When Education Minister Maszlee Malik called for a special press conference last week on Thursday, stating that he was ready to announce a Hari Raya gift, teachers nationwide waited in anticipation.
It must be something big, for Maszlee was dressed in a red baju Melayu and songkok, as if it was already Hari Raya. The Whatsapp messages went around telling teachers to drop everything and watch.
“In line with the Government’s promise of reducing teachers’ burden, I have decided to terminate the SKPMg2 system. This is a Hari Raya gift to the teachers,” he said.
(The Standard Kualiti Pendidikan Malaysia Gelombang 2 or SKPMg2 was launched by the ministry’s Inspectorate of Schools in September 2017 to determine the level of achievement and quality of schools.)
The teachers waited for more, but that was all he announced.
Whatsapp groups of teachers then started buzzing, but their identities shall not be revealed as teachers are still bound by "Aku Janji" oath which prohibits them from divulging information.
"This is like promising duit Raya for us and to open the packets only to find RM2," said one teacher from Perak, who has been teaching primary schools for 20 years.
The Ministry of Education should be aware that there are so many unnecessary offline and online forms which we are made to fill
"SKPMg2 is only a small matter. There are so many other unwanted administration works which we are doing on a daily basis, which the minister can automatically scrap and will not even interfere with our teaching-learning process - instead it will allow us to focus on teaching and learning," said another teacher who has been teaching English in rural schools in Selangor.
She listed Frog VLE (an online learning platform), Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) for Year 1 and 2, Form 1 and 2, and the Literacy and Numeracy Screening (LINUS) programmes as the main ones keeping the teachers from sleeping at night, in trying to get good internet connections so as to be able to download the forms and fill them in on time.
"The Ministry of Education should be aware that there are so many unnecessary offline and online forms which we are made to fill."
"There is no one link that the education district departments, state education offices and even the ministry can go to, to get information they want. And we are forced to fill in all their forms individually - same data. This is their data entry work which we have to do," said the incensed teacher.
Under Frog VLE, virtual learning is supposedly available to 10,000 schools nationwide. It was promoted on its website as "an award-winning, cloud-based virtual learning environment that has been designed by Frog Education to simplify and enhance teaching and learning, communication and administration."
Teachers are expected to provide homework to the students using this medium while students are expected to complete their homework on the same platform. Parents are also to check students' examination marks on this portal. This is an attempt at the paperless and no hard copy report card system.
However, while the idea sounds good on paper, what irked teachers is that many children in Malaysia do not have access to the internet. Rural schoolchildren are the worst off, having limited access to the internet. Some teachers resort to using their own mobile phones to allow pupils to complete their homework.
"It is either that, or we risk being behind our KPIs," said a teacher who is based in remote part of Pahang.
"Even for parents in the cities, not everyone has a PC or laptop which they could allow pupils to access. And giving your handphones to children is a big no-no. How many working parents, after a long day at work, have the time to sit and monitor their children online? Even we teachers are too tired to do so for our own children," said another teacher, who is teaching in Kuala Lumpur.
As for the CEFR programme, teachers had to grapple teaching English using a textbook which the teachers say is ill suited for the national pupils.
"We, as English teachers, have to use two textbooks under this system - one is from Malaysia and the other from the UK. The book from UK is good but its activities cannot be carried out because there is no CD. The book also seemed something like it was put together in a hurry - one half for Form 1 and the other half for Form 2. Maszlee should scrap this and we could go back to teaching more effective English lessons," said a teacher from a city in Perak.
The said textbook was said to have come with a CD for better interactive lessons, particularly to enable offline lessons.
Another teacher from Kedah, who has been teaching for 25 years now, said that she is really tired of the LINUS programme for English lessons.
"This programme is just so messy. The LINUS for Mathematics and Bahasa Melayu has support teachers. However, we are on our own for English lessons. Not only do we have to ensure weak children master the syllabus which includes reading, writing and speaking, we also have to file the reports online. Then, we are required to prepare reports offline for the officers from the district and state education departments as they will come and check," said the Kedahan teacher.
LINUS, introduced in 2010, was meant to replace the Early Intervention Reading and Writing Class (KIA2M) programme (initiated in 2006) to monitor the reading and mathematical skills of children in Year One and Year Two.
We are not saying everything that the MOE has come up with is bad. I think people in the ministry merely plan on paper without thinking how we would have to implement it in class
The same teacher pointed out that, under the programme, the child has to master every part, and cannot be only good at one. Teachers with so many other tasks at hand spend so much of time coaching the weaker students. Teachers say that at times, they give up and 'allow' passes.
"If the student fails, we teachers get scolded from parents and the officers from the MOE will question us. We are always the ones being blamed when we did not even come up with the programme. Some children are not suited to the programme and they may never pass. What then?" asked the teacher, stating the LINUS book itself for each subject can cost about RM40, a big sum for poor parents.
"It is mostly the poor children who need intervention programmes," said the teacher.
"We are not saying everything that the MOE has come up with is bad. I think people in the ministry merely plan on paper without thinking how we would have to implement it in class. When it does not work in reality, then they start panicking and try to fix it," said the teacher.
She further said that there was a case when the mid-term exams finished on the 5th of June and the MOE wanted the marks uploaded onto Frog just a day after.
The teacher said that this was despite them having informed the ministry that the exams finished on the 5th.
"We had sent them our school exam timetable to inform them the dates but they said they did not have it on record.
"There are many things the MOE did which is good, but repetitive and unnecessary data entry online and offline is just taking too much of our time and sanity. We are not asking the minister to fix everything overnight but there are things he can scrap right now to allow us to concentrate on teaching," said the Kedah teacher as her fellow members responded by awarding their `Thumbs Up’ in response to the WhatsApp message.