Previous Newsletters
Current Issue
Contact the Editors

Physics Education in Malaysian Schools

Fathaiyah Abdullah and A Rahman Omar

In Malaysia, the teaching of physics as a subject begins at the upper secondary level known as Form Four or year 10 of the school system. Prior to that, physics is taught as part of the science subject.

   The level of physics taught at upper secondary level (Form Four and Five) is that of the ‘O’- levels of the British System. Through the mid seventies, the medium of instruction was English, and the textbooks used were those used in the British Commonwealth such as Physics by Abbot. For the ‘A’-levels the standard text was that of Nelkon and Parker.

   From the mid-seventies until recently, the medium of instruction has been Malay. Subsequently textbooks were written in Malay and some English books were translated. Over the years, the curriculum has changed in order to be at par with ‘O’-level. One thing that remained relatively unchanged was the laboratory. Same experiments using same set of apparatus were carried out over the past thirty years. To illustrate a few, ticker tapes were still used to analyze motion; wooden trolleys (the wheels of which have friction) were used to verify conservation of momentum; and rubber bands, trolleys and inclined plane were used to verify Newton’s laws of motion.

   Until recently, a practical examination, in which students carried out assigned experiments, was part of the examination. The experiments were not made known until the day of the exam. Students have to be prepared with the skill and knowledge of the experiment. This kind of evaluation was replaced by giving grade to experiments carried out by students at a point where the students are proficient. Teachers were somehow pressured to give good grade to their students. Good marks from the practical somehow diluted the quality of achievement of the students. We strongly believe that this was the case because of the skills the students attained when they enter university were declining. There are talks about reinstating the practical examination.

   In 2002, the Government of Malaysia took two major decisions: English was to be used as medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics and ICT-based education is to be implemented. The process of reverting to English as medium of instruction would be done in stages, starting in 2003 and by 2008 it will be in full swing. All 9,533 government schools will be provided with laptops, LCD projectors, screens, trolleys and printers. New computer labs were to be constructed too.

   Since for more than two decades sciences have been taught in Malay, there is a need for retraining of science teachers. Few programs were carried out. District English language coordinators were appointed, and they are responsible for the improvement of command of English among teachers. Every science and mathematics teacher was given a notebook so that ICT-based education can be implemented.

   In 1996 a brainstorming session at the Ministry of Education resulted in the conception of Smart School Initiatives. Parts of the objectives of establishing such schools were to democratize education so as to provide every child with equal access to learning and to produce workforce that is ICT literate. Initially few schools were chosen. Telekom Smart School (TSS), a private entity, was chosen to spearhead the initiatives. TSS and partners have developed courseware for the smart schools. With the policy change on medium of instruction, TSS has to redo the courseware in English. The efforts have paid dividend since many countries will adopt curriculum developed by TSS. What was developed in the courseware has been the subject matter. No laboratory activities were developed as yet. We have presented to TSS the need for an active-learning environment using microcomputer-based laboratories (MBL) and interactive lecture demonstrations (ILD). The next stage of implementation of Smart School Initiative could be the deployment of MBL and ILD. Recently our prime minister has decided that all schools in Malaysia are to be made Smart Schools.

   In response to the need of teacher to be proficient in English, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) has decided that all science and mathematics subjects at the university are to be taught in English. The effort has started since academic calendar 2003/2004.

Fathaiyah Abdullah and A Rahman Omar are at the Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris 35900 Tanjong Malim, Perak, Malaysia