Thursday, August 23, 2007

Education's Rocky Path to National Unity

Education's Rocky Path to National Unity

To the sceptics, the Education Development Master Plan (PIPP) is just another plan but these are no ordinary times. The government is banking its hopes on the plan to boost the quality of the education system, and in particular, national schools, to make them the preferred choice for the nation.

Schools are no longer the neutral grounds they were in the 60s, 70s and even 80s, where children of different backgrounds come together to study and play, share tit-bits and cold drinks, discuss the latest toys, chase each other on muddy school fields, and of course, copy each other's homework.

Actually, our children still do many of these things, but they congregate in different schools depending on their race. National primary schools, especially in rural areas, are no different from vernacular schools: overwhelmingly single race. No longer are schools the neutral platform for racial integration.

Despite having a common curriculum, common examinations and a common medium of instruction, to create a common Malaysian identity, Malaysia seems to be running on a treadmill - expending a lot of energy going nowhere.

National unity is a product of complex processes, structures and content, not all of which were created for the purpose of fostering national unity. Education is just one platform to integrate the people, albeit a very important one.

Ironically, education was labelled as "the single biggest force of division and disunity in the country" by Lim Kit Siang in Parliament 30 years ago. Despite this, it was only in 2002 - 45 years after independence - that the Education Ministry set up a committee to look into allegations of racial segregation in schools.

What the committee revealed was shocking. Only 2.1% of the pupils in national primary schools were Chinese when the Chinese made up 26% of the population (based on the 2000 Population and Housing Census figures). The Indians (7.7% of the national population) made up 4.3% while the other races made up 2.78%.

On hindsight, it is amazing how we could have allowed the situation to deteriorate that far, but some would say it was a deliberate scheme of divide-and-rule.

It is moot to ask now how attractive vernacular schools would be today if mother tongue languages were offered in more serious quantity and quality in national schools, if the government ensured that schools remained as secular institutions, and if these schools attracted better teachers.

Many issues are now being addressed in the master plan via a multi-pronged approach that covers curriculum review to teacher training and new methods of assessment. But one major discontent - the Islamisation of schools - is still glossed over by the plan.

The tragedy is education sits high on the nation's priority, and the government does try. The most overlooked fact is school education is almost free. Textbooks are also free for most. Some 97% of the five million primary and secondary pupils in Malaysia today are on the textbook loan scheme, implemented since 1975.

For the poor, there is also free food and milk, although the milk programme has since been suspended following several food poisoning cases.

There have also been various efforts to improve the quality of schools, the latest being experiments with Smart Schools (1999) and now Cluster Schools (2007). The Smart Schools pilot (1999-2002) was rolled out to 87 schools at RM300 million, although the exact impact is not known.

Moving forward, with private schools mushrooming in the last two years, there are now new issues to contend with where nation-building is concerned. It used to be that princes and paupers alike attended public schools. This will not be so for much longer.

A new type of segregation is slowly emerging in urban areas. For the financially able, it may no longer be national schools or vernacular schools, but private schools (with local curriculum) or private international schools.

Education and national unity do not function in isolation. Why should the education ministries alone be blamed for racial polarisation?

Schools are a microcosm of society. Racial segregation is just as obvious in other aspects of Malaysian life. Look at the Malaysian civil service (including the education ministry and departments), the police and the army, for instance.

The education system is a subset of Malaysian institutionalised racial and oftentimes, racist, politics. Any serious attempt to deal with national unity should start with breaking that down.

As former education director-general Tan Sri Murad Mohammed Noor said in an interview with a local daily in May, "The Malays say they don't want to give up their privileges. But the Chinese say: 'With these privileges, your children can go to university, you don't have to worry. I've got to sell my house to send my child to university. But I am a citizen like you. I pay taxes like youÉWhat integration are you talking about?' That's the Chinese view. The Malays say, 'This is in our constitution, before we got our independence. This is what we agreed on.' My question is why are we still at this stage?"

Why, indeed?

Source:Ann Teoh, The Sun, Thursday, August 23, 2007
How to Become Professional Blogger
Related link: Plagiarism in Universiti Putra Malaysia

The Story of Private Higher Education

The Story of Private Higher Education

More has happened in the last 10 years for Malaysian higher education than in the previous 40, although the waves of change began in the mid-1980s.
The 1980s global recession and the 1997 currency crisis were the two major events that helped the government relax its grip on higher education and liberalise it through privatisation.

Higher education is now so democratised and commoditised, that even a PMR school leaver, as long as he is 21-years-old, can enter a university to get his degree.

But before the 1980s, things were very different. Higher education was elitist because there were only public universities and places were few.

Enthusiastic implementation of the bumiputra affirmative policy led to a drastic drop of the number of Chinese in Malaysian universities, from 49% in 1969 to 30% in 1985, while bumiputra enrolment rose from 29% to 63% during that period.

In 1985, 15,000 Malaysian students were studying in local colleges and 68,000 in foreign universities, mostly in Britain, United States and Australia. Most of those studying overseas were privately-funded Chinese and Indian students.

But higher education became too expensive by the mid-80s because of the recession. Things worsened when the UK and Australia imposed full fees on foreign students.

As a result, the government asked local colleges to explore twinning programmes with foreign universities. Malaysia is a pioneer of this model of transnational education.

Metropolitan College (known as Taylor's College of Advanced Education) was set up in 1986, and became the first college to have a twinning programme with Australia (with RMIT). Kolej Damansara Utama offered the first British twinning programme (with Middlesex University). More colleges with more twinning programmes followed suit.

In the meantime, the government steered the economy to maintain an 8% to 9% growth rate from 1988 to 1995. Between 1987 and 1991, Malaysia was said to be one of the top recipients of foreign direct investment.

With that, the manufacturing, services and industry sectors grew, leading to an increased demand for skilled workers. The labour market tightened, and foreign labour and expatriates were recruited to meet these needs.

The New Development Plan replaced the New Economic Policy in 1991 to turn Malaysia into a developed state by 2020. Along the way, the Multimedia Super Corridor was launched towards the same ends.

Meanwhile, private higher education provided the human resources needed for growth, while public universities were accused of being slow.

By 1996, the government decided that Malaysia should be both education and IT hubs.

The Private Higher Education Act was passed in 1996, allowing for the privatisation and liberalisation of higher education on a bigger scale, in sync with on-going privatisation in other sectors of the Malaysian economy.

When the Asian financial crisis hit, the government withdrew undergraduate scholarships for overseas studies. Exit visas were made more expensive and tax rebates for parents supporting children studying overseas were cancelled.

The government pressed local institutions to expand places. Private universities were set up, and foreign universities were invited to set up campuses.

Self-funded twinning students were instructed to stay back. Public universities were asked to expand from 45,000 places in 1997 to 84,000 in 1999. To do this, these universities had to franchise their matriculation programmes involving 15,000 students, which provided a ready market for private colleges. Nineteen colleges were allowed to offer the final year of their twinning programmes locally, starting the trend for "3+0" programmes.

To be an education hub, the Education Ministry went on road shows to attract foreign students. As a result, more than 10,000 foreign students studied in Malaysia in 1998. Two years ago, the number rose to more than 35,000.

From the primary objectives of meeting the demands for higher education caused by affirmative action in the 1980s, to stemming the currency outflow during the financial crisis of 1990s, private higher education institutions became providers of human resource needs in the country and service exporters.

There are however limitations to private higher education. Malaysia needs more than just industry-driven (money-making) programmes. Most institutions are teaching institutions with little involvement in research, with some even being accused as being no more than vocational schools.

On the students' end, fees remain steep. Private entities charge between RM50,000 to RM270,000 for a degree when public universities charge only RM5,000 to RM10,000.

The government, however, has set up the National Higher Education Fund to give out loans, instead of scholarships, to needy students, paving the way for a change from "government pays" to "user-pays". This has helped democratise education.

But it is open universities and their liberal entry requirements that have truly revolutionised university education for all.

Source: TheSun, Thursday, August 23, 2007
Related link: Plagiarism in Universiti Putra Malaysia

Milestones on Education

Milestones on Education

The Razak Report, the basis of the Education Ordinance 1956, recommends four types of schools at the primary level and that nationalistic elements be included in the school curriculum.

The Rahman Talib Report (which also reviewed the Razak Report) which formed the basis of the Education Act 1961 recommends that Malay be the main medium of instruction, and that there should be a common curriculum and a common examination.

All government primary schools are converted to either national primary schools or national-type primary schools.

All Standard One pupils in National-Type (English) Primary School are taught in Malay.

Most teachers in Catholic mission schools (e.g. convents and La Salle schools) become government servants, spelling the end of an era where Christian Missions were free to employ teachers. Thus began the erosion of the special character of mission schools. By being designated as "controlled schools", these schools also lost control of student admissions and the appointment of principals.

By 1988, the special agreement between the government and the Catholic Missions to allow the Religious to work up to 65 (the normal retirement age was 55) was unilaterally withdrawn, resulting in those who were older than 55 and still serving being forced to leave their positions.

The National Education Policy is reviewed culminating in the Mahathir Cabinet Report in 1979. The objectives were to achieve national unity in a multi-ethnic society, to increase patriotism, to produce skilled human resources for national development, and to democratise education.

Malay is affirmed as the main language in all schools. The report became the basis for the Education Act 1995 and 1996.

The 1996 Act retained the status of Malay as the main medium of instruction in all educational institutions, except in national-type schools where Malay is a compulsory subject. Private Secondary Chinese Schools are allowed to take the United Examinations Certificate (UEC).

Total phasing out of English as the medium of instruction in all public universities.

First credit transfer programme at the newly set-up Kolej Damansara Utama. By 1984, 150 students had been sent to Broward College in the US.

First twinning programme with Australia.

National Education Philosophy developed.

The 7th Malaysia Plan proposes Vision Schools - primary schools with the concept of children learning together, without regard for race or religion. Two or three primary schools of different streams are placed in the same area. There are currently five Vision School Complexes.

Five pieces of higher education legislation are tabled in Parliament paving the way for the higher education landscape today. The most important was the Private Higher Education Act.

The first Malaysian private university, Multimedia University, is set up.

The first foreign university campus, Monash University, is set up.

1999 Smart Schools are launched as a pilot (1999-2002) at a cost of RM300 million involving 87 schools.

2000The Penilaian Tahap Satu (PTS) which was introduced to Standard Three pupils in 1996, to allow top scorers to jump to Standard Five is scrapped after complaints of too much pressure on children.

Malaysia is declared an Islamic country by Prime Minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The Independent Committee to Investigate the Issue of Segregation of Students According to Race in Schools reports that some 93% of the pupils in primary schools were Malays, and only 2% were Chinese.

K-Economy Master Plan released.

Standard One students start Maths and Science in English.
Primary school education becomes compulsory.
Government implements National Service to promote racial integration.

The Higher Education Ministry is set up to develop and regulate higher education. Under its purview this year are 20 public universities and 532 private higher education institutions, 21 polytechnics and 34 community colleges.
The Education Ministry's portfolio covers pre-schools, schools, matriculation and teacher training.

All religious schools come under the ambit of the Education Ministry as government-assisted schools.

The National Education Master Plan is launched, proposing projects worth RM23.2 billion over five years, including cluster schools and teacher training.

Source:TheSun,Thursday, 2007
Related link: Plagiarism in Universiti Putra Malaysia