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.
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.”