Comprehensive education reforms needed, says G25

  • Opinion
  • Tuesday, 11 Jun 2024

PETALING JAYA: Comprehensive reforms in education are needed for all, says the civil society group G25.

In a statement issued on Tuesday (June 11), it said that these reforms are needed to allow for all Malaysians to access quality education.

G25 added that this recognises the role of education in fostering unity and economic progress.

Below is the statement in full:

We, the members of G25, call for comprehensive reforms in the education sector to ensure equitable access to quality education for all Malaysians. In recognizing the pivotal role of education in fostering national unity, promoting economic progress, and cultivating critical thinking skills in our children, G25 continues to advocate for the following reforms:

A Balanced Curriculum and Proficiency in the English Language

G25 supports the national language policy of making Malay the medium of instruction in education and communication, both in the public and private sector. Its wide use will help strengthen unity among the various races. At the same time, Malaysia must continue to recognise the importance of English in most parts of the world especially in business, education, science, and technology, as well as diplomacy. Malaysia should therefore continue to use English as a strong second language for the country.

As a universal language, English is vital for Malaysia's competitiveness in the global economy and attractiveness to foreign investment. Proficiency in English is crucial for job seekers, particularly in the growing white-collar sector, where competence in English, aligned with international standards like the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), is essential. This recommendation ties in with the aspirations of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013 – 2025, which advocates for the alignment of English language education at Primary and Secondary levels with international standards, specifically CEFR.

Ensuring a proper balance in the curriculum is crucial. Allowing ample time for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects alongside other disciplines will go a long way to prepare students for the demands of the modern world while nurturing a well-rounded education. STEM education is paramount in Malaysia's journey towards economic advancement, particularly considering the country’s burgeoning semiconductor industry and the government’s new plans for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) which was allocated RM6.8 billion in the 2024 budget.

The Education Ministry must proactively cultivate student interest in STEM subjects from the primary level onwards, leveraging engaging activities to make learning these subjects fun and enjoyable. The development of world-class economic and technological hubs, such as the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER), highlights the critical need for a workforce that is well-versed in STEM fields. This also makes the teaching of maths and science subjects in English, as what is being done under the dual language programme (DLP), even more of a priority. Having a solid STEM foundation, especially in the English language, gives job seekers a competitive edge, allowing graduates to secure better employment opportunities.

There is an emphasis on religious education in the current curriculum in our public schools. However, while we recognise the importance of religious education, it is crucial to ensure that it does not take up the majority of school time. Striking a balance between religious instruction and other academic pursuits is vital for a well-rounded education that equips children with the knowledge, skills, and values they need to thrive in a multicultural, technologically advanced, and interconnected world. Elective afterschool religious studies programmes should be considered as an alternative to maintain balance between subjects within the regular school hours.

Teacher Training and Development for Better Learning and Environment

We recognize the importance of well-trained and motivated educators in delivering quality education. Therefore, strengthening teacher training institutions, particularly in the teaching of STEM subjects, is imperative. Equipping educators with the necessary skills and knowledge ensure that they can effectively share that knowledge in their lessons. Investing in continuous professional development programmes for teachers, promoting merit-based recruitment, and providing competitive salaries and benefits to attract and retain talent need to be seriously considered as a foundation to increasing the quality of teachers in our schools.

Emphasizing the importance of ethical conduct both inside and outside the classroom is also paramount. The dedication and professionalism of teachers directly impact students' learning experiences and behaviours as a large portion of a child’s life is spent in schools with their teachers.

With support, teachers will be more motivated to foster a happy atmosphere of study and play that is essential in cultivating students' interest in attending and staying in school. When schools become places where students feel valued, supported, and engaged, their overall academic performance improves. This also leads to better mental health in both students and teachers.

Inclusivity and Community Participation

We believe in providing equal opportunities for all children to have access to quality education regardless of socio-economic background, ethnicity, or geographic location. It is important to ensure that marginalized groups such as students with disabilities (physical and learning), indigenous communities, and those from low-income households, are taken into consideration when it comes to improving our education system.

In addition, our education system must not neglect foundlings, stateless children, and children of refugees who are living in Malaysia. As a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Malaysia acknowledges the fundamental right of every child to an education, as enshrined in Article 28 of the UNCRC. Article 28 of the UNCRC says that children and young people have the right to education no matter who they are: regardless of race, gender, or disability; if they are in detention, or if they are a refugee. This is not merely a question of our country’s obligations as a party to the UNCRC, but a moral one too. Children innocent of the conditions of their birth should not be made to suffer because of it. Giving access to public education for these children contributes to the broader goals of social inclusion, stability, and sustainable development for our Malaysian society as well. It will also provide a more diverse and competitive mix within our schools, increasing opportunities for Malaysian children to be exposed to a broader cultural and global perspective while promoting understanding and compassion for those of different backgrounds. Enriching the educational experience for all children in schools will empower these children with the knowledge and skills necessary to build better futures for themselves and their communities.

Providing adequate infrastructure, resources, and support systems in both urban and rural areas, must also be prioritised. One way to ensure this will happen would be by encouraging the active involvement of the local community in school activities. This will foster a sense of ownership and pride within the community, as well as target the specific needs of people in that area. Members of the community will act as the direct stakeholders of the school and be able to play the role of potential donors to strengthen the school's resources.

Partnerships between the public and private sectors should also be encouraged to help by supplementing government efforts in expanding educational opportunities and improving infrastructure.

By implementing these targeted improvements, we believe it will contribute to the overall advancement of Malaysia's education system, making our national schools more attractive to parents who are looking out for the future of their children.

There is a need for the Education Ministry to do an evaluation on the education system and its programmes. In line with the current government’s commitment to transparency, the findings of this evaluation should be disclosed to the public. Doing so will create confidence in the current administration that something is being done to address the concerns the public has with how the Ministry is dealing with the problems in our education system.

G25 Malaysia

11 June 2024

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