M. BAKRI MUSA
First of Five Parts: Education Blueprint – Transparent, But Not Bold Or Comprehensive
Education reform is inflicted upon Malaysians with the regularity of the monsoon. Like the storm, the havoc these “reforms” create lingers long after they have passed through.
In this five-part commentary I will critique the latest reform effort contained in Preliminary Report: Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 released on September 11, 2012. The first three essays will address the Blueprint’s findings and recommendations; the fourth, its omissions, and the last, the flaws in the process with this particular reform effort.
The Blueprint clearly identifies the main problems and challenges at both the system and individual levels, but fails to analyze why or how they came about and why they have been let to fester. Consequently the recommendations are based more on conjecture rather than solid data; more towards generalities and the stating of goals rather than on specifics and how to achieve those goals. On the positive side, the goals and milestones (at least some of them) are clearly stated in quantifiable terms, so we would know whether they have been achieved going forward.
Despite extensive public participation and the inclusion of many luminaries (including foreign ones) on the panel, the report has many glaring omissions. It fails to address the particular challenges facing Islamic and rural national schools. This is surprising considering that the constituents in both streams are Malays, a politically powerful group. Even more pertinent, those schools regularly perform at the bottom quartile; they drag down the whole system. Improving them would go a long way in enhancing the entire system. Yet another omission is the failure to analyze and thus learn from earlier reform efforts.
This Blueprint does not live up to Najib Razak’s assertion of being “bold, comprehensive and transparent.” Transparent perhaps, but not bold or comprehensive! That is not surprising as the panel is dominated by civil servants. They have been part of the problem for so long that it would be too much to expect them now to magically be part of the solution.
Predictability of Education Reform
It is a particularly Malaysian obsession to reform its educational policy with the political season. Every new minister feels compelled to do it, as if to demonstrate his political manhood. Now it is Muhyiddin’s turn.
Five years ago under Hishamuddin there was Langkah Langkah Ke Arah Cemerlangan (Steps Towards Excellence). Five years before that under Musa Mohamad was Pembangunan Pendidikan 2001-2010: Rancangan Bersepadu Penjana Cemerlangan Pendidikan (Education Development 2010-2011. Plan for Unity Through Educational Excellence). Notice the long pretentious titles and frequent use of the word “excellence.”
In the meantime generations of young Malaysians, especially Malays, continue to pay the price for the follies of previous reforms, in particular the one in the 1970s that did away with English schools. Someone finally wizened up and brought back the teaching of English, albeit only in science and mathematics. Then just as we were adjusting to and recovering from that reversal, a new leader who thought himself smarter changed back the system!
This latest reform released on September 11, 2012, will prove to be the 9-11 of Malaysian education. The destruction may not be as dramatic visually and physically as the other 9-11, but the wreckage will be real and massive, with the havoc remaining long after to haunt current and future generations. The damage will be extensive, cumulative, and compounding.
As in the past, this time we are again being promised that this storm of a reform will wash away the thick polluted haze that has been hovering over our schools. Yes, the air will be clearer and fresher after a storm, and the birds will sing. Meanwhile however, we have to deal with ripped roofs, flood debris, and destructive landslides.
In compiling this Blueprint the government has commendably sought wide public participation and at great expense. The public in turn responded massively and enthusiastically, reflecting the angst over our education system. The panel however, did not sufficiently discern the difference between quantity and quality, and duly gave equal time to the bombasts as well as the wise.