Why we should support Education Ministry's move to end streaming in schools — Hafidz Baharom

OCTOBER 19 — When Education Minister Maszlee Malik announced that he wished to end the streaming policy in secondary schools, there were some brickbats over the idea.

Now, perhaps it is because some Malaysians have something against his earlier ideas, or perhaps they are against this policy individually, I personally have no idea.

Some have accused him of using it to abolish the science stream. Some have gone to say it’s a racist policy to put Malays in good light.

Honestly, I am utterly confounded by these allegations that perhaps those detractors would like to jot their reasoning down to the press so we could have some semblance on what exactly they mean.

For myself personally, this is one policy that has been a long time coming to an end — it is outdated and hierarchical. 

For those of us currently in our late 20s and throughout our 30s, we remember going through the streaming process and wondering if it was actually what we wanted to study. Did we really need to understand the subjects of the science stream like biology and chemistry if we did not want to go into medicine.

I saw classmates who took physics but dropped the two subjects to study drawing and art, or maybe accounting and economics. I hope it worked out fine for them now, but there were always some snide remarks from teachers over the issue initially.

But more to the point, there is a hierarchy when it comes to the streams in secondary school. The science stream somehow became the symbol of achievement, while the accounting and economics streams were seen as lesser. The science stream somehow became symbolic as having good grades whilst the rest was seen of lower a calibre. 

And that was not done by the students, but drilled into them by parents and teachers unintentionally by way of peer pressure — it somehow went on to become a mantra of “get good grades, make sure you get into the science stream to get a better career in the future”.

It then devolved into having more choices in college if you take the science stream.

These thoughts became so ingrained that society forgot to ask the student what exactly they want to do, and if the subjects they are studying are tied to what they believe they want to do.

And so, for myself at least, I see Maszlee’s actions as a way to end this. At the same time, I see those detractors as people who are worried about being unable to show off their kids’ brainpower by saying they got into the science stream. 

Of course there are valid concerns — will schools be able to cope with the multiple subjects the students choose? What about entrance into colleges? Will students somehow no longer be able to take degrees and diplomas if they did not take the related subjects in schools?

Will all subjects be available as options for all, or will there still be insistence on core subjects — and I’m sure a lot of students will want to drop Pendidikan Moral, whilst some parents are venturing into the idea of dropping Pendidikan Islam. In fact, I personally hope they make this one optional since some parents already send their kids to evening religious schools anyways.

These are issues the Education Ministry will have to clarify in time, with feedback from universities and how they plan to apply their criteria for each and every degree or diploma programme entry.

But more importantly, the ability to pick and choose subjects will undo the hierarchy of streams in schools. It is the empowerment of students to choose their passions and interests, and to delve into them thoroughly. 

It could be the boy who wants to study Home Economics, or the girl who wants to take Mechanical Engineering and understand how to take apart electronics and engines. It could be the student who wants to learn about the economy, or the passionate writer who wants to understand the olden words of literature in both Bahasa Malaysia or English.

It could be the manga lover who wants to learn to draw, or the linguist who wants to know the roots of spoken and written language. It could be the techie who wants to learn about computers, or the environmental activist who wants to couple biology with economics with an idea of how to make it sustainable.

Or, it could be the guy who’s good with his hands, who now can ask to take vocational subjects to focus on what he’s good at rather than be depressed by bad grades in subjects he has no passion for.

What the Education Ministry is proposing is the devolution of the freedom of choice for students rather than at the level of tertiary education down to secondary education. And for myself, that is a good deal for the kids of today.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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