IT was a busy year for education in 2019. And, it’s going to get even busier.
Last month, StarEdu in its annual ‘Year in Review’, rounded up a host of announcements made by the Education Ministry. And in the words of former education minister Dr Maszlee Malik – it was a year of changes, with 53 initiatives carried out to improve our education system. But it was also a year of controversies.
Now that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has taken over as Acting Education Minister for the time being, he is likely to be handling these thorny issues.
Will he get rid of some of the more controversial policies such as replacing white shoes with black ones, free breakfast for all primary school pupils and the Jawi calligraphy?
He definitely has the clout to push difficult policies through such as an emphasis on English and important skills that matter for the future of children and the nation. One wonders if this means he will bring back the Teaching and Learning of Science and Maths in English (or better known by its Malay acronym, PPSMI).
PPSMI was introduced in phases, beginning with Year One, Form One and Lower Six students in 2003 under Dr Mahathir’s first tenure as prime minister.
More importantly, how long will Dr Mahathir stay on as acting minister as the search for Maszlee’s replacement goes on? There is bound to be disruptions to the ministry if his time there is short.
March saw changes in the Form Three Assessment (PT3) examination format which caused unrest among students as they had little time to prepare.
In May, Maszlee was taken to task for linking the matriculation quota system with the unequal job opportunities for bumiputra in the private sector after calls were made for the enrolment of the matriculation programme to be done on merit.
The ministry had in April, announced that 90% bumiputra and 10% non-bumiputra intake policy for matriculation, which is done based on meritocracy, would be maintained.
In July, he had said that the prejudiced view of some sectors of the public towards the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) must be resolved before any decision on the recognition was made.
The UEC report was originally due in the middle of the year but a special task force set up to look into the issue of recognising the UEC, requested for an extension until October. However, the report has yet to be submitted to the ministry.
Parents, educationists and non-governmental organisations were understandably upset not only because it was a Pakatan promise unfulfilled, but also because it was heavily politicised.
The UEC issue had already been simmering for too long but his announcement that Jawi calligraphy would be included in our Standard Curriculum and Assessment Document (DSKP), and taught as part of the Year Four Bahasa Melayu syllabus, created an even bigger uproar, especially in the vernacular schools.
His assurance that it would not be tested in any exams did little to pacify Malaysians who felt that in a digital age, where students are expected to be Industry 4.0 ready, the ministry’s focus should be on the skills of tomorrow.
Netizens took to social media to vent their frustrations. Public objections were too loud to ignore and the ministry backed down.
But the issue is far from settled, as the school board of directors who are involved in policy-making in Chinese schools, were not given a say in its implementation.
Things continued to get hotter.
In October, the ministry was urged to address the alleged leak in PT3 questions after Form Three students reported receiving leaked PDF copies of actual PT3 exam papers via chat groups on instant messaging apps like Telegram.
With social media platforms, more stringent measures of preventing leaks are expected, and this is something the new minister will have to look into.
Maszlee, in that same month, announced that students would decide what subjects they want to study in Form Four starting this year.
As stakeholders wondered how such a massive change would be implemented in a matter of months, the ministry clarified that students would be given subject package options instead of being forced into science and arts streams. Its implementation will no doubt be closely followed.
In December, Dong Zong had to cancel its conference on the teaching of Jawi script, after the police stopped the gathering with a court order.
Meanwhile, the ministry was forced to clarify that a circular titled “Permission for Rakan Siswa Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (Yadim) to conduct dakwah (religious propagation) in schools, teacher education institutions, polytechnics, community colleges, public universities and selected private universities in Malaysia” did not involve non-Muslim students, SJK(C), SJK(T) and mission schools.
As the ministry prepares to kick-off the free breakfast programme (PSP) for all 2.7 million primary pupils nationwide, questions of whether the country can afford this, and whether the allocation could be put to better use, have still not been adequately addressed although the decision was made in August.
And as we acknowledge Malaysia’s improved performance in the recently released Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), the in-coming minister must make sure that the country, which is still below the global average score, is ranked among the top 30% of countries assessed come 2024. This is, after all, a target the ministry has set for the country.
Maszlee resigned on Jan 2 but promises were made, and hope for the ministry to deliver a quality education that is accessible to all, still burns bright. Discontent will rage on unless these are addressed – soon.
It looks like 2020 is going to be an even busier year for the ministry.