Johor’s education system can show the way forward
Now that the Johor state election is done with and the dust has settled to some degree, what can its rakyat expect out of Barisan Nasional’s majority win as far as the education system is concerned?
Historically, the royal house has been instrumental in shaping its education system from as far back as 1883 under the reign of Johor’s second ruler, Almarhum Sultan Sir Abu Bakar Ibni Almarhum Tun Temenggong Raja Daing Ibrahim. Agonising over the future of education in his state, he decreed then that education would be mandatory for all — a decision that was enshrined in the Compulsory Education Enactment 1902. Known as the father of modern Johor, he formed the Johor Education Department, led by Datuk Muhammad Munsyi Ibrahim, who initially managed five schools and the number gradually increased to 66 boys’ and five girls’ schools by 1919.
Fast forward to today, the current Johor Sultan, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, laments the deteriorating standard of the English language in the state and the disunity of its Bangsa Johor, a term coined by his great-grandfather and namesake Sultan Sir Ibrahim Al-Masyhur Abu Bakar, as far back as 1920. He believes the solution is for national schools to adopt the English language as a medium of instruction — in other words, to return English medium schools to their former glory. The Sultan takes it a step further by suggesting that the English stream should be the only one in the state — where the English language, being the neutral ground, would be a unifying medium in harmonising its Bangsa Johor, while allowing for state religious schools to continue to operate.
Although education falls under the purview of the Education Ministry, the private sector is welcome to pump funds into state education departments or directly into schools to enhance facilities and benefits for its students. Chinese vernacular schools in Johor have excelled in this respect, receiving financial assistance from generous Chinese associations. The funds have been used to set up learning centres for its students who are left behind for whatever reason. The significance of their contributions has been more clearly seen during the current pandemic.
For decades now, Johor has been in a unique situation in which its students are bussed in the wee hours of weekday mornings to schools in their next-door neighbour Singapore. It has been recorded that as many as 200 buses cross the border to bring these students over the Causeway. Most of these youngsters either attempt to win the Asean scholarships offered by the city state or aim to remain and build a career there or anywhere overseas where world-class Singapore education takes them. A main criterion is for the applicant to be proficient in the English language. The brain drain has so far taken two million high-achieving Malaysians away from us — a loss that we can ill afford.
During the Covid-19 outbreak, Singapore schools were physically closed for 10 weeks whereas Malaysian schools topped 48 weeks. Singapore schools adopted a nuanced approach to switch seamlessly to home-based learning. They ensured adequate accessibility for students, including Malaysians, by re-scheduling holidays and providing devices. In contrast, students in Malaysia’s national schools were still grappling with the availability and suitability of devices, worsening the already widening learning gap for those who did not have access to lessons.
Johor’s education system is extraordinary for allowing dynamism to be practised in its management style and is poised to excel. It had endeavoured to be an international education hub and now proudly offers more than 18 international schools and eight top-notch foreign universities and institutions in Educity, mostly within the Iskandar Malaysia region.
With the new government leadership in place, the state should continue to invest heavily in the development of Bangsa Johor. This can begin with providing electronic devices to students so that they can use 21st century learning tools and put away their heavy school bags.
The state should urge more schools to adopt the Dual Language Programme (DLP), which has been put in place. Schools that have already adopted the DLP should be taken to the next level — DLP+ — by delivering digital education in the English language. The state could also entice the students from these DLP+ schools to enrol in international schools and foreign universities.
Engineers graduating from the University of Reading Malaysia can become sought-after physics teachers. Computer scientists from the University of Southampton Malaysia can become teachers of state-of-the-art IT. In time, a new brand of English language teachers will emerge from the enhanced immersion in the English language.
Efforts to uphold Bahasa Melayu should continue, what with Indonesia poised to become the next superpower. It should also enhance the fluency of Mandarin in schools as we boost trade multi-fold with China. The state should persuade students who have been enjoying world-class Singapore education to return and make an impact. Let us capitalise on what we have in our own backyard. There are enough highly ranked local and foreign universities that can lead industry.
In time, Johor will have produced a competent labour force to be reckoned with, second to none and bold enough to move mountains and attain a better quality of life for all of Bangsa Johor.