TODAY is the last day of 2017. While this is the time to make New Year resolutions, it is also the time to reflect on happenings that affected both young students and their parents.
The year started off with 435,882 pupils nationwide starting Year One on Jan 1 for states with Friday weekends, and on Jan 3 for the rest.
Another 441,569 students entered Form One, according to figures from the Education Ministry.
The issue of the RM50mil Chinese vernacular school allocation for maintenance works took the limelight just before Christmas in 2016 and it was still a topic of discussion throughout the first month of the year.
This came after the Chinese press raised concerns that the schools had not received the RM50mil allocation from the 2016 Budget.
Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid announced there was a slight shortage in the allocation of budget for the schools.
However, the ministry managed to sort out the issue with the help of MCA before the end of January.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Chong Sin Woon had on Jan 20 said the RM50mil was ready to be disbursed to all Chinese schools, and that the ministry had already set the amount that each of the 834 schools would get.
The allocation has since been distributed to schools state-by-state.
Meanwhile, Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir was appointed Higher Education Ministry director-general effective Jan 16 taking over from Prof Datuk Dr Asma Ismail who was appointed vice-chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh congratulated Dr Siti Hamisah on her appointment, saying he was confident her 30-year experience in higher education as well as leadership will carry Malaysian higher education into the future as the ministry embarks on its “Redesigning Higher Education” agenda.
Mahdzir announced that all schools must provide a complaint box for tip-offs on student misconduct and criminal activity.
In partnership with the ministry, the police wanted to improve its monitoring in all 1,187 schools statewide with school liaison officers (PPS) conducting visits twice a month through the Jom Ke Sekolah programme.
Separately, the Education Ministry started drafting laws on cyberbullying and was also looking at similar laws in other countries to see how best it could be applied here, according to Chong who said it is a must for cyber bullying to stop.
In an attempt to strengthen the usage of English in the country, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) and the Cambridge Malaysian Education And Development Trust (CMEDT) signed a letter of intent to launch a pilot project called Cambridge Accessible Tests (CATs).
The issuing of visas to foreign students within the new 14-day target will no longer be a problem with the increase of immigration officers in the Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) – a one-stop centre for foreign student enrolment that was set up by the Higher Education Ministry.
The Health Ministry published the results of Tobacco and E-cigarette Survey among Malaysian Adolescents 2016 (Tecma), a first-of-its-kind study, which revealed the shocking truth that one in every five boys below 18, smokes.
The study conducted on 14,833 students from 138 schools in 15 states showed that four in five knew that smoking below the age of 18 was an offence under the law.
More than half said they weren’t prevented from buying tobacco products, which they easily obtained from supermarkets, grocery stores and roadside stalls.
On e-cigs and vape, the survey found that most students have heard about it, and one in five has tried it.
Chong said the ministry would intensify anti-smoking campaigns in schools, while relevant authorities must step up their enforcement efforts to curb the sale of cigarettes to students.
Separately, Road Transport Department (JPJ) officers visited nearly 40 schools nationwide to advise teenage motorcyclists on the importance of adhering to the law, as it emerged that many below the age of 16 – the legal age to apply for a motorcycle license – were riding without a licence.
Meanwhile, RM18mil was secured to build the 528th Tamil school in the country – SJK(T) Taman Keladi – located in Sungai Petani. MIC president Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam, who broke the news, said the Education Ministry at the time already issued the letter of approval for the new school which will have room for 200 pupils along with other facilities.
Meanwhile, Universiti Malaya (UM) retained its position as the best performing Malaysian institution in the latest edition of the QS World University Rankings by Subject – ranking 23rd for electrical engineering, moving up 14 positions from the previous year.
UM also rose from the 51-100 band for mechanical engineering (now 33rd), chemical engineering (now 38th), and education (now 41st). In total, it ranks in the top 50 for five subjects, compared with two last year.
After a round of budget cuts, public universities were in need to find ways to secure some much needed funds.
Fortunately, the institutions were allowed to bank on foreign students pursuing medicine, dentistry and pharmacy at public universities to bring in additional income after the Higher Education Ministry announced they were allowed to take advantage of the five per cent placement offer to foreign students.
Idris said foreign students who study medicine, dentistry and pharmacy at public universities would be charged the full fees of between RM400,000 and RM500,000, while local students pursuing the same courses at these universities could enjoy subsidised fees of between RM15,000 and RM30,000.
The ministry also announced students from eight public universities were allowed to start taking a gap year to explore opportunities via the ministry’s gap year 2017 programme.
Higher Education Ministry director-general Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir said the gap year programme is a new concept in Malaysian higher education institutions that allows students to take a year or two semesters off their formal education for personal growth.
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry said dilapidated schools in rural areas will be transformed into community centres under the Government’s National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS).
Mahdzir said the initiative, called My New School, involved upgrading and renovating certain schools to equip them with modern learning facilities to benefit students.
Not all private Tahfiz schools are registered under the Education Ministry. Since religion falls under the state’s jurisdiction, such schools are mostly registered under the state Islamic departments.
There are currently about 270 religious schools registered under the ministry.
However, the ministry and the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) worked together to draw up guidelines for the registration of tahfiz schools.
Mahdzir said the guidelines included the teachers’ qualifications and the number of classrooms, based on the existing terms of reference for private schools.
The Higher Education Ministry targets that by 2020, 15% of students who are in the midst of pursuing higher education will venture into entrepreneurship while five percent of them will become entrepreneurs upon graduating.
The ministry also said engineering courses at public universities will be redesigned to reflect current industry demands.
Idris said rapid development created hybrid or new engineering fields like biomedical engineering – a fusion of medicine and engineering that would create new jobs for the future.
The Education Ministry announced it will be working with experts on early childhood education to improve the preschool education plan for government schools.
Mahdzir said the entire system will be studied, including the subjects taught and the time spent on each subject.
Separately, he said Internet facilities would be upgraded in 6,000-odd schools, bringing the total number of schools to more than 10,000 because high speed Internet access “does not only improve teaching and learning in schools, but is also beneficial for teachers and other staff in discharging their duties.”
Chong announced making English a compulsory pass subject for SPM is being considered again.
The deaths of two young students shocked the nation this month.
Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain, the navy cadet officer from the Malaysian National Defence University (UPNM) was found murdered because of a dispute over a laptop.
He was allegedly bound, beaten and burnt with an iron before he died on June 1.
Thirty-six students were arrested in connection with the death. Five students were charged with murder, while another five were charged for abetting.
T. Nhaveen, 18, died on June 13 after he fell unconscious being beaten up and sodomised by a group of teenagers believed to be ex-schoolmates with helmets and fists.
Four teens were charged with murder, but their trial has been postponed twice till next year, causing dismay for Nhaveen’s family.
On a more positive note, the nation’s five public research universities – Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) – have been listed in the top 1% universities worldwide.
From this year, students at the 15 government matriculation colleges nationwide will only get the RM250 monthly allowance if their parents have a combined income of less than RM10,000 a month.
Previously, all students accepted into these colleges were entitled to the allowance.
Chong confirmed the new ruling, saying the allowance will only be given to students whose parents are in the B40 and M40 categories or who come from households with an income of less than RM10,000.
Mahdzir said Malaysians graduating from international schools are required to sit for and pass the SPM Bahasa Malaysia paper if they want to join the civil service in the country.
He however did not think it was necessary to include Bahasa Malaysia as a compulsory subject in international schools as they were following the United Kingdom, United States or the Australian education syllabus and not the Malaysian syllabus.
Chong said those who want to fulfil the SPM BM requirement for appointment in the civil service can apply to sit for that paper alone.
The announcement came after Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that contract-based doctors (housemen) would not be required to take six core SPM subjects and only need to sit for the BM paper to be appointed in the the civil service.
Separately, Chong said allowances, including living expenses and travel allowances, for trainee teachers will be stopped from June 2018 but Mahdzir said that a final decision had yet to be made.
The ministry, however, will continue funding the undergraduate degree in Education (PISMP).
Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan announced that the ministry together with the Higher Education Ministy and Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry is working together on the National Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Transformation Plan 2017-2025, which is expected to be completed by this year or early next year.
It will focus on eight core areas: policy, teaching and learning, facilities, career awareness programmes, strategic partnerships, research and data, commercialisation and innovation.
Mahdzir said students in the country’s 10,000 schools would be allowed to bring certain mobile devices to class, starting 2018, but not a mobile phone.
He also said there will be a time limit on the usage of electronic devices depending on the subject being taught.
This month, a list of 402 “hotspot” schools – deemed at risk of disciplinary and drug problems – came into the spotlight when it was leaked.
Chong said the list was a proactive measure to ensure that schools got the attention they need, and does not mean they are bad or problematic.
He urged the public not to misunderstand and label the schools as hopeless, saying that some are on the list because they’re located in crime hotspots and high-risk areas, while others are there because of truancy issues.
The list was discussed at an earlier meeting between ministry officials, the police, representatives from parent-teacher associations and NGOs in Putrajaya.
Mahdzir announced that the UPSR examination will continue until an appropriate time comes for it to be replaced, as a study to identify a suitable replacement was still being carried out.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the government is developing a comprehensive technical and vocational education and training (TVET) master plan, that will be managed by the Human Resources Ministry with the assistance of all relevant ministries.
“In line with the aspirations and vision of the National Transformation 2050 or TN50, the government has through Pembangunan Sumber Manusia Berhad (PSMB) allocated RM50mil from the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) for TVET purposes,” said Najib.
The Prime Minister said special emphasis will be given to Industry 4.0 to establish a workforce which is able to be competitive globally.
This was also the month when the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz centre in Kuala Lumpur, caught fire killing 23 students.
The Education Ministry announced that starting 2018, all preschoolers, pupils in Year One and Two and students in Form One and Two, will start off their curriculum with imported English textbooks, as part of its move to implement the new Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) aligned curriculum.
According Kamalanathan, the ministry will buy off-the-shelf books to cater to schools because locally produced textbooks are not able meet the new CEFR levels – a guide developed by the Council of Europe to gauge foreign language proficiency.
The ministry’s move was welcomed by the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP), Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia and other parties, but garnered mixed reactions from teachers and the public, who said imported books do not relate to the Malaysian scenario.
The ministry once again urged all primary schools to reduce the number of workbooks used during lessons to end the rampant “heavy bag phenomenon” in Chinese schools, as well as to lighten parents’ financial burden, after some parents revealed they paid up to hundreds of ringgit just for workbooks.
Chong said teachers were not supposed to use external workbooks as the main teaching reference in the first place, and reminded schools that the textbooks and workbooks provided by the ministry are sufficient.
Pupils from Year One to Three should not use workbooks, while pupils from Year Four to Six are only allowed one workbook per core subject – Mathematics, Science and Chinese or Tamil.
Failure to abide by the latest rule could lead to disciplinary action against teachers and headmasters, he said.
In an attempt to protect youngsters from online threats, the ministry introduced an Internet safety, online ethics, and time management module, for Years One and Two students.
According to Tan Sri Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof, the director-general then, the module is the first of six being developed by the CyberSecurity Malaysia (CSM) with input from the ministry as a National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) collaboration project.
Datuk Dr Amin Senin is the new director-general taking over from Dr Khair.
Chong said the ministry is expecting more schools to implement the Dual Language Programme (DLP).
Three hundred DLP schools have quadrupled to over 1,200 in one year. Response is overwhelming and voluntary.
Despite its controversial start, the DLP has proven to have improved students’ command of English.
Statistics from the Education Ministry showed that between 18% and 95% of students in over 1,200 primary and secondary DLP schools have improved their grades in the subject.
Three-quarters of these DLP students were at, or above, the target level of the CEFR – the ministry stated in its annual report of 2016.
The DLP, which was announced during Budget 2016, allows selected schools to teach Science and Mathematics in English.
It is offered to Year One, Year Two, Year Four and Year Five pupils and Form One and Form Two students.
There are now almost 40,000 pupils and students under the programme nationwide.
Initially, 300 schools were identified for the pilot project when it started last year.
That number has since grown fourfold. As of June, 629 secondary and 585 primary schools – or about 10% of schools nationwide – offer DLP classes.
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry and MDEC (Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation) received special recognition from the Malaysia Book of Records for achieving the largest participation for Basic Computer Coding Programme.
The Hour Of Code campaign, held from Oct 30 to Nov 13, saw the participation of 80,037 students aged between seven and 17 from 745 schools nationwide.
Malaysia is also the country with the highest number of Hour Of Code sessions hosted outside of the United States and surpassed its target of 40,000 students.
Chong announced that the ministry aimed to do away with the culture of “elite classes” in the country’s schools within the next three years, by using a “soft landing” approach to carry out its plans.
Schools that have an elite class system can continue to do so with their pupils in Years Four to Six who will be beginning the new school year in January.
Chong also announced it will increase the number of English classes when imported CEFR aligned textbooks are used to teach English from 2018, to help students catch up with the higher standard of English presented in the new textbooks.