Wednesday 15 January 2014

Edge Education Forum, the what and the why

What factors are responsible for the poor state of affairs of our public education? The mushrooming of international and private schools catering to Malaysians, not just foreigners, best exemplified this situation. Results from internationally recognized assessments such as TIMSS and PISA, highlighting the weaker performance of Malaysian students, is another.

For many, this is the consequence of the poor quality of teachers. While this may be true, it is only the symptom. What are the causes? A lack of training or too low a salary scale, which drives away capable candidates from the profession? Or is it more to do with the absence of meritocracy, where the quality of teaching is not relevant to the teacher’s career development? Is our education policy too “centralized”, driven by bureaucrats that have lost touch with the needs of teachers and students?

What about the language of instruction? Was the change from English to Bahasa a fundamental cause? It is hard to imagine that language does not affect quality of the students and their capabilities when they subsequently join the workforce.

Why must we improve the quality of our public schools?

Quality of education directly impacts the livelihood of the individual and his family, and the growth and prospect of the entire nation. For the individual, it determines his employability, wages and in the longer term, his upward mobility through gaining greater knowledge and experiences.

For the nation, it creates national wealth, innovation and creativity, job creation, higher income, higher tax revenue to fund national development, better institutions and so forth.  One is tempted to argue that the quality of education may be the single most important factor to move the country out of the middle income trap.

Two other related issues are equally important.

Education should be a unifying factor for Malaysia, given our diversity in ethnicity, religion, languages and wealth.

Those of us who went to public schools in the 1970s not only remember fondly our teachers, their passion and commitment to the wellbeing and quality of their students, but also our classmates. Every class was multi-ethnic, Malays, Chinese and Indians. We were all Malaysians, we played football and badminton together. We cheered for our school teams, not our race. We ate together, even if at times, we cannot participate in each other’s food.

Are our schools now contributing to racial and religious polarization? The Sekolah Kebangsaan are predominantly attended by Malay children. Chinese and Indian children go to vernacular schools. If the children do not learn to live and play together when they are young, how much more difficult will it be for them to live together later, when their prejudices have already been formed?

Those with the means send their children to private and international schools. Does this not create another layer of polarization? Between the haves and the have nots?

And if education is meant to be the universal “leveler”, giving equal opportunities to all, the fact that we have so many private and international schools, which charges exorbitant fees, is contradictory. These privileged schools will obviously be able to hire better teachers and provide superior resources. A further question is whether education should be a business for profit. Is it more of a social good or a private good? Should everyone have equal access to the same quality or should those with money be advantaged?

I hope these issues and more will be debated at the upcoming “The Edge Education Forum 2014” and I look forward to many of you participating.


  1. When will we learn? Just look at the Proton issue. Look at the MAS issue. Now, look at our Education issue. The sad fact is that we never learn to be responsible. When I say we, I am referring to the government. Even though they know there is a rotten apple is kept among the good apples, they do not have the will to throw it away, at the expense of causing other good apples to turn bad. Education existed for hundreds of years, learn from the best. The cause of the problem is that we refuse to learn from the best. We can debates this issue until the cows comes home, until the root of the problem is figured out, well, we can continue to debate. Until we practice meritocracy, I am afraid, debates will remains debates. Nothing will change, this is not the first day we become aware that our Education system is not up to mark. The sad part is the majority of less fortunate children will not get the quality education they deserve.

  2. It's great that the Edge facilitated the recent Education Forum. Many people have harped on the core issue is due to language of instruction which I feel is misplaced. Quality will still be the most important issue. Nobody talk about the quality of the Malaysian Chinese Independent Schools which have remained top notch while our national schools are languishing and they use Mandarin as the medium of instruction. Proficiency in English is definitely a plus if one is good but not a real set back if one is lacking in it as long as the academic quality is maintained. Just look around in countries like Germany, Netherlands, China etc where academic quality is not being compromise and English is not the medium of instruction.

    Back in the mid 80's when I was still a university lecturer in one of the local national universities, I already could foresee this decline in educational standards which could only accelerate with time. I had the experience of observing practical teaching by students doing Education degrees. Due to the NEP policy, many bumiputra students were given scholarships to do education degrees and sad to say many of them were not only academically not prepared for such a course or vocation but also not motivated, even before they entered the real world of teaching.

    It's extremely sad as there were many of us, who returned from well known universities, at that time all ready to serve the country by entering the academia. Due to the political interference in the education system, many left to teach in neighbouring countries or worked in the private sector. So today, even the quality of university teaching staff is questionable as many qualified Bumiputras are working in the private sectors.

    Education should not be for profit which like political interference will lead to compromise in standards in order to maintain profits. A good model will be the American private colleges / universities which were set up with donations that help to supplement the operating costs. The Asian Women Leadership University project ( , to be located in Penang) is structured based on this model and seeking for financial support.