Dear Minister, be ambitious in your goals
We have been watching closely the actions of Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek and waiting for the spark to ignite, but it has not happened yet. The call to not ostracise teachers when they speak up was close. This was followed by the first engagement session, or sesi libat urus, where selected stakeholders were invited to present their niches. An area that is especially wanting is the lightening of teachers’ workloads, or beban guru, which no education minister seems to have been able to resolve.
What we are afraid of is that the Ministry of Education (MoE) will convince the rookie minister that everything is all right and so to not rock the boat and, if at all, only a little. Rocking the boat too much will mean more work and everyone prefers to stay in their comfort zones.
One bad decision so far is the planned closure of the National STEM Centre (NSC), where big dreams were made, and which could have been the catalyst to take STEM to the next level nationwide and even internationally. The NSC is a collaboration between the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (Mosti) and MoE, and it was decided that the latter would kick-start its incubation. Although MoE knows full well that the science stream desperately needs a major boost to turn around the numbers, little support, funding and leadership were offered. The NSC was placed in the basement of MoE.
It began its embryonic stage through several brainstorming sessions with the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) under Mosti on “la main à la pâte” or Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE). The pilot programme achieved excellent results and has since been scaled up in all schools and continues to be enhanced.
The overarching plan was for the NSC to be the place for anything and everything STEM, with the medium-term objective of transforming it into an independent institute. It was even proposed by ASM, in collaboration with stakeholders including PAGE, that it would seek a sizeable sum in Budget 2023 to expand its reach and make an impressionable impact moving forward.
With IBSE and science laboratories in full swing, the minister needs to understand the bigger picture for the establishment of the NSC. If the government wants the NSC to remain as an entity, then park it under the National Science Centre, where STEM learning and the professional development of teachers are infused in its organisational culture. Fund it as a public-private partnership endorsed by MoE, similar to the UK model.
What is most lacking with MoE is its communication with the general public. Oftentimes, the public is kept in the dark over the ministry’s achievements, if any, to the extent that they feel it is either in denial that anything is wrong with the system or is happy with the way things are. Therein lies the danger.
The newly appointed National Education Advisory Council (NEAC) led by the former director-general (DG) of education Datuk Dr Amin Senin should be made aware that although he may have been instrumental in the drafting of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (MEB), he may not be as independent and critical as he should be, having vested interests. The MEB should be the prime mover and the NEAC would do well to enquire what has become of the recommendations of the previous NEAC 2018-2020 and their implementation thus far.
The areas covered were the teaching of the English language, Islamic studies, public-private partnership, teacher professionalism and, last but not least, special education. While the recommendations may be brief, the supporting reference material is kept and owned by the Educational, Planning and Policy Research Department (EPRD) and easily accessible.
The public does not expect miracles but they do expect policymakers to be ambitious and also tackle the simple issues at hand where results can be seen immediately. Longer-term policies and plans can be put in place in the meantime. Every school has its own problems — some common, some specific. Therefore, set up special units and empower them to find out what these localised problems are and resolve them.
Choose the right people to work at the appropriate levels so everyone can focus on their task at hand. The parent-teacher associations, school leaders, district offices and local governments need to work together to ensure problems are easily identified and rectified in an orderly and timely manner. Funds must be channelled down quickly but all must insist that accountability is critical.
The minister and MoE need to quickly focus on the bigger picture of educating and nurturing students. By all means, she can reach for the low hanging fruit, but she must also strive to make our education system among the top 10 in the world. We should not stop at just not leaving any child behind. Only then can our little country not be irrelevant.