This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 21 - 27, 2015.
THE Dual Language Programme (DLP) will kick off come January with 300 national primary and secondary schools taking part. In this pilot programme, Mathematics, Science, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Design Technology will be taught in English.
For the coming year, the programme will be offered to Year One and Four in primary schools and Form One in secondary schools. There are 148 primary schools and 152 secondary schools approved nationwide. The full list of the schools can be viewed here (http://www.moe.gov.my/cms/upload_files/circularfile/2015/circularfile_fi...)
However, some secondary schools may still conduct the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English soft landing programme (PPSMI) regardless of whether they are DLP schools.
The DLP schools have fulfilled a set of criteria: (i) available resources (books and various learning aids); (ii) school preparedness (teacher ability); (iii) support from parents; and (iv) fulfilling the minimum requirement for Bahasa Malaysia (BM) in the SPM or UPSR. This is because DLP is an extension of the policy to uphold the national language and strengthen English (MBMMBI).
To be considered for DLP, the school must uphold BM first before it can qualify to teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in English. The irony is, what would be the fate of the school that is not good in BM, but whose students may perhaps be able to thrive through acquiring STEM knowledge via the internet, using its most dominant language — English.
Has the BM requirement been put in place to pacify certain traditionalist groups? How long must we be held to ransom by these groups, to the detriment of our children and the future of the country? Yes, we must be good in BM and yes, we must be good in English. But it is not right that just because we are not so good in BM, we are restricted from improving our knowledge of the sciences. There must be safeguards for students to fully benefit from the DLP programme.
In preparation for the DLP, a series of townhall sessions to brief invited school heads, STEM teachers, and parents in parent teacher associations, were held nationwide last month. The Education Performance Unit (PADU) under the Ministry of Education (MoE) was charged with this task. PADU is also responsible for overseeing the implementation of various education transformation programmes under the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, and DLP is one of them.
I attended the Putrajaya townhall session as a PTA representative. PADU gave a general rundown on the DLP at Jabatan Perdana Menteri to an almost full auditorium. In essence, DLP is to enable the schools that are currently running the PPSMI soft landing programme to continue to do so.
This is the last year of PPSMI in primary schools. The Year Six students were the last batch. Hence, DLP continues where PPSMI leaves off in these schools, but is only offered to Years One and Four students. Theoretically, these schools would have fulfilled the first three criteria for DLP schools.
But in practice, these schools would have to move their resources around and ensure that there are teachers who are able to switch back to English in their teaching of STEM at those levels. Some schools may find it challenging due to teacher transfers over the years, and new teachers were not trained to teach STEM in English since the abolition of PPSMI.
Generally, schools reserve their best teachers to teach Year Six because of the UPSR. The Year Six teachers are those with PPSMI experience. But will the school head move them to teach DLP? This is why it is of utmost importance that PADU and the MoE support these schools and ensure they have able teachers in order for the pilot programme to be successful.
These were some of the issues that were raised at the question-and-answer session which lasted over two hours. A parent commented that too many variables are involved in DLP that may hamper its success. The school heads need support to sort out its problems because they will face pressure from teachers and parents.
There may be some unwilling teachers and those who may need to undergo training. Will there be a budget for this and will the district education office be running some language training similar to the English teachers training programme? What and how will the Budget 2016 allocation of RM38.5 million for both DLP and the Highly Immersive Programme be divided and utilised for the 300 schools?
The year 2017 will be even more challenging with regards to ensuring teacher availability because schools will need to double their teaching resources. There will be four cohorts doing DLP in primary schools, which are Year One, Two, Four and Five. These are real issues that need answers and support.
The townhall session was good in that many questions were highlighted, but PADU needs to instil confidence in the stakeholders. PADU and the MoE must carefully monitor the implementation of DLP in all schools. They must troubleshoot the problems, take remedial action promptly at the schools that need their guidance.
Most importantly, it is the teachers’ ability that ensure the programme’s success, as this was purportedly the failure of PPSMI. Some teachers may just need to buck up because come January, there will be a new assessment policy for civil servants and they might just have to make an exit if they underperform.
The need to be competitive is now a very serious business for Malaysia, with the coming of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. We cannot afford to continue having 400,000 unemployed people according to the latest figures, most of them youth and graduates, in our near future, ever.
Tunku Munawirah Putra is the honorary secretary of Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia