Three steps for genuine meritocracy in Malaysian education system -
common university entrance examination system, depoliticize education,
appointment of academic staff based on merit
- at the "Meritocracy System in
Malaysian Education System" forum organised by Selangor Chinese
Assembly Hall Youth Section
(Kuala Lumpur, Thursday):
I'm a taking a big risk to speak at this forum tonight (the forum is
conducted in Mandarin) as firstly I'm not Chinese-educated and hence my
command of Mandarin is not fluent and I'm speaking together with another
panelist who is our political opponent, Dr. Wee Ka Siong representing
However, I decided to represent DAPSY to speak at tonight's forum as I felt
very strongly about the injustices in the so-called "meritocracy system" in
the admission of public universities as I have gone through the hardship of
sitting for the STPM examination and being a local graduate.
Common University Entrance Examination System
The application of the so-called "meritocracy system" has entered its
third year this year after it was introduced in 2002. From the very
beginning, DAPSY has objected to the implementation of this system not
because we are against meritocracy but the so-called "meritocracy system"
introduced by the Barisan Nasional government is without merit whatsoever.
The whole system is without merit for the simple reason that a same
grading system applied to two entirely examination is most unfair and cannot
be compared, just like we cannot compare an apple with an orange! The debate
about the flaws of this system has started 3 years ago and I do not intend
to repeat it tonight as I'm very confident that everyone here tonight can
agree that the STPM students are in disadvantaged position compared to their
peers who are taking Matriculation.
STPM is a two-year course and evaluations are based solely on the final
examinations with its standards monitored by an external examiner while
Matriculation is a two-semester programme run by the Education Ministry and
evaluations are based on semester exams coupled with course-work and
The yearly fiasco of high-scoring students did not get the courses of choice
started since 2002 has continued this year and even worse, 128 top-scoring
students who want to pursue their studies in medicine did not get their
place before the interference by the Prime Minister.
Something is very wrong in the system and it just showed that the
"meritocracy system" is flawed. Are we telling our children that if you want
to choose what to study in our public universities, mere hardworking alone
is not enough but one has to depend on luck and beg the top politician in
Although the plight of the 128 top students who wanted to do medicine has
been addressed this year, the problem of the system is still there. There
will be no genuine meritocracy in the admission of public universities in
Malaysia as long as the government is not prepared to admit that it is a
policy failure and has the political will to change
the system by abolishing all the different university entrance examination
systems and instead create a common one.
The then Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has pointed out in
1999 that the Ministry of Education (MoE) has been highly politicize and in
the effort to de-politicize it, he appointed a non-politician for the first
time to head the Ministry after the 1999 general election. However, it seems
that the non-politician Education
Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad has failed miserably in this effort when he
was dropped from the Cabinet after the 2004 general election and the
Education Ministry which was split into two are now both headed by UMNO
What I want to stress here tonight is, we do not like to see certain
quarters to gain political mileage every year when the issue of university
admission arises and they jump into the bandwagon by showing that they are
very concern about the plights of the affected students but without showing
the political will to address the root cause of the problem which is the
unfairness in the whole university admission system.
I urge MCA Youth who are present tonight to show political seriousness to
address this problem by taking a strong position in urging the government to
create a common university entrance examination system for all Malaysians
regardless or race.
The BN politicians have always take the easy way out by claiming that the
DAP is playing racial politics when we highlight this issue. I stress here
that we are not championing the issue from a racial perspective. Don't
forget that there are Malays, Indians and other races who are taking STPM
too! It is solely an academic unfairness and
it should be dealt with from an academic point of view.
The top leadership in the country particularly UMNO leaders must realize
that they cannot pretend that the Bumiputera students have done well and are
now competitive enough just because they have scored high grades in
Matriculation. It will be very unfair to give a wrong impression to the
Bumiputera students in the long run.
We are living in the process of globalization and Malaysia being a very open
economy is very vulnerable in this process. At the end of the day, the issue
is how competitive we are as a nation not how competitive we are as a Malay,
Chinese or Indian. I always like to cite this phrase when we talk about the
challenge of globalization, "the competition is not between us - Malays,
Chinese or Indians but between us as Malaysians with the rest of the world"!
Appointment of Academic Staff based on merit.
Another issue at stake is meritocracy in the appointment of academic staff
in particular the Vice-Chancellors, Dean of Faculties and Professors in
public universities. If we are serious about achieving the status of Centre
of Academic Excellence in the region, then all academic operations whether
in the promotion Vice Chancellors or
Faculties Deans, placement of students, granting of scholarships, etc must
be evaluated solely on academic merit and must be color blind.
When I entered Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 1997 as development science
student, my peers and I were very proud as UKM's standing at the Asia's Top
Universities was 20th while Universiti Malaya was 11th. In the last ranking
in 2000, UKM was not in the list at all while UM has slipped to 47th
The reasons for the decline in our academic standards all this while are
food for thought for every Malaysian. Our national focus has not been
pointing at the right direction particularly during the Mahathir's era. We
are racing with our neighbors to build the tallest building, the biggest
airport, the longest bridge, etc but we are unable to catch up in terms of
creating the best institutions of higher learning and producing the most
We are not anti-modernization and development here. We want our country to
develop and achieve as a developed nation. The time has come for the public
sphere to stop talking about biggest mooncake, longest satay, etc but start
demanding for the best and quality education in the country.
Today, we are talking about how to reverse brain-drain to the country. There
are talks about recruiting some of the brightest non-Malays who are residing
in overseas now to head some of the Government Linked Companies (GLCs). Did
we ask why there are brain-drains in the first place? Were it because of the
limited opportunities in Malaysia in the last three decades resulted from
the quota system?
A genuine meritocracy system in our universities is the pre-requisite for
Malaysia to march forward and stay afloat in the global competitive
environment. From a social democrat point of view, we are asking for
equality of opportunities not equality in results. The ball is in the
government's court now.
* DAPSY National Secretary and Negeri Sembilan
State Assemblyman for Lobak, Loke Siew Fook