The road ahead for education policies

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  • Thursday, 18 Jan 2018

HAVING a background education in law, I did not think that my passion would be honed in a somewhat paradoxical manner – in a job that exposes me to the “law” or policies in education.

Why, even when this column first saw print more than three years ago, the repeated tagline of yours truly read “has education close to his heart”.

Education is undoubtedly close to the hearts of all of us. It is the root from which has sprouted civilisations; it advances nations and it enhances humanity. The revered Nelson Mandela even said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Up close and personal, it has been an exciting few years, and mostly enlightening to see the progress with policy implementation in Malaysian education, both at schools and in tertiary education.

Through my involvement in both sectors, I am delighted to have witnessed numerous commendable efforts that have been put into place to bring about improvements, the close monitoring, the adjustments and further tailoring to get the best for Malaysia’s unique population.

I dare say the education sector is at the forefront of adapting to this brave new tech world of rapid changes. There is nothing artificial in sussing out the plus points of artificial intelligence and its spin-offs.

The learning curve of my education sector colleagues is a challenging constant – never static. Their dedication gives better opportunities to those undertaking education to fulfil their potential, in schools, higher education institutions and subsequently, the workplace.

This year, Malaysians will go to the ballot box in the 14th General Election. While the narrative has largely focused on the politics and personalities, we must not overlook the issues and related policies. We should be concerned about the policies that are in place and those that will be implemented.

This beckons the question: What policies can the rakyat expect for our education system in the coming years? Let’s take a look at both the school and the higher education sectors.

Recently, the Education Ministry (MOE) announced the further expansion of the Dual Language Programme (DLP), to simultaneously enhance English language proficiency among students as is already with Bahasa Malaysia. The approval of DLP for another 126 schools brings the total to 1,429. The DLP has been a successful bottoms-up approach to policy, with parents having a say on its implementation.

The MOE also announced that by 2019, schools will no longer be allowed to segregate students based on academic achievements. Mirroring the practice in Finland, this move is geared at making the education system less focused on academics but rather on the holistic development of the student – including spirituality, ethics and values. This approach recognises that different students have different strengths and can help each other improve.

The MOE has been reforming the education system since launching the Malaysia Education Blueprint in 2013. Other initiatives and efforts include the School-Based Assessment (PBS) to reduce exam-oriented “obsession”, raising the minimum SPM grade requirement in order to produce the best teachers; supporting Teach for Malaysia (TFM) to bring in Ivy League, Oxbridge and top graduates into the system; setting up Trust Schools to assist high-needs schools; and giving greater autonomy to State Education Departments.

On top of that, policies to support vernacular, religious and private or international schools have been implemented, including those to empower parental choices.

Under Budget 2018, MOE was allocated RM45.9bil, which is double the Asean average, indicating the importance accorded to the nation’s education system.

In higher education, the budget for 2018 also increased by 13.15% after a 9.3% reduction the previous year. This budget cut encouraged reforms in how universities manage public funds and gave them a much-needed push in diversifying their income sources.

Now, universities have upped their game with regard to obtaining alumni donations, industry funding and commercialising knowledge. The end goal is to be financially independent, and to self-fund university-level scholarships and research.

According to Universitas 21’s report on Ranking of National Higher Education Systems, Malaysia has consistently been a top spender in higher education among developing economies, ranking first in 2017, second in 2016 and third in 2015.

Other reforms embarked upon by the Higher Education Ministry (MOHE) include efforts to “Redesign Higher Education”. It has introduced a new assessment mechanism (iCGPA) for universities; a work-based learning programme (2u2i); the world’s first nationally coordinated online learning platform (Malaysia MOOC); recognised industry/working experience as qualifying criteria for universities’ degree courses (APEL); and allowed undergrads to take time off to travel, volunteer and refocus on their field of study (the Gap Year Programme).

Last week, the MOHE announced that it would be introducing a Higher Education 4.0 framework that addresses the challenges and needs of the 4th Industrial Revolution. This includes introducing or enhancing academic and TVET (technical and vocational education and training) programmes based on fields such as artificial intelligence, big data robotics, cloud computing, cyber security and more.

It is a common perception that Malaysia has weakening education outcomes, unemployable graduates and a system that’s too rigid. And yet, there are the success stories. Where education is concerned, inefficiencies must be – and have been – corrected, and we must always strive for the best standards and practices.

Picture this: There are over 10,000 public schools and 440,000 teachers for over five million pupils. There are 20 public universities, 36 polytechnics, 94 community colleges and approximately 380 private higher education institutions catering for 1.3 million students.

The Malaysian education ecosystem is a wide, varied and voluminous terrain that has already made its mark in the region and in Asia. In some aspects, it is world class. And it’s soaring upwards.

Danial Rahman has education close to his heart and welcomes feedback at The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.


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Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman has education close to his heart. He tweets at @danial_ari and welcomes feedback at


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