Quietly doing what needs to be done

EDUCATION Minister Dr Maszlee Malik has come under criticism over and over again.

As a teacher, I have seen his numerous efforts to improve our education system, how he reacts almost immediately when needed, and how he has humbly recognised teachers as the heroes of the future.

He helms one of the largest ministries, under which there are about 10,000 schools, half a million teachers, and 500,000 students, excluding those at tertiary level.

I attended a few talks by Dr Maszlee before he became involved in politics. I like his character and his thoughtful responses to questions and he seems to have his mind on the right priorities.

However, he has been under intense scrutiny since he became Education Minister, and there have been baseless accusations that he has done nothing since last year other than initiating menial changes in the system, such as changing the colour of shoes for pupils.

Perhaps the work that his ministry is doing to unclog the education system makes boring headlines, which is why I would like to highlight what he has done, at least in the things which I can to relate to.

1. Reducing the non-teaching burden of teachers: This is something he emphasised from the very beginning. Most Malaysians can agree that teachers are burdened by unnecessary paperwork and clerical duties that take their energy and time away from their actual and most important job – teaching. Today, many teachers spend more time doing other things instead of their core duty.

Under Dr Maszlee, the Education Ministry introduced a set of reforms (five initiatives, nine interventions) this year to reduce the burden of teachers by 25%. From filing and documentation to monitoring the textbook borrowing scheme, recording of class assessments, taking students’ attendance, and assessing the cleanliness of school canteens (apparently, this is a duty some teachers are burdened with), the work of teachers has been streamlined, simplified or simply removed.

The administrative burden of teachers has been reduced with the collaboration of the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP). At last, someone like Dr Maszlee is willing to listen to the grassroots and adopt the bottom-up approach in formulating policies, instead of just coming up with new things without considering teachers on the ground.

Yes, teachers are still burdened at school. They are still dreading clerical work and nonstop filing. But I personally feel less burdened and I know things will get better with time.

2. Revamping the curriculum: Some things, however, cannot be done with haste, like curriculum change. There have been critics who argue that the minister has done nothing to correct our national curriculum/syllabus, which is deemed as below par and biased. However, this minister has quietly formed the National Education Policy Review Committee and engaged various stakeholders, including NGOs and experts who are not bureaucrats (a more inclusive approach), to recommend improvements to the curriculum. The National Civics and Religious Education curriculum is also being reviewed to ensure that values are practised and inculcated. The minister expects the new curriculum to be implemented in 2021 based on the recommendations made.

Dr Maszlee always highlights the ministry’s key initiatives: values-based education; equitable, inclusive and quality education; and autonomy and empowerment of learning institutions. I believe all these elements will be included and considered in the curriculum. Schools, according to Dr Maszlee, should be a place where learning is fun and where children are nurtured and protected.

I am looking forward to discovering other improvements that the Education Ministry can execute even though I know that Dr Maszlee is being criticised by a lot of people. I love how close he is with my fellow teachers where he uses his own social media accounts to directly connect with and reach out to them, be it through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even YouTube. No education minister has ever reached out to this extent, and I know a good minister when I see one through his efforts. I hope this beautiful rapport can benefit both in enhancing the quality of the curriculum and producing better teachers.



First published in The Star Online

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