Monday, July 27, 2020

Decentralisation of education system: Suggestions and challenges for devolution of curriculum and assessment for History subject

In a Free Malaysia Today article, Wing proposed an idea to decentralise the History curriculum [1]. In this the article, it stated that for each school, the local community will decide on what should be included in subjects like Malaysian history, world history, religion, and geography.

Prior to this, I have heard of several arguments stating how Sabah’s (and perhaps other states as well) history has mostly been buried under a West Malaysian-centric narrative. The outcome of this is that Sabahans themselves do not know several historical events that are unique to Sabah such as Sandakan Death March and Double Six Tragedy.

A solution for this is to have a devolution of curriculum and assessment specifically for History subject. This specific model for devolution is the ‘learning culture’ model that addresses cultural and curricula adaptability to local needs [2].

The attempt for decentralisation only applies to the curriculum and assessment aspect, while other aspects of the governance and operational processes are maintained in a centralised manner.

For History subject, currently, for Malaysian history, according to the DSKP Sejarah Tingkatan 3 and DSKP Sejarah Tingkatan 4 & 5, it is focused on covering subtopics such as ‘Western Administration of Sabah and Sarawak’ in Chapter 7 of Form 3 syllabus and ‘Local Resistance’ in Chapter 8 of Form 4 syllabus in which Mat Salleh, a Sabahan historical figure who led the rebellion against the British.

I believe there are other historical accounts surrounding Sabah prior to the formation of Malaysian federation that even the latest syllabus of Sejarah hasn’t even touched on if not in-depth. Several events have been mentioned such as the anti-Japanese movement in Sabah and Sarawak, political awareness in Sabah and Sarawak, elections in Sabah and Sarawak, and the era of power transition to the British in Sabah and local reactions [3]. However, West-Malaysian narrative still dominates.

Suggestions for implementation


History textbooks should be produced by the state government, but not for all forms. State-specific historical events could either be printed in Form 4 or Form 5 textbooks, which is in line with the theme of independence and formation of Malaysia. The syllabus contents could include a few chapters on the formation of Malaysian federation but putting heavy emphasis on each state’s perspective and process of the formation. Local historians should be consulted prior to producing the textbooks.

Public examination

For both PT3 and SPM, the examination format should include a section that focuses on the history for respective states. For example, for the PT3 or SPM examination held in Sabah, a section of the Sejarah paper must include a topic on Sabah history. If the paper is taken in Sarawak, then there must be a section that tests on Sarawak’s history.

As for other sections of the paper, it will be standardized for all the states in Malaysia as PT3 and SPM candidates will be tested on the general events in Malaysian history. This is to ensure that every student in Malaysia have the same knowledge and understanding of Malaysian history in order to build a national identity, regardless of which state they are from.

To realize this, a state committee should be set up in order to discuss the questions for this section as well as the answer rubric.

In terms of SPM marking, the system is quite strict. Currently, the SPM papers collected in Sabah will be sent to another state and Sabahan SPM markers will receive SPM papers coming from another state. So, the answer rubric that has been discussed with the state committee will be sent to another state that will be marking the papers. For example, if Sabah were to receive Sejarah SPM papers from Johor, then the Johor committee that have discussed on the questions for that one particular section will have to send the rubric to Sabah for the markers of that state to refer to.

Challenges for implementation

1. How will the curriculum division in the Education Ministry oversee how all of the 14 states in Malaysia implement their respective state-created History curriculum?

2. How will the state-specific historical events be inserted in the textbooks without compromising national unity or exacerbate regional sentiments?

3. How much should be the budget allocation for textbooks from the federal government to state governments?



[2] Decentralisation in Education Systems Seminar Report by EUROPEAN AGENCY for Special Needs and Inclusive Education

[3] Buku Teks KSSM Sejarah Tingkatan 4

Friday, June 19, 2020

Innovation: Simple tenses and simple continuous table

        This is an innovation project that I submitted for 'Pertandingan Inovasi dan Penyelidikan Secara Atas Talian' that was organized by Education District Office (Pejabat Pendidikan Daerah-PPD) Beluran on 18th June 2020.

i.    Synopsis of innovation


·       This innovation comes in the form of a table. It has the aim to help low proficient students in English to write simple tenses & continuous tenses in English. The table consists of logical connectors, time, place, subject, verb, predicate, object and conjunction. After I have taught them these separately, then only I have come up with this table so that they will now that what I have taught them are actually parts of a sentence. This table will enable them to practice writing sentences in simple tenses and simple continuous tenses because based on the writing rubric, for them to at least get a pass (E) in SPM, they would need to be able to write in simple sentences. For English writing paper in SPM, the rubric states– ‘some simple structures may be accurate’. As for PT3, this will enable them to at least get a band 3 & 4 for B1 level in their writing paper. Based on the rubric, for band 3 of B1 level, it states – ‘Uses simple grammatical forms with a good degree of control.’ Therefore, this table is suitable to be used with an aim to reach to those two levels.


ii.                  Materials and ideas used for creating the innovation


·       Microsoft Powerpoint

·       A5 papers (A4 papers folded into half)

·       Coloured printer ink


iii.                Target group

·       Low English proficiency students


iv.                 Objective of innovation


·       Students will be able to write simple tenses and simple continuous tenses.

·       Students will be able to know where to place subject, verb, object, and predicate in their sentences.

·       Students will be able to know where to put their logical connectors and conjunctions.

·       Students will be able to connect simple tenses and simple continuous tenses with conjunctions.


v.                   Innovation creation chronology


Week 1 - 4

Teacher teaches the subject, verb, verb-ing, logical connectors, time, place, predicates, objects, and conjunction

Week 5


Creation of table on PowerPoint

Distribute the printed table to the students

Teacher teaches student how to refer to the table while writing the sentences

Week 6 – end of the year

Create writing exercises using the table


vi.                Problem solved with the innovation

·        Inability to write simple tenses and simple continuous tense in English

One of my students' work. The writing task was to write about their Chinese New Year holiday.

vii.                How to use the innovation

·       During writing lessons


viii.              Effectiveness of innovation

·       One of my students said that it worked well for her. She was a weak student but it helped her construct simple tenses and simple continuous tenses in a writing format.


ix.                  Expenses to create the innovation     

·       A4 papers, Coloured ink – RM30


x.                   Other explanations regarding the innovation

·       This table is suitable to be used to practice writing sentences during a writing class. However, weak students may build reliance on it during exam. Therefore, it is best to conduct a test before the exam so that they will remember the form of table in their head. This is done so that they will not rely on looking at the table.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Lesson plan: Integrating Critical Thinking into the Exploration of Culture in an EFL Setting

This is based on a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) that I had recently enrolled during the past weekend. 

Description from the website (This course will be active from June 1 – August 24, 2020):

This MOOC is provided by World Learning, as part of the American English (AE) E-Teacher Program. This program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by FHI 360.

This MOOC presents participants with a working definition of culture and tools for analyzing, understanding, and negotiating differences between cultures. Participants explore what critical thinking is and why it is necessary for the development of intercultural competence. With a view toward preparing teachers to implement culture and critical thinking lessons into their current teaching contexts, participants of this MOOC will explore activities for teaching and evaluating culture and critical thinking.

Here is my certificate of completion:

It attracted my attention particularly because with the massive online anti-racist campaign that's been going on in light of the George Floyd murder incident, as an educator, I think I have a duty to teach my students about different cultures and how to think critically about them. This will thus result in empathy and tolerance.

Although this MOOC targets on teaching EFL students, the methods taught in the course are also suitable for ESL students. In Malaysia, the new syllabus for English textbook that we use is based on the context of United Kingdom. So, there are a lot of materials in the textbook that can be used to integrate critical thinking into the exploration of culture.

I do not think that we Malaysian English teachers should be complaining about how the textbooks don't include local Malaysian context where it is difficult for our students to relate. It's a valid complaint but we just have to make do with what we have now. So, how about we use this opportunity to teach students about other cultures? 

This MOOC has given me guidance on how to go about teaching my students abut different cultures and apply critical thinking into the activities.

Below is a lesson plan that I have written based on what the MOOC has taught me. I have yet to apply it into my classroom as school has not reopened (at the time of writing this). However, I will update on my reflection once I am able to implement this in my classroom. 


Time: 2 hours


1. 5 articles of different cultures.

2. Mahjong-papers

3. Marker pens


1. Students will be able to list down their own culture based on surface culture, sub-surface culture, and deep culture.

2. Students will be able to identify differences and similarities between their culture and the culture that they have presented.

3. Students will be able to present what elements of culture that they have found in the article.

4. Students will be able to reflect on 


1. Teacher briefly explains what surface culture and deep culture means.

2. Teacher draws an iceberg on the whiteboard and separates the iceberg into 3 sections – surface culture, sub-culture and deep-culture.

3. Teacher gives one example of Malaysian culture for each section of the iceberg.

4. Teacher selects a few students to give their own ideas for each section and write their responses on the board. 

5. Teacher divides students into groups of 5.

6. Every group will receive an article of different cultures (look for 5 different articles that elaborates on the cultures of 5 different countries).

7. Teacher hands out mah-jong papers and marker pens to every group.

8. Every group will discuss and identify which ones are surface culture and deep culture and compare them with Malaysian culture.

9. Every group will write their findings together with the cultural iceberg and have it labeled surface culture and deep culture.

10. Every group will present their findings in front of the class.

11. Other group members will take notes of other group’s presentations.

12. Teacher asks students to reflect on what they have learned today and write it on their exercise book based on these questions:

a) What is the primary difference that you have identified in the culture that you have studied?

b) What do you think about it as an outsider? 

c) Imagine if you are a part of the culture, what do you think about it?

d) What is the primary similarity that you have identified in the culture that you have studied?

e) What do you think about it?

f) What do you think about it as an outsider? 

g) Imagine if you are a part of the culture, what do you think about it?

13. Teacher checks students' work and gives comments.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

A teacher’s take on tackling education in a post-pandemic world.

I’ve just finished watching a 5-hour live stream of teachers and educators (from all around the world) discussing the latest issues concerning education. In any given year, the discussed topics wouldn’t interest the general populace. 

However, this year’s topic is different because the COVID-19 pandemic affects everyone — whether you’re a university student or parent with a child in school. So with that in mind, I’ve decided to share my perspective on the topics discussed in the conference for everyone.

Session 1: A teacher’s well-being

It was apt for the conference to start by addressing mental health. A teacher’s peace of mind is of the utmost importance if we are expected to be responsible for our student’s mental development.

When it comes to mental health for teachers, I’m an advocate for “Mindfulness”. 

You can read more about it in this article I’ve written here.

A panelist pointed out a very accurate analogy.

“During a flight emergency, wear your mask first. Then, help those beside you.”

Education should apply a similar concept. If teachers aren’t taking care of their mental health first, they’ll be unable to properly tend to their students’ cognitive and affective well-being.

Session 2: Teacher leadership

Positioning teachers as researchers in the classroom is another way to improve student learning. This entails the teacher to conduct their own research to understand the challenges faced by the class. Then, implement a solution catered to their needs. 

This idea is called Teacher-Scholar and is encouraged by the Malaysian government.

However, our obsession with public exams prevents most teachers from becoming proactive researchers because a successful solution doesn’t necessarily translate into exam scores. The implementation of teacher-scholar might also be viewed as an unnecessary burden if we continue basing our KPIs (Key Performance Index) on exam scores.

The solution is to start designing KPIs that support teacher-scholar initiatives. Doing so can result in more teacher-scholar efforts — after all, what gets measured, gets done.

Lesson 2.1: Profesional development

In regards to professional development, I personally find that most teachers are too focused on being recognized within the formal sphere — in which they attend courses only to satisfy the education ministry’s directives. 

We should find a balance between social and professional development. For example, taking time to build character or learn from more knowledgeable and experienced colleagues.

Lesson 2.2: Political development

It was mentioned that education should be free from political influence. There’s irony in that statement because, in order for education to be politic-free, it needs to have political involvement

Government influence is necessary for education policies to achieve order and structure — whether it be centralized or decentralized.

Educational autonomy stems from governance. A democratic government will usually leave more room for autonomy in education. However, an authoritarian country will lean toward indoctrination instead (leaving no room for autonomy).

I’ll avoid discussing Malaysian education and its politics this time because I believe it deserves its own post.

Session 3: Teacher technology

Worldwide lockdowns and quarantines during the COVID-19 pandemic have forced a shift within education. Teachers are moving their lessons from the physical classroom to online platforms such as WhatsApp and Google Classroom.

This sudden shift to online classrooms has affected students living in rural areas the most. Without internet access, they’re being left out without any recourse. While there is little we can do to remedy this situation at the moment — it would be a tragedy to ignore this. 

Governments worldwide NEED to start focusing on providing consistent high-speed internet coverage to all its citizens (living in both urban and rural areas). We need to prepare our education system for the next pandemic (near or far).

I would also like to congratulate the Malaysian government for providing students with free 1GB of data every day to attend their daily online classes — it is a praiseworthy effort. Unfortunately, it is not a complete solution due to many rural areas that still lack internet coverage.

During the live stream, there were some concerns over whether technology will one day replace teachers

The answer to this ever-popular debate remains:

‘Technology can only facilitate education, but it will never replace the human factor that is needed in the education process.’

Session 4: Teacher collaboration

A poll during the conference showed that a majority of teachers believed that “Teacher Collaboration” is a key factor for improving their teaching practice.

I couldn’t agree more.

We live in a global community (made possible through the internet). By sharing our ideas and teaching practices, we can improve each other’s teaching skills and find ways to enrich student learning. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one.

Last year, I was scheduled to attend a teaching symposium. Needles to say, I was doubtful whether the benefits would justify the expensive cost of attending. After completing the symposium, I can genuinely say “It was worth every cent.”

The symposium introduced me to different teachers from all over Sabah who generously shared their teaching practices with me. When I returned back to work, I was inspired to apply what I’ve learned to my classroom.

As a result, the percentage of SPM (Public Exam) passes for my school’s English paper increased by 19% (more than half of my students passed from the previous year). 

I firmly believe this was the result of teacher collaboration.


For a teacher to become the best version of themselves, they must practice (to the best of their abilities) all the lessons in this post. 

And I hope, as full-time educators, we continue sharing our ideas on coping with the quarantine. It’s through wholesome emotional and social support that we can thrive in the new normal.