New Education Minister Must Restore Faith In National Schools

The next education minister has to immediately start to make national schools the schools of choice
The country cannot afford to keep on experimenting with its education policies. Stop blaming vernacular or religious schools for the racial divide: the schools are here to stay, as long as national schools are looked down upon with disdain by all races
Over 80,000 Malay pupils attend Chinese-medum schools and thousands more attend religious schools. It appears even Malay parents have lost faith in national schools
Conceivably, in another 10 years, Malay students may become the majority in Chinese schools. In fact, parents of all races are aware of the importance of Mandarin in today’s world
Religious schools are mushrooming but they cater to those of a single race. Such schools will not help create a united Malaysia. The government has to be concerned, as it is going to be an uphill task to bring these students to the national schools
Implement the Dual Language ProgrammeInstead of wasting time quibbling over Chinese and Tamil schools, it would be wise for the government to help rebuild the image of national schools. If mother tongue languages are taught in national schools, and mathematics, the sciences and technical subjects are taught in English, national schools will be more appealing for parents to enroll their children
Make it compulsory for pupils in national schools to learn a third language or their mother tongue, besides Malay and English. To be effective, adopt immersion language programmes and allocate more teaching hours at primary level for children to acquire the language skills
School heads have to be given autonomy to decide what is best for their schools, with the cooperation and consent of parents
Make it compulsory for all national schools to implement the Dual Language Programme for teaching of mathematics, the sciences and technical subjects. For this programme to run effortlessly, teachers with competence in the English language must be recruited
The present batch of teachers handling these subjects have to be reskilled to handle the subjects in English. Nonetheless, children should be given a choice to study in either English or Malay: some parents may put the blame on the system when their children do not make the grade in these subjects
Parents want their children to be proficient in English and, for this reason, they send their children to private and international schools. If national schools can generate students who are proficient in English, this will irrefutably be a pull factor for the schools
Only by making English a compulsory subject to pass in national schools will students push themselves to learn the language. Students can be awarded an added certificate upon passing their major exams at all levels. This added certificate is only when they have a credit in English
This was practised at one time when they had both the Malaysian Certificate of Education and the Cambridge School Certificate
Computer and numeracy literacyBesides the minimum core subjects to be learned in national schools, create more elective subjects for students to choose from. This will give a wider spectrum to education and make it more holistic to meet students’ interests
The core subjects at the primary level should include, English, Malay, mathematics and the sciences. All other subjects should come under the category of electives that students can choose to learn if they wish
For Muslim students, Religious Knowledge can be made a compulsory elective. As for all students, music, arts and craft, calligraphy and other life skills subjects can be included as elective subjects. Civic and moral lessons can be incorporated or embedded in the language subjects instead of having separate teaching hours for them
Jawi has become a controversial issue that has embittered many non-Muslim parents. If this area is not made compulsory to learn in vernacular schools and made compulsory only in national schools, this will further divide the races in the country. Many non-Muslim parents will abandon national schools and opt for vernacular schools. The learning of Jawi, therefore, can come under an elective subject in national schools and not be included in the Malay textbook
The streaming of students into the sciences, technical and arts classes should be retained after the three years of secondary education so they can start specialising early in areas they have the aptitude for
Education and training for productive employment are vital for economic and social development. Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is a tool for productivity enhancement that helps school leavers to find employment in the industrial sector. This field has to be given prominence in the national education framework
As for now, almost all universities in the country use English as the medium of instruction and this should be retained
Science subjects taught in national schools should include digital and numeracy literacy, computer coding and programming. The world today is moving towards the ability to use computer and digital technology to communicate, evaluate, use and create information in order to function in a knowledge society
National schools should have the resources – both physical and human – to build robust and productive student-staff partnerships to help develop a school digital environment in a way that adds real meaning to them in an online world
Our economy can only be enhanced when learners have higher literacy levels that include both communication and high-tech skills. Effective literacy and digital skills open the doors to more educational and employment opportunities that will enable school leavers to pull themselves out of poverty and underemployment
A better racial mixIn any other country, it is the education policy that has helped unite the people. Seeing national schools performing will certainly attract parents to choose these schools instead of sending their children to vernacular, religious or private and international schools and this will pave the way for a better racial mix and understanding among Malaysians
Make national schools reflect the racial composition in the country. Teachers should come from all races as this will give a better image of the national schools as schools for all Malaysians to counter the general perception parents have that national schools are only meant for the Malays or are becoming “religious” schools
Take away all the “religious frills” that serve no purpose from the national schools, as they have become the bane and blight in uniting the races or producing employable school leavers
Beyond this, gradually work towards making all government schools, colleges and public universities accessible to all races – Bumiputera or non-Bumiputera – to build a united Malaysia
For all these to materialise, the country needs a bold new education minister with the right credentials and the will to implement the critical changes to the present impaired system that we have
Dr Moaz Nair is an FMT reader.

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