Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Another subject that will go down in History

FROM the statements that have been emanating from Education Ministry officials, it appears that History will be making a comeback in primary schools. And very soon too, when the new school year starts in January.
While an interesting development, it is hardly one expected to create waves. It is not exactly a subject that tugs at the collective heartstrings of the populace like the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English.It will unlikely stir up unending debates; back-and-forth tit-for-tat statements from interested parties, and those with political and personal agendas; or bring scores of raucous protesters to the streets to march the length and breadth of the city. Why should it? Learning History is beneficial; a good thing. Young children need to know the origins of the nation in which they reside and the contribution of every community to the country's development.But is it prudent to introduce yet another subject in primary school? Pupils are already inundated with far too many subjects as it is. Another one will just prove to be too much of a good thing.
Coupled with the difficulty level of the primary school curriculum and the frequency in which subjects are introduced, abolished, and re-introduced, teachers have remarked that our schoolboys and girls are confused. And they -- the venerable members of our teaching fraternity -- frustrated and exhausted. Several new subjects have been introduced in the last few decades. While they are non-examinable, it remains that primary schoolchildren now have a formidable number of subjects on their hands.To introduce more would make the learning process more onerous, and prove an unacceptable strain on their slight shoulders. It has been wryly remarked that the only people who will stand to benefit from such exercises are chiropractors and textbook publishers.Besides the compulsory subjects of Bahasa Melayu Pemahaman (comprehension), Bahasa Melayu Penu-lisan (writing), English, Science and Mathematics, pupils in upper primary -- from Year Four onwards -- have three more to grapple with.Previously, there was Geography and History, but both were done away with. Alam dan Manusia (Nature and Man) came into the picture for a while but was repudiated almost as swiftly as it was introduced.Other inclusions have been Kajian Tempatan, Living Skills and most recently, Civics and Nationhood.If and when History is introduced, it will overlap with Kajian Tempatan, which is basically History, Geography and Civics rolled into one. It will also cover some of the same areas already included in Civics and Nationhood, which was introduced, or rather re-introduced, in 2005. Civics, first taught in 1972, was scrapped in 1982 following a revamp. In its new, improved guise, it deals with various themes relating to family relationships, life in school and society, multiculturalism, Malaysia as a sovereign state, and the future challenges facing the nation.What should then be in the primary school History syllabus? When many elements of the country's historical mosaic has fallen through the cracks in the secondary school History textbooks, it is imperative that the same does not occur at the primary school level. Before any new subject is thrust upon pupils, this tangled, confused, and complicated mass needs to be unravelled.The last thing pupils need when they are struggling with an increasingly tough syllabus is a surplus of subjects.Parents have noticed how difficult some of the subjects, especially Bahasa Melayu and English, have become compared with when they were in primary school.When the focus then was on mastering the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic, pupils now must be able to form complete sentences in Year One, write short essays in Year Two, and memorise a mind-boggling array of proverbs and penjodoh bilangan (numerical coefficient or classifier) from their very first year of compulsory education.Helping a child with his homework these days requires extensive research (Googling) on the part of hapless parents. It is difficult to explain to a 7-year-old that kera sumbang has nothing to do with a banana-loving denizen of the zoo, for instance.Teachers have claimed that the number of pupils unable to read by Year Six is increasing through the years, as is the number of dropouts.They are incensed when education authorities accuse them of not executing their tasks effectively when the real problem, they say, lies with the ever-changing curriculum.A new subject would also mean attending familiarisation courses. A teacher said: "We attend a course and a few years later, the subject is scrapped. "Things are always in a state of flux, but education officials say we are the ones that are berdosa (sinful) for not teaching our charges properly." It is a sentiment echoed by most of her colleagues.They agree that the education system was at its best when Datuk Seri Najib Razak was minister from 1995 to 1999, when policies were followed through and given time to mature. Overhaul, review and re-introduce subjects if that is what is needed to keep the curriculum up with the times, but it must not be done with haste as coherence and some sense of permanence are requisites in any education system.

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