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Sunday, May 20, 2018

16 Years With Kids In Public Malaysian Schools And Why I Hope For Change

My kids have been in Malaysian public schools for 16 years. During the 16 years we experienced the following and saw some changes as follows:

1. KBSR/KBSM syllabus to KSSR/KSSM to KSSR Semakan/KSSM Semakan

What this meant to us: The siblings could not share their books because one was under KBSR, the other was the first batch doing the KSSR syllabus. We noticed that in some cases, things that were previously taught in Std 3 are taught in Std 1 under the new syllabus. Same thing goes for secondary school.

2. The end of PPSMI or teaching of Math and Science in English

What this meant to us: Initially our elder child started learning Math and Science in English AND Chinese as was practiced when PPSMI was introduced. At the time, instead of switching to Math and Science in English, SJKC students had to learn Math and Science in English IN ADDITION to Math and Science in Chinese. They sat for 4 papers. When PPSMI came to an end, it meant that our child only had to do Math and Science in Chinese only. (which was actually a relief to us)

3. The introduction of DLP (Dual Language Programme)

What this meant to us: Fortunately, by then our kids were in secondary school with DLP so they instead of switching from Math and Science in Chinese to Math and Science in BM, they switched to Math and Science in English in secondary school.

However, this means different things to different students. Some schools do not have DLP for the entire school, only for some classes and some do not have DLP.

4. The introduction of KBAT (HOTS) and new format for UPSR

What this meant to us: This was a big problem to us as the time frame for the change was too sudden and parents, teachers and students were confused. Personally, we feel that many of the KBAT type of questions were set for the sake of calling it a KBAT question. Some of the questions were so baffling, even adults could not answer them and they took to discussing how to answer them on Facebook groups. Yes, sure we are supportive of HOTS but first you must make sure the basics are covered. All of a sudden kids were supposed to swim or run before they could even walk. Surely one would drown under such circumstance.

5. The introduction of PBS 

What this meant to us: When our kids were in primary school. PBS was introduced.  Teachers were to access the kids regularly, they opened up files for each student and assessed them according to different abilities (Let's just call them Band 1 to Band 6 for the sake of simplicity). During PTA, we asked teacher about the files and teacher pointed to the row of files at the back of the classroom with each student's name labeled. We never quite understood about the Bands or how the assessment were carried out and everyone continued to rely on the school report card to check on student's progress.

At the time it was introduced, there was mention that UPSR would be 60% exam based and 40% PBS. It never happened. It went back to UPSR 100% exam based and at the end of primary school we were handed an almost empty file for the PBS. Teachers were bogged down with a lot of paperwork under PBS.

6. Bye bye PMR. Hello PT3

What this meant to us: Fortunately, we were not the first batch to say Hello to PT3. I understand the first batch was struggling to find workbooks and to understand how projects were done because for the first time History and Geography became 100% project based. The change was too sudden and not properly communicated causing panic among the first batch of parents and students.

7. The introduction of PPSR in UPSR

What this meant to us: By then our kids were out of primary school so we weren't affected by this change. The change was quite sudden too making teachers, parents and students panic at the last minute but I think it was nothing more but a different reporting style for UPSR with different focus.

8. The introduction of FROG VLE

What this meant to us: During primary school, we were given passwords for the FROGVLE login. We were supposed to be able to check our children's homework using the system. There were some schools which used this effectively but in others, many parents did not know about it or did not know how to use it. I remember in our case, the kids would come home once in a while and said they had to login to the website and leave it on for a few hours, I suspect that was to meet some sort of KPI.

In secondary school, things are better, the kids use the FROG VLE to do some homework provided by teacher. I am not sure whether it is because things are improving or because their school was better at it. However, in one ocassion I remember my kid telling me that teacher cried because she said it was so difficult and she felt so frustrated.

Changes are not properly communicated and carried out.

These are just some of what we experienced with our kids in public Malaysian schools these past 16 years. There may have been some other changes which slips my mind right now.

So many changes. Some of them printed on the pages of a glossy book called the Malaysian Education Blueprint. To us as parents, the words in the glossy book mean little to us. They show big plans but the implementation is poor and often last minute. Schools, teachers, parents and students are often confused.

We change from one thing to another and we are made to feel as though our kids are guinea pigs for plans that are not carefully thought out.

Not all of the changes are bad of course. Some of them are even good and forward looking but then the manner in which change is done, often last minute, without proper training for teachers and not properly communicated to parents leaves much to be desired.

Change is also not properly planned. Take the UPSR for example. First it was supposed to be abolished. Then it was decided not to abolish it but to have it 60% exam based and 40% school based assessment but later it was switched back to 100% exam based. Then HOTS questions were added to UPSR not gradually but suddenly. Finally, it was decided that UPSR will now be PPSR which still meant 100% exams but with exam results displayed in a different format to focus on other than just academics. These sorts of changes happen too frequently, are confusing and often done last minute without proper dissemination of information to teachers and parents.

It is the same for secondary school. Talk of abolishing PMR, followed by changing to PT3, last minute change to 100% project based for History and Geography and so on.

Every year before the major exams, parents are filled with anxiety and wondering what will be changed next and whether this change will be communicated just 2 months before the exams.

So many changes but one thing remains the same. The heavy school bag. My elder one was diagnosed with scoliosis at the end of primary school and though there is no documented proof to link scoliosis to heavy school bags, I don't think it is a good idea to have those young still growing backs and spines lug heavy school bags up and down the stairs daily.

Even now, sometimes the kids carry 3-4 school bags to school on days when they have projects to hand up and PJ and activity uniforms to change in and out of. When I teased my boy about how he looked like he was going for a trip rather than to school, he quipped. "Mom, when I go on a trip, I carry less than this."

SK, SJKC, SJKT, SMK, SMJK, Private school, International School or Home School?
It is exactly this sort of constant changes that puts parents in a dilemma when selecting schools.

High Performance School, Cluster School, Smart School, Premier School, Vision School, Control School, Full Residential School and more

So many classification of schools. So confusing. So many parents hoping to get their children into the best schools. So many schools with KPIs to meet. So much competition.

Many parents are called kiasu when they push their children to do score As to get into the better schools.

"Why so kiasu? Let your children be children. There are more things in life than academics."

I wish I could say that too. However, I do not have the luxury of being able to make such a statement. I do not have the choice of sending them to private school or international school. I do not have the luxury of picking a good school if their results are not good. I do not have the choice of sending them for expensive overseas tertiary education.

 I am not kiasu. I do not believe that children should be at home all day doing nothing accept studying. Nor do I believe in chasing after As.

However, because of my lack of choices, my children had to aim for those full As to get them into better schools. In the end, with their full As, they got to pick the school they want without us having to pay and arm and a leg. They are in a good school now and the sacrifices have been worth it but our journey in the public schooling system is not over and that is why I hope for change. We are not intending to migrate anywhere because Malaysia is our home so we hope for a better education system for the future too.

I believe many parents are the same too. They are not kiasu but they have no choice but to push their kids to fight for places in good public schools and public universities.

Parents hope for change

I am not the only parent hoping for change. Not the flip flop, printed on glossy pages, poorly communicated and executed kind of change but real change. Parents in many different circumstance all hope for change for the better. In fact we are almost desperate to have things change for the better from years of neglect.

However, we must manage hope with realistic expectations. We all want to the best of our children and our children's children. So, I hope there will be less accusations and name calling. Recently, words like "Islamphobia", "racist", "selfish" are uttered carelessly without caring about other parents feelings just because they expressed their own expectations, hopes and fears.

A yet to be sworn in Education Minister (at this point of writing) is put under the microscope and studied intensely with his every video, comment and bio-data dissected and scrutinized, pondered upon and discussed.

Yes, we want change but not like this. Not with the name calling, fear and accusations.

Over-expectations leads to disappointment and anxiety. Let's manage our expectations and hope for the best.

Acronyms used in this post:

KBSR = Kurikulum Baru Sekolah Rendah
KBSM = Kurikulum Baru Sekolah Menengah
KSSR = Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Rendah
KSSM = Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Menengah
PPSMI =  Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik Dalam Bahasa Inggeris
DLP = Dual Language Programme
KBAT =  Kemahiran Berfikir Aras Tinggi
HOTS = High Order Thinking Skills
PBS = Pentaksiran Berasaskan Sekolah
UPSR =  Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah
PPSR = Pelaporan Pentaksiran Sekolah Rendah
PMR = Penilaian Menengah Rendah
PT3 = Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3
VLE = Virtual Learning Environment
KPI =  Key Performance Indicator
SK = Sekolah Kebangsaan
SJKC = Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina
SJKT = Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Tamil



  1. I'm not sure about others but I seriusly don't see any problem with Hots..what I mean here is of course HOTS questions are not easy.. And it's difficult for us but that's because we were not taught or trained with Hots.. During our time there were no HOTS. BUT now everything has changed..and the government is trying to improve from time to time.. Its for our own good too. If you ever had a chance to look at the homeschooling or international syllabus I'm sure u'll understand what I'm saying as their books are also with HOTS. and just because we find it difficult I think it's wrong for us to assume that our kids too can't do it. For me kids nowadays are way smarter for their age compared to us before.. AND My daughter is in standard 1.. yes she is in SK school..to be honest I'm actually quite surprised to see the way she answered her HOTS questions for her exam..and she got correct. I understand it will get tougher from year to year but I also feel like we should train them to think with HOTS from young for them to perform better in For me its OK to let them endurefuture.. all this and they will surely survive in future.

    1. Hi Angine. Yes, of course it is a good thing. I was merely sharing my personal experience. Perhaps I should have been more specific and mentioned that in our experience, it was the Chinese subject which stumped us. We are an English speaking family with kids in SJKC then and when the switch was made to HOTS, we found it very difficult to adjust. How do you put your thoughts into words when you can't even string a proper Chinese sentence. That was our main issue with HOTS but of course like you say, it is a good thing actually, although some workbooks do overdo their own interpretation of HOTS questions. :)

  2. Wish for a better change. Not exam-oriented syllabus. More interactive and thinking skill for children.

    I think everyone (children and parents alike) is tired of being guinea pigs.


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