It is done with good intentions but the information on the move was incomplete and as a result, this caused questions to be raised.
These questions included how this plan will be executed, can subjects be chosen on a truly ala carte menu, will students’ subject combinations affect their future career plans, what about teachers and schools?
To clear the air, the Education Ministry gave a briefing and released a detailed explanation on the new subject package system that comes into effect in January 2020.
This made things clearer as there are guidelines on how packages can be chosen and how schools will handle the new system.
Education Ministry deputy director-general (policy and curriculum) Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim says the new system will not be totally open but it will be flexible.
Students will be allowed to pick between the package options that are designed to meet tertiary education entry requirements and a student’s preferred career path.
Besides the fixed packages, students can choose an elective subject based on their interests after considering their Form Three Assessment, school-based assessment and psychometric test, under the guidance of their school counsellors, she adds.
She explains that students will have to sit for six core subjects, one compulsory subject which is Physical and Health Education (PJK), and pick up to five elective subjects and mix between them. (see table)
However, these choices are fixed into packages.
Habibah says that there are two main packages - STEM and arts and humanities.
Students will be allowed to then choose their elective subjects based on subject groups such as languages, Islamic Studies, applied science and technology, and arts and humanities.
It is up to the schools, she adds, to provide the subject packages based on available facilities and availability of option teachers.
Students will not be able to run away from Additional Mathematics if they choose to take up any of the pure science subjects such as Physics, Chemistry and Biology.
PJK is a compulsory subject but it will only be tested at the school level.
Students can pick up to two extra subjects from the list of subjects offered for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) with the total subjects they can take being capped at 12.
Bahasa Melayu and History will remain compulsory passes for SPM. These two subjects are part of the six core subjects students must take in upper secondary.
The others being English Language, Science, Mathematics, and Islamic Studies or Moral Education.
There are three options for STEM packages and one Arts and Humanities package option. (see table).
Students who take any two pure science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Biology) do not need to take the core Science subject.
Students who take the following elective combinations - Al-Quran and As-Sunnah Education and Syariah Islamiah Education, Turath Dirasat Al-Islamiah and Turath Al-Quran Wa Al-Sunnah, or Usul Al-Din and Al-Syariah - are exempted from taking the core Islamic Studies subject.
Students who take Additional Science are not allowed to take any of the pure science subjects. They are encouraged to take Additional Mathematics.
Packages are determined by the school and a student can request to transfer to a different school that offers the subject package that s/he wants.
Habibah says that a student can take the subject privately and still sit for the subject in their SPM if that particular subject is not offered in their school.
What is new
Education Ministry curriculum development division director Dr Mohamed Abu Bakar says there will not be an issue of students being divided into science and arts classes anymore.
They will instead be grouped based on the subject packages they choose in school.
“This is not an entirely new system as the concept of subject packages has been around since SPM was made into an open certification in 2000,” he adds.
“These upper secondary subject packages provide the opportunity for students to identify and select the appropriate subject based on their aptitude, interests and abilities in the context of upper secondary learning in line with the entry requirements set by the matriculation programme, Form Six, higher education institutions and their future career pathways,” says Habibah.
She adds that this change from streams to subject packages is in line with the move from the Kurikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Menengah (KBSM) to the Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Menengah (KSSM) curriculum to develop 21st century skills such as critical and creative thinking, problem solving skills and leadership skills.
Last month, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik says that a “streamless” schools approach will be implemented beginning next year.
He says secondary students would be able to choose what subjects they want to study.
Maszlee elaborated on the pioneering move when he was addressing a meet-and-greet session with the Malaysian community in Frankfurt.
During the event on Oct 14, the minister says he will push for the end of streaming next year after the students got their Form Three Assessment (PT3) results.
The video recording of his speech was widely shared online.
Stakeholders did not take very kindly to this announcement.
In an immediate reply, Maszlee says that what he had mentioned during the visit in Germany was not a policy announcement but an intention to ensure that students were not burdened by streaming in the future.
Earlier in October, his deputy Teo Nie Ching told a vernacular daily that Form Four students will no longer be separated into science and art streams from 2020.
“The schools will arrange these classes based on the subjects chosen by the students,” she reportedly said.
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