D.3 Multistream Education
Jointly written by Lee Phung Koon, Wong Chin Huat, Goh Kean Seng and Yow Lee Fung
Recommendation 1: All education streams should be treated part of the national schooling system and receive equal treatment so as to nurture a multilingual and multicultural population ready for global competition
The current classification of streams – “national” and “national type” – creates the false impression that the non-Malay-medium schools are “less national” in character. Also there is a mistaken perception that a particular education stream concerns only a particular ethnic community, leading to prejudice and the politicization of education. In reality, schools of all streams are open to and cater to learners from various ethnic groups to a lesser or greater degree.
It is important to ensure that the present autonomy of all vernacular schools should be fully respected and maintained and that schools of all language streams should be treated as equal parts of the national educational system.
The advantage of flexible multistream educational system which allows learners to develop their abilities according to their language preference and cultural background should be duly recognized. New education streams should be allowed when there is such demand. No education stream should be stigmatized as detrimental to national unity or identity. A return to the earlier policy permitting the establishment of English language schools as part of the national educational system is urgently needed not only to meet the demands of many parents but also to increase Malaysia’s multilingual advantage in the globalized world.
Proposal for Actions
1. All education streams should be recognized as “national schools” entitled to equal treatment.
2. New education streams, including that in English medium, should be allowed if there is a demand from a sizeable number of parents.
Recommendation 2: Allow all education streams equal opportunity to expand and grow according to parental choice and market need
There should be no discrimination or prohibition in the establishment or financial provision of any education stream. Parental choice must be respected and treated as the main criterion in educational development. Artificial obstacles may stand in the way but rarely deter the parents’ determination in choosing the ideal education for children.
Despite a significant increase in the Chinese and Tamil medium (national type) primary school-going population between 1970 and 2007, there has been a decrease in the absolute number of Chinese and Tamil medium primary schools. The government should take immediate steps to rectify the biased practice of building only new national primary schools and should begin the building of new Chinese and Tamil medium primary schools as soon as possible.
Similarly, the disproportionately inadequate financial allocations for education for Chinese and Tamil medium primary schools under the present and future Malaysia Plans should also be rectified. Future allocations should be provided to fairly reflect the proportion of student population of the various language streams.
All education streams must be provided with an adequate and equitable supply of qualified teachers and other educational support. Failure to do will result in the poorer quality of the present and next generation and hinder our human resource development.
Proposal for Actions
1. A transparent and objective systematic mechanism must be designed to estimate the demographic growth and parental preferences in school planning.
2. A transparent and objective mechanism should be established to determine allocation of school development funds taking into account both merit and need and to minimize discrimination and unjustified discretion.
3. A short and long-term plan should be made to train adequate teachers for schools of all education streams – especially those hitherto marginalized or disadvantaged – taking into account their projected growth. Where relevant, the main medium of instruction for teacher training should be in the mother tongue language of the target learners.
4. Special attention should be given to developing second language teaching not just in English but also in Malay and Chinese and other important languages to ensure the best interests of the non-native speakers in the respective education streams.
Recommendation 3: Allow flexibility in language for individual subjects based on educational effectiveness and learners/parental choice
The language used to teach subjects – be it at primary, secondary or tertiary level – should be based on its effectiveness in education and the choice of learners/parents. The claim that primary school learners’ proficiency in Mathematics and Science can be improved by switching to the use of the English language to teach the two latter subjects is not an established fact. Rather the deterioration of standards in Mathematics and Science must be understood in the context of the overall decline in educational standards in Malaysia.
Proposal for Actions
1. Non-lingual subjects should be taught in the mother tongue of the majority of the student populations at the primary stage.
2. The medium language of non-lingual subjects should be determined according to the wishes of the majority of parents without sacrificing the legitimate interests of the minority.
3. Any switch of language must be preceded by thorough preparation in providing support, to ensure that the learners’ ability to learn is not adversely affected.
Recommendation 4: Develop mother tongue education for indigenous communities
The needs of the indigenous communities and their views on ways of improving the education of their members must be integrated into educational policies. The Ministry of Education should take the development of mother tongue education for the indigenous communities as one of its priority in basic education. The lack of reading and learning materials in learners’ first language frequently poses the single greatest challenge to the sustainability of POL classes. The Ministry should help those indigenous communities without their written system in language development, in collaboration with other government agencies and with the assistance of relevant international agencies. UNESCO APPEAL has published a Manual for Developing Literacy and Adult Education Programmes in Minority Language Communities, and has been supporting the member states in undertaking action research on using mother tongue/bilingual approach in pilot literacy projects for ethnic minority communities in various parts of the world.
Proposal for Actions
1. The Ministry of Education should set up special indigenous affairs divisions or departments, with links to the indigenous communities, to deal with educational matters affecting all indigenous communities in the country.
2. People’s Own Language classes should be provided f or learners from indigenous communities that have developed their own writing system.
3. The Ministry’s Curriculum Development Centre should assist in the development of curricula and materials, the adoption of relevant instructional models, and the establishment of a system for assessing learners’ progress in POL classes for indigenous communities.
4. The Ministry of Education, together with other relevant government agencies, should be proactive in engaging the relevant UNESCO institutions to assist in linguistic development and mother tongue education for those indigenous communities without their own writing system.
Recommendation 5: Create multilingual school districts to facilitate diversity and encourage integration
Ethnic segregation should have no place in education. The environment in all schools should be made conducive for a multiethnic student population. All public funded schools should be opened to all qualified learners regardless of ethnic background. The present popularity of Chinese-medium schools amongst nonnative students should be viewed positively as the success of the deethnicization of such schools.
Promotion of inter-ethnic integration however should not be confused with cultural or linguistic homogenization. In fact, the eagerness of some politicians and bureaucrats to establish a single-medium national education system has evoked much anxiety and concerns about possible assimilation of the ethnic minority into the dominant culture. This is the main factor accounting for the strong resistance amongst non-Malay and non-Muslim parent to the current (Malay-medium) national schools.
The existence of schools in different streams should instead be integrated at the community level. The interest articulation should not be aggregated at national level pitting one stream against another. Instead, educational interests should be articulated at the school district level. This will correspond to the administrative boundaries of local authorities and should function to provide linguistic and cultural diversity in education. Schools within the same school districts should be seen as partners providing different options to learners and parents with different preferences. Multi-stream education in Malaysia can thrive but this requires a change in the presently highly politicized environment and the reduction in the large gap found amongst the different schools.
Proposal for Actions
1. No public-funded schools should be allowed to have a policy of monoethnic enrolment.
2. The local schools at district level should collaborate with each other in fund-raising, curricular and extra-curricular activities.
3. The government and the society should consider the needs of both school districts and individual schools in providing funds and other assistance to ensure no schools would be left out in infrastructural and other development.
Recommendation 6: Collect systematic data as a basis for assessing and supporting all education streams
A multi-stream education is viable only if it does not result in entrenched inequality between different linguistic communities. This requires systematic monitoring of the performance of all education streams with the purpose of ensuring their healthy growth. Monitoring and assessment must be made available to all stakeholders to inform public debate and regular reviews. Arising from these reviews, the provision of adequate and timely support and intervention is needed to help the under-performing streams
Proposal for Actions
1. Data should be systematically collected on the quality of education and long-term life impact of the school graduates from all education streams. The subsequent review and analysis of the data would serve as a basis for assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and for program support measures.
2. The quality of the various educational streams should be reviewed periodically to ensure that they are relevant and effective helping the country maintain its multilingual and multicultural edge in global competition.