The Malaysia Education Blueprint report stresses bilingualism and more
LANGUAGE proficiency is surely the basis of learning, a fundamental prerequisite of intellectual dexterity, and from there to good jobs and personal growth. Its importance to a successful education system cannot be underestimated. Not unnaturally, therefore, one of the 11 shifts of the recently launched Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 preliminary report specifically targets language skills. The aim is to make every child proficient in both Bahasa Malaysia and English. The debate over English usage has often obscured the fact that many students come out of the system without a high standard of literacy in Bahasa Malaysia, the national lingua franca. To further improve the teaching of Bahasa Malaysia, a standard curriculum will apply to government and vernacular schools. All of which is much welcomed by universities as they anticipate the arrival on their doorsteps of young adults not handicapped by inadequate communication skills.
Quality teachers have always been an area of concern, as criticism of the 2006-2010 Blueprint by renowned educationist Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim showed. He pointed out that the pre-1957 education system made possible many achievements abroad because "we saw dedication from teachers". For the purposes of improving young Malaysians' command of English, the skills of the 70,000 language teachers will be upgraded accordingly and in the shortest time possible. That said, skills and dedication are often two separate attributes of good teaching. As the new blueprint suggests, language teachers deemed under-performing will be re-deployed for other subjects. However, if the problem is not one of skills but rather a lack of calling, then what use is redeployment?
The often-repeated underlying cause of lack of dedication on the part of teachers is that they no longer are looked up to socially, which in turn, undermines morale. Once upon a time, the teacher was seen as a community leader. Nowadays, the profession is under attack from parents, the community and the children themselves, where the teacher's authority to exercise discipline is being challenged. Indeed, corporal punishment must be shunned but something as effective must replace it. Shift 3, which sets out to "develop values-driven Malaysians", may be it. The blueprint then is holistic in approach. It will not only take the national education system to the levels of developed countries but also reinforce its capacity to create a national identity. At the same time, the backbone of the system, teachers, will be given their due to turn their job into a calling and encourage a greater sense of vocation. At the same time, language teachers should be accorded the status more deserving of their subjects' centrality.