Don’t burden pupils with book loads

COMPLAINTS about burdening our children with unnecessarily heavy book loads have been persistent for a long time.

Let's put ourselves in our children's shoes. We will realise that going to school is a heavy burden that we literally carry everyday – physically and psychologically. This goes against their daily well-being and the simple satisfaction of happily going to school.

Hence, it's no wonder that there is more indiscipline and frustration in schools today. All this leads to more truancy and even bullying.

The Education Ministry must accept responsibility. It issued circulars on heavy workbooks and homework in 2000 and 2004. But many of its officials, principals and teachers have ignored instructions limiting workbooks. So what is the use of circulars that are barely enforced?

The implications are the growing public perception that the authority of the government is thus being undermined, the heads of schools and staff are being defiant, many parents are challenging the sound professional advice of the ministry.

The result is that the overloaded pupils suffer in silence.

Most parents and pupils are being let down by poor enforcement of the ministry's circulars by the majority in the education system. This has happened because of the irresponsibility of a tiny minority of parents who foolishly insist on teachers giving more homework and thus creating the false need to carry more heavy book loads to school.

Where is the logic in this kind of education?

No wonder our school academic performances measured by international standards like Pisa are relatively low and our national productivity has become unimpressive and even declining.

As former education director-general Tan Sri Alimuddin Mohd Dom has stated the purpose of education is to produce holistic pupils and building character – and if I may add, nurturing our future leaders.

But are we achieving this sacred goal by burdening our pupils with too much homework, cramping their enthusiasm to learn and think critically and to enjoy their childhood and school life?

In our time, we generally enjoyed school much more and yet prospered. Can we give these same gifts to our children and grandchildren please?

Malacca Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin has lamented that we are still "exam oriented". Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abd Rahim has advised that parents and schools should agree on the number of workbooks.

These pragmatic experts and other enlightened education thought leaders and parents can't all be wrong. We must listen and act fast to improve the burdensome situation for our children's sake.

With stronger leadership from the ministers and senior officials in the Education Ministry, there will be stronger support for the enforcement of circulars.

Then parents and teachers can collaborate more, to reduce the burden for our children. Better enforcement of the circulars will bring more relief to pupils, improved academic results, a greater sense of wellbeing and more fun to go to school.

One important solution, even if temporary, would be for schools to provide inexpensive wooden lockers to pupils to keep their heavy workbooks at school. Apparently some schools sell these lockers at only RM15 a locker, which is reasonable. Poor students can be subsidised by parent-teacher associations.

So to all concerned, please don't burden our children and stifle their childhood and their joy of school days. Please help their joy of learning and yearning, to resolve to serve our beloved country on its 60th anniversary and up to and beyond 2050 with Transformation 50 (T50).

Selamat Hari Merdeka 2017.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam