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Malaysia’s Education Disaster: The power to change the system is in our hands

Koon Yew Yin

eduAs election day draws nearer, we will be asked for reasons as to why we should want to change the Barisan Nasional Government (BN). When the question is put to me, I tell people that there is no need to enumerate three, four or five reasons. One reason alone is sufficient for Malaysians to elect a new government.

The reason is that the BN has ruined our educational system and put us back at least one generation in our educational standards and standing.

When the country became independent in 1957, our educational system was acknowledged to be among the best in the region. Today, after the introduction of NEP policies in education, we are scraping the bottom of the barrel in our standards of educational achievement at all levels.

BN’s record

Whether it is in primary, secondary or tertiary education, the rot is clear. Half-literate primary school products that cannot write or speak properly in either English or Bahasa Melayu and drop out early; secondary students with abysmal standards in Mathematics, Science and other core subjects; tertiary students who are provided with university degrees but in fact are unemployable except in the civil service.

This is the disastrous outcome of BN rule. This is the result of the politicization of the educational system and Umno’s cynical use of it as a political and racial football.

Whether it is with regard to mission schools or vernacular or SRJK schools; teaching of science and mathematics; teaching of English; appointment of administrators and heads of schools; the curriculum; examinations; vocational education; funding and allocations – Umno has inserted its racial and political agenda to debase and corrupt the system.

If readers think that I am over critical of the BN, let me provide two pieces of evidence on the disaster in our education system.

The first is from the government itself. According to the national education blueprint (preliminary report, Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, pp, E4-E5):

  • Malaysia was ranked in the bottom third of 74 participating countries of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009+.
  • 60% of the 15-year-old Malaysian students who participated in PISA failed to meet the minimum proficiency level in Mathematics, while 44% and 43% did not meet the minimum proficiency levels in Reading and Science respectively
  • A comparison of scores shows that 15-year-olds in Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Shanghai are performing as though they have had three or more years of schooling than 15-year-olds in Malaysia
  • Low achievement standards in TIMSS (Maths and Science): far behind first tier; now comparable to countries such as Indonesia
  • By 2007 (last published cycle) 18% and 20% of our students failed to meet the minimum proficiency standards in Maths and Science.

The conclusion of the blueprint is shocking. Not only are the gaps between Malaysia and other countries in our region growing, international assessments also revealed that Malaysian student performance is declining in absolute terms.

This damning conclusion – that we are going backwards in our education standards and achievement – shows that the problem is not a new one. It is a long standing crisis which the BN has successfully concealed from Malaysians thanks to media manipulation and its diversionary focus on language and Chinese school issues.

But it is no longer easy to fool Malaysians thanks to the Internet media and the availability of international assessment results.

Hence the latest educational scandal in which the Ministry of Education is accused of lowering the maths and science standards for the PMR and SPM examinations to artificially increase the pass rate does not shock me in the least.

Such efforts have been taking place for the past 30 years, especially in the public universities. How else then to account for the hundreds of thousands of graduates who are unemployable?

My personal experience

The second piece of evidence is one derived from personal experience. For several years now, I have been providing scholarships to poor young Malaysians so that they will be able to go to the university to improve their life and career opportunities.

Below are examples of letters I have received from two applicants requesting for financial assistance (details of my scholarship program are available from http://english.cpiasia.net/).

What is important to note is that although these are written by pre-university students, the level of English language competency attained is lower than that of a primary student during my time.

Sadly, they are not isolated cases – in fact they are typical of students who have been through our educational system and whose decline in standards has been due to BN rule.

Letter 1:

Mr.Koon,

I am ____________,I already take my SPM resul t~ I'm interest on account. Can you sponsor me about the study fees at Utar?


BM:B
BI:B+
PM:A-
SJ:A-
MM:A+
MT:A+
BIO:B
CHE:B
PHY:B
BC:B

This are my SPM result.

Letter 2:

Mrs.Koon, i am October Intake UTAR new degree student, my name is
______ from kampar, i am facing financial problem after i successful
register Utar degree course, now i am stay at Kampar and open school
already. As i know UTAR can let student to borrow PTPTN loan to
complete Degree. But after i successful register Degree course, UTAR
stuff just tell me UTAR are not offer student to apply PTPTN loan on
this semester, and i need to pay course fee and register fee first.

Sure i come from poor family, my family income below RM1600 per
month. My family never and not able to pay my fee around RM4000 at my
first semester, i need to pay the bill before 23 october, if not i forced to leaving school, i am very anxious now!

Before I am getting news from Mr.__________, may be i can
getting financial aid from Mrs.Koon, so the purpose i send the gmail
to Mrs.Koon is i requesting for financial aid to start and continue my
degree course program in UTAR, i really want to start my study life
and dream at UTAR.

Reminder to all when at the polling booth

In conclusion, private education has become a very profitable business as parents scramble to remedy the damage in the public system and use up their precious savings or mortgage their houses to enable their kids to get a decent education.

For this reason too private universities and colleges are springing up like mushrooms. All of them are lowering entry requirements to capture more students. As a result, students like the two above were accepted to study in Utar.

Many people have the wrong impression that MCA’s Utar is a charitable organisation set up to help the Chinese. In fact if you examine MCA’s annual report, you will see that Utar is one of the best profit-making ventures for MCA.

Remember, the power to change the rotting education system is in your hands when you go to vote. This message is especially directed at all parents and students – Malays, Chinese, Indians and other Malaysians – who have suffered as a result of BN incompetence and bad governance.

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