Malaysia's Education System is on Fire! My 2 Cents View

1. A bottleneck in our education system


lim-su-linby Lim Su Lin

PETALING JAYA: In 2004, 128 non-bumiputra students were denied their choice to pursue a course in medicine, despite obtaining a perfect score in the STPM.  

It was only after a huge public outcry that the then Higher Education Minister was forced to intervene to get a number of the students accepted for medical studies in public universities. Meanwhile, the rest secured offers from private medical colleges but were forced to give up their career ambitions because of financial constraints.  

There was a notable absence of complaints from matriculation students.  

At the same time, we have seen the embarrassing deterioration in the world rankings of Malaysian universities. 

Focusweek tackles two of the core issues head-on: a less-than-fair university admission system and a glaring imbalance in pre-university courses. 

Since 1969, student admissions into public universities have been dominated by political will. 

In the general election that year, opposition parties dominated by the Chinese had come close to unseating the ruling coalition led mainly by the Malays. That triggered the bloodiest riots in Malaysian history. 

Fearing a repeat of the unrest, the government intervened by introducing the New Economic Policy (NEP) that judiciously aimed to “eradicate poverty, irrespective of race” and to “accelerate social restructuring” to reduce economic disparity between ethnic groups.  

To achieve those objectives, the new policy had to be injected into various systems. One key area was higher education, where the percentage of non-Malays vastly outnumbered that of the Malays, although the latter accounted for roughly 60% of the population.  

To ramp up the number of Malay students, the government introduced an ethnic-based admissions quota regulating university entry. Under the new system, 55% of public university seats would be reserved for bumiputra students while the remaining seats would go to students of other races. 

For several years, the admissions filter remained while other initiatives were introduced and spread into higher education.  

One of these was the setting up of pre-university matriculation courses, which were managed by Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara). With the introduction of matriculation courses, bumiputra students had a choice between either taking the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) or the matriculation route into university. 

In 2001, then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced that there would no longer be an ethnic quota on admission to public universities. Instead, student intake would be based solely on the results of either the STPM or matriculation.  

Barely a year later, the government announced that it would relax its strict admission rules for matriculation colleges by opening up 10% of seats to non-bumiputra students. 

The 10% cap on non-bumiputras for entry into matriculation colleges remains, effectively reducing the opportunities available to non-bumiputras to enter university via matriculation. That put paid to any claim of meritocracy. 

According to economist Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, it was common knowledge that anyone who enrolled in the Mara matriculation courses would already have a foot in the door to local universities. 

Our education is suffering because firstly, there are students who have to take the arguably more difficult STPM examinations and compete for the same university places with those who take matriculation.  

Secondly, for all the hue and cry of “meritocracy”, the university entry system is still less than fair. Matriculation allows sheer numbers to enter into university on an easier ticket, which in turn undermines the quality of our university graduates. 

The argument here is not about stereotyping one race. It is about ensuring quality and equal opportunities for all who are deserving.  

This is an excerpt of an article first published in the March 14, 2015 issue of Focusweek. To read more, visit - See more at:

2. Watch out Oxford, our Pondok University will outperform you! 


tad4by Mariam Mokhtar        Published on 23 April 2015

QUICK TAKE: April Fool’s Day in Malaysia is a year-long affair. On 18 April, the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) warned organisers that concerts would be censored. One of the rules said joking about serious matters was not allowed, and jokes which made one laugh too much were taboo.

The following day, Second Education Minister Idris Jusoh announced that Malaysian universities will soon become world-class institutions like The University of Oxford, because many Malaysian university courses are ranked highly in the world, and 135,000 foreign students study in Malaysia.

A few weeks ago, it was claimed that Proton was as good as BMW. So, what are we waiting for? Why not tell the world that we are a first world country and a developed nation. 

The former Chief Minister of Malacca, Ali Rustam and Najib Abdul Razak had a grand celebration and national holiday with their declaration that Malacca was a developed state. The endorsement was denied by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). 

BMW took years of engineering excellence to become one of the market leaders. Proton is only a repository for old Mitsubishi design.  

Try giving Tourism Minister Nasri Aziz’s son, Nedim, a Proton. A Proton is not as menacing as his Hummer. Driving a Proton might make him less cocky. 

When will Idris understand that it is quality and not quantity that matters? The University of Oxford is a place where scholars have been involved in both political and religious disputes. Oxford, Cambridge and other exceptional universities dared to challenge conventional thinking, religious conservatism, experimented with new ideas, and did not fear officialdom. It took centuries to acquire their status. 

tad5Muslims in Malaysia can’t even attend a pop concert without attracting the fury of Jakim. Students can’t invite a former Deputy PM for a talk without a police clampdown.

Our centres of learning kowtow to the government and restrict students from having open minds. Even history books are cooked, to a special recipe.

What message is conveyed, when Najib, refuses to participate in a debate, because he says debating is not part of Malaysian culture?

The Oxford Union (OU) has invited a diverse range of guest speakers such as Baywatch’s Pamela Anderson and Ron Jeremy, the porn-star. They also had 'Kermit The Frog', but our Pondok university would ban him because of idolatry. The Dalai Lama would be barred because he is not a Muslim. Perhaps, Katie Price will be allowed, despite having too much on her chest.

Last October, the Malaysian authorities were too scared to allow an Indonesian scholar Dr Ulil Abshar Abdalla from entering Malaysia. They banned him from delivering a talk and yet Idris has the cheek to claim that our universities can become like Oxford. 

If anecdotal evidence is to be believed, the foreign students, principally from Nigeria, use their studies as a facade for running multi-million ringgit drug and vice rackets. The allegations of Malaysian girls being raped, at drug fuelled parties in local universities is worrying. Local girls have been seduced with money and romantic liaisons to become drug mules. 

A few years ago, an Iraqi, at a local university, was charged with a serious crime. He spoke neither English nor Malay. What are the enrolment requirements? 

It is alleged that many educational institutions use the provision of education to make money. Teaching standards are poor, enforcement is non-existent and the quality of graduates is questionable. Our universities are not in the top rank of world universities, and yet Idris has made his wild claims. 

Jakim warned Muslims not to pull too many jokes, but Idris’ joke about the pondok university becoming the equivalent of Oxford, must be one of the best!

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3. Still not too late to check declining standard of our varsities


tad2COMMENTS by Theantdaily readers    Published on 24 April 2015

Safri Zaidell: I have to be honest here. While we used to be among the best in the 60s and 70s, our education standard now has dropped to a new low because of the country’s policies.

Universiti Malaya and Universiti Sains Malaysia used to be among the top educational institutions in the region back then. Only those who met the strict entry requirements were given seats, thus maintaining the high standard.

But over the years, our politicians introduced several policies which while encouraging more students to pursue tertiary education, also unfortunately contributed to the declining standards in these two elite universities.

Now we are lagging behind our neighbours in Asean who were at one time playing second fiddle to us.

Well, it’s still not too late now. We can reverse the current situation by recruiting dedicated lecturers, perhaps even foreign academics, and also set stricter entry requirements. 

Su Bee Hong: Since I left school in 1975, the quality of education in government schools has gone from bad to worse. Many of the Form 5 students can't even speak proper English now. 

Stephen Lo: Sometimes I wonder what our elected representatives are talking about. We didn't elect them to talk nonsense, did we?

Lee Kwok Yat: I wonder why parents still fork out large portions of their savings to finance their children's education in local private universities.

Our students consider studying in China, where tuition fees are heavily subsidised by the government of China and the quality of tertiary education is on par with many western universities. 

Tan S Aun: Not Oxford but soon Ox-Ford standard? 

Cai KL: I remember my mother seeking treatment at a government hospital. One of the doctors (perhaps a houseman) only managed to locate the correct vein only on the fifth attempt to get my mother’s blood sample!

Product of a would-be world class university? 

Geetha Pillai: I graduated from the University of Hard Knocks which I guess is much better than our so-called universities. 

Er Liang Chye: It's good to dream; finally we have to wake up to the truth. Our education system really sucks! Even our DPM, who's the Education Minister, finally thinks so.

Foo Koon Sang: Some of our universities can surely rank No. 1 – from the bottom up. 

Fong Gillian: Wake me up...I'm dreaming, dreaming an impossible dream! 

Catherine Lee: I also went to the University of Hard Knocks...none the worse than the wannabes in self-denial mode.

Malaysian Citizen:  Aiya Mariam, don't like that la, why you always embarrass our ministers and leaders one?

They syiok syiok feel so great every time they manage to cook up such wonderful world class declarations.

Yet you must go 'ching-pou' (reveal) their story and drop their water face!

Amat memalukan you know or not? 

Nikki: Talk is cheap. Not even one is in the top 200 universities in the world and all of a sudden comparable to top three. I think when Idris said ‘soon’ he might have meant light years away! 

These comments are in response to the article, "Watch out Oxford, our Pondok University will outperform you" published on April 23.

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4. Disaster in our education system – Koon Yew Yin

Recently, I received an urgent note from a student who is doing matriculation in a government school in Kedah where tuition and accommodation costs are covered by the state. I have been helping her with financial assistance for food and miscellaneous expenses since her father is unemployed and she is a deserving student from the poorer class.

Her letter reads as follows:

hi sir it's me …. sorry for disturbing sir. sir i want to ask sir something. sir i really need sir's help. sir if can sir can bank in some of the money before i further my studies in matriculation.

sir i need to buy something as preparation to further my studies in matriculation sir. so please help me sir. i really dont know who to ask help. that why i am asking sir's help. please sir. i hope sir can help me because i dont know who to ask. sir i hope sir can understand me and give me some support. thank you sir. i hope sir will reply my letter as soon as possible. thank you a lot sir.

I have shared this letter with friends not simply to provide an example of the extent of financial desperation and need that hundreds of thousands of poor students in our country face every day in their lives.

These students represent the better ones among their classmates in school. I shudder to think of the standard of English proficiency of the average students in our secondary schools.

How are these students, when they pass through college or university, able to compete in an increasingly globalised employment market? How are they going to function in the private sector or the business world when they cannot express themselves in basic simple English? And what is the quality of the service or communication they will provide when they eventually find jobs?

The main culprit for this phenomenon of our present younger generation of poorly educated – unable to communicate in simple English without making grammatical mistakes – is the government.

Barisan National has been in power for over 50 years and sorry to say, it has put the country's educational system in the longkang!

The Education Ministry has been the biggest ministry for a long time and receives one of the largest if not largest budgets. But it appears as if donkeys and meter readers are in charge of the ministry. Millions of students pass through our national education system and many receive high grades and the ministry's stamp of approval. The standard of education, however, is so low that these students are virtually unemployable despite their impressive certificates.

And this is why I fear for the worse for the present batch of students that I and others have supported! Poor and deserving yes; but they have been screwed up by our rotten education system.

The government is not the only culprit. There are others culprit in our educational tragedy. I also blame the private sector educationists. There are far too many universities and colleges. Most are owned by businessmen whose main aim is to make profit. When I read a newspaper article commending a educationist businessman for his noble contribution to the country through his educational institution, I couldn’t resist a big laugh.

Most of our educationists are pure entrepreneurs. Some want to make a fast buck. Others will be prepared to take their time. More than a few are crooked or unscrupulous and are prepared to lower standards to rock bottom so that as many students as possible can enrol in their institutions.

At the same time, many private sector higher education institutions are charging ridiculously high tuition fees so that the cost of private higher education is getting out of hand and unaffordable to the lower- and middle-class.

Unfortunately, the Higher Education Report which was released by the government a few days ago is clueless on the concerns raised here. – April 24, 2015.

* Koon Yew Yin reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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5. World’s best in producing incompetent graduates


mk2  YOURSAY  ‘We are on track to becoming nation full of highly incompetent graduates.’

Disaster in our educational system

P Dev Anand Pillai: Sad but true. We are on track to becoming a nation full of highly incompetent graduates.
Many are becoming doctors and seem to be sending patients with easily treatable ailments and conditions back home in a box.
Koon Yew Yin, I take my hats off to you sir, but no matter how much help is given, nothing will change if there is no political by those who wield the wand of power in Putrajaya.

Fair Play: Koon, the standard of English in your example is good in comparison to others. Her repeated use of 'sir' is more a mark of respect than poor grammar. I have taught tertiary students in IPTS (private universities). Their standard of English is not even near hers.

Swipenter: If we are unable to communicate in simple but correct English, we are doomed because basically it means we cannot communicate with the world at large. The world of commerce, science and technology is basically conducted in English.
Of course, if we think that Bolehland is the world and the world is Bolehland, then there is no problem at all. Again we have this obsession with quantity and not quality, resulting in the production of plenty of 'uneducated' graduates.
It is not a secret that our local graduates lack communication, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. What about leadership qualities and creativity?
But we have been told that we have the best education system in the world; better than most developed countries. Self-delusion at its highest, I would say.

Gen2indian: I totally agree with you about the private colleges, Koon, and we could start with the 36-odd medical colleges we have, which is more than the United Kingdom and Canada combined. Fees here are in excess of RM300,000 per annum - is this not profiteering?
We seem obsessed with the quantity of 'A's a student gets as opposed to quality and a holistic education. I too have met countless straight A students who can't have a decent conversation and all they seem capable of is to memorise and regurgitate.
You are right, our education system too has been politicised and made to look good when in reality it is in the "longkang" as you rightly put it.

James TCLow: This untold story is no secret. The declining standard of our students' English language started during former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad's time. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Charlie Chan: I have interviewed hundreds of our half-past-six graduates, and not one had any level of competency in the English language. Our interviews are simple: write a 3,000 word essay about yourself and your hobbies.
This was for an engineering management team to manage our manufacturing. By not being able to write a good report meant the company would have problems downstream. Hence this is important.
Our manuals for equipment are in English. The engineering and safety processes are in English.
The so-called translation to Bahasa Malaysia was also a disaster as the translation company didn't have the competencies to translate engineering facts and technical terms to Bahasa Malaysia.
This compromised work safety. In the end, we decided to stick to the original materials and head hunt the right person for the job.

Ratbatblue: This has been the problem with most countries which have been under the British.
In the euphoria following independence, anything and everything having even a faint semblance to their previous colonial masters had to be wiped out, perhaps leaving only pop culture (music, dressing styles, etc).
National languages were introduced and used with untold passion and fervour. Granted, the standard of English here was still high much after independence. Then the rot started to set in when the newer generation of teachers were trained to be 'national language proud'.
Another good example is India: Indians spoke better English than their colonial masters, then Hindi was forced on the populace as the national language.
However, Indians soon realised that English proficiency was foremost in importance and they managed to pull themselves from the brink in time. Even so, many Indians still cannot speak English as their forefathers could. When will we ever learn?

DontPlayGod: Our real slide came the moment Mahathir took over the post of education minister in the 70s when he switched all instructions to Malay. So, who is to be blamed?
In Africa, the locals there had no qualms adopting the language of their colonial masters as their national language (be it English or French).

Foodforthought: Not only have they destroyed our education system; they have made us beg for education. This is by design and not by accident.

Malaysia Ku: If the quality of the ministers in the BN government is any indication of our educational standards, one can understand the loss to the nation of a few generations of students since Mahathir took power.
Unqualified teachers, under-qualified university lecturers, whose tenures are based exclusively on their privileged ethnicity, passing on grossly substandard lessons to their students who will then carry on the same substandard qualifications to future generations.
Do we need to ever wonder why?

Haveagreatday: None of what the writer has written is not known to the Umnoputras, and none of it is false. Sadly, until there's a change of government, our education standards will continue to slide southwards.

6. Is our education system still 'world class'?

edu world class

MP SPEAKS In a recently released Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rankings in Science and Math, which is the most comprehensive study to date, the top 5 places were all taken by Asian countries, namely Singapore (1st), Hong Kong (2nd), South Korea (3rd), Japan and Taiwan (joint 4th).

Meanwhile, Malaysia finds itself being ranked 52 out of 76 countries.

In Southeast Asia, Malaysia is ranked below not just Singapore but also Vietnam (12th) and Thailand (47th).

Malaysia is also ranked below Ukraine (38th), Turkey (41st), UAE (45th) and Kazakhstan (49th).

ranked 52

The full details of this study will only be released at next week’s World Education Forum 2015 meeting in Seoul, Korea where the UN, led by UNESCO, will deliberate and decide on the post-2015 education agenda to replace the targets and objectives set out in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

But the initial findings should send a strong message to our education ministers that we are far from being anywhere close to a "world class" education system at the primary, secondary or tertiary levels.

The fact that our ministers still insist that we have a "world class" education system, in the face of overwhelming evidence stating otherwise, shows that we are still not acknowledging the full extent of the educational challenges we are facing.

Lesson from Sweden

The lesson of Sweden should be a lesson to our ministers.

Sweden used to have one of the better education systems among OECD countries but experienced a sharp decline in its PISA and TIMSS scores from 2000 onwards.

This decline prompted the Swedish government to ask OECD to review its education system in 2014.

In this latest OECD rankings, Sweden came in at the 35th position, one of the lowest ranked OECD countries.ranked 52-1

In the case of Malaysia, if our policymakers do not acknowledge the weaknesses in our current education system, we may even fall further behind our Asian neighbours and continue to lose out in terms of our economic competitiveness.

7. Our education system rotten to the core

mk2    YOURSAY ‘We have a ‘world class’ education system because we say so.’

Is our education system still 'world class'?

Pemerhati: Around 1957, Malaya’s school education standards were comparable, if not better than Singapore’s as many Malayans with a grade 3 certificate, who could not get jobs as teachers in Malaya, became teachers in Singapore.

A CNN programme revealed that a comparative study of the various education systems showed that Finnish students produced very good results in various subjects when compared to students in United States and other countries.

This was attributed mainly to the fact that in Finland, the very best graduates were recruited to become teachers. Unfortunately in Malaysia, that is not the case.

After May 13, 1969 and especially after Dr Mahathir Mohamad became PM, the standards plunged because the main criteria for selection of teachers and other public servants were race and religion.

Now the whole system is rotten to the core and a lot of money is wasted on half-past-six teachers who are not only incompetent but also do very little work.

Anonymous_1372506588: In recent years, I have the good fortune to interact with Malaysian and Singapore students at an Australian university.

By and large the command of English of the Malaysian students is atrocious, and that of the Singapore students, good.

In addition, most of the Malaysian students produce examination grades that are either fair or poor. Inexplicably, many of the Malaysian students are on scholarship from one of the Malaysian government bodies.

If these are our scholars sent overseas, what would be the standard of students in the local universities?

Cantabrigian: It is interesting when we compare and contrast Malaysia’s education system with Singapore’s education system.

Both governments invest heavily on education and they are known to be restrictive when it comes to democratic rights, including freedom of expression and right to free speech.

However, one system churns out world-class students that are well-sought by every sector, while the other mass produces mediocre students who are marginal in their performance at best.

Damien: Most Malaysians are quick to politicise any issue that comes up.

If OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) ranks Malaysia poorly in terms of Maths and Science education, does it mean that overall our education system is poor?

If it's poor, why then do we see an influx of foreign students seeking education in our local universities? Last year alone, Unesco recorded a 16 percent increase in international students admission in our institutions of higher learning.

I am a PIBG (Parent-Teacher Association) committee member for my daughter's primary school and I can attest and re-assure Selayang MP Ong Kian Ming that the quality education that the schoolchildren there receive is nothing short of excellence compared to Ong’s schooldays.

Onyourtoes: The Swedish government has asked OECD to review its education system in 2014 and you expect Malaysia to do the same, Kian Ming? 

Do you know the implications if Malaysia were to ask the same? It means we cannot hire nincompoop teachers and lecturers anymore. It means nincompoops can no longer become school principals, deans, heads of department, and even vice-cha

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