TRUANCY: Poor Bahasa Malaysia skills the root cause

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I REFER to "Truancy among schoolchildren rampant" (NST, March, 30). Last year, 8,266 truancy cases were reported in primary schools and 10,488 in secondary schools. Of these, 58.85 per cent involved students in rural areas.

 Factors contributing to truancy include, inadequate infrastructure (especially in rural areas), poverty, lack of interest  in studies, too much focus on academic performance, imbalance in physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development, "one-method-fits-all" teaching approach and lack of commitment.

 Let me share my experiences, thoughts and understanding of this issue.

 Broadly, there are two groups of truants -- the intentional truants, who have ready access to school, but nevertheless choose to play truant; and  the unintentional truants, who find it difficult to access school, particularly  in rural and remote areas.

 The former group is well endowed with all schooling facilities and their families do not need a helping hand financially.

 The opposite is true for the latter. They are the children of the urban and rural poor  who may have to be absent from school to help their families. Also, in some instances, the nearest school is too far for them without proper transport.

 For the unintentional truants, collaboration  with other ministries and bodies is  required to improve the   amenities and  living standards of the families concerned.

 For the intentional truants, the schools and Education Ministry can do much to reduce and eliminate the problem.

 I tend to believe that most   primary school truants fall in the unintentional group, while the secondary school truants are mainly intentional truants.

 This letter focuses on the intentional truants.

 First, it is agreed that the  lack of interest and commitment in studying is the main reason. But, what causes this loss of interest and commitment?

 It is the students' inadequate proficiency in the main medium of instruction which is Bahasa Malaysia (BM) in secondary schools.

 Many students from  Chinese and Tamil primary schools are found to be wanting in their command of BM when entering secondary school. For some, a year in Remove Class does not help "remove" the cumulative effects  of their six-year neglect of the language while in primary school.

 When they can't understand the lessons, their interest to study wanes and before long, they are totally lost in their classes.  It becomes   torture to stay   in class for hours every day of the week.

After being repeatedly reprimanded for their mischief and misbehaviour, these students start to disappear from class.

 There is, therefore, an urgent need to strengthen the proficiency of BM among students in vernacular schools.

 I strongly advocate that vernacular school students should have the same BM syllabus and BM papers in their Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah as students in national schools.

 Vernacular schools should realise the urgency and need for their pupils to master BM at a higher level. Students from these schools should pride themselves in their proficiency in both BM and Chinese or Tamil.

 Advocates  of vernacular education should think and plan beyond the six-year time frame for their students.

The present practice of leaving the "catching-up" in BM to be done in secondary school  is an injustice to the students and a major cause for their truancy.

 Second, enrolling students who lack interest in studying in vocational schools or in classes with vocational or trade subjects in normal schools has  been cited as a way to arrest truancy.

 But, is this the panacea? Are we just treating the symptoms and not the cause?

 The poor command of the language of instruction is the cause for the loss of interest in their studies. Be mindful also that in secondary schools, vocational and trade subjects are taught in BM.

 What is there to guarantee that after the initial euphoria over  the practical sessions incorporated in these subjects, these students will not  lose interest again because they cannot follow the theory part of the subjects?

  Overcoming truancy is  very much a  joint endeavour by the Education Ministry, schools, students and parents.

 Liong Kam Chong, Seremban, Negri Sembilan

Truants running away in Kuching as a police patrol car approaches with sirens blaring to deter them from playing truant. Pic by Nadim Bokhari


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