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

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