Education system needs urgent policy reform

Primary schools syllabus comes under fire for being ‘too high’ level and ‘too dense’ 


THE Malaysian school curriculum continues to stir debate among the public, especially in light of a recent issue raised by a primary school teacher regarding the countr y’s education system’s flaws. 

A Mathematics teacher at SK (1) Gombak, Mohd Fadli Mohd Salleh voiced out on his Facebook page that the learning syllabus in Malaysian primary school is “too high level and inappropriate for students”. 

He also highlighted the issue of the high number of students per class, the number of subjects and the issue of heavy school bags that could be harmful to students’ health. 

Zul Fikri Zamir opines the problem of primary school syllabuses being ‘too high and too dense’ began with policymakers

Education activist and CEO of NGO Untuk Malaysia, Zul Fikri Zamir Mohamad Munir, said that the issue is not new and has been raised since 2015. 

“If we look at the previous 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP) to 12MP, it did touch the cycle (syllabus) for every five years. But I think the Ministry of Education (MoE) in Putrajaya is unaware of the situation in schools,” Zul Fikri Zamir told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

The former teacher opines that the problem of primary school syllabuses being “too high and too dense” began with the policymakers. 

“For example, in the primary school alone, there are about 17 textbooks, which I think is illogical for students below Standard Three, and there are many subjects, particularly those that are unnecessary for a child of that age.” 

He believes that students should be exposed to reading and writing skills at a young age, so that they can enjoy learning and going to school rather than feeling burdened. 

“The heavy subjects (like history and supplementary religious subjects) will take too much time to teach and learn, as well as more resources to be invested in these subjects,” he noted. 

Zul Fikri Zamir suggests that those subjects be taught at the upper primary or secondary level. 

Meanwhile, he also saw the mismatch between the schools in the urban states and the rural states, especially in Sabah and Sarawak. 

“Unfortunately, we are one of the ‘centralised’ education systems where everything is determined by Putrajaya, resulting in mismatches due to differences in terms of schools’ needs,” he added. 

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) senior lecturer at the Education Faculty, Dr Anuar Ahmad, also acknowledged these two issues — the high level and dense syllabus — in primary schools. 

“The issue of syllabus levels is a subjective matter. This is because, when we implement a syllabus, we must consider all levels of ability of the students,” Anuar told TMR. 

He noted that there is a principle in forming a school syllabus, which is to implement one that can challenge or benefit all levels of students. 

“We cannot make the syllabus too low because the smart students will feel it is not beneficial to them, nor should it be too high because weak students will fall behind.” 

Anuar agrees that the school syllabus is too dense and hopes that MoE will urgently review this matter

According to him, the MoE has provided a curriculum and assessment standard document (DSKP) as teaching guidelines for teachers in public schools. 

“So, it is the teacher’s responsibility to identify the appropriate level of the syllabus for their students. 

“The DSKP provided is flexible where the teacher can apply a syllabus suitable for every student depending on their levels, as long as it is in line with the context of the DSKP.” 

However, Anuar agreed that the school syllabus is too dense and hopes that MoE will urgently review this matter. 

“The dense syllabus means there are too many things we want to deliver to the students in just one year, like we wanted to force all the learning materials to the students in just a short time span and ask them to do so many things.” 

At the same time, the teachers will also not have enough time to teach the students effectively. 

“Teachers teach more than one class in a day, so they do not have much time to prepare a good lesson plan and they also do not have enough time to cover all the dense syllabus,” Anuar said. 

Comparing Malaysia to other countries like Singapore, Australia and Japan, he noted that Malaysian schools offer more subjects at the lower primary school level (Standards One, Two and Three). 

“Although their syllabus is high, their subjects are not as many as ours, so their students have more time to learn important things.” 

Anuar also noted that the coun- try’s education system is inadequate in preparing students for a fast-changing world. 

“Indeed, our education system is not enough to prepare the students for a fast-changing world, and even the caretaker Senior Education Minister Datuk Dr Radzi Jidin admitted that our education system has been stagnant.” 

He said that this situation is due to Malaysia’s unwillingness to make changes, while other countries surpass us in terms of education. 

Maszlee says Malaysia needs a new education model to replace and revamp the current education system

Former Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said that Malaysia needs a new education model to replace and revamp the current education system. 

He explained that he had previously implemented a report of the National Education Policy Committee, which consists of educators, scientists, linguists, professionals, artists and early childhood education experts. 

“The committee has done about 16,000 syndications and also engagements with all the relevant parties. 

“If we apply this today to our education, for example, our mathematics and science subjects will be equivalent to Singapore, our discipline and values will be comparable to Japan, our technical and vocational teachings will be equivalent to Germany and our teaching methods will be similar to Finland,” Maszlee said in a live broadcast interview with Media Mulia Sdn Bhd recently. 

He believes that the policy could be a real reform that could change the Malaysian education landscape. 

“The policy highlighted the education for disabled children from the lower to the upper level, modular-based education, thematic syllabus and most importantly, the exposure to technical and vocational learning as early as Form 1,” he added. 

In light of the syllabus issue, Radzi explained that a new syllabus needs time to be developed and that there is a lengthy process before it could be used in schools. 

He said that the syllabus used in schools has been around since 2017. 

“The syllabus cannot be changed every year. Once a new syllabus is introduced, it will complete one cycle in schools before a new one is used,” Radzi told reporters recently.