A subject most sensitive

Sunday December 30, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2012/12/30/nation/12505508&sec=nation

PAGE VIEWS
By NOOR AZIMAH ABDUL RAHIM
pagemalaysia@gmail.com

Parents want choices for their children.

Non-tradeable services such as house cleaning or hair cutting have little room for productivity improvements and market expansion but sophisticated financial, consulting, health and environmental services do contribute to productivity growth. Stuck in the Middle’, The World Bank, Nov 2012

THE 13th general election looms ahead. Parents who are still fence-sitters at this late stage will decide eventually on which way to vote based on the more critical issues raised by both sides of the political divide particularly on a subject most sensitive the education of their very own children.

While there are claims that politics does not interfere with education, we parents, know it does and we do not like it.

The recently released TIMSS 2011 (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) result is a case in point.

Not surprisingly, the results are again appalling, the Education Ministry having done little to analyse the reasons and therefore arrest the decline. It keeps mum while the opposition and critics have a field day.

The preliminary report of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (MEB) offers some explanation in that of a misalignment of the national examinations which tests content knowledge and its recall while TIMSS assesses the application of knowledge in solving problems and the ability to reason in working through problems.

Nonetheless, the decision by the ministry to benchmark the national examinations to the international assessments and to be top third by 2025 is commendable. How this is to be achieved, however, still remains a mystery.

The fact remains that drastic measures have to be taken by the ministry if we want to spur students’ interest in science, to meet the national target of 100 research scientists and engineers per 10,000 working population and to achieve success in the fields of nanotechnology, biotechnology, aerospace, automation and green technology, where RM600mil has been budgeted by the government in these areas.

We suggest that Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM) retain PPSMI post-abolition to complement its IGCSE programme where interviews into Form 1 are conducted strictly in English. Sekolah Menengah Sains (SMS) should do the same.

These elite schools should also offer only science streams at higher secondary or else drop the Sains’ label.

Likewise, day schools that can transform into science centres of learning, shall adopt the Sains’ tag.

Meanwhile, parents can suggest that their Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) work with their respective school administrations to encourage students to participate in the annual International Competitions and Assessments for Schools (ICAS) on higher order thinking skills (HOTS) where the questions are set by the University of New South Wales.

Funding for ICAS

These can be conducted in any school, beginning with Year 3 through to Form 6 in English, Science, Mathematics, writing and computer skills for a nominal fee and which in the end comes along with a comprehensive analysis of each student’s results indicating strengths and weaknesses.

For some years now, cluster schools whose niche is English, utilise its funding to pay for the fees charged for the English assessment. High performance schools should do so as well.

The MEB comprises 268 pages and is a good read, although somewhat apologetic’ in acknowledging the many mistakes which have been made in the past and its many motherhood statements to put things right’ in the next 13 years.

The opposition coalition reacted by promising an alternative blueprint for the people to see by the end of October which has now been delayed until the end of the year. It is a mammoth task.

Parents with school-going children will be looking out very closely for this. Whether or not the respective blueprints are to be part of the election manifesto will indicate the degree of politicking education has a bearing.

If this is anything to go by, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) did, though, have a day-long education convention last month, themed National Education Reformation’, attended by 200 participants with distinguished speakers ranging from retired directors from the ministry of education and state education departments to tired university professors with one learned academic even boldly suggesting that all national secondary schools be turned into religious schools!

The convention concluded with a six-point resolution called Halatuju Pendidikan Negara recommending, among the more salient, that Bahasa Malaysia be the main medium of instruction in universities while the teaching and learning of science and mathematics in English (PPSMI) be abolished immediately.

PAS had wanted PPSMI to be abolished in 2009 while DAP wants the policy to remain in secondary schools. How this will be compressed into a single blueprint is anybody’s guess.

Parents want PPSMI in national schools from Year 1. Parents also want English-medium schools (EMS). Parents also want a non-politician to be the minister of education. We want choices for our children.

Sabah parents want the glory of mission schools to be returned as is provided for in its 20-point agreement, the Federal Constitution and Section 17 of the Education Act.

Sarawak parents are concerned that in spite of the large education budget, its children still fail to read and write, and that differences still cannot be made between language and knowledge learning.

The 11% primary schools and the 9% secondary schools that have opted to do PPSMI in totality (the short-term politicians had wanted so eagerly to abolish) should be given priority to transform into EMS.

Precedent

All national primary and secondary schools should have at least one PPSMI class at every level with a structured plan to gradually increase the number over time.

The government had on three separate occasions placed a technocrat minister to helm education. It has set a precedent. Will the opposition coalition offer to duplicate this move?

Incidentally, the last technocrat minister had seven honorary doctorates in science. He had justified PPSMI in a speech late 2003, “In the 1970s we were able to survive with the use of translated texts.

However, in the 1990s, the profusion and proliferation of knowledge proved to be a daunting challenge to our translation industry; in Chemistry, since the beginning of the 1990s, more than a million articles have appeared in specialised journals every two years (Clark, 1998); between 1978 and 1988, the number of known chemical substances increased from 360,000 to 720,000, reaching 1.7 million in 1998 (Salmi, 2000); in Biology, only in 1977 was the method designed to determine the base sequence of the letters that codify the information in DNA initially, it was possible to determine the sequence of 500 bases per week.

This same method, today perfected and automated, can decipher the three billion bases of the human genome in a few years. Presently, a genome centre can determine a million bases per day (Brunner, 2001); in Mathematics, 100,000 new theorems are created every year (Madison, 1992).

Considered together, it is estimated that knowledge, defined as the disciplinary base published and recorded, took 1,750 years to double in the period between 1A.D. and the year 1,750 A.D. It then doubled in volume, successively, in 150 years, 50 years, and now, every five years. It is estimated that by the year 2020, this knowledge base will double in 73 days.”

All this is found in its lingua franca, English.

The first political coalition to be brave enough to distinguish between language and knowledge will be the progressive government that the people are looking for.

Remember, when PPSMI was introduced in 2003, Barisan Nasional recorded a landslide victory a year later.

Food for thought as we savour the rendang, dim sum or curry that most tickles our fancy on public holidays. Season’s greetings and a Happy New Year.

The writer is chairman of pro-progress Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE), a national education watchdog.