THE Education Ministry last year exceeded its target of preschool enrolment, providing early education to more than 700,000 children aged 4 and 5.
Together with the Community Development Department, National Unity and Integration Department and the private sector, the ministry rolled out 1,500 preschool classes to achieve an enrolment rate of 72.42 per cent, exceeding its 72 per cent target.
It is also introduced a national preschool curriculum and set up the National Preschool Council to refine and implement policies for preschools.
Under the improving student outcomes in the National Key Result Areas (NKRA), the ministry managed to rank all 9,814 primary and secondary schools for the first time in the country’s history.
It also achieved a score of 85 per cent literacy and 91 per cent numeracy rates for Year One pupils in its literacy and numeracy screening (Linus) in September.
The initiative also saw 20 schools being recognised as high performers across the nation.
Apart from these, 7.7 per cent of primary school headmasters received the new deal award, exceeding the target of two per cent last year.
While there have been shortfalls, the government consider them as part of a learning curve.
With continuous growth in the education system, the nation’s adult literacy rate is now above 92 per cent and among developing countries.
The country also enjoys one of the fastest growth rates in secondary school enrolment and achieved universal primary enrolment.
However, compared with Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, Malaysian student outcomes have declined.
About 20 per cent of students failed to meet the minimum Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) benchmarks for Mathematics and Science in 2007, an alarming dip compared with five to seven per cent in 2003.
The widening gap among students is a cause for concern as higher education levels correlate with long-term economic growth.
In supporting preschool agencies and operators and to increase enrolments, the fee structure and meal grants were standardised across government preschools.
The government continued to support private preschool operators nationwide with fee assistance extended to 24,179 children from low-income families who attended private preschools with fees not exceeding RM150 per month.
In addition, the ministry partnered with private teacher training colleges to train about 7,000 private pre-school teachers in a bid to raise the quality of teachers in the system.
In Linus, about 450,000 Year One pupils underwent three screenings for basic literacy and numeracy skills last year with a 85 per cent pass rate for literacy and 91 per cent pass for numeracy.
The target was 90 per cent for both tests.
The NKRAs also aim to have 100 high performing schools by next year and they will have more autonomy in decision-making in instruction methods, flexibility in adapting curriculum, as well as the selection and deployment of teachers and allocation of funds.
In addition, an annual financial grant is given to each high performing school to be used on student development, infrastructure and other elements in school excellence.
In the new deals for school heads, the top two per cent of high achieving teachers received incentives of RM7,500, and other teachers in the schools are also rewarded. The top five percent of teachers in their schools will receive RM1,800 and others RM900.