10 questions over the blueprint

Thursday September 13, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2012/9/13/focus/12016463&sec=focus

Question Time
By P. Gunasegaram

 

It’s a long, arduous process towards major educational reform, but hopefully the first step is now being taken.

ONE must hope and pray that the preliminary education blueprint released on Tuesday will lead to nothing less than a complete turnaround of the education system so that Malaysians become, well, better educated.

If we don’t take this opportunity to change direction and move forward from a steady, relative deterioration in our educational standards, then the prognosis for the future is rather bleak and our competitiveness as a nation will decline.

A review of our education system in the blueprint shows how far behind we are. International testing indicates that we lag far behind the best countries internationally, the difference between our 15-year-olds and theirs being as much as three schooling years.

In fact such testing indicates that 80% of our schools are poor. Enough said.

Over the years, we have let the standards of our education slip and we are in a deep hole from which we have to dig ourselves out. The effort and will required are going to be tremendous and have to be long and sustained.

One difference with the education blueprint this time is there are targets for achievement, timelines and action plans to get our education there. That’s good, for a plan is useless if it does not have these.

Here are 10 random questions that arose as I browsed through the blueprint:

1. How will teacher standards be raised? Teaching starts with teachers.

We have to remember that there are existing teachers, many of whom are below par and who entered the teaching profession when the bar was lowered. Raising their standards is going to be tough.

Attracting highly qualified graduates into the profession is not easy to do with the existing pay scheme. And if you raise pay across the board, those who are less than good now will also benefit, a conundrum that will be difficult to crack.

2. How much power will principals have and how are their capabilities going to be improved? Good schools start with good principals.

We know that there has to be power given to the right leaders to get the teaching profession into shape. But we have to ensure that the leaders are right too in the first place.

There should be a programme to increase the skills of principals first before the teachers themselves.

3. Why is basic infrastructure in many schools still lacking? After more than half a century of independence and all the money spent on education, the sector that accounts for the most expenditure, why are there schools which do not have the appropriate infrastructure?

Perhaps the problem is that money is not being spent efficiently and without the greatest returns.

4. Why is all the money sunk into education not paying dividends?

There is a need to examine why, with all the money spent, results have not been good in international comparison, with our educational standards declining on a relative basis and the gap widening with the developed countries. How do we get more bang for the buck?

5. How will English proficiency be raised? Proficiency is related not only to teaching but usage as well.

We should re-examine the issue of teaching science, maths and other technical subjects in English, especially from secondary school level onwards as a means of raising English proficiency. It is shocking that just a little over 20% of students obtain a credit in English at SPM level.

6. What about living skills such as health, financial planning, sex education, etc? There is much which is not taught in school in terms of living skills, such as health and sex education, financial planning, interpersonal relationships, and personal development.

Isn’t it time we introduced these in a significant and meaningful way in education and in as secular a way as possible?

7. How much competency-based outcomes can there realistically be? When we still have quotas and other discriminatory measures, it is difficult to make decisions based on merit and competency.

When we talk about equality we should give as well equal opportunity to the same results. You can give more people opportunities for education, but you must never reduce opportunities for education for those who have the qualifications.

8. What will be the extent of transparency? Transparency is not only served through annual reports where information is disclosed fairly, but also through checks and balances to ensure that everything is right and fair.

For that you need proper representation of all stakeholders in all bodies that make decisions to ensure that nothing is manipulated and the system can be trusted.

9. What about universities? If we want better graduate teachers and better graduates we need to upgrade our universities.

Social purposes can be better served through widening opportunities and offering remedial education, but this must not be at the expense of lowering educational standards.

Universities should be particularly open to moves to increase the capability of their students. For that you need to get good university teaching staff too.

10. Can we put the fun back into learning? Often we forget to make use of the natural curiosity and inquisitiveness of students to assist them to learn, but instead focus on book and rote learning and a system based on examinations.

While examinations can’t be phased out, there are other things that can be done to increase the fun in education. It’s going to be a long and arduous process putting our education system back on the right path.

Hopefully the education blueprint will help, and with everybody’s support and the necessary political will, some things at least will get moving this time around.

> P. Gunasegaram agrees that the quickest way to move up the social ladder and increase social awareness is through proper education.