Falling Education Standards in Malaysia

Speech by DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Siang, when speaking to Taiping Rotary Club (Young Rotarians) at St. John’ s Ambulance Building in Taiping on Sunday, 23rd July 1972 at 10 a.m.

Falling Education Standards in Malaysia

During the May session of Parliament, I asked the minister of Education, Inche Hussein Onn, for detailed results of last year’s Standard V Assessment Examination.

A week ago, I received the Minister’s reply. The results disclosed by the Minister’s answer is indeed shocking, and should be given the widest publicity by the press so that parents and Malaysians know about the true picture of the quality and standard of education in Malaysian schools.

Taking the state of Perak, the percentage of failures among students in national-type (English) primary schools in the various subjects are as follows:

Percentage of failure : National-type ( English ) primary schools

Bahasa Malaysia II 39%
Bahasa Inggeris II 43%
Mathematics 42%
Science 41%
Geography-History 43%

The percentage of failures in the Standard V Assessment Test last year for other language-stream primary schools in Perak are as follows:

Percentage of failure : National-type ( Chinese) primary school

Bahasa Malaysia I 61%
English I 61%
Mathematics 42%
Science 36%
Geography-History 50%
Chinese language 51%

Percentage of failure : National primary school

Bahasa Malaysia II 26%
English I 38%
Mathematics 41%
Science 35%
Geography-History 35%

Percentage of failure : National-type (Tamil) primary school

Bahasa Malaysia I 50%
English I 42%
Mathematics 41%
Science 43%
Geography-History 47%
Tamil language 36%

I have given only the results of the Standard V Assessment Test last year for the school in Perak. There are other States where the results are even worse.

In fact, there are schools where not a single student could pass the Standard V Assessment Test.

It is clear from the results of the Standard V Assessment Test 1971 for Perak and other State that 40-50% of the Standard V student had no clue whatsoever about what they were studying. Yet all of them, including the tens of thousands who had failed most if not all the subjects, had been promoted to Standard VI and further onwards to Form III.

This is not only a waste of scarce public resources, but a mental cruelty and torture on the tens of thousands of pupils who had not been able to acquire the required standards.

An intelligent and sensible education system would have helped those students who had not attained the required standards to repeat their course so as to narrow their gap in education instead of forcing them to be promoted to higher and higher forms regardless of their attainments, until by Form III, when they face their first public elimination examination, they are thrown out into the streets, unfitted for any role in society. By the time, it would also be too late for the parents to take any remedial action, for these children would have received nine years of mis-education.

There are many reasons for the shockingly low quality and standards of education in Malaysian schools.

One great reason in English primary schools is the ill-conceived and badly-executed conversion of the medium of instruction from English to Bahasa Malaysia.

Throughout all national-type (English) primary schools today, primary school students are being taught by teachers who are unqualified to teach, for they have overnight been converted by the government from qualified to unqualified teachers.

These teachers were products of English schools and had been trained to teach in the English language. With the switch in the teaching media as instructed by the government, these teachers are now required to teach in Bahasa Malaysia. They can’t do so, but they have to continue to take classes and go through the formal motions of teaching because otherwise their rice bowls would be broken. As a result, school children have become the victims of the government’s ill-considered education policy.

An impartial investigation will bring out the awful truth that in many schools, many Standard III, IV, V and VI pupils do not know the meaning of 80% of the words in their Malay text-books, because their teachers themselves do not know them.

Many parents, to compensate for the utter failure of the schools to teach their children Bahasa Malaysia itself, let alone the various subjects using the medium of Bahasa Malaysia, were compelled to engage private tutors for their children. Never before in the history of Malaysian education has private tutors mushroomed so plentifully, and never before has there been such a roaring business in private tuition. This, I submit, is a condemnation of the education system for no efficient and competent by private tuition to make up for its deficiencies, failures and faults.

This is a system of injustice and inequality, for the poor are even more disadvantaged. Only the well to-do can afford to engage private tutors for their children. The poor can’t. Hence the children of the poor are further handicapped in the struggle for an equal opportunity in life.

This is why we have the phenomenon every year of thousands of candidate failing the M.C.E because of failure in the Bahasa Malaysia paper, although they scored distinction in other subjects including mathematics and science.

There is something basically wrong in the education system as a student who can get distinction in mathematics and science should have no difficulty in getting distinction in Bahasa Malaysia, if the teaching facilities in Bahasa Malaysia are adequate.

This is a very grave problem for it concerns an entire generation of Malaysians. The Ministry of Education should stop adopting an attitude of indifference and apathy, as we are breeding a new generation of Malaysians who have very real reasons to be discontented and dissatisfied with our society.

The teachers, the parents and the Malaysians public should be concerned about the type and quality of education young Malaysians are getting in schools, for there is no use spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on education if we are thoroughly mis-educating and mal-educating our children.

The education system is topsy-turvy. The Government emphasises the need for Malay students to take up science and mathematics to achieve a breakthrough against Malay poverty and backwardness.

But a study of the 1971 Standard V Assessment results of the national primary schools in mathematics and science shows that the Malay students are faring badly in these two subjects. Thus in Kedah, 62% of the students failed in mathematics and 55% of the students failed in science.

The Alliance leaders are aware of the low and increasingly low quality of education in Malaysia, and this is why you find that the majority of the government Ministers send their children abroad not only for university, but also for secondary and primary education.

There had been various commissions and committees in the country on educational issues, like the Aziz Royal Commission on the Teaching Services in West Malaysia and the 1962 Committee on Higher Education Planning. But there has not been a single committee or commission on the falling standards of education of our 1.7million primary and secondary school students – to ascertain why the quality of education has kept deteriorating instead of improving.

I therefore call on the government to appoint a Royal Commission of Inquiry to inquire into the causes of the falling standards of education in Malaysia. Such a Royal Commission will of necessity have to inquire into the related problem of school drop-outs, the economic and environmental factors handicapping poor students from having an equal opportunity in life, the high rate of unemployment among the young Malaysians between the ages of 17-25, the continued imbalance in the education system towards as arts bias when the crying need of the country is for more science students, etc.

Malaysian teachers, parents, organisations and associations like Old Boys’ Association, Teachers’ organisations, Board of Managements should all concern themselves deeply with the grave problem of falling standards of education in Malaysia, so that Malaysians of the new generation will receive the education they deserve.

This is not a political problem, or a sectional problem but a national problem. Let there first be a national realisation that our education system heeds considerable overhauling, and left Malaysians who have the concern of young Malaysians at heart help to arouse this national consciousness and realisation.