In the past decade, Malaysia has consistently ranked close to or in the bottom
one-third of the international Programme for International Student Assessment
(PISA), a triennial survey assessing students’ key knowledge and essential skills in
areas such as reading proficiency, mathematics and science. This trend was
foreseen in a 2013 World Bank report, which noted the disparity between
Malaysian students’ cognitive skills and the country’s aspirations to become a
high-income economy. While national education systems are undoubtedly
complex, and Malaysia’s success or failure in PISA should not be treated as the
only indicator of educational success, its results should prompt the government
to look into the issues and factors contributing to our students’ under-
performance and falling standards that are apparent in general as well.
I: Partisan Political Influences
The root of the problem lies in the lack of a consistent vision for educational
reform, especially given that education policies change every few years following
changes of education ministers. Compounding the matter is the issue of how
discrimination has been legitimised in our education policies. Over the years,
Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, on bumiputra rights and privileges, has
often been interpreted to justify Malay supremacy. This racial ideology has
permeated in the public sphere, including curriculum content in schools and the
composition of leaders in the public education sector and teachers. Unless it is
replaced with an emphasis on professionalism, integrity and accountability, it will
be hard to restore any meaningful standards in Malaysia’s education.
1. Establish a comprehensive, cohesive accountability system.
The accountability system shall consist of the following independent components
that are answerable to Parliament and allocated funding so that they may act
impartially and fairly, and be free from political influence and intimidation:
i. An oversight committee to provide checks and balances against the
Education Ministry. It should include representatives from academia,
educationists, the corporate sector, professional councils and parent
representatives. The committee must look into misappropriation of
funds, including rent-seeking and fraud, as well as monitor the execution
of strategies identified in the Malaysian Education Blueprint (MEB)
(Education Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 3F-1)
ii. An apolitical professional education consultative council to ensure that
curriculum content and implementation are aligned to current
developments in education. Curriculum design, assessment and
implementation must be the sole responsibility of experts, scholars and
educators, and should include a mechanism for feedback from students,
alumni and parent representatives. Such a council must also ensure the
credibility of public assessment results by placing safeguards against
manipulation. The goal of a consultative council is to ensure that
education in Malaysia is on a par or if not better than the current
international standards of education.
(Megat Mohamed Amin Megat Mohamed Nor, IKRAM,
iii. An ombudsman system to investigate complaints about
maladministration and abuse of power and trust by bureaucrats and
officials bearing senior positions in the Ministry of Education (MOE).
(Kong Wee Cheng, Dong Jiao Zong, Proposal 3F-3; Education
Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 3F-4)
i. Comprehensive and genuine protection must be given to teachers and
(Fiqah Roslan, Tiada.Guru, Proposal 3F-5)
v. An Independent (Appointment) Selection Committee (ISC) comprising
qualified professionals to administer merit-based appointments of senior
officers, principals, specialist teachers and District Education Office
officers. Candidates should be appointed on the basis of possessing the
requisite capabilities and skills, and not merely to fill up vacancies. The
ISC must also address inquiries and decisions regarding non-performing
officers, teachers including school principals, through an on-site
investigative and interview panel.
(Education Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 3F-1)
vi. An independent auditing body to conduct an annual audit of the
financial accounts of the MOE, including economic damages (torts,
breach of contract), contract fraud, money laundering and asset
misappropriation, records falsification, procurement fraud and price
(Fiqah Roslan, Tiada.Guru, Proposal 3F-6)
2. Abolish the UUCA.
(Lee Hao Jie, Proposal 3F- 7)
Reformulate higher education laws to serve changing societal needs. Reinstate the
right of university students to form unions.
3. Reinstate civic and citizenship education in national schools.
The young generation must know their rights and role in society, both local and
global, be able to discuss and debate rationally, and seek solutions to differences
via dialogue. Such awareness and civic competency are essential to develop a co-
existence and co-prosperity mindset in a multi-racial society.
(Education Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 3F-8;
Fiqah Roslan, Tiada Guru, Proposal 3F-9)
II: Inclusive Education
Inclusion and equity are key elements that should be prioritised in Malaysia’s
education system to ensure an appreciation and respect for diversity as a pathway
to sustainability, prosperity and peace, which is the endmost role of education.
The overemphasis on the values of one ethnicity, language and religion has
increasingly homogenous, conformist outlook and conservative mindsets in
national schools, at the expense of multicultural acceptance. The tolerance for
and perpetuation of patriarchal values in schools, as reflected in unaddressed
gender discrimination and sexual harassment, creates an unsafe environment for
4. Implement multicultural policies and laws that demonstrate respect for,
and appreciation of diversity in culture, language and gender in schools
and learning institutions.
(Kong Wee Cheng, Dong Jiao Zong, Proposal 3F-10)
5. Safeguard and enforce the constitutional right of Malaysians to access
As advocated by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO), a child’s first language is the optimal medium for attaining literacy
and learning in primary school. Actions to support for first-language education
should include the following:
i. Respecting parents’ choice for the vernacular school system.
(Education Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, 3F-11).
ii. The Chinese national-type primary school (SJKC) system is favoured by
95% of Chinese parents and 20% of Malay, Indian, Orang Asal and
Orang Asli parents, according to MOE 2019–2020 data, while
professionals and parents who had attended the English-based
missionary schools of the past thought that curriculum and approach to
be better than the present ones. The bilingually competent alumni of
such schools are more likely to embrace a multicultural ethos and
practise openness and acceptance towards others, a key aspiration
expressed in the MEB, and much sought after by both local and
iii. Reinstating English-medium schools as an alternative language stream
among the public-funded schools to produce trained and competent
English teachers towards equipping the next generation with a good
command of the language, which will enhance Malaysian students’
international competitiveness as well as the nation’s trade
(G25 Malaysia, Proposal 3F-12)
6. Endorse gender equality policies that prohibit gender discrimination.
(Kong Wee Cheng, Dong Jiao Zong, Proposal 3F-13)
i. Provide evidence-based education on gender or sexual health matters to
students, in order to prevent and end rape culture and sexual harassment
in educational institutions.
(Rusni Tajari, WAO, Proposal 3F-14)
ii. School teachers and principals should also undergo gender-sensitisation
programmes, which include being taught the inappropriateness of
conducting intrusive period spot checks on female students for not
attending religious prayers.
7. Provide access to education for all stateless and undocumented
(Bina Ramanand, Family Frontiers, Proposal 3F-15; Maalini
Ramalo, DHRRA, Proposal 3F-16)
The right to education for all children, including those who are stateless and
undocumented, is covered in the UNCRC, which Malaysia has ratified, and it is
also recognised in the Child Act 2001. These children should only have to
undergo a one-time enrolment process into schools, instead of a yearly
application, and once registered, they should be given full access to all forms of
educational opportunities offered by the schools, including taking part in both in-
and beyond-school activities.
Left unchecked, the ongoing prejudice and social discrimination faced by these
students leads to not only education loss but also life-long adverse
socioeconomic outcomes, such as inability to earn a livelihood, and increased risk
of falling into crime and violence.
III: School Autonomy & Decentralisation of Education
Malaysia has arguably one of the largest central education administrations in the
world, relative to the number of schools, according to UNESCO 2013 data. As a
policy thrust, the centralisation of education at federal level was useful during the
nation’s formative years to ensure efficiency in delivery of services, but five
decades down the road, the overconcentration of power within the MOE has led
to many problems, including the creation of overly bureaucratic, hierarchical top-
down structures, multiple wastages and a complex, overlap of interests among
stakeholders in the education system. The MEB specifically provides that, as part
of the third stage (2021–2025) of education transformation, the MOE should
demonstrate transparency and accountability by restructuring and decentralising
8. Restore autonomy in the various levels—state, district, school.
To address geographical gaps in education, decision-makers at the state, district
and school levels should be given the authority and flexibility to implement
educational policies through local-data-based solutions to meet the needs of the
students and local community.
(Kong Wee Cheng, Dong Jiao Zong, Proposal 3F-17)
At school level, principals should also be given the flexibility to make changes in
their schools to address specific education loss issues, based on localised needs
and students’ socioeconomic status. Such measures could include incorporating
special English or Malay proficiency programmes to the existing curriculum or
providing custom parental education programmes to help parents be more
effective in supporting their children.
(Education Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 3F-18)
9. Run a pilot decentralised education initiative to restore school
The academy schools of the United Kingdom can serve as a reference for this
progressive initiative, in particular to empower both high-achieving and under-
performing schools and teachers.
(Dr. Tan Ai Mei, Proposal 3F-19)
10. Establish an annual school curriculum, integrity and safety report card
devised by schools.
The MOE should not set academic key performance indicators (KPI) for
schools, nor should school performances be compared at either district or state
levels. Schools should be able to set their own KPI on students’ well-being with
respect to safety, integrity, education delivery and human resources.
(Fiqah Roslan, Tiada.Guru, Proposal 3F-20)
11. Make public online statistical data about school profiles and research
reports about education in the country.
Transparency is needed to ensure that all decisions related to education policy
and subsequent actions taken are done in accordance with policy formulation and
(Kong Wee Cheng, Dong Jiao Zong, Proposal 3F-21)
This should include the validity and representativeness of consultations with
stakeholders on a geo-granular basis.
12. Make accessible across all agencies the data collected from teachers.
The lack of a cohesive data collection and housing system has resulted in
countless duplication of requests for identical data by different education
divisions across the federal, state and district levels. It is a waste of teachers’ time
and a distraction from teaching, affecting the performance of schools, teachers
and students alike.
(Kong Wee Cheng, Dong Jiao Zong, Proposal 3F-21)
13. Maximise public participation in policy formulation.
This includes establishing a geographical gradient consultation with the school
community and diverse stakeholders in education. Set a clear, effective
participation process that will incur minimum cost.
(Kong Wee Cheng, Dong Jiao Zong, Proposal 3F-22)
14. Empower parent-teacher associations to perform their role in
safeguarding student well-being and checking irregular practices in
Amend the Education (Parent-Teacher Associations) Regulations 1998 and
Education Act to pave the way for schools to develop partnerships with parents,
community, NGOs, and lead the school transformation as identified in the MEB.
(Fiqah Roslan, Tiada.Guru, Proposal 3F-23)
15. Overhaul and reform the MOE payment system.
Decentralise financial disbursements for school building maintenance, repair and
procurement, with standard accountability requirements instituted locally to
eliminate corrupt, rent-seeking practices that are currently embedded in the
system; as observed in school projects awarded to contractors listed in the Public
Works Department pipeline.
(Education Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 3F- 24)
16. Review the executive power and professional competency of the
District Education Office to spearhead change at the school level.
The leadership of the District Education Office needs to adhere to the 3Cs—
commitment, coordination and communication—to see through reforms from
start to completion. The Office should not be regarded as a stepping stone for
quick promotion to senior positions in the MOE, a practice which appears to
have transpired in the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur Education
(Education Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 3F-25)
IV: Holistic Education
Education and curricular delivery must be administered as an integrated
humanising learning process, underpinned by professionalism.
(Fiqah Roslan, Tiada.Guru, Proposal 3F-9)
Political and orthodox influences to reinforce the status quo and political control,
as observed in the teaching of subjects such as history, moral studies and
religious studies, must stop.
Assessments are needed to provide students with feedback on their attainment of
literacy and numeracy skills, as well as knowledge of daily life, which entails a
holistic approach to education. Yet the MOE has been overly focused on grades
and examinations at the expense of instilling an authentic learning culture in
schools. While the Primary School Achievement Test, also known as the Ujian
Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) has been abolished–not by design but due to
the learning obstacles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic–and the Form Three
Assessment, or Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga (PT3), similarly cancelled, the MOE
still has to radically change its approach.
17. Implement standardised competency assessment to replace the UPSR.
(Education Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 3F- 25)
The abolition of UPSR in 2021 provided teachers and schools an opportunity to
focus on restoring autonomy and ownership of learning to students, and teaching
to teachers. In lieu of the UPSR, we propose that the MOE introduce a national-
level assessment conducted by a professional examination board during the Year
5 and 6 primary schooling years as a means of ensuring that teachers and schools
are discharging their duties accordingly. Students should be permitted to decide
for themselves when to take the test within the timeframe, with no limits placed
on the number of resits. The main objective of the assessment is not to quantify
school rankings or student gradings, but to ensure that students attain a
minimum basic competency in language, mathematics and science to conduct
their daily activities and pave the way to life-long learning.
18. Liberate teachers from the grade-obsessed mentality and encourage
them to play the role of learning facilitators instead.
Rather than pressuring students to achieve good grades and excel in exams,
teachers should strive to make education a more balanced, nurturing process that
builds character and good values, while igniting passion and curiosity in students.
(Fiqah Roslan, Tiada.Guru, Proposal 3F- 9)
Use the holistic and integrated approach in the development of students’
personality (tarbiah). This is essential to promote interest, develop talents and
realise the potential of students. Various theories can be utilised such as the 3H
(head, heart, hands) approach, involving critical reflection, relational knowing and
physical engagement, or the concept of insan rabbani (a noble and pious
(Megat Mohamed Amin Megat Mohamed Nor, IKRAM, Proposal 3F- 26)
19. On language teaching, focus on proficiency and competency instead of
The majority of SJKC students are unable to understand basic conversational
Malay; 60% of secondary school students’ English proficiency is of primary
school level; and 30% of public school English teachers only managed to obtain a
minimum C3 in the 2012-13 English teacher qualifying exam. These dismal
figures highlight an urgent need to re-align the way language is taught in
mainstream education. Effective language education should be premised on the
philosophy of language being taught as a life-long living skill, rather than a
subject for which an exam must be passed.
(Education Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 3F- 27)
20. Restore the history curriculum, with an emphasis on facts and an
appreciation of diversity.
This is important for nation healing, growth and unity, as well as to lay the
foundations for a holistic perspective of the world and appreciation of human
civilisation. Curricular manipulation creates mistrust, impedes social integration,
and affects the competitiveness of the country. For example, the narrative on
East Malaysian history laid out in the current curriculum is not reflective of the
people’s struggle since the Federation of Malaysia was formed; likewise, the
contributions of the Chinese and Indian ethnic groups to the development of the
country are increasingly being erased from the history curriculum.
(Education Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 3F-27)
21. Conduct human rights education through workshops and project work
in primary school right up to university.
This can be incorporated into the civics and citizenship curriculum. Besides
improving humanity in general, it is essential to stem police brutality in society...
(Ng Yap Hwa, Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy, Proposal 3F-28)
...and sexual harassment and rape in schools.
(Rusni Tajari, WAO, Proposal 3F-29)
22. Investigate learning loss and dropouts due to school closures.
(Chan Yit Fei, Agora Society Malaysia, Proposal 3F-30)
i. The priorities of the MOE during and post-pandemic should be to:
a) Reduce the impact of school closures on the foreseeable rise in dropout
and truancy rates.
b) Reduce the learning gap due to the digital divide.
c) Ensure lesson plans designed for online learning involves methodology
such as teaching by sharing videos and allowing children engagement
with their classmates online. Teachers need to be better supported in
online teaching methodology.
(Srividhya Ganapathy, CRIB (Child Rights Innovation &
Betterment) Foundation,Proposal 2E-7)
d) Reduce the harm to students’ mental well-being due to learning loss and
e) Empower schools to run school-based curriculum towards effectively
fulfilling students’ learning needs and the community’s aspirations.
ii. Set up a task force to assess the impact of learning loss nationwide, in
particular the impact on students’ literacy and numeracy skills. The MOE
could adopt the following curricular strategies:
a) Reduce subject matter content by emphasising core ideas and content
that is deemed essential for future learning.
b) Introduce a new curriculum to build better skills to cope with
uncertainty and encourage life-long learning to build resilience.
c) Administer school programmes to curb dropouts.
d) Tailor remedial classes according to the adjusted curriculum and
students’ personal needs.
V: Non-performing Teachers & Teacher Professionalism
Teachers are the vanguard of education reform. Unfortunately, many teachers
serving in the public education sector suffer from lack of motivation, due to
being guaranteed automatic promotion by virtue of simply holding their posts.
This, alongside an entrenched annual incremental remuneration reward system,
are major reasons contributing to underperformance of public school teachers
and educators. The removal of non-performing teachers can take up to three
years, owing to excessive red tape. The Teacher Redeployment policy
implemented since the last decade, which transferred senior teachers, assistants
and principals around, has reduced schools to a uniform level of mediocrity.
In the past four years alone, nearly 4,000 teachers opted for early retirement
every year, of which a significant number were senior teachers, administrators
and frustrated principals (2017-2020 MOE data). To restore standards in
education and the teaching profession, there needs to be an overhaul, from the
entry point of teachers and education officers, to the appointment and
promotion of education leaders and, more importantly, the establishment of an
ombudsman system to handle the problem of underperforming teachers.
23. The MOE and Public Service Department must demonstrate
accountability in handling problematic teachers.
(Education Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 3F-31)
Our hierarchical education system is a major stumbling block to the firing or
dismissal of problematic teachers in schools. Too many conscientious principals
have been frustrated to the point of opting for early retirement, while others have
little choice but to continue tolerating teachers and senior assistants who display a
clear lack of motivation to work.
24. Review the absolute authority held by the Education Service
Commission in executing the recruitment, appointment and promotion of
(Fiqah Roslan, Tiada.Guru, Proposal 3F-32)
Teachers who have a record of underperformance and non-motivation should be
singled and rooted out at the entry point. Similarly, the appointment and
promotion of education officers should not be influenced by nepotism and
25. Shift the investigative authority vested in the Ministry of Education to
an Ombudsman or Independent Panel.
(Fiqah Roslan, Tiada.Guru, Proposal 3F-5)
Multiple cases of probes into teacher misconduct have been swept under the
carpet just because the MOE claimed “there was no evidence.” A whistle-blower
survey conducted by Tiada.Guru, a Sabah-based campaign of grassroots victims,
whistle-blowers and activists, revealed instances of political intimidation and
fabricated evidence in some of these probes. A necessary-hire-and-timely-fire
mechanism has to be employed to salvage the education loss of students.
26. Ensure that in-service teachers go through monthly professional
This must be done through professional learning communities at both subject
and professional levels in school, as stated in the MEB, to form the basis for
continued reformation as a practice.
27. Reinstate the three-year renewal policy of the teaching licence.
This is to ensure that all teachers, even upon confirmation in the automatic time-
based promotion system set at a maximum of three years, remain motivated to
engage in regular professional learning development. This should be applied to all
ranks of teacher educators—Novice (DG41), competent (DG44), professional
(DG48) and expert consultant (DG52-DG54).
28. Establish an impartial professional body to assess teachers’
competency prior any promotion.
This is especially important when it comes to assessing the middle and senior
ranks–DG48, DG52 and DG54.
29. Remove teachers from the civil service and put them under the
jurisdiction of school authorities.
Empower school authorities, i.e. the school board of governors, to decide on an
appropriate hire-and-fire policy for teachers, including the principal. Besides
reducing governmental red tape in this matter, it is also in keeping with the vision
to decentralise education. The board must be led by reputable professionals, as is
the practice in Hong Kong and EU countries. State funding for schools must
include allocations for teachers’ salaries, on top of school development and
VI: Students’ Physical & Mental Health
The primary and secondary school health curriculums are designed to benefit
students with life-long life skills and good health literacy. While these curricula
are fairly wide ranging and cover topics such as physical, socio-emotional, mental
and spiritual development, child safety issues, as well as nutrition, diseases and
first aid, student and youth lifestyle and morbidity profiles have registered
worrying trends, as indicated in the 2017 National Health & Morbidity Survey
(NHMS). The suicide rate amongst youth is also of concern. From January 2019
to May 2021, there were 872 suicide deaths of young people, with 15–18-year-
olds comprising 51% of the total 1,708 cases, according to police data.
30. Make the school system an essential part of the national mental health
(Chan Yit Fei, Agora Society Malaysia, Proposal 3F- 33)
i. Establish a functioning mental health system within each school or
within a district that oversees schools, that includes facilities for safe
ii. Lay counsellors, including teachers, must be well-trained in identifying
symptoms of mental problems and must network with professional
counsellors, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists.
iv. Give appropriate support to the underprivileged groups, including
undocumented or stateless migrant children, and establish easy-to-access
platforms to report grievances.
31. Schools must set up a Student Health Programme Committee.
(Chan Yit Fei, Agora Society Malaysia, Proposals 3F-33 & 34)
The ministries of health, youth and education must collaboratively set up a health
monitoring and support system for students. Assign a health officer to work with
schools and government clinics in the district on health programmes to equip
students with good health literacy and practices to combat obesity, stunting,
malnutrition and mental problems.
32. Recruit professionally trained teachers to teach the physical and health
Stop the ad hoc practice of replacing the health or physical education period with
other subjects, or having non-option teachers (i.e. teachers who have not
undergone formal training in particular subjects) to teach these subjects.
33. Take a systemic process approach to address the lack of self-resilience
in students, including mental health issues.
Such measures can include online classes, a caring school environment and
equipping parents with knowledge on child and teenage development.
VII: Early Childhood Childcare
Pre-COVID-19 pandemic, there were only 4,812 registered childcare centres, an
enrolment rate of barely 10%, the lowest in ASEAN. Poor quality early
childhood childcare education (ECCE) puts children at risk of toxic stress, abuse,
neglect and educational disadvantage.
34. Establish an integrated, comprehensive Early Childhood Childcare
Children under five years old comprise 8% (2.6 million) of the total population in
Malaysia. To enable a stable and economically developed nation, Malaysia must
invest in building high-quality, affordable and accessible ECCE system
infrastructure, as strong early foundations in physical, socio-emotional, language
and cognitive development, as well as nutrition and health are formed during a
child’s early years.
(Education Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 3F-35)
i. Place all types of ECCE institutions, including private ones, under a
ii. Review the curriculum to make it holistic. Engage kids through play,
toys, nature or projects instead of a formulaic academic approach, and
ensure that education policies are free from religious indoctrination.
iii. Prioritise establishing alternative, community-based childcare models,
such as family playgroups, community toy libraries, home and family-
based childcare centres within neighbourhoods, especially People’s
Housing Project flats.
iv. Devise a Compulsory Child Protection Policy.
v. Enact an ECCE Profession law that stipulates minimum qualifications
for preschool teachers and care providers. Establish an independent
ECCE professional regulatory body to oversee the development of care
providers and preschool teachers.
vi. Build partnerships with NGOs and the corporate sector to reach
marginalised and remote communities.
To overhaul the country’s education system, we need professionalism,
accountability and integrity in leadership. This requires transparency, maximum
stakeholder participation, and decentralisation of power and education at both
structural and systemic levels. Of particular urgency is to remove partisan politics
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Laura Sui San
Mental Health Association of Sarawak (MHAS)