During the recently ended Budget 2018 debate in Parliament, I questioned the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) decision to replace local KSSR and KSSM English Language textbooks with new “imported” ones at four times the price and without conducting an open tender.
In particular, I asked about the suitability of the Super Minds and Pulse 2 textbooks, used for year 1 and form 1 respectively, seeing as their contents are based entirely on European and Western contexts with foreign cultural references and instructions that require unavailable content.
I also pressed MOE to justify the high cost of purchasing the “imported” books at the price of RM38.80 for Super Minds and RM38 for Pulse 2, when local textbooks cost less than RM10 each. Furthermore, the books were printed locally and not exactly “imported” despite its costly price tag.
Based on my calculations, MOE spent RM33 million to supply all year 1 and form 1 students with the new “imported” books, even though RM7.1 million was already spent earlier this year to procure the local KSSR and KSSM textbooks for year 1 and form 1. In other words, RM40 million has already been spent on textbooks for just two cohorts this year.
In response to my questions, Deputy Minister of Education Dato’ P Kamalanathan issued a written reply that stated that the decision to supply Super Minds and Pulse 2 to year 1 and form 1 students was taken after an evaluation process by “English language experts” who were appointed by an “evaluation panel”.
The deputy minister went on to suggest that although the textbooks contain foreign elements, they are nevertheless suitable for our students because they comply with the appropriate CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Language) level.
In addition, Kamalanathan also admitted that no open tender was conducted for these “imported” textbooks, unlike the usual procedure for local textbooks. This is because CEFR-aligned books are difficult to source locally and hence had to be specially selected. In the case of Super Minds and Pulse 2, they were proposed by a “consultant”.
Unfortunately, the ministry’s official response raises more questions than answers. Firstly, who are these “English language experts” that approved the foreign textbooks? Also, who makes up the “evaluation panel” that selected these experts?
Secondly, did these experts even vet through the contents properly? If they did, does that mean that they approve of not only the totally foreign references contained in the books, but even the exercise questions that require basic knowledge of Spanish?
Finally, the excuse that CEFR-aligned books are difficult to procure and hence had to be specially selected is nothing but a shameless attempt to justify the absence of an open tender process. The truth is that an open tender can easily be conducted. In fact, all publishers both foreign and local can be invited to participate in such an exercise. Even if CEFR alignment is a requirement, I am certain that there are many other textbook publishers out there who can meet the criteria.
Zairil Khir Johari
Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera
DAP Parliamentary Spokesperson for Education, Science and Technology