how do we turn around a school system that is weighed down by a trust deficit, trapped in a web of insufficient budget, lack of resources and inefficiency, and plagued by a self-serving agenda? How can we make it attractive to all Malaysians who expect the Finland-type of public education? It is a Herculean task, indeed, but we must find ways to make the best education system that we can, and continue to progress and improve. We must have the political will to do so.
The mission of our education should always revolve around the betterment of our children and serving their best interests. This is staying true to the national education philosophy, which aims to develop the potential of individuals and to produce Malaysians who are knowledgeable and competent, possess high moral standards, are responsible and capable of achieving a high level of personal well-being, and are able to contribute to the harmony and betterment of the family, society and nation. This is an ongoing effort that would enable us to achieve the objective of the national education philosophy.
In the short term, we need to strengthen key areas of interest, and ensure that the state of affairs in schools and the programmes executed go according to plan. We must ascertain that these efforts are sustainable and that equitable and corrective measures are taken immediately when they fall short. We cannot afford to switch to autopilot.
The key areas of interest are:
a) Ensuring that the primary and secondary schools are well run and properly maintained;
b) Strengthening the teaching and learning of English;
c) Nurturing and encouraging science, technology, engineering, mathematics and arts learning and appreciation;
d) Ensuring that schools become the bedrock that inculcates the values needed in our daily lives by practising qualities such as mindfulness, respect, appreciation, love, happiness, cleanliness, punctuality and patience; and
e) Ensuring that teachers, teacher training and remuneration are benchmarked against international standards.
Our immediate concern is the English proficiency improvement programme, the Dual Language Programme (DLP) and the Highly Immersive Programme (HIP), which seem to be in autopilot mode. The increase in the number of DLP schools this year pales in comparison to that in 2016 and 2017. Some 379 schools were added in 2016, 836 in 2017 and 214 this year, making it a total of 1,429 DLP schools so far.
More must be done to make schools ready for the DLP programme, if the parents wish for it. Our aspiration is for all 10,000 plus schools in the country to have at least one DLP class. The complete list of DLP schools this year should be made public. This list would serve as a reference for parents who wish to switch their children to a DLP school.
The Pakatan Harapan manifesto talked about scaling up the Trust School Programme (TSP) and encouraging the private sector to assist the Ministry of Education (MoE) through public-private partnerships (PPPs). There are incentives for the private sector to promote the take-up. But we are concerned that this approach might not be sustainable unless there is a compulsory apportionment of the private-sector organisations’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) budgets to a national school education fund, if it can even be a consideration.
The MOE’s expenditure on education in national schools is about RM400 per student for primary schools and RM575 per student for secondary schools per month. The cost to run the Khazanah Nasional-backed Yayasan Amir’s TSP is an additional RM75 per student per month.
TSP is a success story. In just a short time, it has been proved to produce positive and significant improvements in student outcomes and teacher competences. The additional cost to run the TSP programme may not seem much but the challenge is to get private-sector sponsors to lock in RM4 million for five years.
The government plans to reduce the cost of running the trust school. This idea is based on the Charter School (CS) model that is implemented in some parts of the world. The CS model should reduce the cost of education, not increase it.
Charter schools are managed solely by private-education operators. They require decentralisation and autonomy of the school. The school decides the curriculum, textbooks, teachers and allocation of the school budget. If the government wished to pilot the CS programme, it could allocate the existing budget of RM400 to RM575 per student to current private-school operators to run low-cost charter schools, using the existing national school infrastructure. The students would be given vouchers, so they can choose the school they wish to go to: either a normal national school or a national school with a CS programme.
Moving forward, our school system must move away and progress from the Industrial Revolution type. What is a school for? Is it just to cram in information, regurgitate knowledge and study because we want high scores in examinations? Is all that is contained in the textbooks and syllabuses necessary? Would it make us more mindful, respectful, grateful, empathetic, cleaner, punctual and patient if we study the theory? Wouldn’t it be better to put it all to practice as done by schools in Japan?
We have ample room for improvement to make the national school the school of choice. The MoE must learn to let go and grant autonomy to those who can show a better way of educating our children.