The Havoc Education Reform Inflicts (Part 5 of 5)

The Havoc Education Reform Inflicts: Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (Part 5) M. Bakri Musa

Last of Five Parts: Hard To Be Part of the Solution When You Are Part of the Problem

[In the first three essays I critiqued the Blueprint’s recommendations: specifically its failure to recognize the diversity within our school system and thus the need to have targeted programs; the challenge of recruiting quality teachers; and the link between efficiency, efficacy, and quality. Part Four discussed the report’s deficiencies. This last essay focuses on the very process of reform, or how to do a better job of it.]

The greatest weakness of this reform effort is its exclusive dependence on in-house or MOE staff, the very personnel responsible for the current rot with our schools. These individuals have been part of the problem for far too long; they cannot now be expected suddenly and magically to be part of the solution. That would take an exceptional ability to be flexible, innovative, and have the willingness or at least capacity to learn. Those are the very traits not valued in or associated with our civil service.

The Blueprint’s local consultants included Air Asia’s Tony Fernandez, Khazanah’s Azman Mokthar, and Sunway’s Jeffrey Cheah, presumably representing the three major communities. These individuals are terribly busy. Unless they took time off from their considerable corporate responsibilities, they could not possibly do justice to this important national assignment.

The international consultants were equally impressive. Again here I wonder how much time they actually spent talking to teachers, students and headmasters. Another significant flaw is this: With the possible exception of the Canadian, the others are from systems not burdened with the Malaysian dilemma of low educational achievements identifiable with specific ethnic or geographical groups. In Ontario, Canada, only the Toronto School System which is separate from the provincial has significant experience with the “Malaysian” problem. The Canadian is with the provincial system.

Many of those impressive consultants were conspicuously absent during the many public sessions leading one to conclude that they were more window dressing.

As for the public meetings, there were few formal or well thought-out presentations. Far too often those meetings quickly degenerated into “bitch” sessions, or to put it into local lingo, cakap kosong kopi-o (coffee shop empty talk), with a few vociferous and frustrated individuals hogging the discussions. Worse, there were no records of those hearings for preview, except for those amateurish low-quality recordings posted on Youtube. Consequently, opportunities for learning from those sessions were minimal.

The reform has its own website ( and uses the social media (Facebook and Twitter) extensively. Those dialogues in cyberspace were no better; the comments were un-moderated and simply the spouting of anger and frustrations. As for the few serious ones, the panel never engaged their contributors. The cyber forums, like the public hearings, gave few insights; the signal-to-noise ratio was low. There was no shortage of passion and strong views, reflecting the angst Malaysians have of their school system.

A Superior Approach

There is a better approach. To begin with, dispense with the current or past personnel of MOE; they are or have been part of the problem. Consider that the most consequential reform in medical education, The Flexner Report of 1910 was produced not by a doctor or even an educator but an insurance salesman! It still is the foundation of modern American medical education. In Malaysia, the Razak Report of 1956 transformed Malaysian education, yet its author was no educator or teacher.

The only qualification I seek in those undertaking reform would be a respectable education (meaning, they have earned rather than bought their degrees), a proven record of success in any endeavor, and the necessary commitment, especially time, intellect, and energy. Meaning, these individuals would have to take a sabbatical from their regular duties. I would have no more than five members, with one designated as leader.

Then I would give them a generous budget to hire the best independent professional staff, from clerks to answer the phones efficiently to IT personnel to design and maintain an effective website, to scholars, statisticians and data analysts. The budget should also provide for travel to visit exemplary school systems elsewhere. I would also have those panelists spend most of their time talking to students, parents and teachers rather than ministry officials.

The panel should also have sufficient resources to hire consultants from countries with demonstrably superior school systems. I would choose two in particular – Finland and America. Both have sufficient experiences in dealing with children of marginalized communities; Finland with its new immigrants, America its minorities. Yes, American public schools do not enjoy favorable reputation but there are islands of excellence for us to emulate.

I would avoid consultants from Korea and other East Asian countries for at least two reasons. One, they are ethnically and culturally homogenous; they have no experience dealing with diverse groups; the Malaysian dilemma is alien to them. For another, while the Koreans regularly excel in international comparisons, they do not think highly of their own cram-school-plagued system. Those who can, avoid it.

I would also look beyond the advanced countries to, for example Mexico for its Progressa Program, and Rwanda with its ambitious and highly successful One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC) scheme. If poor Rwanda could have such an imaginative initiative, Malaysia could do even more. Rwanda demonstrates that an enlightened government approach could actually bring down prices. Rwanda’s computers cost under RM500 per unit! It could do that because the program is under the management of competent and honest foreign experts, not local inertia-laden bureaucrats and corrupt politicians on the take. Rwandan leaders are self confident and fully aware that they lack local expertise; they are not hesitant in calling in foreigners and do not worry about being “neo-colonized” or whatever.

Rwanda offers many other useful lessons. Foremost is that children from even the most physically and socially challenged environments could leapfrog the technological gap. That is pertinent for our children in Ulu Kelantan and Interior Sarawak. For another, reform in the classrooms spills into the wider community, spurring further reforms and developments there. Those Rwandan children dragged along their parents and grandparents into the digital age. Those elders are now open to the wider world; consequently they demand more of their leaders, like their villages having electricity so they could use their computers longer. They view those machines as agents of liberation and emancipation; now they can find out the price of the commodities they sell and the goods they buy directly from the market instead of being captive to the middlemen.

The only time I would call for ministry’s input is to have the staff enumerate the problems and challenges faced under the current system. This would also show whether they are indeed aware of those problems and whether their assessments match those of parents.

I would arrange the public participation component differently and also encourage input from all, individuals as well as groups. The initial submissions however, would have to be in writing. That would force presenters to think through their ideas. For groups I would stipulate that their report be accompanied by an attestation that it had been endorsed by their executive committees or general membership.

All submissions would be in Malay or English, with a translation in the other language. For those exceeding 300 words there would have to be an accompanying executive summary not more than 200 words, again in both languages. All these submissions would be posted on the panel’s website, with readers free to post their comments. Those comments as well as the original submissions would have to be edited (again by the panel’s professional staff) for clarity, brevity and accuracy, as well as to avoid embarrassing grammatical and spelling errors. That would lend some gravitas to the website as well as provide useful learning opportunities for those who surf it. The website as well as other media outlets must reflect the professionalism and excellence of the reform effort.

One does not get this impression now on reading the Blueprint or perusing the reform’s website.

The panel would then select from those submissions the few that are worthy for further exploration in an open public hearing. The purpose of those structured open hearings is to give the panel opportunities to elucidate greater details from the submitters, and for them to expand on their ideas. Those hearings are not meant to hear from new or on-the-spur commentators. Such a scheme would effectively cut out the grandstanders. Again, those proceedings, their transcripts as well as the video and audio recordings, would be posted on the website.

Only after all the public hearings have been completed would the panel gather to write their final recommendations, with freedom for each member to produce his or her own separate or dissenting comment. That is the only way to be credible.

The current process produces nothing more than a sanitized press release of MOE, embellished with the imprimaturs of those impressive corporate and international consultants.

Measures of Success

There are only four reliable indicators of success with education reform, and all are readily measured. The simplest is to stand at the Johor causeway on any school morning and count the number of school children going south. Trend those numbers. If five years hence that number were to dwindle, then you know that Malaysian parents have confidence in their schools. To be really sophisticated you could factor in the birth rates and other variables. However, those would not add much.

Similarly, you could take the train on a Sunday afternoon and count the number of youngsters in Johor heading south for the week to stay with extended families or boarding houses in Singapore to attend schools there.

Those chauvinistically inclined might be tempted to conclude that regardless how good our schools are, those predominantly Chinese students would still go south. If that is so, then I have two other trends to monitor. One, visit the top universities abroad and survey the Malaysians there. How many (or what percentage) come from our national schools? In the 1980s I could count many; today, hardly any. That decline correlated with the deterioration of our national schools.

Another would be to trend the number of Malaysians enrolled in local international schools. Now that quotas for local enrollment have been lifted, that number would be inversely related to the level of confidence the elite has of our schools.

These statistics are easily collected and trended; you do not need fancy “labs” for that. PEMANDU should assign a junior staff member to collect them.

Reform must be approached thoughtfully, both with the process and the people selected to lead it. The full consequence of the changes we put today would not be felt till decades or even generations later. We are only now realizing and paying the price for the follies of the 1970s.

As a youngster my father would admonish me whenever I did something sloppily. Not only had I wasted my effort, he reminded me, now somebody else would have to undo what I had done before he could do it the right way. Triple the work and effort, essentially.
These reform efforts consume considerable human, financial and other resources. They distract everyone, from politicians and ministry bureaucrats to parents, teachers, and most of all the students.

We have to do it right, beginning by having the right people.

The writer is the author of, among others, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia.

11 Responses to “The Havoc Education Reform Inflicts (Part 5 of 5)”

  1. Nathan says:

    You have made your points very succinctly, a lot of research and hard work has been made on your part. In my view your articles have been prepared with the best interest in mind for the success of the Malaysian education system for the future. Now let us see how the Malaysian authorities/Pemandu respond to the pertinent issues you have raised.

    I sincerely hope someone in authority from the Ministry of Education, Malaysia will respond to your article.

    Thank you very much.

  2. what a waste says:

    Mr. Bakri Musa has been specific yet vague in calling a spade as such. Malaysia is the only country in the world that has systematically pursued a policy of destroying her own citizens just because they are not of the ‘right’ race and religion. National schools where all or most Chinese, Indians and poorer Malay students study have slowly been transformed into the centres of utter anarchy. To ensure that their sinister plans are well and calmly carried out, UMNO has made sure that most Pengetuas of these schools are of the Malay race. Go to the national schools. Is any sincere education imparted to the students? National schools have become centres of gangsterism, insubordination and improper conduct on the part of the students of all races. Teachers who should never be teachers are holding posts and earning sinful salaries. TESL and Maths and science grads they are but they falter when imparting knowledge because it is a very big question how some of them got their degrees in the first place. I guess the race and religion was right. This is the worst and backstabbing country that wants to destroy her own ‘modal insan’. Parents who love the future of their children, remember this. The present system of education is tailored to destroy your your children’s future.

  3. bernard says:

    Children and youths are like young bamboo shoots, malleable and easily shaped. Thus human capital development should begin at home and in schools, colleges and universities. Parents, teachers and lecturers as architects of nation builders should join forces to mould their students mentally, spiritually, emotionally, morally and physically so that the generations to come can contribute constructively and meaningfully to mankind, nation and the world at large. The primary goal of education is to create a better human being. It is imperative for educators to define what an ideal human being is before they develop the means to achieve the end – a better human being.
    A school is akin to a factory. A factory is a means to produce products in the form of goods and services to meet societal needs. Likewise, a school is an avenue to produce quality human beings. Educators have to come up with measures of what constitute a good school before they can develop its systems. A world class quality education rests with the Ministry of Education to build good schools and hire quality people and put them in place in the education institution.

    The success of a student rests with the development of a strong, positive and dynamic personality. Human personality is a function of our genes and experiences in the environment. The development of a child personality begins with the parents. Prior to schooling, every child will have a unique pattern of behavior. The behavioral pattern is recognizable in the taxonomy – the classification of traits into personality type of numerous personality psychometric assessment tools. Educators have to be trained to recognize these patterns of behavior to develop a complete child.
    Knowing themselves and their students is vital for educators to provide quality educational leadership for their students. KYKO Psychometric Assessments tools are designed specially for educators to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of the existing building blocks of education in their endeavor to help students to develop the positive mental attitudes, skills and knowledge and their abilities to address the social, economic, cultural and environmental problems for the benefit of themselves and others, now and in the future.

    Identifying the patterns of behavior of the students in the following areas.

    Psychological Health

    1. Self-Actualizing Dimension – the need, desire or want for achievement, growth, fulfillment and to find meanings in life.
    Self actualization is the need, want or desire for achievement, growth, fulfillment and to live a constructive and life. Students lie in the continuum of the self-actualization dimension. High self actualizing student are relatively healthy in their mental and psychological disposition. They love schooling, chase after grades, make sound ethical and value judgments, have the ability to discern right from wrong with the compulsion or conviction to choose right, have a right attitude towards life and engage in functional school activities to grow their potentials.
    Students who are relatively psychologically unhealthy hate schooling and tend to exhibit deviant behavior. They lack interests and motivation in their studies, lack sound judgment and ability to discern the right from wrong, have a wrong attitude towards life and often engage in dysfunctional activities.
    Below are examples of traits of a student of
    Normal Type Personality – High achiever, keen learner, reasonable, cheerful, hardworking, responsible, reliable, enthusiastic, etc.
    Neurotic Type – Low achiever, reluctant learner, irrational, lazy, frustrated, unhappy
    Developing the self-actualization can significantly contribute to the mental, spiritual and moral components of the objectives of education

    Sociocentric Dimension – The need, desire or want for affection, care, affiliation, social interaction and acceptance
    Students lie in the continuum of the sociocentric dimension. High sociocentric students are gregarious, talkative, outgoing, like partying and making new friends and have a deep well for feelings. They enjoy companionship, seeks social interactions, prefers to work in groups. Low sociocentric students are aloof, impersonal, reserved, guarded, inhibited and prefer to do things on their own.
    Below are examples of traits of a student of
    Sociable Type Personality – emotional, friendly, sense of belongingness, enjoys social interaction, wants love and affection, sentimental, etc.
    Asocial Type – Detached, insensitive, guarded, impersonal, engage in solitary activities
    Combined with the self-actualizing dimension, the emotional component of the objective of education can be greatly enhanced.

    Egocentric Dimension – the need, desire or want for power, image, control and to take charge.
    Students lie in the continuum of the egocentric dimension.
    The assertive type of students has high self esteem and confidence. They are ambitious, competitive, and decisive and want to take charge. The submissive type is permissive, modest, soft nature and prefers to be a follower.
    The Assertive Type – High Egocentric – Confident, decisive, persistent, lead, mage, control, status –conscious, seek power
    The Submissive Type – Low Egocentric – humble, soft, lenient, low-key, accommodative

    Safety, Self-Discipline, Loyalty
    Security Dimension – the need, desire or want for safety, order, system and protection.
    Students lie in the continuum of the security dimension. The pragmatic types are meticulous, systematic, obedient, discipline and follow rules and regulations. The adventurous types enjoy experimenting with ideas and concepts, feel uncomfortable of being regulated and want to be independent and have more leeway to do their own things.
    The Pragmatic Type – high security – safety conscious, organized, precise, certainties, detail-oriented, formal
    The adventurous Type – Low Security – Disorganized, messy, unplanned, enjoys freedom, unconventional, spontaneous, impulsive, wants autonomy
    Students lie in the continuum of the manipulative dimension.

    Complex and Adaptability

    Manipulative Dimension – The need, desire or want for information, adapt, change and influence for survival, growth and to satisfy dominant needs.
    Students lie in the continuum of the manipulative dimension. The dynamic types are alert and aware of the environment, insightful, strategic and are able to adapt, persuade and influence others. The static types are blurred, straightforward, naïve, gullible and can be easily influenced by others.
    The Dynamic Type – High Manipulative – Flexible, persuasive, perceptive, analytical, inquisitive, opportunistic
    The Static Type – Low Manipulative – Inflexible, blunt, self-revealing, easily influence, over-trusting, docile

  4. bernard says:

    If a teacher knows oneself and the students he or she is likely to educate them successfully. If a teacher does not know oneself, for every student he or she educates, there will be a failure. If a teacher does not know oneself nor know not the students he or she is likely to fail in providing quality education for the students.

    For example, in delivering a lesson, if a teacher were to hurt the feelings of a sensitive student with a big ego, that particular student will turn a deaf ear to his or her lesson.

    If a teacher knows the learning styles of a student, one will be able to match his or her teaching techniques with the learning styles of the students to improve the teaching learning processes.

  5. bernard says:

    The primary goal of education is for educators to create ideal human beings. Is an ideal human being:

    1. A person with love and compassion for one’s fellow beings and with wisdom of knowledge and skills to use what they have learned for the betterment of mankind.

    2. A person chasing after personal aggrandizements and using what they have learned to manipulate, exploit, use and abuse their fellow beings without feeling guilty to their pains and sufferings.

    The two main key roles of an educator are:

    1. To impart one’s knowledge in his or her area of specialization to their student. Knowledge is defined as concepts and theories in a variety of disciplines or fields to understand the nature of things in the environment of the physical world.
    2. To build character focusing on producing students with compassion, kindness, goodness and decency to their fellow man

    The former is to develop the head and the latter is to develop the heart. Focusing on developing the head and neglecting the development of the heart is likely to create human beings capable of using their brain to manipulate their environment to chase after their personal agendas and dreams at the expense of the pains and sufferings of their fellow man. Developing the heart and neglecting the head is likely to create a bunch of ignorant and mentally handicapped people who becomes victims of their masters. Their masters control, exploit, use and abuse them to achieve their personal aggrandizements. Ideally the educator should strive to develop the head and the heart optimally. If not, at most they should strike a balance in developing the head and the heart.

  6. bernard says:

    It is high time to house our kids under one roof. Free busing should be provided for our students. As the Malay saying goes: “Tak Kenal Tak Cinta, Bila Kenal Barulah Cinta” Raising kids in schools with a big majority of one ethnic group is akin to raising chickens under different pens. Try to mix the chicken together at a later stage and you will find that they are fighting each other.
    Likewise, kids who hardly mix around with other ethnic groups are likely to become racists.
    Apparently it is our education system that causes the rifts in promoting national unity.
    It would be a good idea to set up Unity Schools to unite the kids of the various ethnic groups to create a truly Malaysian society in the future.

  7. bernard says:

    Our behavior is a function of the genes and the environment. We can’t do much if the kids were to inherit some bad genes from the family tree of their ancestors. At least we can provide a better environment for kids to grow their potentials. When kids grow up in a toxic environment where their needs such as physiological, security and love needs are seriously deprived and not satisfied, they will not be healthy in their psychological and mental dispositions. Imagine how a teacher could educate a kid raise by negligent parents who can’t provide him or her with the bare necessities of life and vent their frustrations abusing their kid. The school, teacher-parent associations and the NGOs should work hand in hand to identify these kids and put them in boarding schools. Change the toxic environment to a healthier environment, the kids will self-actualize and become healthier in their psychological and mental make-up.

  8. Future Teacher says:

    Hi, Mr Bakri, I came across your Book: An Education System Worthy of Malaysia while filtering through endless list of references for my assignment. It was enlightening for me as I do want to give my best for the future generations in our country. I have in many cases seen good teachers fighting of the stigma that is hindering them from improving education in Malaysia. If I were to list everything here, it would take me several hundreds of pages to include all the details. One of the realities in school environment is that most new teachers who wanted to try new strategies in teaching are hindered by some close minded senior educators who demand respect and submission to their old ways as the principle of ‘ don’t try teaching grandmothers how to suck eggs’ was strongly held. The sense of respect has been superficially altered, and this is what cause many high spirited teachers to give up and join the bandwagon. I do not want to turn into those devastated teachers as our younger generation are losing out so much. I feel that Malaysians have so much potential of being better given the historical background that shapes the best of both worlds (Eastern and Western influences) as well as our own unique local knowledge. Then there are those who wanted to take the easy way out of dumping everything onto the head of a single highly motivated teacher. Such discrimination at the workplace at the level of teaching colleagues are enough to convince the poor teacher to hide his/her talent rather than showing it as those workloads burn them out while they see the others sail though promotions and salary increment due to the phenomena of ‘cable pulling’ (the sense where personal relationships such as friendships are included in the professional judgement of selection criteria – underlying a sense of unprofessional decisions). Then there is the racial issue that goes on and on which really sicken me, being cynical of another ethnicity is an outdated, unapplicable and unacceptable mentality. Accepting the fact of multicultural elements where appreciation and respect for each other could gear towards firm unity. Brain drain happens because people feel helpless in their own country, helpless of genuinely uniting all Malaysian citizens, Malays and non – Malays alike which aspires from the heart, mind, and action. The sincerity from the heart means a lot. Changes to the heart can change many realities in life. Face ego and artificiality should be completely discarded. That is why Malaysians living abroad are still screaming their heads off at happenings in Malaysia. This is because, they still care a lot about our country! Then there are the ‘blacksheep’ teachers who turn into pedophiles who are just sent away to another school when their misdeeds were uncovered (Experiences from my friend from local boarding schools). It took a very brave teacher to report such cases and in the end got shunned by other colleagues. Not cool and not a very happy ending for a good teacher. Schools become unsafe. School performance are just a show. And the irony is that it took an outsider’s view to highlight what was really happening in the country to convince the higher authorities that something is wrong in their system. Such distrust towards the citizens is very saddening indeed. Those who speak out are deemed not loyal and seen as traitors to the country that raise them up. I hope that I could stay strong in upholding my principle improving things in light of all the overwhelming pressure that I am going to face soon after I return to the country.

  9. Thumb Logic says:

    All these words and your hard work will come to zero if we do not make Unity, equity, and commitment to quality education the starting point of our education policy. The absence of these concerns have now spilled into insitutions of higher learning and the work place. And in government departments, in particular, you can discern a subtle bias against certain groups in this country. We need an education system that will bring about a Race To The Top. Yes, by all means those who are weak due to social and cultural circumstances must be helped compete in this Race To The Top. In this regard, I do not see any reason why a son or daughter of a millionaire should also receive assistance.

  10. abulalif says:

    KULIM: The Government’s efforts to bring home Malaysian medical specialists serving abroad through Talent Corp is showing positive results, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

    He said more than 100 notable Malaysian medical specialists serving in Australia, Taiwan, United Kingdom and Ireland had stated their interest to return to serve in Malaysia.

    “Besides being offered appropriate positions, financial carrots have also been offered to bring them back,” he told reporters after launching Kulim Hospital Imaging Department’s CT Scan service here Sunday.

    Also present were Health Ministry secretary-general Datuk Kamarul Zaman Md Isa, Kedah Health director Dr Ismail Abu Taat and the hospital’s director, Dr Asmayani Khalib.

    On other matters, Liow said he was expediting efforts to get the sea ambulance service from Langkawi to the mainland, which was announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak when visiting Langkawi on Oct 31, launched without delay.

    On the National Cancer Institute in Putrajaya, he said it was scheduled to be operation by the end of next year. – Bernama

  11. Din says:

    Dear Sir,
    There is an article about you and your thinking style written in Malay at It’s nice and fair article i think. Thank you

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