The commentary by VK Chin
in The Star
yesterday caught my eye, the subject title being "Don't burden pupils with too many subjects
This is not the first time that the subject of schoolkids being increasingly burdened by a lack of clear policy direction by our Education Ministry has been brought to the attention of the public. Each year at the beginning of the school calendar, parents and a small group of people in the healthcare industry repeated their calls for a review into the current syllabus where primary school children are being burdened with a bagful of textbooks and workbooks which put a huge strain on the posture of the growing kids.
But does anyone care to listen and actually DO something about it? The Education Ministry seems to be suffering from major impotence in finding a solution to lighten the schoolbags.
These days, there is not much joy in going to school anymore. It is a place where kids spend all day studying and when it's time to go home, they bring back loads of homework which sometimes took up the rest of the day just to finish. Is it any wonder most kids hate school these days?
A Suhakam report on primary education revealed an alarmingly high dropout rate among male primary schoolkids. The report showed that in 2003, 10,695 male pupils dropped out of primary school of which:-
5,111 stayed away when they were in Year 2,
925 in Year 3,
26 in Year 4,
3,366 in Year 5, and
a staggering 6,925 in Year 6!
When asked why this trend of dropping out from primary school is more confined to male pupils, Suhakam commissioner Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said it was because the Malaysian education system is more academic in nature. He said,
"We focus and emphasise more on academic achievements and boys are usually inclined for other hard activities. There have been instances when a female teacher is supposed to supervise boys playing football. Obviously, the teacher being female would not show the same interest in the game as a male teacher would and when the teacher does not show interest, the boys lose interest too
Similarly, VK Chin in his Star commentary also cautioned the Government to think carefully before introducing new school subjects in order not to overload the present education system. This is because various interest groups have tried to push their pet projects to be part of the school syllabus, ranging from the recent suggestion of teaching road safety to curb the rising number of road fatalities each year to environment, consumerism and awareness of vices such as smoking and drinking.
No one seems to realise that "what is sadly lacking is the number of periods for physical education which has taken a backseat in many primary and secondary schools as principals and teachers seem more interested in improving their pupils' academic standard. ...Actually, there are many primary schools with less than 2 periods of physical education per week, which surely is vastly inadequate. The focus is always academic with little time for physical activities to strengthen their bodies.This is an area that the ministry should look into, to ensure that all pupils be strong not only mentally but physically, too.There are already too many subjects being taught and adding more will be too taxing for the children.While we wish our children to do well academically we also do not want them to end up with health problems later on in life due to lack of exercise
A reader of Malaysiakini wrote an interesting letter here
pointing out that our pressure cooker education system will blow up
. That is really not very far from the truth of the matter.
Just to give you an example of what it is like for a Year 6 school student studying for the UPSR (Primary School Assessment Test) examination this year had to go through in a Chinese vernacular school in Negri Sembilan:-
He wakes up at about 5:30 am to get ready for school because he must be in class before 7 am when the teacher comes in to supervise the morning reading session.
Classes officially starts from 7:20am to 10:00am.
He gets a 30-minute break at about 10:00 am.
Classes resume from 10:30am to 1:30pm.
He gets a 30-minute break for lunch.
Classes resume from 2:00pm to 4:30pm.
By the time he reached home, it is already past 5:00pm and he has yet some unfinished homework to complete before he can call it a day.
The above schedule applies from Monday to Friday, with the exception on Wednesday when he gets to go home at 1:30pm (the only normal school hours day he gets in a week).
On Tuesday, the day stretched to 5:00pm.
On Saturday, he has to return to school for extra tuition from 8:00am to 11:30 am.
Can we honestly say that the long hours spent studying in school almost 6 days a week is good for a 12 year old?
Someone who is familiar with the national school system can probably enlighten us as to whether their Year 6 students undergo a similar routine. I am rather doubtful though.
Frankly, I think it is a terrible burden for these kids to have to go through such a punishing schedule just so that they can score as many "A" as they can for the glory of their school and their parents. But that is the reality of vernacular schools and if you choose to put your kids in these schools, you have not much choice but to play by their rules just like the way they enforced the "crewcut for boys and short hair below the collar-line for girls" rule. Take it or leave it. Of course, most people do take it grudgingly because they'd rather suffer these rules than opt for national schools (which is another controversial
subject for another day).
I hope to see the day when our children can reclaim their childhood so that when they grow up and look back upon this period in their lives, it is filled with memories of a carefree period when school is a place they enjoyed going to. It may be far better to teach primary school children how to be a good and conscientious citizen who know how to take good care of public property, to abhor littering and vandalism, to practise good hygiene and good manners and most of all, to respect their elders and their friends and to be mindful and gracious when interacting with people who are different from them, whether by the colour of their skin or religious beliefs.
If we are able to teach young children how to be a model citizen, it will go a long way towards moulding them into the kind of adults we wish for in our society. Certainly that is the aspiration of our PM who's wish is to see each and every citizen of this country developing first class mentality and social graces to go with the first class infrastructure that we have already spent so much money to put in place. But the pursuit of mere academic excellence has resulted in most people pushing aside the need to develop other soft values which makes a person more wholesome and more well-rounded. And in the process, we have created an ugly, selfish and materialistic society where each person cares only for the well-being of himself or his own community to the detriment of others.
Sometimes it is amusing to note that while more developed countries in the West are putting more emphasis on the importance of developing and nurturing a high Emotional Quotient (EQ) as a mark of a civilised society as well as recognising that an individual with a high EQ has a better chance of success in his career, we in Malaysia still regard a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient) as a prerequisite for success in life. That's rather archaic and sadly, a reflection of the minds of our bureaucrats who run the Ministry of Education and directly responsible for the quality of our future generation of leaders.
Sad indeed when you see the reality of what is going on in our country and what is happening in our schools these days.
While the Ministry has admitted that our teachers are currently overworked and stressed out in a less than ideal work environment in a news report published today
, perhaps they should also make a serious effort to unburden our kids and do away with an examination-oriented school syllabus. This way, teachers and students will not have to suffer the yearly pressure of producing excellent academic results to meet the expectations of misguided principals and parents.
So what is it exactly that is making our Ministry of Education so terribly uninspired?