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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Malaysia in the Era of Globalization #58

Chapter 7: Enhancing Human Capital


Enhancing Human Capital Through Education: Revamping Schools and Universities (Cont’d)


There are plenty of ready role models. Malaysia can look to Germany and Switzerland for examples of superior trade and vocational schools. For academic schools, Malaysia could emulate the finest British public or American magnet schools. Local universities could propose model curricula for these academic schools. Similarly, industries could help design specific vocational syllabi. Proton for example, could establish a school to prepare students to be car mechanics and auto body repairers and other skilled workers for the automobile industry.

My proposal calls for the elimination of the current matrikulasi programs. They are expensive and waste valuable resources of the universities. Universities should stick to doing what other institutions cannot do, that is, education at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels.

Matrikulasi was started in response to the 1969 race riots. It was one of the many efforts to increase the number of Bumiputra undergraduates. It has done its job well by complementing the inadequacies of the schools at the time. As a result the program has passionate supporters, especially among UMNO Youth.

Conditions today have changed; now the program is undermining Sixth Form. If matrikulasi cannot be eliminated because of political or other pressures, then its mission ought to be modified to be an academic outreach program for poor, rural, and other disadvantaged students. In this way expensive resources are focused on those who truly need them.

It is gratifying that the ministry is finally disbanding matrikulasi except for the program at the Universiti Tecknoloji Malaysia; I do not know the rationale for this exception. The ministry however is continuing with the matrikulasi outside the university. Nonetheless this long-overdue change would make Sixth Form regain its former importance. Further, strengthening Sixth Form would also enhance the overall standard of a school as some of the improved teachings and facilities would filter down to the lower forms.

In addition to changes in the program (“software”) of the schools, the physical facilities (“hardware”) too are badly in need of upgrading. The current double sessions take their toll on teachers, pupils, and facilities; they must end. Despite repeated declarations to this effect, double sessions are still very much a reality for most schools. With a single session, the school day could be lengthened, with students spending the afternoon either for “prep” time or be involved in extracurricular activities.

Malaysian schools are also woefully equipped with computers. Many especially in rural areas even lack electricity and running water. I fail to see why these isolated schools could not be provided with portable generators and wireless Internet connectivity, as successfully demonstrated by the E-Bakun project in Sarawak. These are expensive propositions but they are necessary investments for these children. Besides it would cost more if they were left behind.

The education system must also allow for private sector participation at all levels. Such private schools must meet strict enrollment guidelines to prevent racial and social segregations, as well as to prevent the one-teacher school and the giant educational factories. There could be joint ventures, with industry providing the facilities and the ministry, the teachers. Big companies would want a school on their premise for their workers’ children. This would boost employees’ morale knowing that they would be close to their children during working hours. One such model is a public elementary school in Florida, a joint project by the giant truck rental company, Ryder, and the local school district.

To further encourage social integration, there should be generous financial incentives for schools whose student body reflects the general society. With such extra funds these schools would be able to offer enhanced programs that would in turn attract students of various races. Given such encouragements, most Malaysians would prefer their children to attend integrated schools.

Again the policy should be flexible so that schools in Klang Valley would have different enrollment requirements than those in Kelantan. Such special grants could also be used to reward superior-performing schools and to compensate those in disadvantaged areas.

Administratively, schools should be decentralized and freed from the ministry’s micromanagement. They should be judged solely on their results. The ministry’s role should be restricted to selecting the managing board and monitoring the quality and performance. To ensure accountability the board must be made up of sufficient number of teachers and parents. Malaysia is now fortunate to have many well educated citizens even in small communities who would make excellent board candidates.

Additionally, the headmastership of schools must be a terminal appointment, with salary increases dependent solely on performance. Headmasters need not be transferred to get their promotions and salary increases. The days when they are nothing more than seat warmers on their way to be Undersecretary for Procurement at the ministry should be over.

Decentralization would also result in greater competition among schools and spur them towards improved performance. Inevitably some would be perceived as superior, and competition for them would be intense. These schools must have a fair, objective and transparent mechanism for admission to prevent favoritism. Similarly, poor-performing schools would be under intense public pressure to improve. The ministry could then concentrate their resources and efforts on improving them.

Freeing schools and universities from the rigid control of the ministry would enable them to grow and find their own level. Educational wisdom is never the exclusive preserve of civil servants and politicians.


Next: Charter Schools

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