WE are still in holiday mood. The year-end Christmas break leading up to the New Year is a time when most of us will take leave from work and have a well-earned rest.
Life is certainly not only about working and making money. Surely, we know there are things money cannot buy. Health is one. Another is happiness. Then, we need to spend quality time with our children and loved ones too.
This is also my final column for 2011. In previous years, it has been customary for me to publish and respond to letters I received from readers throughout the past year. However, allow me to deviate from the usual year-ender this time. Instead, I will end this column for 2011 on the most-talked about subject among those who regularly followed this column this year – education.
Many of you shared your views and expressed your concerns over the teaching of Science and Mathematics. For the past eight years, the language used has been English. With the Education Ministry’s decision to revert to Bahasa Malaysia, academics, parents and students are generally unhappy.
I have also written at length on the issue here and I was glad that my suggestion that Sarawak and Sabah should be allowed to formulate their own education policies was well received by readers. So too my take that English should be the main medium of instruction in our schools.
Today is New Year’s Eve. By all means, enjoy the countdown to 2012 tonight.
There was a time when I used to look forward to New Year’s Eve parties and joined revellers in the countdown at midnight. As one gets older, you tend to forgo such social events.
Nonetheless, we all ought to celebrate a new year. Why not, at least we all lived through to see the dawn of another year. That’s already a great blessing.
On the education front, I’m not so sure whether the proposed changes to our education system will be for the better or worse.
For our students, particularly those entering Form 1 in 2012, they will have to brace themselves for the new school-based assessment (SBA). They are the first batch of students undergoing this system.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Wee Ka Siong said the mechanism for SBA, which would replace the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) in 2014, has already been set for all schools.
He said that students in Forms 2 and 3 next year would still have to take the PMR.
“We have established a proper monitoring system and provided adequate training to teachers to prepare them for the programme. We have coordinated the guidelines and scrutinised it to ensure that the standards will not vary,” Wee said.
“Starting next year, SBA will be conducted for Form 1 students. By 2014, it will be fully implemented for Form 3 students.”
I’m not too sure whether getting rid of this examination will make our students lose their desire in striving for academic excellence. There are students who always do well in public exams and are very proud of their achievements, which can only be attained through hard work and by studying smart.
Of course, the opposite is also true. Students who hate exams will be happy that they could now study up to Form 5 without having to pass a public exam in Form 3.
Those in my age group will know the number of public examinations we had to go through during our time in school in Sarawak.
There was the Common Entrance Exams in Primary 6. Then, we had the Local Junior Exams at Form 3 followed by the Senior Cambridge in Form 5. After that came the Higher School Certificate, which was the passport to tertiary education.
It was true that many of us went through exam stress. Our teachers and parents piled on pressure and reminded us of a bleak future if we did not pass the exams. Yes, it was real stressful but then again, we learned to cope with the pressure and that was a plus point.
In a way, I’m happy that the government’s decision to scrap the PMR and replace it with SBA was, in general, welcomed by parents. After all, getting a good education is not all about passing exams but also learning to be an all-rounder which should put us in good stead in our adult life.
A report in a national daily quoted several parents of 12-year-olds as saying that they are relieved that their children will not have to endure any more exam stress now that the PMR will be no more.
One parent told the paper that examinations were not the best yardstick to measure a child’s intelligence.
“Now, my son can study for knowledge and not only for the pressure of getting strings of A’s,” said the father of four.
Another father hoped the new curriculum would include more soft skills training to make the students “well-rounded”.
“Hopefully they will be exposed more to public speaking, arts and music early to identify their inclination,” he said.
What is also important with the SBA is to ensure that the quality and regulations must be fair and systematic and meet a certain standard.
The government must ensure that the programme is also accepted internationally so as not to burden students who would want to continue their secondary school studies abroad.
There is another reason for parents and students to celebrate in the New Year. About 457,000 Year 1 students will be enrolling in schools next year without having to pay for school fees for the first time in the country’s education history.
They will be part of the 5.3 million primary and secondary students in government schools throughout the country who will benefit from the nation’s recently announced free education policy and also enjoy an additional RM100 assistance to help them prepare for the coming school session.
Form 6 students, however, will receive book vouchers worth RM200 as a substitute for the school assistance.
The announcement on free education was made by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak when he tabled Budget 2012 in the Dewan Rakyat last October, and was lauded by the nation.
So, we do have reasons to smile in 2012. The financial burden has been lifted from the parents of school-going children, at least.
But I’m still keeping my fingers crossed on the SBA. It’s something new and I’m hoping that it will work for the better and improve our education curriculum.
One very important reminder to our education authorities though. Please do not flip-flop on our education policies again.
Have a Happy New Year and to our students, enjoy your life in school. School life is one of the best times of your life. It is most enjoyable, rewarding and fulfilling.
You can take that from me.
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