Rethink or Sink: Our Shaky Education System – KSInsights Apr 2024

Published on 07 May 2024

The Malaysian collective consciousness has always been remarkably adept at identifying systemic problems, particularly in the realm of education. This acute awareness, however, starkly contrasts with the prevalent disarray in consensus building towards viable solutions. It appears that the discourse around educational reform in Malaysia often highlights numerous challenges without converging on a unified approach to remediation.

Diagnosis of the Current Educational Landscape

Malaysia’s educational system, like many globally, faces challenges. These challenges have been articulated through various discussions and analyses, reflecting concerns about the sustainability and efficacy of current educational policies.

  1. Access and Inclusivity: Despite progress, disparities in access to quality education remain, particularly affecting rural and underserved communities.
  2. Quality of Education: There is a perceived decline in educational standards and outcomes, partly attributed to outdated curricula, under-resourced facilities, and inadequate teacher training.
  3. Alignment with Labor Market: Graduates often find themselves ill-prepared for the demands of the contemporary job market, indicating a misalignment between educational outputs and economic needs.
  4. Research and Innovation: While Malaysia aspires to become a hub for innovation, limited investment in research and development within academic institutions hampers this ambition.

Given these issues, the argument unfolds that piecemeal reforms or isolated policy adjustments may no longer suffice. Instead, a radical rethinking of the entire educational framework and pipeline is imperative – a complete overhaul aimed at reinventing the foundations and objectives of the educational system in Malaysia.

Strategic Areas for Educational Investment

Aligning with the notion that education is a fundamental investment in a nation’s future, several strategic focus areas emerge. These are not merely reformative steps but foundational changes intended to revolutionize the educational landscape;

  • Universal Access to Education: Guaranteeing that every citizen has access to education without financial, geographical, or socio-economic barriers. This would require significant investment in infrastructure, particularly in underserved areas, and a commitment to leveraging technology for education delivery.
  • Quality Enhancement: Elevating the standards of education by modernizing curricula, incorporating contemporary learning tools and technologies, and enhancing the training and development of educators. This also includes a shift towards critical thinking, problem-solving, and adaptive learning techniques that are more congruent with global educational standards.
  • Labor Market Alignment: Ensuring that educational programs are closely aligned with current and future job market demands. This involves continuous collaboration between educational institutions, industry leaders, and government bodies to dynamically adjust curricula and training programs that meet economic needs.
  • Incentive for Research and Innovation: Cultivating a robust culture of research and innovation within educational institutions by providing the necessary funding, resources, and incentives. This also involves fostering partnerships with global research networks and industries to ensure that research outcomes are both relevant and impactful.

These strategic areas are envisioned not as mere enhancements to the existing system but as cornerstones of a new, holistic educational framework. This approach is aimed at transforming Malaysian education into a model that not only addresses its current deficiencies but also positions it as a leader in global education reform.

On Privatization

I truly regret the ever-growing suggestion for the push for privatization in education, as it often adversely affects educational quality and equity. The argument against the increasing privatization of education is supported by a multitude of studies and reports that highlight significant concerns.

The privatization of education, particularly in developing regions, has often led to disparities in educational access and quality. For instance, while privatization can spur the growth of educational institutions in response to market demands, it also tends to create barriers for economically disadvantaged students. These barriers manifest through high tuition fees and other costs that many families cannot afford, which ultimately limits access to quality education for all. This was evident in the case of India, where the rapid expansion of private teacher education institutions resulted in significant financial burdens on students due to high capitation fees, without necessarily improving the quality of education or teacher preparedness.

Furthermore, analyses have shown that while privatization might increase efficiency in some sectors, its application in education has not always led to improved outcomes. A comprehensive review revealed that the benefits of privatization in education are not empirically proven across different contexts, suggesting that its effectiveness is highly variable and often not the best policy approach for enhancing educational quality or accessibility.

The drive towards privatization also overlooks the crucial role that public investment in education plays in achieving broad social and economic goals. For example, countries that maintain strong public education systems, like Finland, demonstrate high educational outcomes and equality. This contrasts sharply with scenarios where education is heavily privatized, leading to increased inequality and segmentation within the education system.

These findings suggest that instead of moving toward greater privatization, there should be a renewed focus on strengthening public education systems through comprehensive reforms that ensure universal access to quality education, alignment with labor market needs, and robust support for research and innovation. These strategic areas are crucial for fostering an education system that is inclusive, equitable, and capable of meeting the challenges of the modern world.

The Economic Rationale

The economic rationale for substantial public investment in education is robust, as evidenced by extensive research highlighting the multiple benefits of such investment. Public investments in education not only enhance the quality of human capital but also yield significant economic returns through improved labor productivity and higher earnings. An additional year of schooling has been shown to raise individual earnings by approximately 10%, underscoring education as a highly beneficial investment.

Economic models further support the idea that investing in education stimulates economic growth. Studies attribute a substantial portion of economic growth to improvements in the level of education. For instance, historical analysis in the United States has indicated that increases in educational attainment were responsible for a significant portion of economic output growth throughout the 20th century. Plus, public investments in education can lead to equitable economic growth, create jobs, and generate tax revenues that cover the costs of the investments themselves, making them self-sustaining.

Bahasa Ibunda

Studies demonstrate that students achieve better academic outcomes when taught in their first language, a principle affirmed by numerous educational researches and organizations.

For instance, UNESCO highlights the significant advantages of mother tongue education, noting that students are more likely to enroll and succeed in school, less likely to drop out, and more likely to engage actively when taught in a language they fully understand. This is because learning in one’s mother tongue can simplify the acquisition of new knowledge, allowing students to focus on the subject matter rather than grappling with a foreign language.

Further research by the Global Partnership for Education reinforces these findings, indicating that mother tongue instruction in early education supports critical thinking and accelerates learning, as it eliminates the dual hurdles of language and conceptual understanding. Walter & Benson provide empirical support for this, showing that students who received education in their native language performed significantly better across all subjects, including math and sciences.

Economically, the benefits of mother tongue education extend beyond individual success in academic environments. A report by the World Bank suggests that facilitating education through the mother tongue not only improves the quality of education but also contributes to broader economic development by equipping students with the skills necessary to excel in the workforce.

Thus, the evidence strongly advocates for the incorporation of mother tongue instruction in STEM subjects as a means to enhance educational outcomes. This approach does not merely align with best educational practices; it also fosters a more competent and capable workforce, thereby supporting larger social and economic objectives. Implementing policies that promote mother tongue education can significantly improve students’ understanding and mastery of complex concepts, enhancing both their academic performance and their future professional opportunities.


In addressing the myriad challenges and strategic opportunities within Malaysia’s education system, it becomes clear that a multifaceted approach is necessary to foster substantial improvement and align with global best practices. The discourse around Malaysian education underscores a keen societal capacity to identify systemic issues, yet reveals a fragmentation in how to address them. The consensus suggests a pressing need not merely for reform but for a profound transformation of the educational framework to better serve the nation’s socio-economic objectives.

Key points include the critical examination of the privatization trend in education, which, while expanding access to educational institutions, often does so at the expense of educational equity and quality, particularly for economically disadvantaged students. The adverse effects of privatization, such as increased educational costs without commensurate improvements in quality, argue for a reinforced commitment to public education systems.

Moreover, substantial investment in public education is validated by robust economic evidence suggesting that such funding is not only a social good but a potent economic stimulus. Research indicates that each additional year of schooling can significantly boost individual earnings and, by extension, national economic growth. This investment in human capital is crucial for developing a skilled, innovative workforce capable of driving future technological and economic advancements.

The choice of language in education also holds profound implications for learning efficacy, particularly in STEM education. Studies advocate for instruction in the mother tongue to enhance understanding, engagement, and retention of complex subjects, thus improving overall academic outcomes and better preparing students for professional success.

In conclusion, Malaysia’s path forward involves a strategic overhaul of its education system to emphasize public investment, equity, quality enhancement, and alignment with labor market needs. By adopting policies that promote education in the mother tongue and resist the drawbacks of privatization, Malaysia can cultivate an education system that not only meets the diverse needs of its population but also positions the country as a leader in global education reform. This holistic approach promises not only to rectify current deficiencies but to lay down the foundations for a resilient, inclusive, and progressive educational future.



07 May 2024