POST GE14, we have a “new” Malaysia and a new beginning. Perhaps this is an opportune time for us to look into some features of our education system that could be improved upon.
Firstly, at the primary level, Bahasa Malaysia (BM) as a subject in national and national-type schools is not on a level playing field. National-type schools (that is, the vernacular Chinese and Tamil schools) follow a BM curriculum and syllabus that is of a “lower” standard compared to that followed by national schools. And, national-type schools pupils also sit for BM papers which are of a “lower” standard in their UPSR.
Once in secondary schools, these vernacular school pupils find themselves disadvantaged not only during BM classes but also in other subjects taught in BM. Many are lost and soon lose interest in their studies. Some drop out before reaching Form Three.
We are now into our 61st year of independence. BM is our national language and it is recognised as our language of unity. So why then would pupils want to learn BM at a lower standard and at a slower pace?
Secondly, we have long been talking about the hitherto unattainable Science-Arts student enrolments target of 60:40. Interest in the study of Science among our students has waned. It was reported that the number of Science-stream students had reached a critical low of 29% and was sliding. This is indeed a worrying development.
Consider doing away with the Science-Arts streaming after Form Three. Students should be exposed to a more general and broader curriculum rather than a compartmentalised and narrow one.
Streaming into Science and Arts should be done only in Form Six, Matriculation or at the pre-Diploma stage. Students need to gain a better and deeper understanding of the different subjects before they make the decision to specialise.
At Forms Four and Five, we should instead have a single general stream for all.
Lest we fear that our Forms Four and Five students may lose their edge in the pure sciences, much of the “higher-learning preparatory” materials now being taught to Forms Four and Form Five students can be carried forward.
It is also a necessity for Arts stream students to take on more Science subjects. With the General stream concept, the Science syllabus is broader than the present General Science offered in the Arts stream. This way, everybody gets to learn enough science.
We need to transform the present practice of streaming which has not been yielding the desired results.
Thirdly, a worrying trend is developing. Non-Malay parents are not enrolling their children into national primary schools. If this is where pupils of all ethnicity gather and thereby promote racial unity, we need to seriously address this issue.
National schools are fully government schools. They are generally well endowed, fully staffed and adequately equipped with both academic and co-curricular resources. It is also the best place for children to learn and master BM and English. Surely parents want to see their children grow up in a school environment such as this?
But then there is the flip side. Parents also want to see their children learn their mother tongue or a third language.
In national schools however, lessons on pupils’ own language (POL) leave much to be desired. POL periods are usually not in the main timetable. Classes are held after school or even on Saturdays. Also, most national schools don’t have POL teachers on staff.
As a result, pupils are not effectively learning their mother tongue through these classes. Parents therefore turn to vernacular schools that deliver in this respect.
National schools need to improve their handling of POL classes so that truly effective and efficient learning can take place. At the same time, vernacular schools have to brush up on the level of BM and English taught to their pupils.
When parents’ concern over their child’s language proficiency is addressed, their choice of school will be based on the overall quality of the school. Our school system will then gain, truly progress and improve.
LIONG KAM CHONG
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