Saint Honesty

I am writing this update from the field!

Currently back in Malaysia for data collection year of my DPhil. It’s been a month now since I’ve returned, and I will eventually write about my experience doing fieldwork at home. But for now, I share a letter I wrote last week to New Straits Times commenting about the ministry’s move to abolish streams in upper secondary education.

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Read the published letter here, but I append below the original version I submitted before edits done by the newspaper (subtle differences here and there).

Until next time!


Streamless schools: seamless transition or half-formed ideal?

Aizuddin Mohamed Anuar

Education Minister YB Dr. Maszlee Malik recently announced that beginning next year, upper secondary school students will no longer face subject streaming following their Form Three examination (PT3). It is puzzling, but perhaps not surprising, that he chose to push for this decision despite his team’s concern of the time constraints for immediate implementation. After all, he is a politician. Being the foremost bearer of ‘good news’ trumps the complex aftermath once the dust settles—the real work of officers, teachers and students dealing with systemic realities and constraints, away from the glitz of the political pulpit.

The Minister highlights that streaming has resulted in mismatched placement of talents, laying the blame on parents for deciding on behalf of their children. In an era of streamless education, children will be able to rely on artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to make their own decisions. Their talents will not go to waste like their predecessors. But who will then be blamed for future missteps or mismatches in education decisions, however much we wish that machines don’t lie? These insentient machines? Children themselves?

On a conceptual level, liberating students from the shackles of streaming is a laudable move. Reflecting on my own experience, I would have enjoyed the opportunity to study geography and English literature at the upper secondary level. If I had done so, my trajectory might look very different. But I was in a science school, so my schoolmates and I were automatically streamed to study pure science subjects, regardless of ability and affinity.

However, the everyday reality of school administration in a highly centralised education system is far from a streamless ideal. My recent conversation with individuals within our education system suggests an ambivalent response to the Minister’s announcement. Much will remain status quo, not because it is an unwise idea. Rather, due to the constraints faced by schools in terms of resources, students will continue to be organised (if not formally streamed) as they have in the past.

A buffet of specialised subjects cannot be offered if there are insufficient specialised teachers at a particular school, if there are no corresponding facilities to support such subjects. Away from the ministerial core where grand policies are crafted and promulgated, public schools all over the country will continue to operate within their limits and means.

Ultimately, children should not be short-changed by this move. It will not be fair to suggest a streamless system if they are able to register for a salad of subjects on paper, but will have to learn independently because certain subjects are not offered or supported by the school. It will not be fair if students leave a streamless secondary school to enter a higher education system that still expects a combination of subjects along the lines facilitated by the previous streaming approach. Who is to be blamed then?

Perhaps the Minister should have acceded to the internal wisdom of his team, adopting a thoughtful, studied approach to policy-making before making announcements that on surface might placate the public. The education of our children is not a game. Popcorn, half-formed reforms are unacceptable, notwithstanding how politically expedient they might be.

Our children deserve the potential liberation and expansion of their capacities brought about by a streamless system. Equally, they deserve thoughtful implementation to go along with that system, so they are not short-changed, or worse, blamed by its aftermath.

The writer is a PhD student in Education and Clarendon-New College scholar, University of Oxford

To cite this article:

Aizuddin, M. A. (2019, October 19). Streamless schools — seamless transition or half-formed idea? New Straits Times, Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters/2019/10/531508/streamless-schools-%E2%80%94-seamless-transition-or-half-formed-idea

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