This chapter will mainly discuss the generic aspects in Malaysian education system and will give more focus on Malaysian science curriculum. In discussing Malaysian science curriculum, I will be looking at the four main aspects of a curriculum which are the objective, content, implementation and assessment. However, I would prefer to give more focus on the implementation and the assessment which are basically the aspects that influence students’ performance and the effectiveness of a curriculum. I will highlight the strengths and the weakness of this curriculum or system from the data gathered and the analysis of related documents.
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5.1 Brief History on Malaysian Education System
In conducting this research, I do believe that one needs to understand the Malaysian education system as a whole, in order to understand how this system develops and works. The development had so many influences from internal and external namely religion, colonialism, integration among races, science and technology, political view and others. However the establishment of Malaysian education system became significantly enhanced after World War II as a result of the rise in awareness among the intellectuals in Malaya. Therefore, to explain brief history of Malaysian education, I would to discuss education in Malaysia, previously known as Malaya, post World War II.
5.1.1 Towards A National Education System
In order to help the government to decide the best education system, an Advisory Committee on Education was established in 1949 by British government in Malaya. The government intended a system which could be implemented and on the same time could unite the races in Malaya. Due to that reasons, British believed that a standard type of education could help British to foster the aims in Malaya. Hence, an education system was established which this system used one medium of instruction. On the subsequent year 1950, Barnes Report proposed of the conversion of primary vernacular schools into national schools which using Malay and English languages. In secondary schools however, supposed to maintain the use of English as medium of instruction (Rosnani, H., 2004).
From the Barnes report, there were subsequent reports produced with attempts to view the education system in Malaya such as Fenn-Wu report in 1951 and Razak Report in 1955. Razak report was the one which really gave tremendous effect in Malaysian education. The committee was chaired by Dato’ Abdul Razak Hussein and was given the task to review the education system of Malaya. Based critical analysis and deliberation on 151 memorandums which received, Razak Committee recommended the following; (Rosnani, H., 2004).
Two types of primary school – National schools and National-type schools with a common content syllabus.
Use of Malay language as medium of instruction and English as compulsory subject.
In 1960, the Rahman Talib committee was established to investigate the acceptance of Razak Report among the Malaysians. It also aims to strengthen the implementation of Razak Report and the use of Malay as the medium of instruction. Report by Rahman Talib’s commitee later was served as the basis for the Education Act 1961 and the act was subsequently approved by the Parliament.
5.1.2 Development of Malaysian Science Education during Post-Independence
In Malaysia, science education started under the British colonialism period. At that time, education was received only by the elite groups and only a small group of people in Malaya pursued their study in secondary level where formal science education was provided. During that era, students were used imported textbooks and sat for the examination that was set up by Cambridge Universities. The examination is exactly the same as the ones sat by students in England.
After independence, and the establishment of the new state of Malaysia in 1963, a more comprehensive system of education was developed. The system use Malay language as the main medium of instruction and a national curriculum together with examination system (Wong & Ee, 1975). Later in 1973, the National Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) was established to oversee matters pertaining to curriculum adaptation and adoption. According to Zainal (1988) curriculum reforms at secondary level were very much influenced by the British education system. In 1960s and 1970s, the reforms (Nielsen, 1985) emphasized the following:
integration and relevance of the science curriculum, and
science process skills
However, research found that the implementation of these reforms at classroom level was very minimal (Zainal, 1988). Even though the reform supposes to change the pedagogy of teachers, studies conducted reported that teachers modified or ignored the inquiry strategies proposed by the reformed courses. There were cases where teachers keep using the traditional pedagogy in teaching. Most of the reasons cited were (Lee, 1992);
Lack of confidence and competence on the part of teachers to try out new teaching techniques, probably due to their poor grasp of the subject-matter and poor training;
Physical constraints in terms of class size and facilities;
Social pressure to teach towards examinations; and
A cultural context where respect for authority inhibits independent and critical thinking.
Due to the factors listed, the reform process did not met its expectation which to provide a better education for Malaysian citizens. Thus, in 1988, a further wave of reform was carried out. This time the reform was led by the establishment of the Integrated Curriculum for Secondary School (ICSS), which serves to provide the better basis for secondary schooling science programs. Alongside development of scientific knowledge and skills, ICSS Science also emphasizes the inculcation in students of social values and positive attitudes to science.
5.1.3 Implementation of the National Education System
The National Philosophy of Education was released in year 1989. The philosophy is as follows:
“Education in Malaysia is an on-going effort towards further developing the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner, so as to produce individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced and harmonious, based on a firm belief in and devotion to God. Such an effort is designed to produce Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable and competent, who possess high moral standards, and who are responsible and capable of achieving high level of personal well-being as well as being able to contribute to the harmony and betterment of the family, the society and the nation at large.”
5.1.4 Education towards Vision 2020
To achieve the status as a fully developed country is the ultimate goal for Malaysia by the year 2020. The definition of Malaysia as a fully developed country is:
“By the year 2020, Malaysia can be a united nation, with a confident Malaysian society, infused by strong moral and ethical values, living in a society that is democratic, liberal and tolerant, caring, economically just and equitable, progressive and prosperous, and in full possession of an economy that is competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient.”
In order to reach as fully developed country, it is important for Malaysia to put sufficient effort to overcome nine challenges in Vision 2020. Following are the challenges that are believed to be related to the role of education in Malaysia (Malaysia as a Fully Developed Country, 2010; p.2)
The third challenge we have always faced is that of fostering and developing a mature democratic society, practicing a form of mature consensual, community-oriented Malaysian democracy that can be a model for many developing countries.
The fifth challenge that we have always faced is the challenge of establishing a matured, liberal and tolerant society in which Malaysians of all colors and creeds are free to practice and profess their customs, cultures and religious beliefs and yet feeling that they belong to one nation.
The sixth is the challenge of establishing a scientific and progressive society, a society that is innovative and forward-looking, one that is not only a consumer of technology but also a contributor to the scientific and technological civilization of the future.
The ninth challenge is the challenge of establishing a prosperous society, with an economy that is fully competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient.
In the history of Malaysia, it is evident that the education policy over the past years has been consistent and in line with Vision 2020. Vision 2020 emphasizes Malaysia as a fully developed country, one which is developed in every aspect – economically, politically, socially, spiritually, psychologically and culturally. The challenges in Vision 2020 which related to education will only be overcome by ensuring that adequate supply of human resources in the area of science and technology are provided. This is done through increasing the intake of science students, encouraging the use of technology in among the teachers and students.
Critical reviews on the National Education system from time to time ensure that the present curriculum is in line with the progress and needs of our country. The needs include restructuring the society, achieve racial unity and fulfill the aims of the Vision 2020.
The objective of Malaysian science curriculum lies in its philosophy which is extended and based on the National Educational Philosophy (NPE);
‘In consonance with the National Education Philosophy, science education in Malaysia nurtures a science and technology culture by focusing on the development of individuals who are competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient and able to master scientific knowledge and technological competency’
Therefore in general, aims of science education in Malaysia are to develop the potentials of individuals in an overall and integrated manner. It also intended to produce Malaysian citizens, who are scientifically and technologically literate and competent in scientific skills. In line with the National Educational Philosophy, the individual produced is believes to practice good moral values and has abilities to cope with the changes of scientific and technological advances. He or she also be able to manage nature with wisdom and responsible for the betterment of mankind.
Educational Development Plan for Malaysia (2001 – 2010) stated that, the aims of the development in secondary education are to enhance students’ critical and creative thinking skills; emphasize science and technology; provide adequate and quality teaching and learning facilities.
By giving focus on science and technology, the prescribed curriculum by means will ensuring the workforces who are knowledgeable and skillful in various fields especially in science, technology and ICT can be produced. From the aims that highlighted, one can see that the philosophy of Education in Malaysia works as a reference or guide for the system in producing the intended products. This can be seen from the following lines;
“The aspiration of the nation to become an industrialized society depends on science and technology. It is envisaged that success in providing quality science education to Malaysians from an early age will serve to spearhead the nation into becoming a knowledge society and a competitive player in the global arena. Towards this end, the Malaysian education system is giving greater emphasis to science and mathematics education.”
Dr.Sharipah Maimunah, Director of Curriculum Development Centre (CDC)
The focus in the teaching-learning approach in the science curriculum in Malaysia at all levels is the mastery of scientific skills among the students. Since science subject stress on inquiry and problem solving, therefore scientific and thinking skills are need to be utilized. Scientific skills are important in any scientific investigation such as conducting experiments and carrying out projects as it comprises process skills and manipulative skills. Process skills are mental processes that encourage critical, creative, analytical and systematic thinking while manipulative skills are psychomotor skills used in scientific investigations such as proper handling of scientific equipment, substances, living and non-living things. Thinking skills comprise critical thinking and creative thinking, which when combined with reasoning lead to higher order thinking skills such as conceptualizing, decision – making and problem solving.
In the science curriculum, it is recommended that the scientific and thinking skills are infused through science lessons in various stages. These stages range from introducing scientific and thinking skills explicitly, applying these skills with guidance from teachers and finally applying these skills to solve specific problems independently. The infusion of desirable values and attitudes is also emphasized in the teaching approaches. Such values include showing interest and curiosity towards the surroundings, honesty and accuracy in recording and validating data, flexibility and open-mindedness, perseverance, being systematic and confident, cooperation, responsibility for one’s own and friend’s safety, and towards the environment, appreciation of the contributions of science and technology, thankfulness to God, appreciation and practice of a healthy and clean life style and the realization that science is one of the ways to understand the universe.
Hence, to achieve the targeted objectives and aims of the stipulated education,, the Integrated Curriculum for Secondary School (ICSS) or Kurikulum Baru Sekolah Menengah (KBSM) for all subjects including science is are supposed to subscribe lifelong learning among the students, inculcate moral values across the curriculum, and promote students’ intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical development. Form the interview that I carried out on an expert in science education, she views KBSM as;
“I think the philosophy of the Kurikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Menengah (KBSM) science is good. To ensure a scientist that is not only good in the field but also knows the limit of science in understanding the phenomena and knowing science to know God as well. Also the science curriculum is to educate science for all and not specifically to train students to be scientists.” (personal communication)
Science education in Malaysia offers wide range of topics arranged in accordance to its theme. The topics are arranged thematically to help students conceptualize and understand how concepts are related to one another. However, lack of effort or perhaps in some cases, failure, among teachers to relate previous chapter from the next caused students to perceive knowledge as detached instead of connected and complete.
For example, when students are in form one, they will learn about ‘Matter’ which covers the details on solid, liquid and gas. When the students move one form higher the following year, two of the chapters – on ‘Water and Solution’ and ‘Air Pressure’ – taught in form two are built on the previous topic on ‘Matter’. Later at the upper secondary level, the students will learn about matter in two separate subjects, namely chemistry and physics. The difference is that at upper secondary level, the topics are covered in more depth in comparison to what was leant at the lower secondary level. For chemistry, topic related to ‘Matter’ focuses more forces that exist between particles while in Physics, learning and discussions are geared towards energy and its influence on matter.
In forms one to three, students do general science where certain aspects of biological, physical and chemical sciences are integrated into a subject. The general science subject that students learn, in other words, serves as foundation to prepare them for more advanced science specific subjects such as biology, chemistry, physics and additional science at upper secondary level.
In the Malaysian science curriculum, each science subject has its own objectives and focus. The focus of science subjects at primary to secondary levels of schooling change as students’ ability changed in accordance to their increasing age. However, moving from one stage to another, the focus of the curriculum still intended to achieve the aims and target of the national curriculum. The curriculum in primary school is less critical and serves more as basic or foundation for the students. As students move from primary school to upper secondary school, the designed curriculum undergoes gradual transformation and changes on its level of difficulty whereby the curriculum in secondary schooling is more critical and wider. The science curriculum in secondary schooling is supposed to nurture and reinforces what was learnt at the primary level. At the secondary level, particular emphasis is given to the acquisition of scientific knowledge, and mastery of scientific and thinking skills. The emphasis was given throughout the syllabus designed and the teaching and learning process. At the end of the day, the curriculum that the students had went through, whether in primary or secondary will make them to be all-rounded, balanced, knowledgeable and possess high morality.
Therefore, as means of ensuring the development of holistic and ethically upright citizens or possess high morality – those who would develop yet manage and preserve the environment – the science (and other curriculum for that matter) curriculum has been infused with moral values as indicated by Director of Curriculum Development Center herself;
“The Science curriculum has been designed not only to provide opportunities for students to acquire science knowledge and skills, develop thinking skills and thinking strategies, and to apply this knowledge and skills in everyday life, but also to inculcate in them noble values and the spirit of patriotism. It is hoped that the educational process en route to achieving these aims would produce well-balanced citizens capable of contributing to the harmony and prosperity of the nation and its people.”
Dr.Sharifah Maimunah Syed Zain
Even though the content of Malaysian science curriculum seemed exceptional on paper, it has, nonetheless, been criticized by students and teachers alike. In fact, there were also experts in education who indicated that the content of Malaysian science curriculum is too ambitious and burdening teachers and students. Some of the interview responses on the content and implementation of Malaysian science curriculum are as follows:
“It is burden in the sense that the content is still abstract and conceptual in nature, less relevance to the need of their daily life. The content is still subject based rather than societal based.” Expert
“However, sometimes the contents are too much. Not all the experiments or topic that teachers are able to do or show to the class.” Teacher
“..the syllabus is quite a lot and the teacher must finish it because it will be asked in examinationâ€¦â€¦” Teacher
“.I reckoned Malaysian science syllabus as ‘a mile wide, an inch deep’. There is too much too cover, and yet all those topics are being covered at only at a superficial level. There are many repercussions due to thatâ€¦.” Teacher
“..I observed teacher making extra effort on teaching important topics in class using up extra period of time, and it ended up with no time left to teach the last topic.” Teacher
The content of Malaysian science curriculum to some extend failed to address the importance for the students to learn the content and how the content relates to their life. With the feature of Malaysian science curriculum which content-laden, this directly affect on how the curriculum is implemented in school by the teachers.
In order to discuss on the implementation of Malaysian science curriculum effectively, I have divided this section into three subheadings, namely; teaching strategy, textbook and overall conclusion on the curriculum implementation.
Based on the documents provided by Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) on Malaysian science curriculum, there are various effective methods suggested for science teacher in Malaysia to teach the subject. Among the recommended teaching practices in science classrooms are; constructivist, mastery learning, science process skills, thinking skills and metacognition, student-centered learning and the integration of information and communication technology.
However, it can be observed the most common method used by teacher is the traditional teaching or direct teaching which is basically known as chalk and talk method. When teaching science, teachers in Malaysia usually use textbook as their main source of references together with other materials provided by the Ministry of Education (MOE). This is supported by interviews conducted on the students;
“..most of them (teacher) using traditional method, chalk and blackboard and cd-rom provided by government and experimental as stated in the text books, absolutely they are using 100% text book”
“.to save time, teachers prefer to use chalk and talk only..”
“teach something based on textbook. No other source.”
All teachers are aware that they are responsible for covering all topics in the syllabus. However due to time constraint, it is commonly observed and reported that science teachers in Malaysia tend to cover parts of the syllabus with high probability of appearing in examination only. Since other methods like inquiry learning and constructivism usually consumes much time and energy to carry out, the easier way out is to use the didactic approach that captures the majority’s attention. With that approach, more often than not, many students will ask questions, Hence teachers can pace lessons to quickly cover all topics within the syllabus.
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Effendi and Zanaton (2006) highlighted the two pedagogical limitations that have been identified as major shortcomings in traditional secondary education: lecture-based and teacher centered instruction. These two types of pedagogical approach actually do not support most of the aims and the outcomes intended by the curriculum. The direct teaching method tends to encourage low-cognitive, surface level learning outcomes such as ‘to define’, ‘to list’ and ‘to state’. This is in contrast to the intention of the curriculum which expected students be taught to be creative, critical thinkers and proactive problem solvers who not only master the science process skills but also adapt scientific thinking and attitudes in their daily lives. The mismatch between intended curriculum and the way teaching is carried out in class have been reported by many, including in research conducted by Nor Aishah, et al.(2007) whom proposed inculcation of entrepreneurial skills in science as a method to make the curriculum moving away from being exam-oriented. A student whom I interviewed also claimed:
“According to my experience, teacher just tries to make science as something static, no expanding, so they actually promote science is just like a history. Just memorizing the fact without knowing the truth behind the sceneâ€¦.”
Amongst the recommended approaches in science teaching, I observed that many teachers are integrating technology in their lessons. However, the integration of technology into teaching only applies to schools which are equipped with the required facilities such as computer, LCD and transparency projector. Most teachers who are not familiar with technology prefer to use transparencies to teach since they are easier to use and can save time. For those teachers who are competent in technology, using power point is their best option. However, integrating technology in the teaching of science has its disadvantages. There were teachers who took advantage by playing the CD provided by MOE throughout the lesson instead of using the CD to support teaching and learning in class. There is also small number of teachers who do not get students to carry out experiments; instead they just demonstrate science experiments to students. On the other hand, there were also those who got students to carry out experiments following procedures stated in textbooks, and make conclusions for the students without much deliberation and discussions. Neither do the students given room to discover science for themselves. These classroom realities are so against the whole notion of science which supposes to be an empirical subject that encourages students to explore and inquire in order to gain knowledge and make conclusions.
The way science lessons are carried out in class has seriously affected the students’ interest in science and their ability to engage in scientific inquiry. Report of Public awareness of Science and Technology Malaysia (2004) throughout the survey conducted revealed that about 43% of Malaysians think that science subjects are difficult and 32% of them think that the approaches that use to teach science and technology are too academic in sense of emphasis only be given on the delivery of the content. However, Kamisah and Lilia (n.d) discovered that Malaysians students have high attitudes in learning science and the attitudes are so much influenced by the students’ level of educational experiences. Therefore recommended by the Public Awareness Report of Science and Technology Malaysia (2004), Malaysian science teachers should also emphasize on fostering for science among the students. The recommendation also supported by Kamisah and Lilia (n.d) whereby they suggested that teachers should reflect on their content knowledge so that teachers could bring changes in students’ attitudes in learning science.
In relation to enhancing students’ attitude and interest in learning science, supposedly more practical works should be conducted by students in learning science. However, based on the interviews conducted, it is observed that practical work is often conducted in groups rather than individually or in pairs. Such practices limit active work to two to three students while the other members tend to be passive observers. In some cases, this occurs due to the large number of students in a class (especially in urban schools) and limited apparatus and equipments. These are the factors that prohibit practical work to be conducted in small group or as individual work. Worse than that, there are teachers who did not conduct experiments with their students at all and only learn the theories in science. The following opinions supported the situation described earlier;
“teacher always refuses to conduct experiments, even when students ask for it…” Student
“not all the experiments or topic that teachers are able to do or show to the class…” Teacher
Textbook for science subjects are provided to all students in Malaysia. As earlier highlighted, the specified textbook is the main source of reference for local science teaching. In past ten years, science textbook in Malaysia underwent many reformations in order to make it up-to-date with the existing educational and situational needs. At present, the school textbooks are generally more interactive and comprehensive; they are not as thick as the textbooks previously used, with more pictures and diagrams. There is also a CD accompanying the text as means of integrating content with technology. The CD consists of exercises and short notes for students as well as internet links for students to look for extra sources and reading materials; as well as to search for applications of the topic learnt.
Even though there were improvements made by the government on the textbook, the improvements somehow did not so much significant changed to Malaysian science classroom. This wide area of content covered by the syllabus make the science textbooks in Malaysia as a source of reference which covers superficial information. Although provided in the textbook internet link for additional information of the topics, it is not fully utilized neither by teachers nor students. This is happened mostly due to the problems such as time constraint, existence of digital gap between schools, the lack of facilities and other reasons.
In term of applications of a topic in textbook, it’s often to be placed at the end of each topic. Mostly only small part provided for application such it usually covers quarter of a page. Even worst, this part always neglect by teachers since it will not appear in examination.
All in all, my analysis of the overall implementation of the Malaysian science curriculum revealed numerous issues that both teachers and students encounter, ranging from the teaching approach used in classroom, the need to cover the required syllabus, students’ perceptions and attitudes towards science, and related issues pertaining to textbook. What could probably be concluded here is that while the documented curriculum appear to be well planned, covering all topics deemed crucial to prepare students prior to entry to tertiary institutions, the execution of lessons somehow do not take place as it should be as highlighted by Curriculum Development Centre, a local expert in science education:
“Implementation of the science curriculum is always a problem. The visions of the curriculum developers are not fully shared by the teachers who are the implementers. The intended implementation is also restricted by the assessment that is employed currentlyâ€¦.”
Assessment of student learning in Malaysia has, for the past decades and perhaps will continue to be, exam-oriented. This is evident as the most important aspects/criteria people look for when applying for entry into boarding schools, for scholarships, and entry into universities are the number of As students obtained in examinations. In fact, the main method to assess what school students learn and know is via written and/or oral examination. Nonetheless, the problems with examination-dependent assessment have been pointed out by the following parties:
“it is just for examination, just forget it… only excellent people will be produce but they are not able to survive in real world. Knowledge just for sake of exam and later will be forgotten.”
“our curriculum in Malaysia is not too good because only stressed on the examination…”
“But, the beauty of the curriculum did not appear because the application or the integration of the curriculum is not effective. Since in Malaysia, the system of education is too exam oriented.”
“revamp the current exam based oriented teaching in schools. Students should be taught how to think, especially when it involves science theories.”
In Malaysia, examination can be classified into two types which are the national level and internal examination (examination carried out by school). There are two main examinations carried out at secondary level. There are Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) which conducted for form three students and Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) for form five students. Both examinations offer science subject. However in SPM, there are more science subjects being offered as compared to PMR which offer only one science subject. The major science subjects sat by students in their SPM are biology, physics and chemistry. Often students who scored excellent result in science subjects will have greater probability of being offered critical courses in higher education such as medical and engineering courses.
Internal examinations are examinations carried out in schools. It is compulsory for school administra
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