Education in Malaysia has gone through extensive changes throughout the years. These constant changes or 'reforms' are carried out with perhaps only one vision in mind, and that is to improve the current existing teaching and learning procedures in schools and higher institutions of learning. Such action highlights the government's endless efforts in trying to improve the quality of education for its people. After a decade into the New Millennium, the education scenario is more pressed to undertake even more improvements in trying to cope with the demands and expectations of education in the 21st century. We can no longer be satisfied with what we have, but instead there is a need to constantly compare ourselves to that of more developed nations, and this is especially true with the field of education. This is to ensure that our people will be able to compete internationally in this borderless world.
This is very much in-line with the vision of our longest-serving Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohammad. Tun, back in the 90's shared his vision and dreams for this nation through "Wawasan 2020" or Vision 2020. According to his article "Malaysia on Track Vision 2020", as a doctor he is attracted to the optometrist measurement of Vision 2020 which indicates 100 percent perfect vision. He further explains that Vision 2020 in relation to the future of this country would be the quest for Malaysia to have clear vision of our future as in where we want heading and what we want to be in the New Millennium. As Malaysia plans to transform into fully-developed nation, education becomes the priority of the government since it is one of the most powerful entities that would determine the success or failure of the nation. The future of any country depends on its people. It is therefore important to ensure that everyone is equipped with the necessary knowledge, skills and values to survive in this highly competitive and globalised world which is impacted by rapid development in science, technology and information.
The importance of education has become more paramount especially in our Nation's process of moving from an economy-based on labor-intensive and lower-end manufactured products to k-economy or knowledge economy. The Ministry of Education (MOE) and The Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) are two bodies which are responsible in ensuring that nation is moving towards the specified target. This is clearly outlined in the 2 key thrusts under the National mission ("Mid-term Review of Ninth", 2008);
Thrust 2: to raise capacity for knowledge and innovation and nurture first class mentality.
Thrust 3: to address persistent socio-economic inequalities constructively and productively.
In line with the drive towards developing the nation's K-Economy, the current economical trend is to focus on the advancement and rise in emphasis on the area of science and technology. As a measure to achieve this vision, the government has adopted a holistic approach in Malaysian education system by emphasizing on mastery knowledge, intellectual capital and developing technology and entrepreneurial skills. Since science and technology play a major role in contributing to a more developed nation, the government seems to give more emphasis on teaching and learning process of science in the primary, secondary and higher education. It is coherent with Malaysia's aim which to produce more experts in science or in general to produce a future generation of intellectuals.
Therefore, as science educators, it is important to be aware of the demand of the nation. There is a need to ensure that the teaching and learning process is focused in producing individuals who fulfill the government's aspiration. Hence, it requires teachers to have passion, creativity, intelligence and determination to make sure that the delivery of knowledge is truly effective. Among other things, methods in teaching, teacher's knowledge and performances are frequently being observed to ensure that teachers remain excellent in their teaching. This is because; teachers play a major role in ensuring the effectiveness and the success of the actual delivery and implementation of the Malaysian curriculum. Therefore, when planning a lesson, teachers need to be aware of the objectives of the curriculum by incorporating good content values into the lesson, implement the curriculum designed by the ministry and at the end of it all, assess the outcomes of the curriculum. But it is not enough to focus only on the teacher without looking at the relevancy of the Malaysian science curriculum, which actually contributes to the success or failure of science education. In fact, it is actually a major issue that is constantly discussed among science educators and academicians in Malaysia. Is the Malaysian science curriculum measurable to that of the standards of other countries? This is pertinent question that needs to be answered. Therefore it would be useful to compare Malaysian science curriculum with other developed countries in order to determine the standard of Malaysian curriculum.
1.1 Background of Study
This comparative study between the Malaysian science curriculum and the Steiner Waldorf in science curriculum was conducted primarily to gain insights on the much-researched and discussed about Steiner curriculum. Having experienced the Malaysian science curriculum and after pursuing an honors' degree in science education, the researcher is very familiar with the country's science education curriculum, especially issues pertaining to its content and pedagogical approach. However, the researcher is with the opinion that new knowledge of new educational curriculum can be useful in ensuring better quality of science education. This is important in view of providing the best in science in the context of Malaysian schools. In view of trying to improve the existing curriculum it would be interesting to find out the standard of Malaysian science curriculum in comparison to other developed countries. This is important to ensure that our students will be able to compete globally.
Comparative study of curriculum across countries provides background information about how to understand existing strengths and weaknesses of the present curriculum (Moosa & Che Azura Che An, n.d). Therefore, this research can suggest ways to help students to perform in the subject of science and also help science teachers in their teaching. This is crucial as over the past few years, there have been a lot of problems discussed about the Malaysian science curriculum and the major part of the discussion revolves around the teaching and learning process. As a result, it raised the researcher's interest to look into the matter so that the researcher could discover ways to improve the Malaysian science curriculum in order to create effective lessons yet in enjoyable environment for the students to learn science.
In Malaysia, the idea associated with science education is intended to be in-line with existing policies which is specifically to prepare students for examination. There are a few officially recommended practices for science teaching such as constructivist teaching, mastery learning, science process skills, thinking skills, and metacognition, self-directed, self-paced and self-assessed learning and others that, if carried out properly can ensure the successful and effective lessons. Current thinking in science is looking towards a paradigm that is more inclusive of the diversity that exists in our life-worlds (Revathi, R et al, 2003). Science is also perceived as a process of meaning-making and countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and South Africa (Aikenhead, 2000) are implementing science teaching approaches that incorporate learners' cultural and linguistic bearings. For example the science classroom needs to be one that is interesting and multi-discursive which permits the teacher and students to work together in creating knowledge. However, such an approach or a feature is not common in the Malaysian science curriculum.
The idea to produce a generation that is ideally competent in science seems difficult and this seems to suggest that there is need for Malaysian science curriculum to be reviewed. From the objectives of the curriculum to the issues of assessment, everything becomes crucial and needs thorough reevaluation. The features and function of science discourse include formulating hypotheses, designing investigations, collecting data, drawing conclusions and communicating results (Chamot & O'Malley, 1994) and these are the skills which are basically being emphasized by the teacher in the classroom. Sadly, the application is not obvious in the students' daily life especially in the context of Malaysia.
By conducting this research, the researcher hopes to be able to get some insights into the Steiner Waldorf curriculum and the Malaysian science curriculum. Having done this, it is hoped that the research suggestions may highlight existing gaps in curricular, pedagogical or other aspects through comparison between Malaysian science curriculum with Steiner Waldorf education. From the suggestions made, hopefully the teaching and learning of science will be more effective and more enjoyable for the students. By having a good time in learning science through effective methods employed by the teacher, the researcher believes that it will help students to perform better in all the science subjects and at the same time acquire scientific knowledge in a wider perspective. Apart from that, it will also help to produce all rounded students as outlined in the National Education Philosophy.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The Integrated Curriculum for Secondary School (Kurrikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Menengah, KBSM) is the continuation of the New Primary School Curriculum (Kurikulum Baru Sekolah Rendah, KBSR). This change in the curriculum structure is the government's strategy to shift the emphasis of education that existed in 1970s to a more contemporary holistic concept of learning that encompasses moral, religious, social, physical, and intellectual development of a person (Rosnani.H, 2004). In science education, holistic education aims to produce students who are able to relate the content that they learned in the classroom to their daily life. It refers to their ability to use scientific thinking and processes in a wider context so that it will highlight the effectiveness of the KBSM which subscribes to the principles of lifelong learning. After having informal interviews with a few seniors' teachers and lectures with science education background, the researcher found out that Malaysian science curriculum somehow does not support the holistic education as being mentioned and fails to achieve the intended outcomes. The following is the opinion given by the senior lecturer who was interviewed by the researcher;
"My hunch is the general population of the students does not relate what they learn to everyday situation because many studies have shown that students do not like science and they find science isolated or do not associate with them. So we can infer from that the students do not related what they learned nor practice their scientific attitudes." (personal communication)
This is further supported by the results of Trends in International Math & Science, TIMMS assessment in science taken by Malaysian students in 2003. The TIMMS assessment is designed to help to improve students' learning in math and science where the assessment generally focuses on the students' mathematics and science skills. In the assessment, our students scored an average of 504 which exceeds the international average of 474 (Martin et al, 2004) and placed Malaysia to be at 19th out of 44 participating countries. The performance actually is not truly impressive if compared to the performance of students from other developing countries in Asia pacific such as Singapore Chinese-Taipei and Republic of Korea. The line of argument is what are the aspects that lacking in Malaysian students since those nations secured the top 3 placing and therefore have clearly performed better than our students.
Another interesting insight which the researcher gathered through informal interviews with the senior teachers and lectures, as well as his personal experience as a science student and in-service teacher is the fact that Malaysian education system gives too much focus on examination. In order to survive in the Malaysian education system, students need to excel in public examinations (UPSR, PMR, SPM). Somehow the situation affects teaching and learning process which is a part of the curriculum. Teachers admitted that the focus is only to finish the syllabus within the time allocated by the school administration. Through informal interviews with the students, the researcher also discovered that students think it is easier for them to focus and prepare themselves for the examination instead of engaging in meaningful learning.
The researcher also found out that because of the need to finish up the syllabus, the lessons were not conducted properly by teachers. Teachers rarely make reflections on their teaching. Even though the accomplishment of the objective and learning outcomes are the measurement to a successful lesson in Malaysian education system; most of the time, teachers do not have attempt to find out whether their students have actually acquired the specified learning outcomes. An effective science classroom should be able to make students think and process the knowledge received in the classroom. Ironically, the scenario does not happen in most Malaysian classrooms. Because of the examination matter, the researcher believes that teachers tend to neglect their method in teaching science. In true fact, a science class should be filled with interesting and varying activities so that students will enjoy the class. However, in reality most science lessons, more often than not, are not only plain and dull but also could kill students' excitement in learning the subject. This is another concern of the researcher since there is a tendency that the situation mentioned above could cause the students to lose interest in learning science.
The Steiner Waldorf education is similar to the Malaysian education system in terms of its emphasis on the development of human beings and in the provision of holistic education. What is different is in terms of the implementation and the effectiveness of the curriculum. Scieffer and Busse (2001) in their research discovered that the students from Steiner school did better than students in state school in United States. Other research (Easton, 1997; Oberman, 1997; Uhrmacher, 1993b) also suggested a positive relationship between Steiner school education, learning and students achievement. Moreover, research on Steiner education also mentioned about consistency of Steiner students performance in National test from 2000 to 2004. Ogletree (2000) in investigating the creative ability among the students in England, Scotland and Germany through the use of Torrance Test of Creative Thinking Ability; found that generally Steiner school students obtained significantly higher creativity scores than their state school peers. It actually reflects the effectiveness of the emphasis on creativity in Steiner curriculum. Jalinek and Sun (2003) in research that they conducted which aimed to compare the education in Steiner and mainstream schools revealed that, the Steiner children who tested in logical reasoning and science activity which developed by TIMMS international comparative study performed better than students from other schools. The scientific reasoning of Steiner school students was found to be outstanding.
The research suggested that the result of the test is actually influenced by the culture of the Steiner education which taught less content to the students and the Steiner education itself creates less examination pressure to the students. Indeed, the Steiner Waldorf science curriculum has its own unique approach and method which proved to encourage effective learning. Such a situation ceases to exist in the Malaysian science curriculum. It is with this problem in mind that the researcher has decided to embark on this comparative research study with the hope to draw on some of the best practices to be incorporated into Malaysian classroom.
1.3 Research Objectives
The main objective of the research is to compare the Malaysian education and Steiner Waldorf education in science curriculum with respect to objective, content, implementation or instruction and the assessment. In comparing both curriculums, the researcher wish to find out the characteristics of Steiner education science classroom and wish to look at their strengths and uniqueness which is present and try to see how this is different from the Malaysian science curriculum. From the data gathered, a thorough analysis will be made by the researcher, and the findings of the research could be the basis for the researcher to give suggestions for the betterment of Malaysian science curriculum as well as to bridge the gap between these two curriculums.
Two research questions are as follows:
What are the characteristics of Steiner Waldorf science class?
How does the Steiner Waldorf science curriculum differ from the Malaysian Secondary Science Curriculum with respect to their objectives, content, implementation/instruction, and evaluation/assessment?
1.4 Significance of the Study
This research aims to look at the Malaysian science curriculum. By doing this, it will help us to have a clear picture of how a curriculum functions and at the same time, it allows us to measure the success of the curriculum. Many teachers have expressed their discontentment over current problems faced by the teachers and students in science education, and the blame is usually on the ineffectiveness of the curriculum. This is an alarming problem as it could affect the number of students who are interested in science subjects and if this happens, Malaysia will actually sway from its efforts to achieve Vision 2020.
This comparative study of the Malaysian science curriculum and the Steiner science curriculum is crucial in realizing our dreams of producing human beings who know their ability and self-potential. This is the core value stressed in the Steiner Waldorf's curriculum which aims to provide learners with meaningful learning and turn them into deep learner. Steiner Waldorf students are encouraged to generate creative ideas and this indirectly nurtures the students to be critical thinkers. Therefore it is very crucial for the researcher to find out in what aspects that the Malaysian science curriculum can be improved by adapting the Steiner Waldorf education. Hopefully, the findings of the comparative research will help to improve science education in Malaysian schools.
1.5 Research Limitations
Time constraint is the major limitations of this research. The researcher believes it is ideal to have longer time for the researcher to collect data regarding Steiner Waldorf education in United Kingdom, UK. Longer period of study will able the researcher to do observations in greater depth and visit more schools to be included in study. Instead of time constraint, monetary is also one of the limitations in this research. Since the research was funded by the university, the researcher has to complete the process of data collection within the stipulated time. However, what is done by the researcher is sufficient to have a general picture of the difference between the two curriculums.
1.6 Scope of Study
The focus of the research is only to compare the Malaysian education and Steiner Waldorf science curriculum. This study involved data collected from one school in Plymouth and a Steiner Waldorf Department in University of Plymouth. Since this is a preliminary comparative study of these two curriculums, focus will briefly highlight the four parts of the curriculum which is the objectives, contents, implementation and the assessment of both curriculums. However, extra emphasis will be given on the implementation and assessment procedure as compared to the first two parts in the curriculum. Though it would have been ideal to be able to carry out observation and interviews in more schools across the UK, these two chose are sufficient to give a clear preliminary picture of what Steiner Waldorf education involves.
1.7 Operational Definition
Malaysian science curriculum
Malaysian science curriculum refers to science curriculum which developed and implemented in Malaysia for secondary level. However, in order to show the continuation and the development or progression of this curriculum the researcher wills sometime highlights the science curriculum at the primary level.
Steiner Waldorf Education
Steiner Waldorf Education refers to the education that founded by the Rudolf Steiner in 1919. This education is worldwide and does not refers or belong to a specific country. The part of this education that being discuss in this research is its' science curriculum.
Science can be defined as "knowledge attained through study or practice," or "knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, especially as obtained and tested through scientific method and concerned with the physical world." It may also refer as a system of acquiring knowledge where the system uses observation and experimentation to describe and explain about natural phenomena. Science also term which can refer to the organized body of knowledge people has gained using that system. Therefore, the term science education that been using in this research refers to the process of educating science to the students or may refers to the field of science itself. Which the field of science in education that being discussed in this research covers the major branches in science such as biology, physics, chemistry, general science and natural science.
Source: Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary cited in http://www.sciencemadesimple.com
As a conclusion, 'review' and 'reform' in Malaysian science curriculum is necessary or perhaps a need as we refer to the current education's condition in Malaysia. It has been 53 years that Malaysia achieved its independence, and throughout the 53 years, Malaysia had gone through lots of transformation and changes. However, the researcher believes that, in order for Malaysia to reach to the level of developed country, education should be the foundation of the aspiration. Education in Malaysia requires more changes as well as ideal and realistic policies and implementation, so that it will be able to produce human capitals that are scientific, knowledgeable and competent.