Malaysian education system lacks egalitarian spirit

Most parents of underachieving students feel out of place at parent-teacher gatherings because they are dominated by certain parents whose children are already doing well, observes Ronald Benjamin.

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There was an interesting article by Wan Saiful Wan Jan that was published by The Star (10 December 2013) titled Poor and Ignorant.

Most low-income parents do not know about the Malaysian Education Blueprint, and they think teachers know best.

This is not surprising given the fact, as stated by the writer, that the attendance for the public consultation on the blueprint comprised only a very narrow section of society who are teachers and PIBG (parent-teacher) representatives.

The issue here is deeper than merely who the respresentives are because the very nature of the Malaysian education system is elitist and geared towards obtaining higher academic grades for bright students. This comes at the expense of nurturing talent among a broader spectrum of students who might be not be academically bright but may have the capabilities and talent in unconventional fields that could be nurtured.

Being a parent myself, I have attended PIBG meetings in schools and, to my surprise, the PIBG reps and school heads are more interested in exaggerating the high academic achievement of bright students and the schools’ achievements rather than taking a balanced approach of looking to tackle issues faced by underperforming students, the majority of whom tend to come from low- income families.

Most parents of underachieving students feel out of place at these gatherings because they are dominated by certain parents whose children are already doing well. Besides this, the socio-communication settings leave much to be desired; the PIBG representatives and school heads are seated at a distance which impedes meaningful interaction between parents and teachers.

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It is obvious that the perception of low-income parents that teachers know best stems from the type of interaction and superficial communication settings in such schools that reveal an elitist mind set. This is the missing link in the research done by the Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs.

Therefore it is vital to put the interactive and communication structures of our education system right so that they reflect egalitarian principles that would accommodate bright as well as weak students.

School heads and teachers should be educated to appreciate diverse talents among students so that dialogue would not be centred merely on academic achievements. Certain schools that strive based on these principles should be used as examples.

The truth is that until these is a less elitist approach to education, most low-income parents will continue to believe that teachers know best.

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