As published in Malay Mail today
By Haresh Deol
CRIES of “Aunty!” echoed in the porch. There stood our neighbour’s son with a dumbfounded look on his face.
Lee junior, who studies in a vernacular school, came armed with a workbook, pencil box and plenty of questions.
Right after he stepped into the house, the Year 4 pupil flipped open his book and zoomed in at a question — Danny bought a _______ for his father and a pair of _______ for her mother.
“So is Danny a boy or a girl, aunty?” Lee junior asked my mother. The other question is about the book The King of Kites.
“Who is the author?” the question read. As the young man pointed out, the book is written by Judith Heneghan and Laure Fournier.
“Shouldn’t it be ‘Who are the authors?’” he asked.
“I is so confused leh,” the boy said jokingly, poking fun at the literals.
He highlighted another sentence in the book: “Anil’s mother is know as _______” when it should be “Anil’s mother is KNOWN as ______”.
Overhearing their conversation, I asked him why his teacher was using a workbook by an independent publisher instead of one endorsed by the Education Ministry. He shrugged his shoulders and said: “I don’t know”.
There were many other glaring mistakes best kept for another day. But this is not about pointing out errors in the particular workbook. It is surprising schools continue to promote the use of such workbooks that are not scrutinised by any regulatory body including the ministry.
If there was indeed a body checking the standards of these books, more than half would not be sold in bookstores.
Calls to the publishers in the past to highlight such mistakes were often greeted with “Oh, really?” or “We will look into it”.
Teachers tend to shy away from textbooks provided by the ministry, a practice even during my days in school. My biology teacher merely read out paragraphs from a Sasbadi textbook. She confessed the contents of the ministry’s Form 4 and Form 5 textbooks were “insufficient” to prepare us for our SPM examinations.
Millions of ringgit (and paper) are used to produce school textbooks. It is a waste that they will, more often than not, remain untouched and shelved either at home or in schools. And why is information in our textbooks “insufficient” to prepare our students for examinations? If so, shouldn’t there be a revamp?
Doesn’t the ministry engage with teachers about such matters?
Books by independent publishers often reproduce similar mistakes year in year out. How will our children learn?
But the problem does not just lie with our textbooks. The school system itself has many woes.
Teachers whine they spend more time on paperwork than teaching. Students complain teachers are often fixated with everything else but teaching while some parents admit they have no faith in the teachers and the school system thus send their children to two, if not three, tuition centres.
Schools, especially in the rural areas, are in dire need of new infrastructure and facilities.
Some students are still forced to use damaged furniture and makeshift sporting equipment. Mailsport last month highlighted hockey players from SMK St Columba in Miri who relied on modified polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes and sponge from old cushions as shin guards. They trained using wooden sticks.
Umno supreme council member and Special Affairs Department director-general Datuk Dr Puad Zarkashi, had last week, highlighted the woes in our schools on his Facebook page.
He took issue with Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also Education Minister, and the deputy education ministers, saying they were “lazy” to check on the deplorable condition of some schools in the country.
Harsh as it may sound, the former deputy education minister was merely revealing the realities of what some school children go through daily.
Puad has been accused of being “critical” after losing his ministerial post — a common trait of ousted politicians. Critics slammed him for taking issue with Muhyiddin, adding he was causing “trouble” within Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration.
Politics aside, Puad knows how some schools lack accessibility and basic necessities. In 2010, he walked for hours in the jungle as he made his way to SK Saliliran in Nabawan, Sabah.
He was quoted by Berita Harian on March 3, 2010, as saying: “This is the first time I am walking in the jungle in the wee hours of the morning. I am shocked to learn about the journey. I even lied down on the grass four times as I was tired (of walking).”
And we are supposed to achieve developed-nation status by 2020.
Students, parents and teachers are tired of their arduous journey in pursuing a progressive education system. The powers that be can certainly make life better for everyone.
Books on the shelves must be vetted. Schools must be provided proper furniture and teaching tools.
Teachers must spend enough time to mould our young minds.
If only the decision-makers know how tiring it is to constantly stare at the same “mistakes” over and over again.
Let’s tackle these woes collectively and restore faith and dignity in our education system.
HARESH is executive editor of Malay Mail. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @HareshDeol