The decision by the Federal government to close all schools in Malaysia until 17—18 December 2020—the last day of the school year due to the imposition of Conditional Movement Control Orders (CMCOs) on most states in the country is unfortunate, as is the postponement of the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Sijil Vokasional Malaysia (SVM) and Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia (STAM) examinations to 22 February 2021 and the Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) to 8 March 2021.
The education of an entire generation of Malaysian students has been disrupted by the lack of planning and foresight of the Ministry of Education.
Valid questions have been raised over whether the practically nationwide imposition of CMCOs was necessary given that not all the states involved are experiencing a major uptick in cases. The decision to shut schools even in states still under the Recovery Control Movement Order (RMCO) like Kelantan, Pahang and Perlis is also questionable.
While we hope that Covid-19 vaccines will be available to us soon, the fact is that we are going to have to learn to live with the coronavirus for some time.
It is necessary for us to plan ahead to be able to continue our socio-economic lives while adhering to the best practices in terms of physical distancing and personal hygiene.
But it is unfair for the onus on this to be only on the people. They must also be guided, protected and facilitated by wise policies and decisive leadership, including in education. Unfortunately, neither has been forthcoming from the PN Government.
What the Ministry of Education has basically done is postpone everything and ask everyone to wait for details. This approach, as usual for this administration, is short on substance and empathy.
Take for instance the SPM, which are now scheduled to begin on 22 February 2020, while STPM will begin on 8 March 2020. Universty intakes, are ostensibly still supposed to happen in September.
Normally, SPM and STPM results are released in February or March and the Unit Pengambilan Universiti (UPU) usually needs around 5 months to process results for the university intake.
Now however, the SPM and STPM will end in March 2021. This means the papers will need to be marked, tabulated and reviewed, as well as results set and endorsed in less than three months—by June earliest.
This leaves July for UPU to input the results into their system and August for the students to apply to get their results in September. We must not forget that this is the same time UPU will be dealing with applicants from matriculation and foundation courses.
This won’t be workable without using new or innovative technology for the marking of exams, releasing of results and student applications for universities.
Current systems will not be able to handle this unless the date for university intakes are postponed as the exams have.
But I don’t just want to focus on recriminations. Here are some solutions the Ministry should adopt to help students and teachers cope with the upheaval.
1. The Ministry should convene a special taskforce with stakeholders and experts both from within and outside government to come up with a streamlined version of the SPM and STPM.
2. It should cancel all coursework requirements for the 2020/2021 and 2021 SPM batches except for where practical knowledge is critical like vocational subjects.
3. Identify which parts of the curriculum must be taught face-to-face and which can be done online.
For the latter, content development for online teaching and learning should be organised. The Ministry’s Bahagian Teknologi Pendidikan can help. Also, subjects that can be assessed or even tested for SPM online should be done so.
4. Freeze the transfer of all exam personnel in the Ministry, especially the Lembaga Peperiksaan, Majlis Peperiksaan and at the state education levels until both the SPM and STPM 2020/2021 and 2021 are settled.
5. The Jemaah Nazir should also work with schools to help organise classes or even go to the ground and teach—with all the usual SOPs of course. As I raised in the PH meeting with MOF on the 2021 Budget, we should also recruit interim teachers to assist full-timers with face-to-face and online learning.
Partnerships can also be formed with private training and technology companies for tech solutions and innovations in accelerated learning to help both teachers and students.
6. The UPU is also need of an upgrade to shorten the time needed to process applications and to ensure that it can handle the many tens of thousands that likely will be applying at the same time.
7. We also have to realise that the current batch of school students—the youngest members of the “Covid Generation”, will probably need monitoring and help for a long time to come.
The government should, for a start, increase capacity for matriculation and Form Six for the near future. This is to help better prepare Covid Generation students who have essentially missed a year of school for tertiary education.
For diploma courses, colleges and universities must consider introducing pre-tertiary course of studies (at minimum cost) to help both SPM and STPM batches catch up with the required knowledge in their related field.
I truly hope the Ministry of Education will consider these measures.
It goes beyond politics—it’s the future of a significant portion of young Malaysians, and thereby, the country itself, that is at stake.
NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD
KEADILAN PARLIAMENTARY SPOKESPERSON ON EDUCATION
SETIAWANGSA MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT