EnglishPilihan EditorTwo Cents

KACAMATA KU: Let Johor Lead In Transforming Education Nationwide

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

The Regent of Johor, Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, in his royal address to officiate the third session of the 15th Johor state legislative assembly, touched on the need to improve the nation’s education system.

The federal government must take a more proactive approach to improve the quality of education and upgrade facilities, he said.

Recently, issues on the same were raised by the World Bank, including its findings that Malaysian students were lagging behind those in Vietnam. Malaysian students spend an average of 12.5 years in school but learn the equivalent of only 8.9 years. Short of more than three years. Whereas Vietnamese students learn the same amount in 10.7 years.

In contradiction, early last year the education minister was quoted as saying: Malaysia’s education syllabus is on par with neighbouring countries such as Singapore and Japan.

Reportedly in a written parliamentary reply (Feb 2023), based on a study conducted by the ministry comparing Malaysia’s curriculum to that of Australia, the United Kingdom, and Finland, “showed that the school curriculum in Malaysia is comparable to the curriculum of the other countries.” Then explain the stark contrast?

In addition, there are also concerns posed about the primary school syllabus being incompatible with Standard One to Three students. Allegedly, the Level 1 curriculum for Standard One to Three is structured to ensure students master academic basics in preparation for further learning.

“The focus of the Level 1 curriculum is on the mastery of reading, writing, calculating and reasoning skills, basic information and technology skills, and creativity,” was given as the reason. It somehow is still at odds since even at the secondary schools, students were “trailing behind” the average international median in academic competence by a few years.

A case in point, is “a 15-year-old Malaysian student’s understanding of mathematics and science is on the same level as a 12-year-old Singaporean student.” Evidently, the 2018 report on Pisa (Program for International Student Assessment) indicated that 15-year-old Malaysian students fall below the global average median in academic performance for reading literacy, mathematics, and science.

To make matters worse, Malaysia’s performance on Pisa in 2022 declined further compared to the 2018 score in all three literacy measures – reading, mathematics, and science, as announced by the Education Ministry late last year.

The reading domain (the biggest in Pisa), obtained a score of 388, a drop of 27 from 415 points in 2018, with less than 50 percent of our students reaching the minimum level (Level 2) for the domain.

In mathematics, our 15-year-olds had a score of 409 – a drop of 31, compared to 440 points, while science, dropped 22 to 416 from 438 points in 2018 respectively.  In all, Malaysia joined the 58 countries that declined, whereas 13 improved their Pisa score in the assessment, and two others maintained.

As expected, the knee-jerk reaction by the power that be is as usual defensive in justifying the disastrous performance. But this was quickly straightened up by the Prime Minister who said at an event at University of Malaya: “The country cannot be in denial about the state of its education system.”

Why have we failed in this situation are some of the urgent questions that must be answered, instead of blatantly denying them as practiced several times in the past. We have yet to reach the desired position plotted a decade ago in the Malaysia Education Blueprint (PPPM) 2013-2025.

It is worth recalling then, that the newly minted education minister was advised by the Malaysian Association for Education, “to implement national education blueprint first instead of carrying out any education reforms,” said its President Datuk Satinah Syed Saleh.

This is because reforms are in the Blueprint according to Satinah, warning that “if the education minister intends to reform the education system, it will be the downfall of the system” – which looks like the sad case today.

Indeed, the latest response to the Regent’s concern provides clear testimony to this in reference to the setting up of six special task forces to oversee the reform (emphasis added), to cite the minister at SMK Saujana Indah of late. Supposedly, each task force is assigned to oversee the reforms.

Meanwhile, the Regent is insistent, that should the transformation cannot be done at the national level, Johor can be the first state to undertake change! Period. After all, the Program Sekolah Amanah (SA, Trust Schools Program) made its debut in Johor more than 10 years ago with many successes to be proud of.

As mentioned in the Blueprint, it is part of the transformation for public schools through smart partnerships between the public and private sectors involving critical areas like the curriculum, staffing, procurement, pupil policies, and timetable as well as the school calendar among others. The school administration took ownership of the performance of the school and maintained the momentum even after graduating from the program.

As such in 2022, two SA were recognized worldwide, namely SK Kempadang in Kuantan, Pahang (top 3) and SMK Kampong Jawa in Klang, Selangor (as a finalist) in a global competition, World’s Best School.

Of the total 94 SA in Malaysia, at least 20 percent are in Johor which the Regent can readily leverage statewide without wasting more time and talent thus leading the way as an example for the rest of the country to emulate!

In 2023, two other SA were in the top 10, namely SK Seri Permai in Bayan Baru, Penang; and SK Kanchong Darat in Baling, Selangor. They were selected from a total of 10,000 Malaysian schools to compete globally in the same world’s most prestigious education competition. 

Meaning that there is a surplus of good national schools, each of which has demonstrated game-changing leadership that transformed the lives of not only the students but also their communities.

The education minister recognized them as an inspiration in providing critical solution and innovation. But strangely failed to mainstream the proven concept.

Baffling? However, given the passion and commitment shown by the Regent, Johor can easily push forward the tried-and-tested successful Program SA to put Malaysia back on the map now! – BACALAHMALAYSIA.MY

  • The writer was the Chairperson of the Education Blueprint (2013-2015), and a member of the Performance and Delivery Unit (PADU) at MOE until it was dissolved last year.

BacalahMalaysia Team

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