Calls for access to high-quality education facilities for all students

Economics professor at the Malaysia University of Science and Technology Geoffrey Williams

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia grapples with challenges in its education system, including proficiency disparities and learning outcome issues, prominent academic professors are calling for comprehensive educational reforms.

They are aimed at enhancing the quality of education and foster improved student outcomes, reflecting the experts’ insights on addressing critical issues within the educational landscape.

While acknowledging that Malaysians are talented and comparable to the best in the world, Malaysia University of Science and Technology economics professor Geoffrey Williams noted that qualitative, subjective and anecdotal evidence suggests that the quality and outcomes of education in Malaysia fall short of their potential.

“There is no such thing as ‘school readiness skills’, it is the job of the education system to provide the learning environment to help people develop their knowledge and capabilities for continuous learning and development,” he said in a reply to StarBiz.

Williams suggested continuous learning environments without prerequisites, noting that skills development should be the responsibility of training institutes rather than educational institutions.

He noted that while accessibility and equity are positive aspects, attributed to free public education for all, quality issues often compel parents to seek private education for their children.

Due to this, Williams believes that access to quality education is then based on ability to pay.

UCSI University Malaysia associate professor of finance Liew Chee YoongUCSI University Malaysia associate professor of finance Liew Chee Yoong

Similarly, UCSI University Malaysia associate prof of finance Liew Chee Yoong said equity in education is still a concern, with discrepancies in educational attainment among different socioeconomic groups.

“Efforts are needed to ensure that all students have equitable access to quality education regardless of their background.

“Furthermore, educational outcomes differ widely and there are initiatives aimed at improving these, particularly in preparing students for the global job market,” he said.

Ending segregation

Regarding reforms, Williams emphasised the importance of ending segregation or apparent segregation and deregulating curricula to free teachers to provide education as they choose.

“Greater involvement of parents and greater cross-referencing will help regulate quality better than ministry involvement. Greater autonomy for headteachers and stronger local communities will help,” he added.

Liew, who is also a research fellow at the Centre for Market Education, emphasised the necessity of updating the curriculum to incorporate more practical skills and digital literacy to prepare students to tackle modern challenges.

“In addition, there is also a need to enhance teacher training programmes to include modern pedagogies and technology use in classrooms,” he pointed out.

Moreover, he said there is a need for improvements in educational infrastructure, particularly in rural and underserved areas, which are crucial to ensure that all students have access to high-quality educational facilities.

Liew further advocated for relevant policies that support inclusive education, catering to students of varying abilities and backgrounds

He said the Malaysian education system has made progress but faces challenges in terms of quality education delivery.

Liew recognised that efforts are ongoing to improve the curriculum and teaching methodologies to meet 21st-century educational needs.

“Generally, there are improvements in physical accessibility for facilities like new office buildings for better wheelchair access. However, more needs to be done in educational settings to ensure that all students have equal access to learning opportunities,” he said.

Malaysia is pursuing a subsidy rationalisation, having allocated RM80bil in 2023 to reduce the pump price of petrol.

Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli also emphasised on the importance of reducing the country’s debt service level, particularly in the current high-interest-rate environment. Rafizi estimated that the country spends at least RM40bil annually servicing its debt.

Redirecting funds to education

He highlighted the potential impact of redirecting just RM5bil of the funds to education or healthcare.

Additionally, under Budget 2024, the Education Ministry received the largest allocation of RM58.7bil, compared with RM55.2bil in 2023, while the Higher Education Ministry’s allocation increased to RM16.3bil from RM15.3bil in 2023.

When asked how the resources should be allocated to maximise impact on the education system, Liew suggested investing in digital learning tools and Internet access to support remote learning and technology integration.

Additionally, he recommended using funds for scholarships and support programmes for the underprivileged and special-needs students to remove educational barriers.

“It should also be used to improve teacher salaries and professional development, attracting more qualified educators and retaining current ones,” he said.

Investing in research

Furthermore, Liew highlighted the importance of investing in educational research and development to innovate teaching methods and educational technologies, particularly focusing on reading, mathematics and science, as Malaysia’s performance in Programme for International Student Assessment scores has been subpar.

On the other hand, Williams emphasised that addressing educational challenges is not solely a question of funding, but also requires effective management, ethos, pedagogy and professional freedom for educators.

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