Cabinet should face up to Malaysia’s acute  educational crisis and set up Royal Commission of Inquiry into Education to prepare the country for  the challenges of  globalisation and information and communications technology

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Monday): Malaysia’s poor ranking in the latest Asian survey on the quality of the national education systems in the continent  should be a wake-up call to the Prime Minister, the Education Minister, the Cabinet and the entire country to own up to the acute educational crisis facing the country and the urgent need to take remedial actions to win the race for regional and international recognition for the  quality and excellence of our  education system.

Malaysia was ranked seventh out of  12  Asian countries surveyed by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), when Malaysia should be among  the top three nations with the best quality education systems, as we boast of our  Twin Towers and other world’s “biggest, longest and tallest”  achievements  in the Guinness Book of Records.  What would be Malaysia’s ranking among the quality education systems in the world?

The  latest PERC  survey of foreign business executives working in the region found that Japan, Singapore and South Korea have the best education system in Asia and as a result they have the highest quality labour force.

China and India were not high on the list, but because of their huge population they have a large pool of highly-skilled labour army in niche industries and had the potential to be formidable competitors in the future.

Educational standards in South-East Asia rated poorly and the quality of education in the Philippines may be falling.

The survey included several criteria such as the overall impression of the quality of the local educational system and the cost of production labour.

It also covered the availability of high quality production labour, the cost and availability of clerical and highly qualified management staff, proficiency in English and overall skill of the labour force.

In a scale of zero to 10 with zero being the best grade possible, South Korea emerged top with an average rating of 3.09, trailed closely by Singapore with 3.19. In the third place was Japan with a grade of 3.50, while Taiwan came in fourth with 3.96. India was fifth with a grade of 4.24, followed by China with 4.27,  Malaysia with 4.41 and Hong Kong with 4.72.  The Philippines was in ninth place, scoring 5.47 and Thailand in 10th place with 5.96, followed by Vietnam with 6.21, Indonesia at 12th place was bottom with a score of 6.56.

The Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad should take the latest PERC survey seriously, and regard it as a national and personal affront, especially the low ranking of the Malaysian education system despite the government’s oft-repeated objective to make the country the regional centre of academic excellence.

Musa should present a special paper to the Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday on the Ministry’s response and strategy to the adverse PERC ranking for the quality of the education system, and this paper should be made public after the Cabinet meeting.

In  April, former Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Musa Hitam proposed
a  National Commission of Enquiry with the specific objective of studying the education scene  to review  shortcomings in the system and with a mandate to make  recommendations.

Speaking  at the inaugural Tunku  Abdul Rahman Putra Memorial lecture in Penang  on "Education and Excellence: Challenges of the 21st Century'', Musa noted that 30 years after the National Economic Policy was launched, the country "suddenly woke up just a couple of weeks ago to be  told by no less than the Prime Minister himself that the education system had failed in its main
objective of achieving national unity.''

Musa suggested that the commission should be given six months or even a year to carry out its assignments and that the public, including political parties, NGOs,  associations, societies representing any interest, as well as individuals be invited to submit their views  and suggestions.  The commission should allow submissions  to be made either in writing via memoranda or orally, and  should preferably be conducted in open sessions.

What the country urgently needs is a Royal Commission of Inquiry to address the twin educational crisis in the country: to achieve the overriding objective of national unity and to prepare the country for the challenges of the new era of
information technology.

The present national education system is clearly not in tune with the needs of a  K-economy,  as it  does not give the highest priority to talents, creativity, skills and innovation but only interested in  quantity and not quality of higher education in the country - as illustrated by the recent debate on meritocracy for bumiputra university students, which seems to be petering out into nothing.

If Malaysia is not to further lag behind other Asian countries, whether in our national competitiveness or the quality of our education system, the Cabinet  should wake up to the reality that in the new knowledge economy, human capital is more important than physical capital and that the quality of knowledge generated within our  higher education institutions is  becoming increasingly critical to our national competitiveness.

Enrolment in tertiary education in Malaysia is comparative low. In 1999,  only 21.4 per cent of the youths in the 17-23  age cohort continued education to the higher level, as compared to  the enrolment rate which was as high as
45 per cent for Ireland and 35 per cent for the United Kingdom.

As a first  step, the Cabinet on Wednesday  should face up to Malaysia’s acute  educational crisis and set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Education to prepare the country to face the twin challenges national unity and that  of   globalisation and information and communications technology.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman