Crisis in Education Malaysia

On the 3rd March 2020, I attended a forum titled ”Crisis in Education Malaysia” which consisted of 4 interesting speakers who spoke on the various issue plaguing our education system.

The session began with Mr Francis De Luke, a retired school teacher who poured out his frustrations on the death of passion in the teaching community. This is further compounded by the fact that teachers are overworked mainly due to excessive paperwork. He lamented the fact that gadgets has taken over the lives of students (and teachers) making the whole teaching experience dull and uninspiring.

Next, we had Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin. I will come back to him later.

After that, it was Datuk Lok Yim Pheng and she shared her frustrations that the government’s education process has been constantly changed and revamped to the whims and fancies of each education minister who comes on board. This makes teachers and students perpetual guinea pigs without successful outcomes.

Her emphasis was to develop a quality education system and she felt this could be done through training (and regularly) retraining. She shared the fact that teachers do not have clear and regular retraining programmes. Many teachers have gone past 10-15 years without retraining.

She also raises the fact that infrastructure (or the lack of it) continues to be an issue. At the centre of it is the issue of corruption.

Beverly German shared from the human rights’ perspective. She raised the issue of undocumented children not being able to get an education in Malaysian schools. On Sabah, this continues to be a major issue. She shared a story of undergraduates in Sabah who had set up makeshift ”schools” made of discarded materials to give these children an opportunity to have an (at least an informal) education. Unfortunately, these efforts came to nought when officials from the Ministry of Education put a stop to these ”schools” on the reason that the official curriculum was not adhered to.

Up to this point, what had been shared was nothing new. The issues highlighted were many decades old. The questions from the floor also sounded painfully familiar. Even the people who asked the questions were familiar! One very important question comes to mind: Was there any rethinking or real solutions to this age-old problem? At the end of everything, no solution was in sight. This is indeed a crisis within a crisis! This mess that no one is able to solve has succeeded in the creation of two huge industries: Tuition Centers and Private/International Schools.

There is not a lot of data on private tuition but we know that in 2010 there was an estimated 3000 tuition centers (*in?) with about 195,000 students paying between RM200 – RM2000. 10 years ago, it was a RM400m business. Private tutors can earn about RM4000 – RM 10,000 in 2010. You can be sure the numbers are much higher now after 10 years. (https://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2012/11/05/increase-in-demand-for-tuition-in-malaysia)

For international private schools, it is an even bigger industry. For the parents who can afford international education, it is a great escape from the local education system. The cheapest is about RM75,000 per year for primary school education. You can find out more at https://www.edarabia.com/malaysia-school-fees/

However, private tuition and international schools will not solve our education problems. Clear, decisive and strong actions will.

During the forum, Beverly shared the story of Siti Nafirah who summoned eight Defendants to High Court including the Malaysian Federal Government in Putrajaya. Her Statement of Claim filings details a seven-month absent teacher, a massive and systemic cover-up by the Malaysian Ministry of Education, and stories of numerous notices sent by witnesses. The High Court will hear the case in May 2020. This a clear and strong action that people need to do to demand quality education. (follow the full story at https://tiada.guru/en/the-high-court-case)

The presentation by Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi took the discussion to a different perspective, giving a more strategic view of transformed principles of education. He recommends three key principles for education leading to a peaceful and inclusive society. The three principles are:

– Learn and appreciate a shared history

– Work towards a shared prosperity

– Bring out the values through shared spirituality

Dr Tajudin articulates that history is not about the past. History is about the future we want to create, we go back to create the narrative. Today’s narrative is for a future where our society becomes more exclusive. History is a narrative created to structure the future.

Policymakers need to appreciate and understand these principles and be able to take it from the abstract principle level to an implementable level.

My opinion is that moving forward, whomever the education minister will be, need to move forward with transformation initiatives in both the strategic and tactical level.

What is more important is that the education minister should not just talk about ideas but seriously think about the ”how” to transform. Have strategic thinking and a solid implementation process to help drive the change. Be not afraid to bring in people who are not entrenched in the thinking of the old current way and let them drive with small steps. The innovation model of ”Think Big, Start Small, Grow Big” is a proven model.

The real problem we need to deal with would be in unemployment. Our 21 public-sector universities and 38 private-sector universities produce something like 51,000 graduates a year, but nearly 60% remain unemployed one year after graduation, according to a study in 2018 conducted by the Minstry of Education Malaysia’s Graduate Tracer Study. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2020/02/562309/more-and-more-graduates-are-facing-unemployment-malaysia).

The numbers will continue to grow due to economic conditions and the combination of technology adoption and automation. Industrial Revolution 4.0 will drive a lot of change. The way I see it, every other industry and sector is changing and adapting, Education must adapt.

My question to new incoming Education Minister is this, “Will you be the one to drive transformation in education in Malaysia or will it just be another blueprint-producing minister seeking glory and political milage?”

It’s a tough job. I hope this is what we have actually fought for.

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