Why is MOE paying RM270 million to consultants for English-language training?

Recently, it was revealed that the Ministry of Education (MOE) paid RM20 million to McKinsey & Co for their consultancy services in drafting the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025.

However, it would appear that McKinsey’s RM20 million MOE consultancy job is only the tip of the iceberg. According to a Parliamentary reply I received from the Minister of Education, the ministry has engaged three external consultants, namely the British Council, Brighton Education Group and SMR HR Group, in a three-year programme designed to “increase the capacity” of local English-language teachers.

The three consultancy firms have been contracted from 2011 to 2013 at a total cumulative cost of RM268.5 million, or RM89.5 million a year. As part of the agreement, the firms will provide 360 native English-speaking mentors (120 mentors per firm) throughout the three-year period.

The parliamentary reply further states that a total of 7,500 teachers from 1,800 schools will be trained, with the responsibilities divided geographically. The British Council has been tasked to provide mentors to train teachers in Labuan, Sabah and Sarawak, while Brighton Education Group will train teachers in Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Malacca, Johor and Negeri Sembilan. Meanwhile, SMR HR Group will train teachers in Penang, Perlis, Perak, Kedah and Selangor.

In other words, close to RM270 million is being spent to hire 360 English mentors. This breaks down to RM250,000 a year for each mentor, or an extravagant sum of almost RM21,000 a month.

No matter what explanation MOE gives, there is no way they can justify the absurd amount of money being spent to provide what is essentially a three-years paid working-holiday to 360 native English mentors.

On top of that, based on ground reports and feedback received from teachers undergoing the programme, it would appear that the “mentoring” they receive ranges from only three to four hours a month. This immediately brings into question the efficacy of the mentoring programme, as how is anyone expected to master a language, or any subject for that matter, with only three to four hours’ worth of training a month?

Furthermore, the total expenditure of RM270 million to train 7,500 teachers is equivalent to RM36,000 per teacher over three years. This sum is much more than what it would cost to enrol the same teacher into a properly structured English-language degree programme in a local university. For example, Wawasan Open University offers a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in English Studies at a total cost of about RM24,000, which is two-thirds the cost of the mentoring programme currently provided by the consultancy firms. Meanwhile, a six-month diploma course in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) would cost only RM4,500 at a local private college.

While the objective of improving the quality of English-language teachers is admirable and should be pursued, there is absolutely no justification for MOE’s penchant for hiring overpaid consultants, especially when cheaper and better options are readily available.

Zairil Khir Johari DAP Assistant National Publicity Secretary & MP for Bukit Bendera