Malaysia’s Educational Reform: Yellow States lead the Way

by Azly Rahman@Columbia, New York

July 30, 2008
To evolve into wiser individuals with enquiring minds, we must ask questions and reflect upon the answers suggested to us. If we are afraid to ask questions, our mind and consciousness will be owned and manipulated by those who think they have the right answers, or by those who wants to use force to tell us what the right answers shall be.” – My thoughts on the nature of learning

I currently firmly believe that education should first be a dialectical and dialogical tool to mediate and resolve the contradictions between Existentialism and Cyberneticism, and of Cultures of Disabilities, …and next be a Deconstructive-Reconstructivist tool and social force to engineer personal and social revolutions and progress towards the realisation of a personal republic of virtue, ethics, multiculturalism, and metaphysics; so that human beings endowed with the Natural Rights to be free may collectively become educated to rise above hegemony, domination, and oppression and in the final analysis, journey towards a Pastoral and Natural self .”- My personal philosophy of teaching

Let us take a break from thinking about Malaysian politics. Justice will take its natural course, the natural “way”, like how Lao Tzu would philosophize.

In stead, let us talk about the possiblities in education.

I have some ideas on how we can evolve out of this current political quagmire and focus our attention to an ever-pressing national question: how best to educate the children of our nation.

We need to have the states governed by Pakatan Rakyat to experiment with a new paradigm of educational reform. To showcase what “human capital revolution”, “education across the life span” and “education for creative and critical consciousness” means.

Not only to showcase one but to have a continuous improvement plan that uses data-driven and sociologically reflective techniques to engineer, nurture, and sustain such changes until education becomes the only means to educate the child to become a thinking, feeling, and reflecting human being skilled to live in harmony with people of different races and consistently exploring the power to transform the self.

In other words, we need to interrogate our educational practices and see if indeed the one that is engineered by the current regime of Barisan Nasional is effective.

We can embark upon a longitudinal comparative study – which states will progress better with a different set of idea of what education ought to be. The Yellow states of Pakatan Rakyat and the Blue states of Barisan Nasional can each be given five years to showcase improvement. We need to give them only these concepts to work on: “nature of the human beings”, “nature of the human mind”, “nature of learning and teaching”, “nature of change”, “nature of intellectual freedom”, “nurture of human intelligence”, “nurture of multiculturalism”, and “nurture of class consciousness”.

Game on

Let educational philosophers and planners and practitioners form each camp design their long-term strategies and pull together their experts and their resources.

The ultimate goal after five years is to do this: which states will have the least drop-outs, least at-risk youths, least youths incarcerated, most globally-minded, most employable graduates, and more intelligent, more world-wise, and more emphatic leaders in society.

Which states would have the best teachers with the best teaching skills and strategies, most engaged students, most creative classroom, most frequent integration of project-based learning strategies, most innovative assessment strategies, most inquisitive students, happiest learners, most-mentally resilient and gung-ho graduates, and most internationally-recognized awards?

Which states would still have the most unmotivated teachers, most vandalised schools, most neglected students, most number of daily truancy cases, most absent teachers, most stratified schools districts, most wasted class periods, most under-funded schools, most number of tuition classes, most frequent interference of politicians who do not have any business interrupting schools, most mentally lethargic learners, and most unmotivated and unskilled graduates who still need to be coached during job interviews?

That would be a good experiment in human and social transformation.

We need an independent body of researchers to report on the state of educational improvement in these two set of states – the Yellow and the Blue states. The winner of the game will get to take over the entire operation of the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Higher Education.

The winner will get to set up another ministry – The Ministry of Human Intelligence, fashioned after Venezuela’s many years ago, to look into education in the most comprehensive sense of its definition. We need benchmarks of success; those that would reflect national and international standards of excellence, equity, and empathy in education.

These standards need to be met cumulatively and progressively, pegged meaningfully and authentically to SMART national and international standards.


The current state of education in Malaysia, after fifty years of independence, lacks the excellence and the rigour, the political will to recognise equity and equal opportunity, and lack of empathy in looking at the class divisions forming in the process of schooling. It is slow in restructuring society based on the alleviation of poverty regardless of race.

It has failed in its commitment to instill the spirit of Muhibbah; a concept the current government had asked children to sing to in the early 1970s. It is in fact using more sophisticated ways to divide and rule society so that the hegemony of race-based politics will continue to become a status quo.

We are at a critical stage of “point-of-no-return” in education; our conveyor belt of nationalistic-tribalistic education philosophy guised under the name of “educational progress”, is going haywire, sending our batch-processed children off tangent in this Rostowian ideology of educational progress. What a waste of talent and human capital. Instead of turning them into lotuses of learners that bloom, we are making them bricks in the wall.

But first things first, as Steven Covey would say.

Let us first commission a new study of drop-out/keciciran, using good qualitative and quantitative data next and find strategies to deal with it. Our nation is actually in danger of a major human development crisis, compounded by the current oil and food crisis.

The revolution of March 8 needs a new means to sustain a good idea for human development and social change. It has the potential of political, cultural, and educational renewal. We Malaysians must all rise beyond the current pre-September 16 national-political crisis that is imploding and exploding multi-directionally against the backdrop of a world that is perpetually in crisis.

Winning children

But this proposed game of Yellow-Blue educational reform is not about creating and projecting an image alone. It is about our fear for our children’s future. It is about our passion in education and how one can learn from educational practices worldwide.

I believe talents are wasted.

There are solutions that this current regime has not yet discovered. Our goal is to see children of ALL races progress. That’s what any religion and humanistic philosophy teaches. Whatever success one’s own children have achieved, that success formula MUST be applied to the children of others, especially of the poor.

That’s what a good philosophy of education should mean to us. We cannot discriminate any child; at all levels of his/her development. The mind is too precious to be under the control of the ignorant, the arrogant, and the xenophobic.

Perhaps the state of Selangor as the most progressive state can show us the way forward in education; and the fruits of success shared with others. It can even be a hub for top notch and quality education that will link its institutions with top notch programs, institutes, and colleges worldwide.

Perhaps this state can be spearhead the radical reform and see an intellectually sustainable culture emerging. Perhaps Selangor’s state university UNISEL (Universiti Industri Selangor) can be the impetus for change; spearheading comprehensive reforms at all levels. This will be followed by other state-owned and private universities until we see a parallel paradigm running; each documenting and reporting successes and rooms for improvement based on a “child-centered” curriculum that guarantees success for all.

The Barisan Nasional government has its own idea of what Malaysian education should look like; an idea closely tied to communal/race-based politics and the obsession with mind-control, obedience, and the lessening of critical thinking. It has its own competent Vice Chancellors that are working hard to have their institutions reach world-class status.

But looking at things from a collaborative point of view, perhaps these two ideologies in education (the yellow-blue ideological-dichotomy) can one day be dissolved when the experiment’s over. Ultimately bi-partisan thinking should govern educational change. Ultimately in education, philosophy will triumph over politics.

When must we then embark upon this game of education – the race for excellence, equity, and empathy in education? It must be a game in which every child must come out a winner.

9 thoughts on “Malaysia’s Educational Reform: Yellow States lead the Way

  1. Interesting piece on comprehensive education reform but no matter how good the proposal and how practical we shall never, in my opinion, even get started unless we re-introduce English from day one in our education system. Everything else is secondary to this central fact. And strange how nobody seems to be talking about it. Without English we are done for.

  2. Mastering the English language is crucial but to make it the medium of instruction will be difficult and face opposition from the nationalists. Education is serious business but are the people – the minister who is a political appointee and learning on the job, his advisers, educational department leaders and officers, serious about wanting to reform education.

    It seems that about almost everyone agrees that the education system needs improvement except for the the very people in charge of the system themselves. With typical pride, nobody in this country ever admits failure and take up responsibility for ineffective policies, blaming nature, the others and anything under the sun.

    What the country needs right now is not good advice or brilliant suggestions, it needs right now more than anything else is visionary leaders that will ready the people for global challenges instead of sheltering them with more protectionism.

  3. Agreed, msleepyhead. The country needs visionary leaders to ready the people for challenges ahead. But such leaders must also possess the courage to confront past mistakes one of which was (as is evident now) the misplaced linguistic nationalism five decades ago that led to the relegation of English.
    The good news for Malaysia is that unlike other countries that are right now seriously considering the elevation of English in their systems, we have a good head start in that English is already quite widespread here. So provided it is well thought out any plan to implement the re-introduction of English would not be as difficult as it will be say for South Korea (which, I believe, is right now debating this very issue) or Cambodia, Laos etc where French is the language.
    Nationalists will, of course, oppose this in their wrong belief that English would mean weakening of our Bahasa. This need not happen as Bahasa would still be compulsory all the way up to say graduate level. Such a practice has been successfully implemented in many countries from whom we could learn.
    I truly believe that unless we embrace the English Language right now there is no way we can arrest the slow but steady slide in our competitiveness.


    Uncle Joe,

    His initial opening comment which translates into “(Anwar) who has committed the offence of sodomy” puts law enforcement on its head!

    The duty of the police is to investigate reports of any wrongdoing and stops short of determining if the subject of their investigation is guilty of anything or what the crime or crimes are. It is up to the Attorney General as chief prosecutor for the government to look at the evidence and decide if a crime has occurred and what this crime or crimes are and if the evidence is sufficient for the government to go forward with the prosecution.

    Prosecuting someone without sufficient evidence would mean falling foul of the double jeopardy rule. A far worse consequence to the AG personally would be the allegation of prosecutorial misconduct which when proven would mean disciplinary action and the loss of his practicing certificate and worse imprisonment – and damages to pay in case of civil suits against him by the victims and finally bankruptcy.

    The police has decided that Anwar is guilty and in doing so, slaps the AG in his face and kicks the CJ on his butt!

    The country’s Chief Justice must now issue a statement to restore public confidence in the justice system taking to task the second most powerful police officer in the country for his remarks in order to preserve whatever integrity is left of a process we know as “due process”.

  5. Mr Bean
    Is that the Dy IGP? Wonder will he be the next IGP? He was shifting in his pants when making the Press Statement especially when saying “Anwar who has committed the offence of sodomy” How can he be so sure? Has Anwar been charged and tried in a court of law?
    This Dy IGP is making a clown of himself and it filters down through to the rank and file. And everybody goes around calling him Yang Berhormat Tan Sri. tsk tsk

    Shrek also like to be Tan Sri 10-4

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