The teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English will return under the banner of Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR4.0) education. All schools will be teaching STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) via the e-learning method. Khan Academy’s and Codecademy’s e-learning platforms are good examples of what STEM e-learning is about. In fact, the video libraries, resources and practices are readily available and could possibly be the solution our Ministry of Education is considering. The STEM lessons and coding are, after all, offered free of charge but then, they are in English, that is American English.
The e-learning teaching occurs through digital devices like smartphones and/or computers. But whether the video teaching method is effective, given our current resources and limitations, is another matter. Technically and ideally, all students will be exposed to the same lessons, hence it is a level playing field. But students’ attention span and understanding vary individually. Teachers would have to play the part of facilitators to ensure that these students learn the way they are intended to. But the e-learning method is supplementary learning and is not meant to replace teacher-led instructions.
For now, not much information has been shared about the plan for IR4.0 education and e-learning that Minister of Education Dr Maszlee Malik announced late last month. We can gather that the e-learning methods discussed above will be the plan, going forward, and given the current limited education budget, these e-learning lessons are indeed technically doable. Had we persevered with the Science and Mathematics policy from 2003 and made good of it, the transition to this type of STEM e-learning would be a breeze now with many more students able to capitalise on it and benefit from it.
Our education system has been caught in a turmoil of political domination since the resistance to the Barnes Report of 1951 and made worse by the racial riots of May 13, 1969. Politicians, our leaders, should be the ones to lead us towards achieving progress, prosperity and peace — the spirit of Merdeka that every loyal citizen would commit their sweat and tears to building a happy nation together. Unfortunately, time and time again, education has been used to gain the support of certain groups of people who are perceived to have influence over the masses.
The khat issue has created such unnecessary controversy recently. The government should be more careful about introducing education policies that could trigger certain emotions. Even the timing of their introduction matters. People will be sceptical about plans that do not seem sincere or are imposed with questionable objectives.
To announce the introduction of khat right after the announcement of IR4.0 education was puzzling. What is apparent is that education is being used as a bargaining chip, perhaps as a trade-off to please the Malay language nationalists for the return of Science and Mathematics in English. There are so many other things that can be added to the subject of Bahasa Malaysia to give it prominence and appreciation. That would be of better use in this day and age. Unfortunately, this controversy arose because the whole thing was poorly constructed, as if it were an afterthought.
The focus of our policies should be to improve the overall standard of our education and to make the national school the school of choice. Many tough choices and decisions will have to be made that may not be popular or liked by certain groups. But as long as the objective is clear and sensible policies are made for the betterment of the people and to improve the individual student and overall standard of education, support will come naturally. The people will see the sincerity and good behind such initiatives.
Teachers and teaching play an important role in education as well as the support system behind it. There is no point in introducing policies if we do not also ensure that the teachers are prepared and ready to take on the challenge. We have seen many poorly executed policies because the teachers and the back-end were not able to support them. The policy of the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English is a good example of such inept implementation. Hard decisions must be made to retrain or ground Ministry of Education staff who are not up to the mark.
If we do not look into this seriously, any future policies will remain half-baked. If the Minister of Education is too nice a person to make tough and, at times, brutal decisions to ensure that only the best remain in the system, perhaps he should pass the baton to someone who can, thus taking our education system to the next level. No politics, please.
For this Merdeka, I am reminded of a very warm and heartfelt advertisement by Malaysia Airlines in 2005 about the teachers at the birth of the nation. Pure ambition and determination to get the country of ours going. The copy reads:
“The story begins in the 1950s when a group of young men and women went on a journey of 8,000 miles to a place called Kirkby. Faced with the unknown, braving the unfamiliar, they were the pioneers of an idea that had never been tried anywhere else in the world. A college set up in a foreign land to train those who would be the foundation of a country’s future, and it was here that Tunku Abdul Rahman first announced the date when our country would truly become ours. Coming home, they spread to every corner of our land, shaping minds, teaching our young and setting the trail for all our children to follow…”
Tunku Munawirah Putra is honorary secretary of Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia — an educational lobby that serves as a channel between concerned parents, the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders