Focus on teachers’ development, govt told

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KUALA LUMPUR: For Budget 2015, education lobbyists want Putrajaya to boost the professional development of teachers instead of spending on infrastructure projects that are not critical to the advancement of education.

As far as infrastructure is concerned, the basics such as clean water, electricity and proper computer and science labs should be prioritised, while plans to introduce new technology in schools should be accompanied by proper training so that the hardware is utilised.

“I think priorities need to be right — spend more on things that matter, such as basic infrastructure and also on teacher training,” said Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari, who is vocal on education matters.

“More resources need to be diverted into the recruitment and training of teachers, as they are the single most important factor influencing education outcomes.”

National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng urged the government to allocate more funds to improve Internet access in schools, since many teaching materials are now online.

“Internet access is a big challenge because most of the programmes now are online and many schools don’t have the facilities yet,” she told The Malaysian Insider.

Education received the biggest allocation in the national budget for this year, but Zairil said it included infrastructure projects such as the 1BestariNet, which he said is not critical to advancing education outcomes.

The 1BestariNet project is a multi-billion ringgit project to supply high-speed broadband to all 10,000 schools in the country and the use of Virtual Learning Environment e-textbooks in all schools, as well as the supply of Google Chromebooks.

“As of today, there are many schools that do not utilise the infrastructure. This is the case for various reasons, including the fact that we do not have the teaching capacity to maximise these tools,” he said.

“I am not against the use of technology, but the question is, is it wise to implement it across the board in 10,000 schools, when there is an obvious gap between rural and urban schools, including a gap in teaching capabilities?”

A case in point, he said, was when the government spent more than RM3 billion 10 years ago on computer hardware as part of the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English policy (PPSMI) programme, which has now been scrapped.

“Today, all the hardware has become a white elephant. PPSMI has been scrapped, and the hardware is obsolete and in most cases, not even used in the first place.”

Making the good, better

One group wants Putrajaya to revive PPSMI and wants the government to allocate a budget to teach trainee teachers in Science and Mathematics to teach these subjects in English.

“Teachers posted in schools this year are the product of the first PPSMI secondary cohort. Therefore, the excuse that teachers could not teach these two subjects in English is no longer applicable,” said Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim.

Quality and credibility problems

Universiti Sains Malaysia lecturer Dr Sivamurugan Pandian told The Malaysian Insider he hopes Budget 2015 will include allocations for research grants to universities.

He said more funding is needed to ensure these public institutions of higher learning make a mark internationally.

“There must be more allocation for research, especially for universities with research status so that it will  increase our standing internationally ,” he said.

No Malaysian university features in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-2015 released recently. The top two local institutions — Universiti Malaya and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia — opted out of the poll.

They argued that the indicators used were not suitable for Malaysian universities younger than their Western counterparts. Both institutions have since come under fire from opposition politicians and student groups who say rankings are a way to gauge the quality of the education being offered by a university.

This is despite Putrajaya’s massive spending on the education sector to “enhance education excellence”, with 21% of the entire budget or RM54.6 billion apportioned for this sector alone this year. — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 10, 2014.