Monday, February 05, 2007

Bakri Musa's thoughts on the Education Blueprint

You can read Bakri Musa's blog here. I've reproduced his latest letter on Malaysiakini which raises some interesting points about the new Education Blueprint. Let us know what you think!

SEEING IT MY WAY, Malaysiakini Feb 2, 2007
M. Bakri Musa

Blueprint For Continued Mediocrity

When Prime Minister Abdullah unveiled the new Education Blueprint
2006-2010 (Pelan Induk Pembangunan Pendidikan 2006-2010) last month,
the Ministry of Education had already posted the entire document on its
website. That was a welcomed change, considering that the earlier
Education Blueprint 2000-2010 was soon made unavailable within only a
few months of its release. Those Ministry folks do learn after all.
Beyond that however, I am unable to discern any other improvement.

Poor Presentation

The report leaves much to be desired in its presentation. I had
expected an English version so I could assess the English competency of
ministry officials, but none was available. After all, if they expect
our students to master English, then these officials should at least
demonstrate their own competence.

Apart from the two forewords by Abdullah and Education Minister
Hishamuddin, there were no other introductions or acknowledgements.
The writers and contributors chose to remain anonymous. They must have
consulted numerous experts in making thse report, but you would not
know it. Now I know why; no one wants to get the blame for this shoddy
paper. There was not even an executive summary.

The first few chapters were devoted to general discussions on
education. Many of the ideas were definitely extracted from other
publications, yet there was no acknowledgments or references. This
omission of standard practice is unacceptable. Readers who may wish to
pursue a particular topic cannot look it up.

The report is full of data and figures presented in endless monotonous
tables. Many could have been better presented as bars, line graphs,
and pie charts. The authors were obviously “graphic-challenged.” Many
of the figures and data are presented without their proper context.
For example, the ministry proudly notes the increase in the number of
new schools over the years but fails to put that increase in
perspective. Did it match the population (specifically, the
enrollment) growth?

With the crowded tables, key figures and trends are easily missed, as
with the declining participation rates at all levels (except for
preschool) since 2000. This alarming trend would have been picked up
easily had the figures been presented as line graphs. As the trend was
missed, this important issue was not addressed. Had ministry officials
analyzed this declining participation rate, they would have discovered
that the figures for non-Malays in South Johore had declined even more
precipitously. These Malaysians have essentially abandoned our schools
for the more superior ones across the causeway.

The page layout has two columns, with one inexplicably twice as wide as
the other. At first I thought the narrow column was a summary, but it
was not. The rationale for this difference in column breadth escapes
me; it makes the layout visually distracting and irritating.

Long on Diagnosis, Short of Prescription

The report duly lists the obvious deficiencies of our schools. No
marks for that! The Ministry does finally acknowledge one salient
point: in education, one size does not fit all. This is true with
much of everything else, except perhaps with condom manufacturing!

The ministry wants to encourage “clusters of excellence,” but does not
elaborate on how to achieve that goal. In tandem with its
one-size-does-not-fit-all philosophy, the Ministry would like some
schools to offer the International Baccalaureate. I am all for that,
but then the report does not address the fundamental issue: Does that
mean that some schools can be English medium?

Where the report rightly identifies the problems, it offers the wrong
solutions. It acknowledges the declining quality of teaching and
suggests making the recruiting of teachers more rigorous. That is
putting the cart before the horse. The problem is more upstream.
Teaching no longer attracts the bright and talented for among other
reasons, the pay is lousy. Toughening the recruitment criteria would
do nothing to change that reality. The pay would have to be increased
substantially to make the profession competitive. Once you have a
surplus of applicants, then you could be choosy and have higher standards.

The report duly notes that non-Bumiputras are abandoning the national
stream. The government hopes to attract them back by offering
electives in Mandarin and Tamil. That however was not the reason they
are abandoning national schools rather that these schools have become
Islamic institutions, and thereby turning off non-Muslim parents.

Had Ministry officials conducted surveys, they would have discovered
this crucial fact. This brings out another weakness of this report:
it lacks empirical data and findings to support its recommendations.
Its recommendations have that seat-of-the-pants quality.

A major failing of Malaysian schools is the curriculum: too
examination oriented, emphasis on rote learning, and not enough
emphasis on science and mathematics. Thus one would expect the
Blueprint to have substantive recommendations on the matter. Instead
curricular reform would have to wait till the next blueprint on some
indeterminate future date. As an aside, it is pathetic that four years
after introducing the teaching of science and mathematics in English,
it is only now that the Ministry is assessing the English competency of
the teachers!

Ministry officials have obviously not learned from reform efforts
elsewhere. For example, Malaysia gives stipends so poor children can
attend schools. Why not tie it to actual school attendance, meaning,
you would get paid only if your children were in school, as with
Mexico’s Progressa program. Similarly, Chile offers many workable
models for private schools as well as for school-based management.

National Schools With Various Languages of Instruction

Malaysian schools are deepening instead of reducing the racial divide.
They are designed to appeal to racial identities. In my book An
Education System Worthy of Malaysia, I suggested that Malaysian schools
should instead focus on their language of instruction. Thus instead of
Sekolah Kebangsaan Jenis China (National-Type Chinese school), meaning
a school primarily for Chinese, characterize them as national schools
that use Mandarin as the language of instruction. That would
immediately change the focus. Such schools could then attract
non-native Mandarin speakers like Malays by for example, serving halal
foods and having Mandarin-speaking Malay (or at least Muslim) teachers
to serve as role models. There are millions of Muslim
Mandarin-speakers in China who would gladly teach in Malaysia. We
could also have French- or Swahili-Type National Schools, meaning,
schools using those two languages as their medium of instruction.

As for the obvious poor physical conditions of our schools (as
evidenced by double sessions), the report suggests nothing beyond
recommending more funds be devoted. That does not address the root
cause. Our schools are in such a poor state because the funds are used
less to improve the facilities more to provide jobs for favored
Bumiputra contractors. Apart from unnecessarily inflating the costs,
such constructions are often shoddy and dangerous, as attested by
buildings collapsing soon after their completion. Unless the tender
mechanism is revamped to ensure that only the most qualified and
efficient contractors get the job, we will never improve our school
facilities no matter how much money we pour on the problem.

The Education Blueprint preceding this one had a shelf life of only a
few months. This one would also be soon forgotten, and a good thing
too for this Education Blueprint 2006-2010 is nothing more than a
blueprint for continued mediocrity.


Tiara said...

Hmm, I have downloaded the Blueprint but haven't had a look through. Maybe soon.

Also, Tony - there is a certain commenter that's digging through old posts to find comments to use against me on my personal journal. It's getting trollish, and really creepy. Thought you might want to know. *shudder*

johnleemk said...

A major failing of Malaysian schools is the curriculum: ... not enough emphasis on science and mathematics.

I'm not sure I would say that. What I would say is that we have a perverse emphasis on science and mathematics that does not produce scientists of calibre, while the social sciences and humanities languish. What we have instead are a third category of useless subjects that bear some resemblance to useful academic subjects, but in reality have little academic bearing, and this is what most students end up studying.

The elite few do study the sciences, but the way they are taught is so stifling that is it any wonder we've failed to produce a single scientist of renown?

Anonymous said...

I am a regular follower of Dr. Musa blog and writing. There are not enough people, especially bumiputras, who truly understand the importance of and willing to defend some basic fundamental principles like rule of law, checks and balance, transparency and accountability, open discussion or plain and simple truth.

His critics and observation is very valid most of the time. Where I differ with Dr. Musa is some of his focus and idea.

1) While its true that Islamization is a deterence to parents of non-bumi, a more important reason is just plain mediocrity of the system.

2) He talk about the mediocrity of teachers but he yet he avoid the single reason and most effective tool to improve it - Meritocracy - in ministry, in administration, in teachers, in students.

Some of his ideas like stipend for performance and changing schools to be identified not by race but language of instruction are great ideas but they are far from enough...

Nevertheless, I agree with his conclusion. This blueprint will soon be toss into the dustbin as Hissamuddin is promoted and another UMNOputra get appointed more for political reason than actually knowing how to do the job..

Anonymous said...

Nah...all this is just rubbish, used to amuse the public before election. At least they have something to say to trick the public right? Politicians are still politicians, selfish and sly. Still, the public accept those conmen. The recent BT election clearly showed that. Satu lagi projek kerajaan barisan nasional.

Meng said...

This is scary!! I posted on Feb 2nd in my blog that we got to stop experimenting with our children's education. The Sun reported the latest effort (ELITE) in converting Science and Maths to English classes.

It is obvious that thsi government and ministry do not know where they are heading, do not know where our nation should be in the next generation and therefore do not know how best to prepare our children for the future!!

What M.Bakri pointed out is most disconcerting to say the least!

Anonymous said...

16 year-old Zulkifli Shaari had proved that there is absolutely noting wrong with our Science and Mathematics curricula. Very few kids in the world are as capable as him in applying their science lessons so efficiently. There goes our hope for the Nobel Prize in Physics