Pause and rethink S.T.R.E.A.M.
Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - New Straits Times
November 25, 2019
THE latest announcement that schools would go “streamless” next year is promising and exciting. It is timely for the reasons that were articulated in a recent column (“Time for Streamless Education”, NST, Oct 28).
To be sure, it is more of delaying “streaming” rather than doing without it altogether. In a world that is increasingly interconnected, virtually or otherwise, to have an education system that is highly compartmentalised and steeply hierarchical does not “click” with the prevailing structure of knowledge that demands “transdisciplinarity” or being seamless, so to speak. After all, knowledge is a unified whole before it is fragmented into bits. In other words, a “reductionist” approach to knowledge seeking or knowledge generation, especially at a very early stage of education, can be counterproductive. Particularly so in understanding the “big” picture and arriving at a comprehensive solution that connects as many dots as possible.
That said, this major change must be done with utmost caution, so that the purpose of going “streamless” is not lost or rendered aimless. Thus rushing it through can be risky when parents and the public are not well engaged and informed.
In the education sector, any change in the unknown can always backfire, leading to tension and unwarranted misunderstanding. It is not just the schools that must be well convinced, more so the stakeholders, before the policy is made public.
The last time we heard there was no policy decision yet on the matter. Now, barely three months since, a “letter/circular” allegedly has been sent to schools to “explain” about the move. Are we to assume that rigorous consultations (read town halls) have been conducted to a satisfactory level?
The reason for raising this is because what is being proposed for STREAM looks flimsy and unconvincing — Science, Technology, Reading, Arts and Music. Assuming “S” and “T” stays, one wonders why “R” is for Reading? Is education not based universally on the famous 3Rs — wRiting, Reading and aRithmetic? Simply
put, without mustering the 3Rs, formal education cannot proceed smoothly. Or at least poorly grounded as amply demonstrated. So reading is a must. And having “Reading” again in STREAM can only suggest that this “R” is problematic to start with, relative to the other two Rs. Is this the case? Is this evidence-based? If not, why exclude the other two Rs?
“R” could well be Religion, too, following what the 20th century genius scientist Albert Einstein famously admitted: “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind. This is very profound, rendering the alternative redundant and myopic.”
Next, what “E” stands for is missing. Why so? If allegedly it is part of “Reading” — then it is a sloppy excuse when “E” can easily stand for “English” or “Ethics” — both are highly contested issues in Malaysia. And need to be addressed most urgently. They are crucial for the development of responsible Science and Technology!
While “A” for “Arts” stands to reason, in the context of creativity, why is “Music” being singled out? Music is no doubt an important art form. After all, arts is often regarded as “less structured” and “open-ended” in the appreciation of beauty and emotion that would naturally include “music” — variously defined. It exhibits universal language across cultural norms and values. More so when Arts is understood to represent “humanities” (including “philosophy”) that are
essential in the deeper understanding of Science and Technology as a body of knowledge.
This is currently missing, making Science and Technology more utilitarian in nature, enhancing its negative aspects instead. Global warming is one of the unintended consequences. Thus Arts, inclusive of music and humanities, is crucial to give the right balance.
“M” in this case, is better represented as Management. This is because it features both arts and science. The latter lends the argument that it is a methodical and organised body of knowledge with a set of guiding principles. The former borders on humanities and social sciences in its expression as shown by the term “managing” to make things real.
Indeed, Science and Technology needs to be appropriately and ethically “managed” as per research and development, for example. Good governance, in this respect, speaks the language of management of knowledge generally, let alone Science and Technology. It goes beyond just “Music”.
The question, therefore, is how does the Education Ministry arrive at what STREAM stands for? What is the academic and intellectual rationale for suggesting the five elements, instead of six? Unless this is made clear and demonstratively superior than other options, being “streamless” may end up being aimless. And an utter waste of opportunity to shape a better education system as originally intended.
In this regard, one can only comfortably endorse the need to go “streamless” when each of the elements is coherently and consistently presented as a body of knowledge to promote and support the Science and Technology mindset. Otherwise, it could be detrimental to its good intention of embracing STREAM.
In short, before going headlong in its implementation as reported, we need to revisit what exactly STREAM means in enhancing future education, not forgetting the National Education Philosophy. It is time to pause and rethink!
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector