Radical revamp of Malaysia's education

  • Business
  • Monday, 14 Apr 2014

I was probably luckier than most kids who grew up in rural Malaysia. My father was both my teacher and the village school headmaster, which meant learning was not just confined to school. Classes continued at home too.

He instilled in me a strong learning discipline and impressed upon us the importance of education. Without a doubt I believe it was education that lifted the lives of many of my classmates out of poverty in remote Bario.

Education has the capacity to profoundly impact lives. This is why I continue to advocate its importance and believe that a nation must allocate as much resources as possible to this area.

Recently, I was at a forum with the World Bank senior economist for Malaysia, Frederico Gil Sander. Responding to a question, he said that the level of Malaysian household debt although concerning was not alarming. We should be more concerned about education if we want to remain competitive, especially since countries like Vietnam did better than us in international test scores such as Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), he said.

As the World Bank pointed out in the “Malaysian Economic Monitor” titled “High Performing Education”, Malaysia does well in terms of access to education but it has to make improvements when it comes to quality. Our Education Blueprint aims to do exactly this.

Education is imperative for our transition to a high-income nation with a minimum per capita income of US$15,000 by 2020 and this is to be done in an inclusive and sustainable manner.

We need high quality leaders to move forward. Also, in becoming a more competitive nation, we need to not only attract talent but to build it continuously from within our own system.

The Education Blueprint provides the plan to do this holistically because we simply cannot afford to fix this problem in a piecemeal basis as we play catch-up with the rest of the world.

The Blueprint features 11 shifts to be undertaken:

·Equal access to education

·Ensure proficiency in Malay and English

·Develop values

·Make teaching a profession of choice

·Have high-performing school leaders

·Customise solutions based on needs

·Leverage ICT to scale up quality

·Transform delivery capabilities and capacity

·Partner with parents, community and private sector

·Maximise outcomes for every ringgit

·Increase transparency for accountability

However, a strategy document alone is not enough to ensure success.

The success or failure of this radical revamp lies in implementation. There is full leadership commitment to implement the National Education Blueprint, led by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who is also the Minister of Education and Dato Sri Idris Jusoh, Minister of Education II. They have the full support of two deputy Ministers.

Top civil servants in the ministry are also fully aligned and committed to implement. To help them ensure that the blueprint is implemented to the tee, a new high powered unit – Performance and Delivery Unit (PADU) has been established.

Let’s look at some examples of what is being done to improve Malaysian education.

We are doing all we can to increase English proficiency among students and this needs to start with teachers. And so we took the bold and unprecedented step of testing them.

We put some 61,000 English teachers through the Cambridge Placement Test (CPT), and only about 30% met the C1 or C2 proficiency band based on the Common European Framework for Reference (CEFR).

Subsequently in 2013, we enrolled 5,000 English teachers who have not met minimum C1 proficiency into an upskilling course or ProELT programme conducted by the British Council. Preliminary results of 4,350 teachers shows that 76.4% managed to improve by at least one proficiency band. The training of the second cohort of 9,000 English teachers has commenced with another approximately 10,000 teachers to be trained starting end of this year.

But we must not get too caught up in the numbers, we must also appreciate that our teachers are being stretched to their limits. Upskilling will take time as we cannot just take all the teachers out from the system at one go and train them. They are still educators of our children.

Another example is using technology to leapfrog the quality of our education. About 90.5% of public schools across the country have been connected with high-speed internet access (4G technology) through the 1BestariNet programme and all these schools also have access to a learning programme called Frog’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

It establishes a common knowledge platform for students and teachers and utilises technology to enhance teaching and learning.

Additionally, as part of the Education NKRA Schools Improvement Programme, there is the School Examination Analysis System (SAPS) which allows rigorous monitoring by the Ministry, State and District Education offices to ascertain the performance of schools. Parents can have a real-time view of their children’s results simply by just entering the student’s MyKad number.

Indeed, we are all interested in and have an important stake in education because it shapes the future of our children and our country. But revamping the education system requires more than just spending money. There has to be passion and dedication. Let me illustrate that by pointing to a school in Sarawak which is on the list of best schools in Malaysia.

Sekolah Kebangsaan Ulu Lubai (SK Ulu Lubai) in a remote area of Sarawak, under the charge of headmaster Jaul Anak Buyau, is one of the 55 high performing schools (primary school category) in the country.

Turning parents into the strongest backers for the school’s transformation, Jaul led the SK Ulu Lubai to bag the top prize in the Council of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) Best Practices award in 2009.

This brings me to my final point. Why is SK Ulu Lubai a top performing school? Does it follow a different curriculum from the rest of the schools in Malaysia? No, it follows exactly the same national curriculum. Is it because the facilities in the school are excellent? No, on the contrary, being a rural school, the facilities are no way near the quality of those in town schools.

Is it because the students come from well to do families, who can afford to send their children to extra tuition? Not at all. Is it because the teachers are paid higher salaries to incentivise them? No, the teachers are paid normal salaries. Nothing extra.

So why is SK Ulu Lubai a high performing school? Because their principal provides the right leadership, the teachers are very good, dedicated and focused on teaching, the parents get their children to do their homework and encourage them to study hard and finally, most importantly, the students really want to learn and they study hard.

This is what we need to improve our education. All the four constellations – principals, teachers, parents and students must work together to do a good job. When they are in alignment, then we will have a good education system. That is the secret.

Datuk Seri Idris Jala is chief excutive officer of PEMANDU, the Performance Management and Delivery Unit, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. Fair and reasonable comments are most welcome at idrisjala@pemandu.gov.my

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