Malaysia’s education: The sinking titanic

“This is fine”

If you’ve watched Titanic before, you’d remember the scene where a group of violinists played their tunes as Titanic sank. They played with the intention to calm panicking passengers, basically ignoring their impending deaths. They knew the ship was sinking, they were aware of all the chaos, the hysteria – but chose to ignore it, and did something I consider rather selfless. 

Unfortunately, the “selfless” part is not the similarity I see when I liken it to the MOE. Rather it’s the blatant ignorance and unreasonable “calm” towards  what’s currently happening in our education, now that students are forced to resort to distance learning after schools nationwide are instructed to close.

Are they simply innocently unaware? Certainly not. There have been multiple news coverage of the many struggles students and parents face due to distance learning. The MOE themselves have made surveys upon surveys on the current situation; fully aware that most students are not well-equipped to optimally learn during this PdPR. In addition, parents and teachers are continuously using their social media platforms to vent out their frustrations over the current mess. 

And yet, many of the decisions made so far do not reflect that understanding of current reality. The education system is sinking, very clearly so, and what have those higher ups really done other than play a tune and pretend everything is fine and dandy? Why do their actions not give off a sense of urgency? The recovery plan is expected to continue till December, and yet many students are still without gadgets, parents are still at their wits’ end, unaided, teachers are still piled with clerical work that screams “micromanagement”, and the MOE is still chasing KPIs as if that is what’s going to unsink the sinking ship. 

“What iceberg?” 

So how ignorant have the higher ups been really? 

Right now, there are an abundance of online  competitions and programs, all hounding for students’ involvement. Students are required to send in video submissions showing their skills in a variety of sports like archery, golf, handball , just to name a few. Co-academic competitions that usually require special training by teachers are also sprouting left and right, adding to the already Everest amount of stress on teachers. Yes, many of these programs are non-compulsory (though some schools do demand their teachers to find students to join), but that’s besides the point. 

While other countries make resolving the digital divide their main priority, or at the least, not add insult to injury, here in Malaysia we seem to be incredibly unapologetic in serving only the privileged. It is no secret that students of privileged backgrounds will be the ones dominating the participation board, as they are the least affected by the struggles brought upon by the pandemic. The privilege gap is now more jarring than ever, with privileged families having no issues with providing their children access to the internet and technical devices.  

Teacher stress is also at an all time high, with the MOE forcing teachers to report incessantly on which students are missing out in lessons, despite showing no real effort towards using that collected data to give swift assistance. Add the fact that teachers have been left to figure out on their own on how to distance teach (no initiatives by the ministry to assist even in digital pedagogy), one can’t help but wonder just how well the MOE has failed all parties under its charge. 

Funny how the MOE’s decision making works; the more outcries on stress, the more that they pile on. The more we demand change, the stronger the hold on practices and methods that don’t work. 

We need lifeboats, lifejackets, and we need em fast.  

We need a ministry that actually cares. That listens. 

This craze, obsession, for overly detailed reports and unrealistic KPIs need to stop. Such practices were already problematic pre-pandemic; to still have them forced upon teachers and students during troubled times isn’t only absurd, it is cruel.   

Priorities need to be sorted. Instead of continuing as if the world isn’t burning down in flames, instead of designing the system to suit the privileged, MOE needs to face the music, admit those “not-so-pretty” data and vow to do better. More urgently, follow through those vows and show us a ministry deserving of our respect. 

Perhaps most important of all, the MOE needs to trust teachers. Micromanagement is often a sign of lack of trust, and it is a huge disregard to teachers’ professionalism to monitor their work like a hawk; as if teachers are these unruly children in need of constant supervision. For teachers to do all that data collection and then later forced to accept decisions that aren’t even evidence-based is even more infuriating. 

The Titanic sank and caused such a high death toll due to multiple factors.They were too confident and smug to even consider the possibility of a casualty. Casualties result in worse endings when we refuse to accept an ugly situation. And what’s rarely discussed when disasters happen is how the less privileged tend to suffer disproportionately. With Titanic, 60% of first class passengers survived, in comparison to only 25% of third-class passengers. Let’s not see a similar pattern happen to our education situation. The world is already unjustly cruel for the disadvantaged; in the least, education should be where all are equal. 

In essence, we need a ministry that takes charge as competent and brave captains, and not as ignorant violinists who are powerless to do anything more. 

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