31 July 2019

PPSMI 2.0: The Returns?

by Jefferson Sim Poh Thong

For developing nations, education is deemed to be the driving force in improving its economic competitive advantage, and has boosted the mounting efforts of its government to regulate education institutions through educational policy formulation and implementation.

In Malaysia, the use of the English language in our school curriculum and examinations has always been one of the hottest and debatable topics in our education system. However, in the past decades, it was implemented and taken off then re-implemented again.

Our national education policies are usually developed through the top-down approach, which means it is usually autocratic and stakeholders like education institutions, teachers, parents and students are hardly mentioned and/ or considered, notably in the formulation stage.

Although the top-down approach allows the alignment of the policy with the intended goals through common and consistent objectives, it only empowers the top management in the process of formulation, implementation and reformulation of a policy.

The educational leadership role of any nation in the formulation of policies should be collective and expected to embody a strong tradition of the national philosophy of that nation.

Our Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently announced that the government is looking into re-implementing the teaching of science and mathematics in English language through the reintroduction of the policy Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik dalam Bahasa Inggeris (PPSMI), also known as Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English Language.

The usual motivations for any development of educational reforms or policies arose from either the economic, political, social, intellectual and/or technological factors. They are usually symbiotic in relationship, either to correct one situation or enhancement of another.

But a good policy (or for a policy to be good) requires a good execution model or mechanism to obtain its full purpose or achieve its intended goals or outcomes. In layman’s terms, execution or implementation is communication of purpose and enforcement of the policy.

In addition, to achieve its fullness and intended outcomes, a good policy also requires the involvement of relevant stakeholders such as awareness and trainings to be provided.

The PPSMI policy was formulated and implemented in 2003 through the top-down approach, one of the main reasons why it failed. It did not consult stakeholders, especially the end users consisting of teachers, parents and students.

When it was first implemented, it was received positively by the urban society but not by the rural society. There are really no ‘one size fits all’ policy.

PPSMI was reviewed but was never revised. Its main aim was based on the urgent need to expedite the increase of the command of the English language of students.

Even though the expected outcomes are greater and beneficial, it was phased out by 2012 and replaced by the Memartabatkan Bahasa Malaysia dan Memperkukuhkan Bahasa Inggeris (MBMMBI), also known as Upholding the Malay Language and Strengthening Command of English policy.

The Ministry of Education needs to look thoroughly into proper implementation, for example, curriculum based on diversity (to suit the multicultural Malaysian society), sufficient infrastructures and human capital.

Echoing the announcement made by the Prime Minister, the Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik reassured that the reintroduction of the PPSMI policy will go through a proper reformulating process by considering acceptance level by the public, execution mechanisms, readiness of various stakeholders as well as other related approaches.

This is a commendable and progressive step taken by the Ministry of Education as it seems that the reintroduction of the PPSMI policy will be executed through the bottom-up approach.

The bottom-up approach is about understanding the behaviours of various stakeholders (especially end users) in interpreting the policy during its execution stage. Its main concentration is on identifying the effects between changes and individual behaviour in the context of what can affect the policy implementation and vice versa.

When involving the end users level, a policy is more sensitive and understanding of a community. Hence, it is easier for the public to accept the policy as they know that their interests have been taken into consideration right from the start.

So, now that it is being reformulated using the bottom-up approach, the PPSMI policy can be expected to be more student and competence-centred. Hence, the public or concerned stakeholders like teachers, parents and students should take this opportunity to raise their views and provide constructive feedbacks through the various channels provided by the Ministry of Education.

In a nutshell, every policy needs the support from all stakeholders. This collegial support can foster the process of reformulation and policy execution at macro, top, micro and lower levels to achieve its intended goals and outcomes. Thus, as concerned stakeholders, we need to play our parts as well. Lastly, for a policy to be sustainable, proper implementation and monitoring system are required.

Jefferson Sim Poh Thong is an executive with the Policy, Planning and Quality Unit at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. He can be reached via email at ptsim@swinburne.edu.my.