What “education revolution” is Malaysia undertaking  when the new Deputy Prime Minister and former Education Minister has no confidence in the national education system himself as he  does not send his own children to national schools?

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(PenangThursday): I was very excited when the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said at the dialogue with National Economic Action Council  (NEAC) members, corporate leaders, professionals and academicians on Tuesday that Malaysia needs an “education revolution” in the quest to have a  world-class education  to produce talented human capital in an increasingly global and competitive environment. 

Abdullah said:  “Is the younger generation passing through our national education system adequately equipped to thrive in an increasingly global and competitive environment? 

“I believe we will need nothing less than an education revolution to ensure that our aspirations to instill a new performance culture in the public and private sectors are not crippled by our inability to nurture a new kind of human capital that is equal to the tasks and challenges ahead.”  (Star  14.1.03) 

To me, the promise of an “education revolution” would be Abdullah’s  single most important pledge in his   “First Hundred Days” as the fifth Prime Minister because of its far-reaching and long-term impact on Malaysia’s competitiveness and prosperity and the well-being and progress of future generations.  This was why a  week earlier, I had called  on Abdullah to establish a second royal commission on the quality of education for primary, secondary, tertiary, mother-tongue and ICT to make it the top national objective to face the 21st century challenges of globalization as  “Malaysia’s education system needs to undergo not just a reform, but a revolution”.  (Media Statement 5.1.04) 

Malaysians who had hoped that Abdullah’s call for an “education revolution” at the NEAC dialogue on Tuesday would be followed by a historic  Cabinet meeting yesterday to take  the necessary policy measures  to pave the way for an “education revolution” in Malaysia were however greatly disappointed. 

This was because  the Education Minister, Tan Sir Musa Mohamad emerged from the Cabinet meeting yesterday to tell reporters after his ministry’s post-Cabinet meeting that Abdullah’s call for an “education revolution” did not presage any “revolution” at all, but “more of a reminder to the Education Ministry to continue its present efforts to improve the education system”.  (Star) 

Musa even sought to explain away Abdullah’s call for an “education revolution” by claiming that the national education system had been in the throes of an “education revolution” not only in the past four years after the 1999 general election, but for the past decade! 

The Star  today quoted Musa as saying that “efforts such as the ministry’s 10-year Education Blueprint 2001-2010 and curriculum revamps were testimony to the Government’s effort to revolutionise the education system” and that  “the system had in fact been undergoing education revolution since Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was Education Minister”.

I have four immediate responses  to Musa’s attempt to explain away the Prime Minister’s call for an “education revolution” – firstly, that Abdullah needs a completely new Cabinet, including a new Education Minister, if he is to fulfill his many promises in his “First Hundred Days”   such as  “an education revolution” to ensure an education system of quality and not mediocrity. 

My second response is to wonder  what “education revolution” is Malaysia undertaking  when the new Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak,  under whose leadership it was supposed to have started when  he was Education Minister from 1995-1999, has no confidence in the national education system himself as he  does not send his own children to national schools! 

It was reported by the mainstream media in the joy and euphoria over the appointment of Najib as the Deputy Prime Minister that his two teenage children, daughter Nooryana Najwa, 15, and Nor Ashman Razak, 13, were also “the centre of attention at school with teachers and classmates congratulating them”, and that the school they are attending is not a national school but the private Garden International School. (Star 8.1.04) 

The curriculum of the Garden International School, according to its website,,  is given as follows:

“The Lower Secondary School Curriculum, Year 7, 8 and 9, follows the general direction of the National Curriculum implemented in the UK at Key Stage 3 (Ages 11-14). This helps prepare students for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education or IGCSE Examination conducted by the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate taken at the end of Key Stage 4 (Ages 14-16).”


Can all Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and MPs who have no confidence in the national education system by sending their children to private schools preparing for overseas examinations, whether Garden International School or others, step forward to identify themselves? 

Thirdly, what is this “education revolution” initiated by Najib as Education Minister in 1995 when Malaysia has patently failed to become an educational  centre of academic excellence whose universities could be in the same league as the world’s top universities such as Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge? 

In the sixties, there was no dispute that the  University of Malaya belonged  to the top international league of universities, but although it is still regarded as the cream of local universities, it is no more recognized  as belonging  to the international cream of universities. 

In the Asiaweek’s  2000 ranking of Best Universities in the region, University of  Malaya occupied the lowly and humiliating  No. 47 position out of 77 universities, suffering a precipitate and unchecked fall from the 11th ranking in the first year of the Asiaweek survey in 1997,  sliding to No.33 in 1998, improving slightly to No. 27 before plunging to the 47th place.  Two other Malaysian universities made it to the Asiaweek 2000 ranking of Best Universities in the region – Universiti Putra Malaysia (No. 52) and Universiti Sains Malaysia (No. 57). 

Recently, an academician lamented to me that after a quarter of a century of mediocrity in the universities, the “circle of mediocrity” has closed with  virtually all important positions of academe occupied by the mediocre instead of those with academic merit, producing not just “unemployed” but “unemployable” graduates. 

Fourthly, is the RM200 million tuition voucher scheme for 500,000 poor primary school Year Four, Five and Six pupils in rural schools and certain schools in poor urban areas in Mathematics, Science, English and Bahasa Malaysia an example of the  “education revolution” Musa has in mind – blissfully unaware that the RM200 million tuition voucher scheme is in fact a shocking admission of the failure of the national education system going back to the introduction of the new KBSR (the 3M system) in the early eighties and the real reason why top leaders like the new Deputy Prime Minister do not send their children to the national schools?


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman