Dr. Zulkefli said the figure was based on a recent study by the Penang state education department on students from Standard Two to Six in schools in Penang.
He said the finding has compelled the unit to assist the state education department by holding a programme to raise the academic level of the students. The affected students generally lack the 3Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) and about 20 per cent of those who lack these skills have been identified for tuition classes by the education department.
Is there a national study to find out the total number Std II to VI pupils in the primary schools, regardless of race and the type of primary schools, who are illiterate or do not know how to count after a few years of schooling?
Sixteen years ago, when the Government introduced the KBSR or the 3M system for primary schools, the nation was told that the new curriculum for primary schools was superior to the old curriculum as it would impart the three basic skills of reading, writing and counting to every primary school pupils and the problem under the old system where pupils who continue to be illiterate or do not know how to count despite several years of schooling would cease to exist.
This has proved to be untrue and the 3M system is no more effective than the previous curriculum to resolve the problem of illiteracy or innumeracy of pupils in schools.
When pupils have to be given special tuition classes, just to learn to read, write or count, something is very wrong with the educational system and its curriculum.
The Education Ministry is now in the process of preparing a "smart school" curriculum for the pupils for the 21st century - which will create an even greater divide among the new generation of Malaysians if the government is unable to teach the 3Rs to all pupils.
There is an urgent need to find out why the national education system has failed in its basic task to impart the basic skills of reading, writing and counting to our children despite several years of schooling, the extent of the problem and have a national debate involving teachers, parents and students to find out what went wrong and how things can be put right again.
The ability of the country to resolve this problem of imparting the 3Rs to every Malaysian pupil will go a long way to determine whether Malaysia will succeed in achieving the Vision 2020 goal of a fully developed nation status.