DAP calls for a national consensus to make Quality Education for primary, secondary, tertiary, mother-tongue and ICT the top national objective and the driving force for far-reaching fundamental educational reforms

- DAP forum on "The Second Mahathir Education Review Committee - Future in Peril?"
by Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Saturday): Almost every day, Malaysians read of education malpractices and even scams in the country. Just in today's press we read of the following items:

  • Eight colleges ordered shut by the Education Ministry's private education department headed by Datuk Hassan Hashim, the ministry's deputy director-general (private education) - four private higher educational institutions, two distance learning centres, one tuition centre and one computer centre.

  • Expose by the National Union of the Teaching Profession, Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam of a scam by private companies to force students to attend seminars and courses on learning Mathematics and Science in English to perform well in examinations - supported by the Negri Sembilan State Education Department which showed that the department did not have confidence in its own education system.

  • A component party of Barisan Nasional, People's Progress Party, violating the laws of the country in organizing ground-breaking ceremony for a PPP University in Tronoh, Perak which had never been approved by the Education Ministry and the Education Minister knew nothing about.

These news items must have reminded Malaysians of the arrest of a supposedly titled con-man who offered Italian university honorary doctorates, together with a convocation ceremony presided over by the "King of Italy", to businessmen and even Datuks for at least RM20,000 each - presenting a disturbing picture of the educational sector in Malaysia having become a fertile ground for con men, frauds and cheats to swindle the innocent public!

DAP fully supports the proper control and monitoring of private educational institutions to ensure that they are centres of excellence and that the students are not victims of unscrupulous and unprincipled con-men in the education industry.

I was quite drawn to the account by Hassan as to the circumstances leading to the closure of the tuition centre, the first ever to be closed.

Hassan said he stumbled upon Pusat Akademik Ilmiah by chance as he was looking for a tuition centre located near his home for his children.

He said: "There are so many tuition centres nowadays especially after the implementation of the new policy requiring Science and Mathematics to be taught in English, but many are not registered. One even had the gall to open in front of my house, and when I checked, it had not been registered."

What shocked me was not the closure of the unregistered tuition centre, but that a top Education Ministry officer (in fact, one of the top ten) should be looking for a tuition centre for his children, showing that even top Education Ministry officials do not have confidence in the education system as capable of imparting quality education.

A hallmark of a primary and secondary school system characterized with quality education is one where students learned what is required of their syllabus within the confines of space and time of the school, without having to seek tuition outside the school and after school hours to learn what they are supposed to have learnt in school!

The mushrooming of tuition centres - Hassan says there are currently 1,190 registered tuition centres with 122,766 students and 4,271 teachers but tuition centres not registered are more than the registered ones - is the most powerful proof of the utter failure of the national school system to provide quality education. If there is quality education in our schools, both primary and secondary, there would be no need for students to go to tuition centres after school hours to learn what they are supposed to have been taught in school in the first place.

I am not suggesting the immediate closure of all tuition centres as it will be an educational disaster of the first magnitude. There should however be a recognition that the mushrooming of tuition centres is a reflection of the basic failure of the national school system and the need for far-reaching fundamental education reforms to provide quality education in our school system which would make the existence of tuition centres for the same school subjects unnecessary.

For this reason, DAP calls for a national consensus from all political parties and the entire cross-section of the people to make quality education for primary, secondary, tertiary, mother-tongue and ICT the top national educational objective and the driving force for far-reaching fundamental educational reforms in Malaysia.

DAP National Vice Chairman and MP for Kepong, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, suggested just now that Malaysia should aim to have 35 internationally-recognised universities.

This will be a good national goal, but I have two observations. Firstly, it is impossible to have quality education at the tertiary level unless there is quality education at the primary and secondary schools, as they lay the foundation of a generation's educational prowess and greatness. Secondly, Malaysia does not presently have an university which is internationally recognised for its academic excellence.

Previously, the country had one, as the University of Malaya in the sixties was undoubtedly an university of international repute and standing. However, in the Asiaweek's 2000 ranking of Best Universities in the region, University of Malaya was ranked a lowly 47th position out of 77 universities, with Universiti Putra Malaysia in 52nd and Universiti Sains Malaysia in 57th position.

Asiaweek in 2000 also had a separate ranking for "Science and Technology Schools" where Malaysia's sole mention, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, was ranked 30th out of 39th universities/institutes, while in the Asiaweek 2000 ranking of the Best MBA Schools in the region, Malaysia's top MBA school, the Faculty of Business and Accountancy in the University of Malaya was ranked a lowly 32rd place among the top 50 MBA schools.

In 2001, the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) conducted a survey of foreign business executives working in the region on the best education system in Asia and the highest quality labour force. Malaysia came out poorly, ranked seventh out of 12 countries when we should be among the top three, which went to Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

Malaysia's higher education system needs to undergo not just a reform, but a revolution. We must transform, not just in words but in deed, Malaysia into an international centre of education excellence with two objectives:

  • Firstly, to equip the young generation of Malaysians to face the challenges of globalization, liberalization and information and communications technology in the 21st century; and

  • Secondly, to be a magnet for the two million international students pursuing higher education abroad, nearly half of them from Asia, which has been described as "only the tip of the iceberg" as the demand for higher education will grow by leaps and bounds in the next one to two decades with East Asia's combined GDP set to surpass that of the US and the European Union around 2020. Malaysia should aim to secure at least five to ten per cent of these international students to come to our universities, which should not be too difficult if our universities are of international repute, with Malaysia's best among the top ten universities in the Asia-Pacific region, as the cost of living in Malaysia are very much cheaper and lower than those in the West.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman