Don’t rush to implement free choice of subjects

  • Letters
  • Thursday, 17 Oct 2019

THE decision to start “Streamless schools next year” (The Star, Oct 16) is an excellent move indeed. Giving students freedom to choose the subjects they want to study will at least promote the love for learning.

But how this free choice recipe is to be configured and implemented is definitely not going to be easy. Careful planning would ensure minimal hitches and undue repercussions, hence the structure and implementation must not be rushed.

I would also caution the Education Ministry on a few matters. Firstly, it must not rush into implementing this system as many areas need to be looked into so that the ultimate objective would be achieved smoothly. One of these would be the need to fulfil prerequisite subjects for various courses at university level.

While the Education Ministry is at liberty to accommodate this requirement for our own public universities, what about the private and overseas ones? For example, most universities in India require Physics, Chemistry and Biology for entry into their medical undergraduate programmes (without Mathematics). Australian universities require Chemistry and either Physics or Biology, with Mathematics being another compulsory subject. Will a completely free choice of subjects cater to these considerations?

To reduce possible distress in this area, school counsellors play a crucial role in providing sound and good advice, and their input should be sought.

A more viable approach would be to allow “free choice of subjects” within a grouping of subjects, just like what was practised in the 60s and early 70s. For example, Bahasa Melayu, English Language, Mathematics or other subjects deemed as compulsory subjects are placed under Group A. Group B might comprise Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and students are allowed to choose one or two or all three of these subjects. Additional Mathematics and General Science are each placed in individual groups, with General Science being not allowed as a choice for those who have chosen any pure science subjects. Free choice of subjects within subject groupings seems to be an excellent approach.

Other possible issues are schedules and the need for more classrooms and subject teachers at the Form 4 and 5 levels. Free choice of subjects may result in Physics or History or any other subject having just a handful of students. Even with such numbers, a classroom, time slot and teacher for the subject must be provided.

This means that regardless of how popular or otherwise a subject is, the school needs to provide the facilities for conducting the classes. Hence, the number of teachers and classrooms for each subject might need to be increased for each school.

Ideally speaking, no minimum number of takers should be set, as this simply defeats the purpose of giving students free choice of subjects. This might end up with many subjects having just a handful of students each. As such, resources such as science labs, the number of teachers and classrooms need to be adequate to make this initiative successful.

The above are some the main areas of contention. As planning for this initiative gets under way, other issues and considerations might surface. I therefore urge the Education Ministry to tread with extra caution and plan thoroughly. It must be able to visualise what could crop up, and a good way to deal with this is to plan with plenty of “ifs”.

I am willing to offer my input and services if needed. My experience in the public school system, private schools, colleges and my liaison with overseas institutions are my credentials


Petaling Jaya

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