Saturday, December 16, 2006

Equality and Equity in Education: Issues, experiences ands best practices in Malaysia

Md Noor Saleh, Yusup Hashim and Abd. Latif Gapur


Educational change and reforms in Malaysian educational system started since Malaysia achieved its independence in 1957. Since independence, the changes and reforms take into consideration factors such as quality, equity, social justices, national integration and values which need to be carefully planned to accommodate the needs of a multi-plural and multi-cultural societies. This paper will address some of the issues, experiences and best practices that Malaysia has undergone in her effort to provide quality and equity in education for the present and future generation.

Malaysian educational system in brief

Education is vital for nation-building particularly for a young nation like Malaysia with a population of 23,260 million. The curriculum needs to be carefully and systematically planned and developed right from the pre school level to the tertiary level. The content should be relevant, high standard and current in line with the needs of competitive market both the domestic as well as the international market. At the same time beliefs in god and high moral values are inculcated in the national curriculum as enshrined in the National Education Philosophy. The curriculum content must be delivered in the best manner using best instructional design and strategies.

Malaysia offers eleven years of free schooling between the ages of seven to seventeen (but not compulsory), six at the primary level and five at the secondary level. This does not include the preschool education which takes two to three years beginning at the age of 5. The government is planning to make primary education compulsory in the year 2003. After secondary education the students enters the post secondary schools, colleges or pre-university education. They may enter the Sixth Form classes (two years), Community colleges, Polytechnics (2 to 3 years) or the Matriculation programme (1 to 2 years). Education at this level prepares them for admission into local universities, foreign universities, private higher education institutions or join the workforce. (Refer Table 1).

In the year 2000 there are 7, 231 public primary schools with an enrollment of 2,933,877 primary pupils and 1,645 secondary public schools with an enrollment of 1,950,746 secondary pupils (Ministry of Education, 2000). So about 4,884,623 students are attending primary and secondary schools which forms about 22% of the whole population (Based on 22.2 million) In Public Universities, the total student enrollment is 305,923 in 2000/2001 academic year. Out of this figure, 170,794 is in the First Degree Programme and 6,607 in the Masters and Doctorate Programme (Education Guide Malaysia, 2001)

Table 1: Public Education Structure in Malaysia

Source: Adapted from Education Guide Malaysia, 2001

Provision of Quality Education.

The mission statement of the Ministry Education is to develop a world class quality education system which will realize the full potential of individual and fullfill the aspiration of the nation. Malaysia aims to be the regional centre of educational excellence in South East Asia and Asia Pacific and subsequently make education the top quality export commodity. To attain this, Malaysia needs to provide quality education that meets the needs of the new millennium. The education ministry has initiated several major educational reforms that covers pre school education to tertiary education in both public and private educational institutions. The major reforms were legislated and tabled in Parliament between 1995 to 1997. The new legislations are as followed:

a. The Education Act 1996

This Act seeks to widen the scope of education under the national education system. The aim is to ensure relevance and quality in public education system. The Act also provides for the upgrading and enhancing of preschool education, special education, teacher education, technical education and private education. Under this Act, moral education is given greater emphasis, teaching of English as a second language is affirmed and teaching of foreign languages is encouraged.

b. The Private Higher Educational Institutions (PHEI) Act 1996

The Act governs the establishment and operations of all private higher educational institutions, private universities, university colleges and foreign university branch campuses. The Act also provides for the upgrading of private colleges to universities. The Act enables the liberation of higher education to meet the increasing demands for tertiary education and the supply of highly educated and skilled workforce.

c. National Council on Higher Education Act 1996

Under this Act, the National Council is given the power to determine policies and co-ordinates the development and rapid expansion of tertiary education in the country.

d. National Accreditation Board ACT 1996

Under this ACT, the National Accreditation Board is set up to ensure that high academic standards, quality and control are maintained in both the public and private higher educational institutions. It formulates policies, on the quality of courses and the accreditation of certificates, diplomas and degrees.

e. Universities and University colleges (Amendment) Act 1996

This Act seeks to corporatise the management and administration of public universities. Corporatisation will give the universities more administrative and financial autonomy to plan programmes for academic excellence.

f. National Higher Education Fund Board 1997

The aim of this Act is to establish a fund to provide financial assistance in the form of study loans to needy students in higher educational institutions. The Act also enables the establishment of a saving scheme to inculcate saving habits in children as a early as Year 1 in primary education so that they can support their own higher education cost later on
Such legislations approved by the Malaysian Cabinet indicated that the Ministry of Education is committed to providing quality and equity in education. Every year, the government allocated the biggest amount of budget to education. The 2003 budget tabled by he Minister of Finance is allocating huge amount to helping the poor to have better and quality education at primary and tertiary level. For example, poor families are given tuition fees to send their children to tuition centres and other financial aid for primary schooling such as text book loan, school uniforms and food supplement. In the 2003 budget the Government would spend RM470 per pupil annually.
The government has also increased the allocation for National Higher Education Fund to help the the havenots to finance their education. A sum of RM4.5 bilion had been allocated in the 2003 budget benefiting 380,000. However, there are several issues and challenges faced by the Ministry in the process of maintaining and improving standards, quality and equity in education:

Use of English from Primary to Tertiary Education

Recently, the prime minister has recommended that Malaysia should consider english as the medium of instruction from primary to tertiary level. Public examination results in PMR showed the standard of english is declining. In 2001 more than 40% of candidates failed PMR exams in English, 4.1% more than last year. His suggestion is received with mixed feelings and reactions by both politicians and academicians. He suggested that English be taught in all subjects especially science and mathematics at the school level. He contended that fluency and command in english can accommodate and assimilate new knowledge in science and technology. The move would ensure Malaysia to have competitive edge in the international arena especially in the knowledge-based economy. Quality in education is determined not only in the curriculum content but the ability to acquire, comprehend and analyze knowledge through the medium of instruction recognized and accepted internationally as the global language.

To facilitate and improve the teaching of english in science and mathematics, science and mathematics teachers will be given notebooks and LCD projectors to integrate multimedia attributes in their teaching. A sum of 5 billion Ringgit is allocated in the 2003 budget to implement the use of english in these subjects.

At the university level Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) on its own initiative had decided that beginning next semester 2002, two subjects in every programme from first year to the last would be conducted in English to improve the proficiency of the language among its undergraduates. Every Faculty in UPSI had identified two subjects to be taught in English.

Issues in Teacher Training Programmes

Teacher training programme needs to be improved in order to provide quality education in schools. The main issue is to improve teacher competency. Their knowledge and skills should be developed appropriate to the challenges of the new millennium. The Education Ministry aims to have 100 percent graduate teachers in secondary schools by 2005. At the primary level, at least 50 percent of all teachers had bachelor degrees. The ministry would widen opportunities for teachers to improve themselves academically and professionally in a bid to enhance the status of the teaching profession.

Towards this end a major programme would be implemented to provide tertiary education for serving non-graduate teachers through distant learning programme and full time courses with the cooperation of universities and teacher training colleges. At present there are about 35,000 non-graduate teachers employed in secondary schools. The Teacher Training Division of the Ministry would collaborate with universities in drawing up the degree programme for teachers. The KDP programme or the Inservice Courses is an example of the full-time degree programme initiated by the Teacher Training Division with the corporation of Local Public Universities. According to the Director-General of Education, ‘one way to improve the quality of education is to upgrade the quality of teaching’

On the other hand, the distant learning programme for serving teachers is conducted by the Universiti Terbuka Malaysia (UNITEM) a private university. Working teachers will have the opportunity to get a degree without leaving their jobs and family. The first batch of about 1,200 teachers were admitted in July 2001.

There are about 250,000 teachers and teaching profession forms the biggest group in government sector. Other than providing opportunities for higher education, teachers welfare in terms of service has also improved. As a diploma holder, they enjoy better pay than before. Plans are underway to provide teachers with living quarters and allocate car loans. The workplaces of teachers would made more comfortable including installing air-conditioners and computers in staff rooms.

Literacy Rate

Malaysia seeks to become a developed nation in the year 2020. One of the strategies implemented is to improve and achieve the literate rate level to 100% by year 2020. Based on the UNESCO findings the Malaysian literacy rate in 1995 is 83.5% compared with 98.7% literacy rate of the developed nations. Another study conducted by National Library of Malaysia, in 1996 indicated that the literacy rate (reading) is 93%. This rate is one of the highest in the world. This reflects the enormous importance given to access, quality and equity in education in Malaysia.

Educational Facilities at School level

The quality of educational system is also evaluated by the school facilities provided by the government. The ministry of education Under Educational Technology Division has set up educational resource centre network at state, district and school level. Every state has its own State Education Resource Centres and under every state there are a number of Teacher’s Centres located at district level. There are 365 teachers centres throughout the country giving instructional support services to about 8,876 schools nationwide.

ICT in Education

Information communication and technology (ICT) changes the way teachers teach and students learn. New thinking in instructional theories has emphasised usage of ICT will help learners learn effectively. Our education system should be able to produce learners and then workers who are skilled in ICT. Digital divide between Malaysia with others countries have to be reduced. Statistic produced by Mimos (Berita Harian, August 1, 2002) shows that only 10% of Malaysia population (2.3 million) use internet compare to America up to 40%.

The Ministry of Education has taken several steps to upgrade students knowledge and skills in ICT. One of the ways is to teach IT in schools. The education system is putting interactive IT at the core of teaching-learning and management process. Smart Schools are being set up where learning will be dynamic, lively and interactive through the use of multimedia technology and worldwide networking. A high-tech infrastructure for information technology at the various universities is already providing access to strategic information, international databases and knowlegde resources.

Smart School
Early in 1996, the Ministry of Education started the brainstorming discussions on "Smart School" - the concept and its implications on the Malaysian Education System. Such an effort is designed to produce Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable and competent, who possess high moral standards, and who are responsible and capable of achieving high levels of personal well-being as well as being able to contribute to the harmony and betterment of the family, the society and the nation at large" (Education in Malaysia, 1993)
As reported by the Minister of Education, the implementation of the smart school pilot project undertaken by Telekom Smart School Sdn Bhd should be completed by December 2002. (Utusan Malaysia, February 28, 2002), A total of 87 schools nationwide were selected to be the school pilot project. These schools are provided with computers and internet access. The ministry anticipated by year 2010 all schools will become smart schools.

The are a number of issues that need to be addressed in implementing smart schools nationwide. Firstly, do all schools get enough computers in terms of student-computer ratio? Secondly, are teachers equip with the pedagogical knowledge to teach using computers. Operating computers and teaching using computers are two different things. Thirdly, Are schools given technical support to manage computer-based teaching and learning?

Distance Education
Distance education or open learning started in 1971 through the off-campus programme at Universiti Sains Malaysia. This programme opens the opportunity for working adults to pursue higher education which may not be possible because of limited place in public universities. They are able to obtain a degree without leaving their family and job. Some of the off campus graduates are successful in their careers. To provide more places and equal oppurtunities in higher education, the Universiti Terbuka (UNITEM) or Open university was set up in 2001. UNITEM according to Minister of education will provide higher education for school leavers who fail to obtain admission in public universities. In the year 2005 according to a study made by Unitem more school leavers between ages 17-23 will seek places at tertiary level. Unitem will become the major provider of open learning using e-learning. By year 2005, Unitem is expected to have 22,000 students.

However, there are a number of issues pertaining to the quality of distance learning programme. The distance learning graduates have to compete with the full-time graduates in job market. We often heard complains made by the distance education (DE) graduates that they are treated as second class graduates. The public is not confident about the standards and quality of teaching and learning provided by DE. A study conducted by Shafee (2001) concluded that there is no significant diference in terms of performance between conventional teaching and teaching through videoconferencing. On the other hand, teaching through videoconferencing outperformed conventional teaching in certain subject matter

Other General Issues

Lately, issues such as meritocracy, qouta system, vision schools and integrated schools become the hot topics debated by different political parties representing respective ethnic groups. Meritocracy, qouta system and vision schools seem to suggest that opportunities for education should be fair or given to those who deserved based on merit as well as on socio-economic and cultural considerations. The vision school is formulated to foster national integration among the three major races but on the one hand, it may look depriving someone of equity and liberation of educational system. Ironically, equality and equity in education are issues that can be conflicting as well as fulfiling particularly in a plural society. The integrated schools formulated by Ministry of Education is to integrate pure sciences, technology and islamic studies to allow wider and flexible choice for students when they enter tertiary education.

Gender Equity in Higher Education

Women are given equal oportunities to compete with men either in higher education or in job market. As a result of the liberation, women represented about 11 percent in the top managerial post, second to Phillipines which is about 34 percent in South east asian countries. In higher education, there are more females in higher education than males. Studies show that for the 1999/2000 school year, more than ever, women are outnumbering men at Malaysian universities. The ratio of females to males at Universiti Malaya was 65:35. This is also true in Teacher Training Colleges. Schools are having more female teachers than male teachers. However, despite the high ratio or female to male in higher education, males are still dominant in the top managerial post.


In this paper, I have briefly discussed the education structure in Malaysia, the major education reforms to provide equality and equity in education and the issues and experiences faced by Malaysia. Eighteen years from now Malaysia will be a developed nation. To achieve this vision 2020, education will be the main focus in the national development agenda and evidently, in the national budget huge amount of money is allocated to education sector every year. In 2003 National budget allocation, a sum of 29.6 billion is allocated for education that is about 27 % of the total national budget allocation. Education once again received the largest share of the pie. Malaysia hopes to move to a knowledge-based economy through the use of ICT. Malaysia aims to be the regional centre of educational excellence in South East Asia and Asia Pacific. Education will become the top quality export commodity.


Education Guide Malaysia, 2001

Mohd Shafee daud (2001) The effect of videoconferencing in teaching and learning at distance education programme in Malaysia, Ph.D dissertation, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

The 2003 national budget

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