Every other year, we receive fresh results from PISA or TIMSS, and every other year we see our children continue their slide to near insignificance on the global scale. I can’t phantom how the Education Ministry can remain so obtuse about such a catastrophe, and instead put on a façade of confidence, when there isn’t an iota of data to be confident about.
The education policies of this country and flawed in near every sense, and what we have are politicians continually failing and children–the same politicians who get re-elected year after year.
Satu sekolah untuk semua is destructive
Consider for a moment, that Malaysia is a diverse country, one of many races, religions and creeds–yet, there’s an entire sub-section of bloggers who think that having just one school system is valid for this country. I’m looking at the people behind satu sekolah untuk semua initative, an initiative that is well-intentioned (maybe) but definitely not in the best intention of our children.
Children need individualized learning, and if for what ever reason some of them prefer to learn Science and Maths in English or Malay, or Mandarin, Tamil or whatever language or dialect–then they should be encouraged to learn it in their preferred language. The parents who claim the need to learn science in the ‘lingua franca’ of science are both mis-guided and mis-informed, the lingua franca of science isn’t English–it’s MATHS. Maths is the language of science, and everything else is superfluous–there are countless thousands of Malaysian children who will struggle to learn science and maths in English–why don’t we strive to make it easier for them, by teaching English in English classrooms, and science in science classrooms–in the language of their choice.
Everything you’ve learnt is 100 years old–or older
On a separate note, nearly 95% of everything students learn in science in school was discovered prior to 1900, students don’t learn relativity, or quantum physics, the most modern thing I learnt in secondary school was Wave-Particle duality, and the equation for De Broglies wave length–which was discovered in 1924. So don’t tell me, that when learning science that’s about 100 years old–or more, we need to be using the lingua franca of science? How come similar arguments aren’t made for music or cooking? Does anybody hear seriously think making children learn cooking or music in English would help?
The most important chapters of both Physics and Maths in school are discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton–who lived in the 1600’s!!! Why are we here arguing about English? His English was completely different to ours. Why can’t we just let children learn in the language their most comfortable with, and armed with a love and appreciation for science, they’ll be able to overcome the language barrier as and when they reach it.
Saying that they’ll have difficulty coping with English when they reach their tertiary levels of education is correct, they will struggle, but teach them English now, will be akin to placing a 20 meter high wall in front of primary school children, so they won’t have to scale a 10m high wall later in university. What eventually happens is that children fail to scale the initial wall in the first place.
Devolve responsibility to the school level
If you listen to the Education gurus of our time, including Sir Ken Robinson, the one similarity between the education power-houses of the world, is that they individualized learning, devolve responsibility to the school level, and they have a high appreciation for teachers.
We’ve already highlighted the importance of individualized learning, the topic I’m particularly worried about is devolving responsibility to the school level. Because we’ve seen what happens when we do it–cows get slaughtered in school compounds and children are made to eat in toilets. Sigh!
But yet, we can’t ignore the data. The data suggest that if we allow school principals and teachers to make better informed decisions and allow them to tailor their lessons to the needs of their children–everyone wins. Yet, I’d be uncomfortable granting full autonomy to teachers and principals judging by what I’ve read in the newspapers, that being said, I was never one to allow my feelings to get in the way of raw data.
Here’s the deal, I believe we should allow teachers and principals more lee way in tailoring their lessons, I believe we need to grant autonomy to schools to make these decisions. A school catering to middle-income children in urban areas has completely different needs then a school of low-income rural children–why do we still think that one size would fit all. However, to avoid the scenarios of parents feeling hapless, we need to allow for greater flexibility for parents to transfer their children to and from schools, without having to go through the bureaucracy of education ministry. A parent should be allowed to enrol their child in any school that has accepted them–regardless of the status of the previous school. Therefore if a parent is unhappy with a particular school that their child is enrolled in, there should mechanisms for them to transfer their children out of the school, to any school that accepts the child–immediately. That way, children are only going to be in schools that their parents want them to be in.
High appreciation for teachers
Finally, it’s the high appreciation for teachers. Something Malaysia lacks in it’s entirety. Teachers are not held to the same esteem as someone like a Doctor, or a rich business man, instead we’ve come regard teachers as somewhat akin to low grade clerical workers. Well when we have low grade clerical workers teaching our kids–do you really expect them to become something other than low grade clerical workers.
Standardize testing is testing for the wrong thing
Notice standardize testing is not part of the equation. Finland has no standardize test, yet routinely scores well above average in both TIMSS and PISA. Standardize test differ so much from the real world, yet the focus our systems place on them, make it feel like it’s the most important thing ever.
In a standardize test, children are thought to solve questions on their own–at work, they’re expected to collaborate.
In a standardize test, children are expected to work out the answers without referring to anything, not a book, sometimes not even a calculator–at work, they’re expected to solve problems with Google and Wolfram Alpha, Mathlab and yes–even Excel.
In a standardize test, children are given questions purely from a well-defined syllabus, and parents create a whole bru-ha-ha when questions from outside the syllabus appear in the exam–in the real world there is no syllabus, you’re expected to learn without boundaries and continue learning to push those boundaries.
So at least there’s one thing Malaysia is doing well–we’ve removed our focus on standardize test.