So it seems that there are quite a number of interesting changes to the Malaysian education system, following the Ministry of Education’s blueprint:
1. A holistic, less exam-oriented primary school curriculum. I like this idea. The early childhood years are highly formative and children should be given the opportunity to explore all facets of life and learning, instead of already being indoctrinated into exams (well, no one should be indoctrinated into anything period). I like the six focus areas – communication, spiritual values, humanitarianism, ICT & science literacy, physical health, and personal development. My only worry is that a certain type of moral value or belief will be pushed through this curriculum (as has happened in the past) – but if this goes well we would definitely have more well-rounded kids who are able to adapt to life’s challenges creatively.
2. Greater focus on vocational and technical education. Vocational education gets a bad rep in Malaysia – it’s usually seen as the pathway for those who failed. However, there is a lot of value in vocational education, and a lot of skills and knowledge required to survive – mathematics, science, logistics, logic, creativity, and so on. To make this successful, we need to increase awareness and respect for vocational education, and transform it from something undesirable to something worthy of exploration – like the apprenticeships system in Australia.
3. School-based examinations instead of central examinations. This could be interesting. On the one hand, this gives greater freedom and flexibility for schools to develop their own curriculum and testing methods, and experiment with alternative teaching styles. Alternative schools systems (like Waldorf and Sudbury Valley) will also be able to thrive as they don’t have to “teach to the test”. However, some schools may not be able to adjust, or end up pushing a very non-productive method of testing. The Ministry is considering looking at more semester-based assessment and reducing exams, which to me is a good idea – instead of putting all the pressure on one week’s worth of work, let people work at a more gradual pace and relax a bit.
4. Allowing schools to administer the International Baccalaureate exams instead of the SPM. Now this is a VERY interesting development. The IB tests, which are internationally recognised, and also of a higher level than SPM (I believe they are closer to STPM), demand a stronger grasp of knowledge but also a greater sense of creativity and critical thought. This is not an exam you can teach to. Schools that administer IB tests need to adjust their teaching styles to allow for fuller, more holistic learning. Hopefully this will become the impetus for schools to stop worrying about grades, and do what they’re there for – education.
The NST also has a report on a pilot project to test career aptitudes of primary school children. The idea is that they will be tested at Years 5 and 6 to see what career paths suits them. I really DON’T like this plan. The kids are 11 and 12 – they haven’t even completely developed their capabilities yet! How can you push them towards a certain future when they’ve hardly lived their lives? As it is, asking young people to decide their entire lives by 18 is too much – people change and new opportunities come up all the time.
Kids are overtested already. There’s no need to make them decide their future now. Give them some time to experiment and get to know what they like.