While we welcome and appreciate Minister of Education Dr Maszlee Malik’s direction to revamp the education system via new developments in pedagogical methods and the adoption of social and emotional learning — of love, happiness and mutual respect — we wonder if these values can be realised concurrently with the improvements that are desired in the education system. How and what will make this happen and are we willing to do what it takes to accomplish it?
There is no denying that the Malaysian education system needs to be updated and upgraded to produce human capital that is on a par with the rest of the developed world. We desire skilful human capital but at the same time, we want them to possess soft skills that will make them compassionate, empathetic thinkers and better people. These soft skills will distinguish the humans from the robots above whom the former will have to rise in the age of Industry 4.0.
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, investing in high-quality schooling and equal opportunities for all, from the early years to at least the end of upper secondary, is the most profitable educational policy. Students who have enriching school experiences are more likely to stay in school and successfully transfer to the labour market. Those who struggle at the early stages but receive adequate and timely support and guidance have a good chance of finishing school despite difficulties in their family or social background. This is what is meant by equity and equality in education.
Finland, which has one of the best educational systems in the world, focuses on equity, among other things. Students who struggle and fall behind are given support to ensure that they keep up.
Here are some of the methods adopted by Finland:
It does not have standardised testing;
Teachers are not required to be accountable because they are good at what they do and there is trust in the system;
The system strives on cooperation, not competition;
The basics of learning are prioritised; and
The learning atmosphere is relaxed — no cramming, no stress, no regiments, longer breaks in between and little homework, which means parents do not have to spend much time helping their children with it.
In Malaysia, before we start on any transformation or policy change, let us clean house, first and foremost. The fundamentals of teaching and learning must be right, and the problems must be dealt with effectively.
There must be proper processes in place with the right checks and balances, responsibilities and accountabilities in the implementation, coupled with mentoring, monitoring and strict enforcement. We should learn from past mistakes that policies fail to work when we neglect to take care of the roadblocks that hinder their success.
By how much have the initiatives outlined in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 improved and impacted students’ learning outcomes in the classroom? It seems like a slow progress.
We feel MoE should prioritise the following to ensure maximum learning impact:
There must be teaching in the classroom at all times. There should be no reason or excuse for teachers to be absent due to training, maternity leave or a shortage because this can be properly planned by the schools, Jabatan Pelajaran Negeri (JPN) and Pejabat Pelajaran Negeri (PPD). School leaders too must be creative in managing schedules, especially when teachers are on emergency leave. There should be support for schools from the MoE’s entire line of command to ensure classes are not disrupted. Perhaps, PPD’s administrators should be equipped to be replacement teachers.
There should be no inconsistency in the line of command of the MoE, JPN and PPD that could hamper good teaching. This can be a real issue for teachers who are more knowledgeable of what is happening on the ground compared with adhering to ambiguous directives from a distance.
Problems facing the teachers and schools must be dealt with promptly and properly through collaboration between the schools, PPD and JPN. School heads must take the lead in ensuring these problems are taken care of.
In short, there should be better coordination, collaboration and cooperation between the teachers, school leaders, PPD and JPN. This is to ensure that schools are run properly and the students are learning. JPN and PPD are solution providers to assist and support schools based on what they need. Perhaps, student learning and outcomes should be the key performance indicators for PPD and JPN. This will ensure that there is effective teaching in classrooms at all times.
What happens when schools face problems and are not running as smoothly as they should? Reporting the issues to PPD and JPN may seem like an obvious step, as suggested by Maszlee recently. But what happens when no action is taken by PPD, JPN or MoE? This is worse when there is evidence of reports being tampered with to evade responsibility. How are ineffective civil servants in education dealt with? How is ineffective teaching or teacher absenteeism dealt with? What happened in SK Taun Gusi in Kota Belud, Sabah, should not have happened. But it did and it was prolonged up to a critical level. How can we avoid such catastrophes from ever happening?
Before we tackle big issues that are easy to plan and outline, we need to take care of the small issues to ensure that big things happen. Until and unless we can get our act together in making the small but crucial things matter, our education system will forever be stuck in a rut.