A solution to the Jawi conundrum

Dr Gan Siowck Lee, The Sun Daily

THE implementation of Jawi script in the BM curriculum of vernacular schools is still mired in controversy, with many questions still unanswered and ambiguities not clarified. The conundrum has been festering since July with no quick end in sight.

There is an urgent need now to find a solution, especially when the new school year is just round the corner! If this disagreement between the government and the stakeholders persists, the whole issue may well spin into a cesspool that will pose more challenges and problems for the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the government at large in years to come.

As it is now, there is a lot of confusion among members of the general public, but what is more alarming is that judging by the statements they made, even some cabinet ministers seem confused.

If only the MoE or the Cabinet is willing to provide clear answers there is probably a quick and easy solution to the conundrum.

For starters, the MoE or the Cabinet should answer ONE very important question which this writer has asked, and perhaps many others have followed suit and asked, repeatedly. (“Whither education reform?” theSun Aug 14). If it is addressed clearly without ambiguity, it will allay all fears and suspicions that learning to read and write Jawi script will eventually creep into the vernacular school curriculum, against the best interest of the pupils.

It must be reiterated that stakeholders do not oppose learning ABOUT Jawi, they only oppose the learning of Jawi, an Arabic script/alphabet for writing BM. These are two entirely different things. Most people with common sense can understand this opposition to and apprehension about learning Jawi script, as it is common knowledge that as it is now, vernacular schoolchildren are already overburdened with learning two entirely different language coding systems: Chinese/Tamil (each with a unique coding system of its own) plus English and BM using the same Roman alphabet for spelling. Requiring them to learn the Jawi script/alphabet for spelling is without doubt imposing an additional burden and hardship that these young pupils can do without. What happened to the concern about an overloaded school curriculum?

As pointed out repeatedly, these young pupils should just focus on learning BM in Rumi. The story about Cikgu Nor says it all clearly (“In the best interest of pupils”, theSun, Dec 9).

To put it simply and bluntly, what is the point of learning another spelling system for BM unless we plan to regress and revert to using the Jawi script instead of the current Roman alphabet?

Many Malaysians, whether Malays or non-Malays, cannot read or write Jawi. Does it make any of us less Malaysian, less patriotic, or less productive?

In all honesty, how many of our ministers can read and write Jawi? Are they also taking lessons now to learn reading and writing BM in Jawi?

So what is this magical ONE question that begs to be answered? It is simply: Is the much brandished and now clichéd mantra of “no compulsion, no learning, no examination” applicable to not only Jawi in Standard 4 BM curriculum, but also Jawi in Standard 5 and 6 BM curricula?

If the answer is a definitive YES that is irrevocable, cast in stone, and stated clearly in the Standard Curriculum and Assessment Document (DSKP) Standard Based Curriculum for Primary Schools (KSSR) Bahasa Melayu (SJK) Tahun 5 and 6, then voila! We may now have a solution to the Jawi conundrum.

Stakeholders are likely to agree to the implementation of Jawi in the standard 4 BM curriculum, as reflected in the new Standard 4 textbook, and all the bickering about who is to decide about the option to teach Jawi in vernacular schools or not can be a non-issue?

However, the caveat is, like the current existing Standard 5 BM textbook, it must be strictly learning ABOUT Jawi, with no compulsion to learn the Jawi script/alphabet to read and write.

At this juncture, it should be pointed out that “no learning” has all this while been peddled by the government, and understood by the stakeholders as “no learning of Jawi script/alphabet”.

However, this writer has her reservation about the veracity of this claim after examining the expected learning outcomes and performance standard stated in the amended version of DSKP 4.4.1 and 4.4.2.

Yes, after the amendment, pupils are still required to recognise many words written in Jawi (on our flag, banknotes, etc), which means pupils must learn the Jawi alphabet to be able to do this!

Perhaps the MoE should organise a class for our ministers to teach them the “three pages”, so they can fully comprehend what kind and how much of learning is required for them to attain the learning outcomes and performance standard as stated in DSKP 4.4.1 and 4.4.2. Then they can tell us if it is really “no learning of Jawi script”.

Many people are still befuddled why the government of the day, which has been elected for reform is so adamant about implementing a curricular change that has no real educational value for pupils in the vernacular schools.

Will learning Jawi script improve their BM reading and writing skills? NO.

Will the dismal and below average PISA scores of our children improve by forcing them to learn Jawi? NO.

More importantly, does such a curricular change have the best interest of the pupils at heart? NO. If anything at all, it only adds extra burden to the poor pupils!

Finally, many of us are curious as to who has initiated this 2017 curricular change which has now come to be perceived and suspected as insidious, no thanks to all the ambiguities and even prevarications.

Was it a top-down directive from the then Cabinet or education minister? Or was it the sloppy work, or whim and fancy of some Little Napoleons within the MoE?

Curriculum development always begins with the first step of identifying and defining a general objective. What was their objective then?

Are the basic principles of curriculum development adhered to? Whatever the answers may be, we the stakeholders, who have the best interest of the children at heart, urge the Cabinet and the MoE to answer the ONE question above truthfully, or better still, just scrap the change and go back to teaching/learning ABOUT Jawi, as in the Standard 5 BM textbook.

Please, this is good enough, don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. The vernacular school pupils must be allowed to focus on mastering BM reading and writing skills without this extra burden of learning to read and write Jawi script. Malaysians want to continue to enjoy peace and harmony without all this unnecessary and irrelevant brouhaha.

Dr Gan Siowck Lee is an academic.