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Sunday May 26, 2013

The making of an ideal M’sian school

Drive for excellence: The choice of school must be the kind that people aspire to enrol in. Drive for excellence: The choice of school must be the kind that people aspire to enrol in.

We were more united with the existence of English-medium schools but, sadly, they are now only available to the elite.

IT seems, to many of us, a one-school system for all Malaysians is necessary and is the surest way to achieve our much desired unity. Supposedly this should fix all ills of our polarisation problems at the baseline.

Indeed it is idealistic and commendable to want to achieve a united Bangsa Malaysia through a one-school system. Perhaps it could prove to be the way to go in order to establish more tolerant, accepting and open-minded, thinking Malaysians. But the solution seems all too superficial, blinkered, and of an autocratic nature at this juncture.

The one-school system needs to be the school of choice of parents first and foremost before it gets chosen to become the only school system.

The national school is supposed to be the school of choice, but has ironically become the school out of no choice.

Parents and children must be given the right to choose the schools and not have it forced upon them by eliminating the other alternatives that are still available for free, like the vernacular schools. Market forces must make that happen, should it happen.

The choice school is to be the kind of school which people aspire to enrol in and complete their secondary education. Better quality teaching and learning is an obvious desire; on top of that, the students need to also develop a good sense of empathy.

The question is, can the one-school system eliminate the polarisation problem or is it just wishful thinking?

Would the vernacular school be used as a scapegoat for polarisation as justification for abolishing it?

Is the Swedish World Survey value accurate in their conclusion that we are indeed racially intolerant, and that it could be regardless of the existence of vernacular schools?

A dominance of a certain ethnicity in many schools cannot be helped due to the geographic nature of the schools being in the vicinity dominated by an ethnic group. Or that it is a residential school. Therefore, the one-school system would still be filled by the same ethnic group in certain schools.

The idea of a one-school system is still an experiment to achieve the desired outcome of unity. The current national school, which is meant to be the choice school, was an experiment of the 1970s which has resulted in our current predicament. We are even more polarised now and class polarisation is also one of its effects.

We say that no other country in the world has multiple running vernacular systems; hence they are the cause of our polarisation. But no other country in the world has our blend of ethnic and class make-up. There is no need for us to follow the norm.

Our history and beginnings are not the norm. We accepted diversity in return for independence. Bahasa Malaysia will always be dear to us. It is protected under the Constitution and the Education Act. We will cherish and honour it, for we have stood fast that Bahasa Malaysia will have its fair share in the national schools.

But we must move on with English, our second language and the one that will give us the needed boost. We need to be pragmatic and accept it. English is a neutral language as no local ethnicity can claim ownership and everyone needs to master it. It is inevitable to be proficient in the language of the world. Defending our national language from foreign threats will only make us weaker as a society if we still remain ignorant and backward.

It is hard to admit that we had a more successful education system in the past. It is akin to admitting to a mistake we made when the English-medium schools were abolished.

The fact is, we have failed to meet the objectives of the abolition. We did not achieve the desired unity, our national schools have not become the school of choice, our standard of English has dropped drastically, we are churning out half-baked graduates who are not able to find jobs and we are stuck in the middle income trap.

The abolition of the English-medium school’s rippling effect is that it not only abolished the national-type school, but paved the way to a socialist ideology in our education system. It has led to the Education Minister changing the system with impunity as, when and how it suits him politically.

The day English-medium schools died, was the day that politics ruled our education, which is incongruent to what is good for our children and national unity.

It is time we make amends and admit that we have been walking on the wrong path and are now gasping to equip ourselves with better education.

The last recipe we know of an educational success and excellence was with the English national-type schools and the ecosystem supporting them. A crucial element to making Malaysia what it is supposed to be was dropped without much thought to the future impact of the country.

Genuine unity

We were more united with the existence of English-medium schools, and that was a genuine unity, a coincidental outcome with inspirational education. But sadly, that type of inspirational education is now only available to the elite.

If we talk about equity, then the class equity is something that needs to be addressed before it too blows up in our faces. Everyone wants an equal chance to rise, and not be discriminated against due to lack of opportunity. That is only fair.

The English-medium school of this century should be an upgraded version of the English-medium school of yesteryear. It too might be a hybrid that offers a myriad of languages for different subjects. It is not just changing the medium of instruction but also rejuvenating our archaic ways of teaching and learning.

Thom Markem, a school redesigning consultant who is also a psychologist in the United States, said: “If you’re a teacher in tune with the needs of your students, you sense the disconnect between the curriculum and reality. You’d like the freedom to respond more directly to student needs, but standardised information and testing remains a barrier to innovative teaching.”

There are many self-created hindrances to good learning that need to be corrected. We must ensure that the system stays relevant, is able to check and correct for greater efficiency and is not plagued with prejudice.

We are a small and young country; we are not able to live in silos. Our strength is in diversity, not assimilation.

To build a nation that is progressive and improves continuously to meet global challenges, it takes an attitude change. We need to admit that we cannot continue doing the same thing and expect a different outcome.

Science and Mathematics in English should continue its course and pave the way for the comeback of English-medium schools. Perhaps having Science and Mathematics in English would drive it to become a choice school.

Even the rural folks understand the value of English schools, hence the success of the MRSM colleges with the double track GCSE O Levels programme. English schools have already begun in the rural area. This should be replicated for other rural schools too.

Perhaps The Star could do a readers’ petition for English national-type schools to gauge how many people would want English national-type schools. That will ensure that those who want it are significant in number.

For sure, the 462 mission schools are agreeable, making at least 231,000 children (if we assume 500 students per school) and their parents favourable to this comeback. Although numbers should not be the way to justify popularity, drafting up a visionary policy that will benefit the country to remain competitive is.

So, regardless of the numbers, we need to have more appealing schools that will be the ideal Malaysian school.

These schools must have more immersion and engagement in English to make them attractive to all ethnic groups. More subjects in English are vital to make these schools the schools of choice, and national unity will fall into place.

> PAGE’s mission is to provide a platform for parents’ feedback on educational issues and enable its transmission to the Education Ministry.

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