The Dual Language Programme (DLP) allows selected schools and classes to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in English. It was introduced in 2016 as a radical approach to enhance English proficiency by way of immersion and, simultaneously, acquire scientific knowledge in its lingua franca.
That parents get to choose the medium of instruction for these subjects is a far-sighted policy. The DLP was carried out smoothly the year it was implemented in the pilot schools as these had the sufficient foundation and did not require extra resources to implement it.
The plan is to increase the number of schools on the DLP list annually. In 2017, more schools were added, but they were not as well prepared as the first batch and needed more assistance and support. An allocation in Budget 2017 provided specific allowances for the DLP to ensure availability of resources, teaching materials and support to sustain its growth and future post-2017.
Vernacular schools were also added to the list, to the chagrin of a few lingual-sensitive parties, despite the consent of the majority of parents in those schools.
By the end of last year, there were murmurs that all was not well with the DLP. The 2018 DLP school list was still unavailable by December. The case of a certain vernacular school, which was ordered to cancel DLP classes in 2018 due to a pending lawsuit, confirmed that the selection of schools could be revoked. This episode seems to have become a case study for all DLP schools as it implies that a school that has made it to the list can be removed anytime, for any reason.
We have witnessed the short-lived policy of Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) in 2003-2009. We know the biggest hurdle is in the implementation.
In 2003, the then minister of education Tan Sri Musa Mohamad, in delivering his keynote address at the English Teaching in Mathematics and Science Conference, mentioned the difficulty in implementing PPSMI. The problem is that our multicultural society is always suspicious, fearful of changes in education where languages are concerned, deeming them as a threat.
Fifteen years later, we are still embroiled in the same old issue. It is like a never-ending saga. We need to move on.
We need people in of authority in education to believe passionately and lead the change to drive the country towards the goal of reaching developed nation status. There should not be any hindrance to progress setting us back and putting us in our own silos.
DLP schools would first need a principal who strongly believes in the need to pursue the programme. He or she should monitor the needs of teachers and students towards achieving the objective, and be made accountable for it.
District education offices, state education departments, parent-teacher associations and boards of governors should be supporting these schools and principals. They should not be dictating the number of DLP classes a school should have. It all depends on the consent of the parents and the resources a school has. DLP is special in view of its semi-autonomous attribute.
In schools where students do not meet the required English proficiency, resources and special assistance should be provided, like the Linus programme for English language proficiency. DLP and Linus should work in tandem.
The purpose of transforming our education system through school-based assessment (PBS or Pentaksiran Berasaskan Sekolah) is to ensure that by the age of 15, students should have minimum level skills and competencies by international benchmarking standards. As such, there is no excuse to have under-performing students.
There are clear indicators from the point students enter Standard 1 until they reach Form 3. There is ample time for corrective intervention. Take Finland’s education system — ranked the best the world — where a child who does not meet a certain benchmark is given special assistance to ensure he attains that level.
Hence, there should not be any excuse to pull a child out of a DLP class because he/she does not meet a certain standard of English proficiency. The problem may not even be English proficiency, but overall learning difficulty.
Students who transfer to a DLP school for the purpose of joining such classes must be allowed to do so at any level if they are up to the mark in following the programme.
Every student should be encouraged to sign up for DLP and no one should be excluded if the parents consent to it, and a school has the resources to provide it. It cannot be restricted because of some rigid guideline meant to exclude students, or worse, if DLP classes are revoked at some point due to external pressure, frustrating students and parents who have been looking forward to it. We need to look at the bigger picture.
We hope this issue will not be prolonged. The DLP programme must be safeguarded against any internal and external sabotage. The Education Act states that pupils are to be educated by the wishes of the parents. Let’s not make it complicated for the betterment of our children and the country’s future.
Tunku Munawirah Putra is honorary secretary, Parent Action Group for Education (Page), Malaysia