Politics is the bogeyman of education reform

25
Oct
2012
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25 October 2012
By Rita Sim | rita.sim@cense.my

POLARISING FORCES: Some people oppose a great idea because it didn’t come from them

IN Malaysia, there is no issue that can both unite and divide us quite like education. We are united in recognising that our education system is flawed and in need of an overhaul.

The Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 has outlined the major issues that need to be addressed, including the poor standard of Maths, Science and English, and the lack of critical thinking skills among students.

Even so, I do not find myself overly concerned about these issues as they are concrete problems with workable solutions, if we only have the will to implement them.

In fact, the candid nature of the blueprint suggests that the government is serious this time about making a concerted effort to transform the education system, using a forward-thinking approach.

Take, for instance, one of the initiatives in the blueprint called 1BestariNet, under the move to leverage on information and communication technology for quality learning.

This shift recognises that education has to embrace ICT, not just as a mode for delivering lessons, but as a tool that can accelerate learning by enhancing content, bridging the socioeconomic divide and promoting self-learning.

1BestariNet encompasses the technological aspect of ICT (providing high-speed Internet access to all 10,000 government schools nationwide), as well as the content (providing access to a virtual learning environment [VLE]).

The Frog VLE is a truly revolutionary way of learning. It is an online platform that teachers and students can use in lessons to replace many traditional pen-and-paper activities.

Teachers can conduct all their administrative tasks on the VLE, such as schedule meetings, book spaces, mark assignments, announce events and organise extra-curricular activities.

But even more exciting is the way VLE opens up the process of learning, so that teachers are no longer limited in how and what they teach. The entire World Wide Web is now at the teachers’ fingertips, and they can create lessons using a variety of multimedia resources, such as graphics, videos and songs, all on one platform.

While private and international schools, as well as some of the Smart Schools under the Education Ministry, may already be using VLEs to a certain extent, most children in Malaysia have never dreamt of going beyond traditional textbooks and classrooms for learning.

Granted, many urban children already use ICT in their daily lives, but never before has there been a systematic effort to provide Internet access and a standard VLE platform for every school, even those in the furthest reaches of Sabah and Sarawak.

Yet, for all its benefits, the 1BestariNet initiative is not without its detractors, who would seek to use education to divide us.

For instance, certain Chinese schools are opposing any move to have the base towers, which are necessary to provide 4G Internet connection, in their school compounds. They could not possibly oppose this initiative on merit, so one might speculate whether they are motivated by political or financial reasons.

It is this politicisation of education — polarising Malaysians with arguments of race, language and territorialism — that is my biggest fear. This is the real bogeyman in our closet, the one thing that stands in the way of achieving great things in the transformation of our education system.

This is an insidious disease that has crept into all levels of government, civil society and community. It has become second nature for those developing and implementing policies, even those who would benefit from the system, to reflexively oppose something just because it didn’t come from them.

We will never fix the problems in our education system if we don’t change this mindset. Good ideas will be stuck on the drawing board simply because someone, somewhere, feels that it will encroach on their territory or go against their agenda.

But what agenda could be greater than quality education for every child? Not just education as defined by one group, but education of a standard that will outlive any political player.

Writer is a co-founder of the Centre for Strategic Engagement (CENSE)

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