Don’t limit the choices for students
Published on: Sunday, December 29, 2019
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THE just-announced “package” of options for upper secondary school students in Malaysia has ended lots of anxiety among parents and students over the choice of subjects to take up to prepare for their future careers. I fully agree with this new “menu”, as I feel it would satisfy the requirement of students and teachers and for tertiary studies.

Now that the options have been announced, I wish to offer some suggestions on how the system can be implemented. It has been mentioned that a class for a particular subject could only be conducted if there are 15 students or more. 

I strongly disagree with this condition. In the first place, the initial proposal by the Education Minister was “free choice of subjects”, which implied complete freedom in terms of subject choice, and which also meant a subject might end up with just a handful of students.  With this new package approach, a condition is now put in place: 15 students or more to warrant a class to be conducted. This is grossly unfair to the students.

My suggestions are as follows. The number of students for any subject should NOT be the criterion justifying the assigning of a teacher for it. If there are just two or three students for any subject, the onus is on the school or district education office or State Education Department to find a teacher competent in teaching the subject. 

If none are available, engage part-timers (or retired teachers) to teach them. Denying these few students a teacher is simply discriminatory and unfair. I would like to caution the authorities against assigning a nonrelevant subject teacher to teach these few students, as this will do more harm than good.

Hire retired teachers as an ad hoc measure. The longer-term approach is to have a database of retired teachers for all subjects. Reach out to these teachers to find out if they are their willing to serve as relief staff whenever the need arises. Keep this database and update it regularly. 

It will come in handy whenever a teacher goes on leave, regardless of whether it is just a two-day sick leave or for long leave to attend in-service courses, on maternity or long sick-leave, no-pay leave and so on. This is the practice in countries such as Australia and Singapore.

My next suggestion involves school counsellors who need to be sufficiently competent and knowledgeable in offering assistance to students in choosing their subjects. For instance, students who are mediocre in Mathematics are often discouraged from taking up Additional Mathematics. Only students who are extremely weak in Mathematics should be discouraged from taking Additional Mathematics, and these are not large in number. 

Many of those who are supposedly weak in the subject are only weak because they have not been taught in a manner that suits their learning style.

Teaching the basic concept is of utmost importance but many Mathematics teachers choose the easy way by offering shortcuts. Shortcuts are good only for straightforward questions, they will not help students in the application of concepts that must be understood.

Additional Mathematics is an important subject for most courses at the higher level. As such, except for students who are intrinsically weak in Mathematics, most students should be encouraged to take it.

Proper teaching of Mathematics makes a world of difference. Let’s do justice to these youngsters and make a positive impact on their lives. Mathematics is logic. It trains the brain to be more logical and analytical.


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