Malaysia’s Educational Mess Up

August 17, 2016

Malaysia’s Educational  Mess Up

by Dr Azly Rahman

Where were these guys educated if not in a failed educational system?

On October 12, 2015, seven children – six girls and a boy between the ages of seven and 11 – were discovered to have died in Malaysia’s northeastern state of Kelantan after being lost for 48 days in the jungle, having run away from their residential school. Two girls survived by eating grass and wild fruits.

The children were Orang Asli, loosely translated as forest people, the indigenous peoples who were the original inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula before ethnic Malays arrived, mostly from Indonesia. They had run away to escape harsh punishment for bathing in a nearby river in Pos Tohoi in the Gua Musang District.  Despite supposedly honoring the Orang Asli as bumiputeras or sons of the soil, in fact the Malaysia government does not treat its indigenous peoples well, instead seeking to force-assimilate them into the Malay-Muslim culture.


The plight of the East Malaysian Penan tribe of Sarawak is another case study of marginalization and cultural genocide that is well-known internationally, with stories of the peoples of the forest defending their right to exist in face of the government’s building of mega-projects.

The horrific story of the death of the Gua Musang children is an example of how education in Malaysia has turned genocidal. It also points to the idea of what state schooling means to the indigenous people and how, in the case of the children of the ethnic Temiar tribe who perished, what form of mental torture is inflicted upon them in a state identified as “most Islamic” in the country. Kelantan is unofficially named “The Verandah of Mecca.” (Serambi Mekah) by the leaders of the ruling state government, Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS.

How is this so, and what does it say about the state of educational evolution and crisis of cultural degeneration Malaysia is in? For the world to understand how this modern society has evolved and how its people are schooled for social reproduction, one must understand the types of schools that have come into being

Seven types of schools

Since independence in 1957 (and that’s long ago), and as a legacy of British colonialism of divide and conquer as well as following the mold of Americanism, Malaysia has developed seven types of schools namely,

1) POWER SCHOOLS, i.e. international schools meant for the rich and powerful who will compete and collaborate with children of expatriates and to save children from the children of the poor and of the natives;

2) PRIVATE SCHOOLS, i.e. most often very expensive ‘breakaway schools’ meant to save children from poor teaching, overcrowded classrooms, and to save children of the rich from those of the lower and middle class;

3) PRIVILEGED SCHOOLS, i.e. well-funded boarding schools built to safeguard racial privilege and to instill ketuanan Melayu (the self-proclaimed sense of superiority of the Malays) amongst children who did well in their kampong schools to be saved from the schools for the poor, to groom them so that they will become leaders that will protect the rights of this or that race;

4) PAROCHIAL SCHOOLS, i.e. schools that sustain the transmission of this or that culture based on the perceived superiority of this or that language, culture, and religion, so that the children will be saved from being washed away by the tide of cultural change brought by the children of the poor;

5) PUBLIC SCHOOLS, i.e. government schools that sustain the ideology of the ruling regime par excellence and en mass, deploy curriculum that passes down ‘Official Knowledge and Grand Narratives of One Particular Historical, Cultural, Scientific truths’, train the children of the poor to be nationalistic and patriotic unquestionably, and those used as a training ground for children to participate in nation-building as servants and appendages to the state capitalist system so that the children will grow up as defenders of the evolving totalitarian state;

6) ‘PROOF-OF-CONCEPT’ SCHOOLS, i.e. well-funded ‘pulled-out’ government schools to prove that public schools do work as a showcase of innovations and good management, authentic assessment and evaluation, as a way to show that selected schools can be saved from the failing public schools, and that a failing policy can be saved by a successful showcase of ‘smart ways to schooling’;

7) PARIAH SCHOOLS, i.e. schools that beg for money from the government even to fix the roof or a toilet … fit for a punishment haven for children simply because they are born out of the wrong race, class, or caste, and schools for those whose parents did not go to any of the schools above.

Which of the schools do the children of the Temiar tribe of Gua Musang belong to? Which of those above do Malaysians wish their child to be schooled in?

No Malaysia child left behind?

What then must Malaysians do in this apartheid scheme of schooling and mass-babysitting? How can they stop this educational conveyor belt from moving, to give each child the right to be intelligent in a level playing field?  Dare they vote in a government that would correct the imbalances of a class system of social reproduction?

This is one expensive Joke

Malaysians have successfully created classes of society through the classification system of schools and through the class ideology we directly or indirectly teach in our classrooms.  There are schools for the rich and schools for the poor. Like labeling cage-produced chicken eggs, they assign “grades” to their schools.

When schools are failing, they try to create independent schools and profit from more private schools, leaving behind the children of the poor of all races to be recycled in the system of structural mental-ideological violence.  They are wasting talent. Instead of making the government slogan “brain gain” a reality, we are making brains go down the drain.

They have also created a dispossessed youth with passion for death-defying drag-racing, the so-called Mat and Minah Rempits, or street racers as well as essentially loan-shark alongs preying on the financially desperate, and gangsters groomed in the rubber estates and depressed urban areas.

These are the products of unthinking schooling and reproductions of the post-industrial society. The society has neglected the development of their children’s minds and has created successful failures through the schools they build.  The government has appointed educational leaders who perhaps have never set foot in a classroom, let alone in those of the most impoverished areas of our country.

What is our problem with the enterprise called ‘Education’? What then must Malaysians do? It seems that they are only reading daily about the mega-fiasco of the 1MDB and the fruitless war between the camps of the former leader Mahathir Mohamad and the current one headed by Najib Razak about who is stealing how much of the people’s money, now and forever.

Essentially Malaysians continue to neglect the debate concerning their children’s future – their great school debate.

 Dr. Azly Rahman grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a doctorate in International Education Development from Columbia University and multiple Masters Degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has written seven books and more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia and global issues.  He currently resides in the United States where he teaches courses in Education, Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Political Science, and American Studies. He blogs at

17 thoughts on “Malaysia’s Educational Mess Up

  1. Mercy…. Which parent can read and not share tears when little children died of starvation in the jungle? Why? To escape harsh punishment meted out in the hostel? For doing their usual thing before? bathing in the river? But I digress…
    The Ed system was screwed during my time. 50years ago… And it is worst today…

  2. When did the slide start? Join the dots and you will reach the NEP by Razak the father of Najib. The NEP taught the Malays that all they need to do is reproduce to produce more and more voters to ensure they are always subsidised by non-Malays. And so, when making as many subsidised babies with your four subsidised wives is all you’re interested in, you’re screwed in all the other things that make a successful race. Morality, diligence, resilience, etc. all down the drain. Corruption, teenage pregnancy, child rape, drug abuse, violent crime, unemployment, illiteracy in English are all off the charts among Malays. As long as Malaysia keeps inventing excuses to keep treating different races differently, it will never be a nation.

  3. The Portuguese ruled Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau for 500 years by deliberately not educating the people they colonised.

    The British educated the people of India and these educated people led the
    anti-colonial struggle and forced the British out. Especially when educated Indians experienced racial discrimination at the hands of the British and were prevented from rising to the higher levels of the colonial administration.

    In 1Malaysia, the UMNO Baru-BN regime stays in power by keeping ordinary people from thinking critically or poorly educated (e.g. the Orang Asli who continue to support UMNO Baru or poor Indians who support MIC) playing on ethnic, religious and linguistic divisions; etc.

    In the long run, perhaps the continued production of
    Malay college and university graduates into an unpromising job market with stagnant wages will prove to be the undoing of UMNO Baru-BN ?

  4. Great , this Minister says : ‘ Focus on your studies, not on politics ‘ , when he himself is messed up in his own politics to become No 1 Minister of Education. What an irony !

    This b.s, is easier said than done. It is in their DNA to dabble in politics, for yelling & shouting here and there…..they get a meteoric rise for striking he attention of the masses and their Bosses in the political party they are in . Most have never been seriously interested in Learning as such….all bull-sh…..ting….. their way through to the top.

    Far from being honest, its all about artificiality and pretensions ……no wonder , there’s a dirge of good and productive Bumiputras in almost all spheres of activity , for not being interested in the Sciences to face hardships of Life…..

    Good luck to all the b.s. – everyone just interested in quick rise to the ‘ top ‘ !

  5. What can you expect when education is left to the uneducated or worse the miseducated in our midst?

    Come back to your beloved Malaysia, your true alma mater. Join a political party, join the Ministry of Education, join anything in Malaysia where you can put your very impressive multiple scholarly discipline to truly good use and not go teach the already well-endowed American kids.

    Change happens by doing, not talking and writing. Whatever happens in the past that made you leave the country is past. Malaysia right now more than at any other time needs people like you to be actually on its soil. The present rotten status of Malaysian education decides the future of Malaysia. It is not an academic subject for scholarly dissertation however brilliant.

    If you truly want to fight for the future of Malaysian education, then fight it in Malaysia where it really counts, not 1000s of miles away cocooned in cozy academia. Unless of course you are a thinker and not a doer, in which case then go on thinking.

  6. My commentary on Mr Wayne’s remarks to Prof Azly Rahman:

    “Change happens by doing, not talking and writing. Whatever happens in the past that made you leave the country is past. Malaysia right now more than at any other time needs people like you to be actually on its soil. The present rotten status of Malaysian education decides the future of Malaysia. It is not an academic subject for scholarly dissertation however brilliant.”

    Commentary: Writers (thinkers) play as important a role as doers insocial change. The pen is as mighty as the sword, if not actually mightier. Ideas and ideologies move the masses. Successful revolutions such as the French Revolution — the way was paved by earlier thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau. Russian Revolution — by Marx and by thinker-doers such as Lenin. American Revolution — Jefferson, Paine.

    “If you truly want to fight for the future of Malaysian education, then fight it in Malaysia where it really counts, not 1000s of miles away cocooned in cozy academia.”

    Commentary: Being in a foreign country, away from the clutches of corrupt Third World regimes, gives many advantages. One can write more freely; one is safe from arbitrary job loss, arbitrary harassment & arrest, imprisonment and torture; one can influence opinion in foreign countries; one can still influence one’s fellow citizens (this is the Internet age!). The thing is to actively take part in thinking, writing or doing, wherever one may be — in a foreign country, or in the Tanah Air — for progressive change.

  7. Dr. Phua Kai Lit,

    I merely invited Dr. Azly to come back to Malaysia and “do” something, being one of so few Malays who are in a privilege position to actually make change happen. He was once a teacher in Malaysia but left. That’s why I open my comment with…..”What can you expect when education is left to the uneducated or worse the miseducated in our midst?”

    I therefore agree with you, that’s why I said to Dr. Azly…..”Unless of course you are a thinker and not a doer, in which case then go on thinking”…..perhaps I should also have added…”…and writing” in order to dissipate a possible mistaken impression of sarcasm towards academics in general.

    The point I was trying to make was that the rot in the educational system in Malaysia has gone beyond mere academic discussion and dissertation. Anyone one of us who is not perpetually sleepwalking knows what is wrong. No need for any academic to tell us. Just ask any taxi driver of any race who has no choice but to send his children to our national schools.

    It is time to “do”, to change.

    Dr. Azly is in a unique position. If he is a non-Malay and writing the above article he would have been labelled an unpatriotic anti-Malay racist who should go back to “Tong San” or India or wherever if he is so unhappy with our, as Tan Sri Muyhiddin when he was the education minister said, best education in the World.

    This country needs good leaders, Malay leaders. If all good intelligent Malays, of whom Dr Azly is one of many, leaders or not, were to leave the country and stay “safe” overseas and leave it to the clever rogues who make up 100% of the UMNO Baru members of Parliament to run things like the crucially important portfolio of educating our young, then even Malays like Dr. Azly has no cause for disappointment.

    I therefore repeat to Dr. Azly and perhaps to Dr. Phua…” What can you expect when education is left to the uneducated or worse the miseducated in our midst?”

  8. Dear Mr Wayne

    I agree with you that progressive Malay intellectuals should speak up fearlessly. (Some have – like Profs Aziz Bari and Azmi Sharom).

    It simply does not matter where they are located – Malaysia, Singapore or other foreign countries – as long as they do so.

    All of us can contribute where our talents lie best i.e. thinking, writing or activism or a combination. Not many thinkers/writers (intellectuals if you will) make effective activists and effective politicians. (From history, we have people like Lee Teng-Hui, Trotsky, Lenin, Thomas Jefferson, Julius Nyerere and so on).

    I highly recommend this book by James Joll
    “Three Intellectuals in Politics” featuring Leon Blum (first Socialist President of France), Filippo Marinetti (fascist Italian thinker and doer) and
    Walther Rathenau (finance minister of Germany during the Weimar Republic).

  9. The good doctor Rahman left out the most important school – so numbered zero.

    0) PILFERING SCHOOL, i.e. the “invisible college” run by UMNOputras on how to pilfer, pillage and plunder the public.

  10. These issues are nothing new and will continu to plague Malaysia. Education was bad before independence when I was a boy. It has gotten from bad to worse to worst. Racial politics have infected all aspects of governance, and education is not spared either. I don’t see any possible improvement in the near future, not the next 20 years, even though a total annihilation of the pathetic system and policies is initiated today. Not when UMNO is still running the country.

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