Breaking point: How Malaysia’s education system is failing its children

Wake up and realise that education is the legacy you will leave behind for the future!

Follow us on our Malay and English WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram, Tiktok and Youtube channels.

The symptoms have been evident for some time. The national schools in Malaysia have lost their status of preference.

In some states, more and more parents are choosing private or Chinese vernacular schools to give their children a better education.

Yet the denial syndrome continues. The Ministry of Education (MoE) receives a fair allocation of the total budgetary provisions. Yet it is unable to meet the needs of our diverse society.

The option of private education gives a window of opportunity for some while others suffer in silence

Many of us are disappointed with the lack of priority in tackling the challenges facing primary and secondary school education.

Recently, many students did not even turn up for the SPM exams. No one has been held accountable and flimsy reasons are provided.

The results tell a story with 25.9% failing in the science subjects; 23.2% failed in maths and overall, 30% who will not receive the SPM certificates. The best score seems to be the subject “Quran and Sunnah”, achieving 84%.

What does this say about our education system? If this report in social media is accurate, then what about the passing grade? For maths, the indication is that with 20%, one secures a pass grade. I wonder what is the pass grade for English and science!

All exams have since been removed. We neither have the UPSR (sixth-year exams) nor the PMR (ninth-year exams). So the journey seems to be just to promote incompetence from one stage to the other until students reach SPM (11th year exams).

We need objective standards to evaluate both the performance of students and the commitment of teachers.

Without exams, we are left to the subjectivity of performance evaluators. But they are not held accountable for the quality of teaching.

Yes, the claim that the teachers are hard-pressed has to be considered, but we must also not overlook the amount of leave and teaching days they have. Teaching days rarely exceed 200 days in a year.

Then you have private education to consider. We have nearly 185 private international schools, 80% of them in the Klang Valley. These schools range from those in shophouses and high-rise buildings to purpose-built schools providing wide-ranging facilities and opportunities. These have to compete with tuition centre and the like.

READ MORE:  Focus, focus: Prioritise people's future over political drama

Everything is allowed presently. About 15 years ago, things were stringent and standards had to be maintained to qualify as an international school. Private sector groups then responded and established schools of repute in response to the call to make Malaysia an educational hub in the region.

Today, they are so regulated in terms of admissions, and it is a paradox. It is private money, risk and marketing.

Yet they are controlled by the MoE in terms of enrolment of both foreign staff and students. The private education division of the ministry has under 10 staff to manage these schools. So, rigidity and control are the order of the day.

The fact that scores of parents opt to send their children to private schools at great cost to themselves is a reflection of the state of the national school system. The national schools are perceived as ‘suraus’, and this mix of religion and education has been found to be wanting.

We must respect diversity and interdependence, for the alternative will be costly in the long run. In healthcare and defence, it is all about Malaysians, and ethnicity should not be a factor in the opportunities provided.

There is a negative mindset at play and one wonders when people in Malaysia will wake up!

Religion is the primary responsibility of parents. Schools can help but they must not be held accountable. If parents are opting out of this responsibility, then is it the function of the school to take over this parental obligation? Doing so is not going to benefit either the parents or the children.

Even in a ‘Sharia-compliant’ state like Brunei, the medium of instruction is English. It is most embarrassing to listen to political leaders in Malaysia and their command of the language. One can understand the sentiments from both Sabah and Sarawak in this regard. We are all for bilingual proficiency.

READ MORE:  Bebaskan pelajar sekolah alternatif di Sabah: Seruan Gerak untuk keadilan pendidikan

With every change in the MoE’s leadership, government policies were compromised in the name of the democratisation of education. Not only has Malaysia’s international reputation been affected, the situation internally has likewise been compromised.

We now have a “dual-language programme” that aims to balance the language crisis. But this again adds to the injustice between rural and urban schools.

We need to steer a new vision for Malaysian education that is fair and just, one that is not based on ethnicity and fear. We need equal opportunities and quality, with standards that are objective and measurable.

Language is a medium of communication and understanding. The more languages an individual is able to command, the greater are the capacities that are available in an interdependent world. We are a trading nation. As soon as we politicise language as an issue, education suffers.

The “Madani” (civil and compassionate) government has let me down by not tackling the problems that plague the education system. This will continue to have serious implications for the future of the nation.

Move away from politicising education. Get a qualified technocrat well versed in national and international education to steer this ministry.

Not that the present minister is not doing her best, but she has challenges she has inherited. And as a first-time minister, does she have the capacity to turn things around?

This requires a person with a clear vision for education – both for the immediate and long term – that is clearly spelt. Society as a whole has to buy into that vision.

Let him or her be a senator and aim to do what is right for the future of the nation. Education remains an instrument for enhancing inter-ethnic understanding and goodwill. We have to move away from the polarised situation that we now face at all levels of education.

We need fresh thinking. Otherwise, today’s problems will ferment tomorrow’s crisis. The thinking that has created today’s crisis cannot be the basis for any solution.

READ MORE:  Increase philosophy literacy in Malaysia

We need to move away from fear and ethnic considerations. Consider an inclusive approach to education that makes us competitive and respected in both the arts and sciences.

While education is a priority in many countries, this area has been singularly devalued in Malaysia.

One of the greatest bulwarks against change is the civil service and the MoE. Be inclusive and move forward, and implement the ideas from all sectors of Malaysian society.

Do not be imprisoned by racist and bigoted ideas. Let the responsibility of teaching religion be in the hands of the parents. The schools can have a part but not at the expense of the teaching, learning and exam process. This could be done after school from 3pm onwards.

When you raise questions and suggest ideas for change, then the common response is that this issue is a political decision. Or that we need direction “from above”.

Imprisoned by their rigid departmental rules that are apparently non-negotiable, these ‘Napoleons’ imprison and protect themselves from change and progress.

There is far too much rigidity. Ministries have become more regulatory instead of facilitating change, progress and response.

Overall, the civil service remains the most entrenched sector. Now in Putrajaya, they are all to themselves, living in ivory towers and regulating everything.

As a parent whose three children went through the government school system, I can only look on with sadness at what parents today have to face. It is a polarised and compartmentalised situation. And it is racism that will destroy this nation.

Sadly, there is no opportunity to make a difference. It is difficult to even dialogue with MoE officials. They do not respond to the opportunity of meeting them.

Unless the bureaucracy become more professional and confident, the hope for the future seems dim.

Wake up and realise that education is the legacy you will leave behind for the future!

K Haridas
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
9 July 2024

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
Support Aliran's work with an online donation. Scan this QR code using your mobile phone e-wallet or banking app:
Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
12 Jul 2024 7.23am

What choice do B40 parents get but to school their kids to be below average students from current education system? International school system at least brings up the standard of English as well as focus in studies.

13 Jul 2024 10.04am
Reply to  Emma

All 4 kids of mine are frm SK govrn schools, they speak & score in english, in fact i have prob in BM with them, all attended IPTA and are doing well in life, alhamdllh.
i disagree interntl school improves english among students, there are still who speaks their mother tongue, but only the have send their kids to Intl sch.. those days are gone when intnl sch are meant for expatriates family only, but govrn have spoiled the sytm but issuing lots of licence for the business of intl sch. Thy shud have improve the SK more instead.
But i do agree govrn sch have a lot to improv and bring up the std in all areas of the SK

Luqman Michel
12 Jul 2024 2.54am

‘In some states, more and more parents are choosing private or Chinese vernacular schools to give their children a better education.’
This may not last long if many of these teachers from China teach zhuyin fuhao instead of Pinyin. Who will stop the proliferation of zhuyin also called bofomopo which was abolished in Malaysia and replaced by Pinyin in the 70s.

11 Jul 2024 12.05pm

Failure since 1975 when planned to abolish the English medium schools.

11 Jul 2024 11.51am

My daughter is in a school in kedah. The amount of time allocated for religion and prayers is crazy. The non Muslim kids are given coloring or non productive things to do. As a mother I have no choice but to educate at home as there are no private school options in our area. I send her to school for socialisation and teach at home

Ling Heller
Ling Heller
11 Jul 2024 10.52am

I was a teacher for 32 years and quit earlier because the education system has failed the country.

1. National schools are now run like religious schools, and this discourages Non Malay parents from sending their children to national schools. Is there any wonder that Chinese type schools are now the schools of choice?

2. Teachers are burdened with mindless tasks…filling in forms and data, running school programs like fund raisers, Sports Day, etc.

3. The subjects taught and their content do not prepare and equip our young for the future. Teachers simply have no time on hand to prepare lessons.

4. Everything in the system just sucks… Meritocracy is not practiced. And there is the entitlement mindset, so entrenched in our society.

10 Jul 2024 11.42pm

The people in charge don’t give a toss because their kids are most probably in private schools and subsequently sent overseas for further studies. Keep the general population dumb and unaware, so the powers to be can keep control and stay in control. This has been the modus operandi for a long time. Those that do well, get good jobs post graduating and stay overseas and this leads us to our state of brain drain.

Roselyn Tela
Roselyn Tela
10 Jul 2024 10.13pm

Quality education please

10 Jul 2024 8.51pm

Please show the statistics of how many Malay students enrolled in SJKC/SMJKC for the past 10 years? And the statistics for private school too, and if no survey was done studying the reason for the well to do family sending their offsprings to private school, how can you assumed that it was due to lack of quality? Thank you

Benedict Lopez
10 Jul 2024 6.48pm
Paramjothy Sabaretnam
Paramjothy Sabaretnam
10 Jul 2024 2.28pm

To sum it up…..the education system has gone to the dogs….as the proverb goes

Luqman Michel
12 Jul 2024 2.57am

I have written several emails to our education minister, Puan Fadhlina, telling her the plight of intelligent kids who shut down/ disengage from learning to read due to the wrong teaching of phonics to no avail.

10 Jul 2024 2.18pm

All said and done; we must first and foremost stop recruiting mediocre students/graduates into education.Like Singapore only the best should be considered for teaching.For a start only secong class upper snd first class honours graduates should be teachers.The reason for this is because the standards in the Local Unis are just as bad and taking anyone below this benchmark will make matters worse.Similarly at MOE only first class honours with Master’s/Phd should be employed.If one cannot implement these requirements for teachers, than forget about discussions,meetings,conferences to improve education in Malaysia.

CC Lui
CC Lui
10 Jul 2024 1.16pm

I fully agreed to reform the testing or evaluation system in Malaysia education with upsr, pmr exams. These would integrate better teaching and learning in Malaysia to elevate our students quality. There’s no meritorious quality in our politics but we have to build it somehow from the schools.

TC Mok
TC Mok
10 Jul 2024 10.17am

This is an excellent write-up about Malaysia’s deteriorating education system over a long time. While the the rest of the world is moving towards enhancing education in science and maths to keep the country competitive, MOE seems to emphasize on religion.

Just look at China and see how many technical talents have been produced since opening its economy. This has resulted in its increasing dominance in science n technology.

Yes, the time to overhaul Malaysia’s education is Now. We want our future generations to go through the right kind of education and be able to compete confidently with others.

10 Jul 2024 10.11am

Very well written Sir. Best wishes to you

10 Jul 2024 9.06am

It is not that the current government is not aware of the deplorable state of education in our national schools. As the writer himself states ‘(the current Education Minister) has challenges she has inherited’.
Prof Tajuddin in a recent video articulated very clearly why change has to be gradual, or risk collapse of Government.
The Opposition has capitalised on the fact that the younger generation of voters lack critical thinking skills and so are an easy voter base to win over with

10 Jul 2024 8.40am

When lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life becomes guiding principle of life, we cannot change society’s mindset. It promotes selfishness

However if truth and transparency becomes our guiding principle, we can see resurrection in every single person ‘s life. World system corrupt our soul and stumble our progress.

Bodhi Tai
Bodhi Tai
10 Jul 2024 8.20am

Very well written. Straight to the point. The system has been going down a deep, dark n bottomless well since 1970. For 54 years, MOE still can’t see. If we don’t improve fast, the country will b dead. Education is the foundation of any country that’s doing well n we r no where near.

10 Jul 2024 7.40am

What would you expect from a racist country?

10 Jul 2024 10.13pm
Reply to  BoB

Look in the mirror, mate !!

10 Jul 2024 3.39am

Point raised are very true. I hope someone will translate to the language that all MPs can understand or sadly this well written essay will be jambled alfabets few can decipher..(thanks to the many years of government education policies).