DR Mahathir Mohamad as acting education minister is a mix of good and bad for Chinese education groups.
Some feel the prime minister’s long experience in government and running the country will bode well for education reforms, while others reject the policies he attempted to introduce while in office previously.
LLG Cultural Development Centre chairman Liu Zhi Wen doesn’t want a revisit of old policies, such as vision schools (sekolah wawasan) and the teaching of science and mathematics in English (PPSMI).
Vision schools and PPSMI were unveiled during Dr Mahathir’s first tenure as prime minister from 1981 to 2003 but drew strong objections from the Chinese.
Vernacular schools are fiercely independent and the concept did not go down well with Chinese education proponents. Currently, there are only five vision schools in the peninsula and none in Sabah and Sarawak.
The failure of vision schools was mentioned by Dr Mahathir in an interview with The Malaysian Insight, where he expressed regret that the policy stalled after he stepped down in 2003.
As for PPSMI, Liu said it didn’t yield the intended results and the policy was scrapped in 2009, six years after it was introduced. Pupils have since reverted to learning science and mathematics in the original medium for their schools – Bahasa Melayu in national schools, and Mandarin and Tamil in vernacular schools.
Those against PPSMI among the Chinese felt it made learning harder for primary school pupils without a good grasp of the English language.
“Using English to teach (Chinese) primary school pupils will definitely affect their progress. For science, pupils may not understand scientific terms.
“It is for the best if (science and maths) are taught in a language that can be best understood by the pupils,” Liu said.
He is still against any plan to reintroduce PPSMI, citing a lack of teachers proficient in English.
“How are teachers, who are not skilled in English, be expected to teach in English?”
He hopes Dr Mahathir would be “open minded” about addressing issues in the Malaysian education system as “the world is changing”.
SJK (C) Choong Wen headmaster, Wong Shee Fatt, however, said Dr Mahathir has the experience and foresight to reform the education system.
Wong is particularly supportive of the policy on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, which aims to increase pupils’ interest in these subjects.
Data on Malaysian pupils show that nearly 70% of them have a low interest in STEM subjects, a situation that carries implications for the country’s development and labour force.
STEM was one of the policies former education minister Dr Maszlee Malik said Pakatan Harapan wants to focus on, before his resignation on January 3.
“I hope the prime minister, as acting education minister, can implement greater reforms in the education system as he has more power to do so,” said Wong, who is also the chairman of the National Principals’ Council.
Dr Mahathir is not expected to hold the education portfolio for long as he has said a replacement will be found from his party, Bersatu.
As such, National Union of the Teaching Profession secretary-general Harry Tan Huat Hock said NUTP is not expecting big changes in a short time, pointing out that education reform is a long process taking years before results are visible.
“We don’t expect change because if any change happens, the victims are our pupil. However, we expect the national education plan to be continuously developed.”
What’s important is continuous engagement with NUTP and education groups, so that policies are implemented successfully, Tan said.
Regular meetings with the union, he added, are important as teachers carried out the government’s education policies.
“Our biggest hope is that there will be regular engagements with us.”
THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT