Dr.Bakri Musa’s Advice to Education Minister Maszlee

August 7, 2018

Dr.Bakri Musa’s Advice to Education Minister Maszlee Malik : Be More An Executive, Less A Professor

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan Hill, California

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New Education Minister Maszlee Malik should be more an executive and less a professor. He leads an organization with a budget in excess of RM280B and a staff of over half a million to lead. That ministry, like all others, is not known for its crispness.

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Forget about grand plans and overarching policies. All would be for naught if your staff and organization cannot execute them, or if they are consumed with such trivia as campus newspaper subscriptions and pupils’ shoe color. If Maszlee is still obsessed with policies, delegate a committee to work on them.

Maszlee should first focus on shaping up that flabby organization. Enlist someone with a solid MBA or credible business experience to help him be an effective and efficient executive. There is a universe of difference in being a professor and an executive. Likewise, business meetings are unlike academic seminars. You want results and decisions, not endless intellectual musings and more research.

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Dr. Maszlee Malik–Malaysia’s New Education Minister

Maszlee should assess the capabilities and weaknesses of his staff . Forget about wacanas, town hall meetings, or press conferences. To his credit, he has already made many personal visits for first-hand assessments.

The challenges facing Malaysian education are as overwhelming as they are obvious, the consequence of long neglect, incompetent leadership, and political meddling. The difficulty is not in identifying them but to pick three or four of the more pressing ones and tackle those.

Maszlee has articulated some of those–greater university autonomy, making our students at least bilingual, enhancing English and STEM, as well as fixing our dilapidated schools. Those four would occupy and challenge him for some time. There is little need and would serve little purpose to go beyond as with recognizing UEC, sending a team to Finland, or issuing edicts on students’ shoe color.

Maszlee’s first and continuing public task, as with all the other ministers, is to “walk the talk.” He cannot profess to champion university autonomy and then order the dismantling of campus gates and make the campuses have speakers’ corners! The universities should do those things on their own initiative. By issuing that directive Maszlee missed out on a splendid opportunity to assess his Vice-Chancellors’ (VCs) responsiveness to the rising expectation for greater openness.

Maszlee should elicit from them their three or four most immediate challenges and ask how he as minister could help. They, not him, know best (or should) as they are closest to the problems. If they cannot articulate them or are more concerned with a welcoming ceremony for him, fire them.

Firing university leaders should be done only if they are found wanting or fail to gain the confidence of the greater campus community, and not because they were appointed by the previous administration. Doing so would only perpetuate the blight of political interference that is the bane of local institutions.

Likewise with stressing the importance of English. Maszlee would best demonstrate that not through endless speeches but with an executive decision to make MUET mandatory for universities and teachers’ colleges. Likewise if he were to give extra allowances and preferential choice for quarters to teachers of English (as well as STEM). He could also direct schools to increase their hours of instruction in English and have another subject be taught in that language.

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Former MITI Minister Rafidah Aziz–An Excellent Dare to Do  and dynamic executive


Another would be to have his staff communicate in English and make its proficiency a requirement for promotions and entry into the permanent establishment. Emulate what Rafidah Aziz did at MITI. She was an “excellent dare to do” dynamic executive.

Make 12 years of schooling the norm. Bring back Form VI and reduce it to one year and start it in January together with the rest of the school. Make the transition from Form V to VI as seamless as going from Form IV to V. That would bring order to the current chaos for school-leavers.

For those academically inclined, the current seven-month hiatus following Form V is a colossal waste of time and precious loss of learning opportunity. The rich enroll their children in private colleges. Most Malays idle their time away. Much attrition of good study habits occurs. Beyond that, idle time is the devil’s workshop.

Get rid of matrikulasi and universities’ foundation courses. Both are a waste of scarce and expensive resources. Universities should focus on undergraduate, graduate, and professional education, not high school work.

As for fixing schools, Maszlee has demonstrated the dire need for that by his many photo-ops showing him sitting at pupils’ broken desks. At the macro level the best solution would be to prevail upon Treasury to have MOE’s tenders be open to competitive bidding. That would achieve more with less.

At the micro level, the Minister would achieve even more and much faster while at the same time streamline the process if he were to give the money directly to the headmasters. Let them prioritize the repairs and choose the local contractors. If you entrust them with the nation’s most precious assets–the brains of our young–then you could also trust them with a few million ringgit.

Back to the teachers, Maszlee should not get bogged down with administrative trivia as with requests for their transfers and maternity leave. Let your human resources people deal with those. Stay out of it by letting the teachers deal with the schools directly.

Execute these well and Maszlee would earn the heartfelt gratitude of millions of Malaysians, quite apart from making a significant contribution to the betterment of the nation. Get off the public lectern and buckle down at your desk.

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Note: I have explored these and other ideas in greater depth in my book, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia (2003,  ISBN 983 2535 06-9 (Malaysian edition), 0-595-26590-1 (US Edition).

10 thoughts on “Dr.Bakri Musa’s Advice to Education Minister Maszlee

  1. Give our minister a bit more time to settle down. He’s young and this is his first time on the job. Other than Dr Bakri’s suggestions regarding use of English, perhaps a sustained emphasis on maths and science education is necessary to push the country into the ranks of developed nations.

  2. Dr. Bakri Musa,
    An excellent advice – focus on shaping the organisation. There are scores and scores of existing issues on education which needs attention. Most of them should and could be tackled by the Director General and ‘Generals’ (Pengarahs) at state levels. Are they given the freedom to solve the problems or are they waiting for directives – ‘tunggu arahan’. Find out the causes that is ailing the existing system and act on them ASP

  3. Minister Maszlee seems like a very silly man. I don’t think he will be able to contribute anything other than his silliness . His mind seems almost exactly like that of PAS members – who go to Parliament to waste their time discussing silly issues like the attire worn by stewardesses .

    Someone should tell these PAS members of Parliament to use the interstate bus service or taxi service or hire private jets instead of flying Airasia , MAS or Malindo if the attire of these airlines staff arouses them.

    In the same token , the Minister for Education should stop thinking like an Islamist and a Malay and start thinking like a Malaysian and create policy that is good for all Malaysians – period.

    But alas , i don”t think this silly man can.

    • Conclusion so soon may be unfair. Give him some time say 6 months to a year. Decades of rot cannot be repaired in short times.

    • Most of the staff in all the Ministries are Biro Tata Negara trained.This is especially so for the officers manning all these Ministeries – especially the Administrative and Diplomatic service officers ( PTD officers ).

      These people are inculcated and indoctrinated with this BIRO’s values amongst which one that stands out is – DEMI UGAMA DAN BANGSA. This is a very Malay centric value and not a Malaysian centric value.

      Infused and indoctrinated with values like this, can anyone see Malaysia moving forward towards a better Malaysia for all?

      This is amongst the reasons why Biro Tata Negara should be shut down. But because this BIRO was set up by none other then our OLD Prime Minister , i don’t think his EGO will allow this to happen. Its just like the National Car Project !

      Maybe we need to await Anwar Ibrahim’s appearance for this to happen.

  4. My sense is the most pressing problem in our national schools today is one of academic quality then just English . Over the last 30+ years, quality of teachers have eroded severely to the extent that many are not able to even teach competently ( and with dedication) especially in sciences and math. Talk to the retired senior teachers and one would be shocked at the current SPM passing marks for such subjects like additional math. It will be extremely worthwhile to seek feedback from the Retired Senior Subject teachers besides retired principles for their personal insight into the real issues and recommendations on how to improve the academic standards. I stressed retired senior teachers because they are product of the time when the Malaysian schools and universities were still world class. I recalled in the 70’s and 80’s Mass Inst of Tech used to admit some 4-5 Malaysian public school students annually. But sadly today that number has dwindled to at most some 1-2 students per year, which sadly is indicative of the decline of our public schools academic competitiveness.

  5. Good piece of advice, Dr. Thanks Din for sharing the good articles.

    Dr Maszlee needs to emulate our PM in forming the CEP in Education Ministry. I suppose there are numerous brilliant minds out there with years of academic and management experience. Irrespective of race and cultural background, he should get the CEP (for example, you may name it “Majlis Reformasi Pendidikan Harapan”) to set up various think tanks to advise him on those reform aspects as mentioned in the above article, and lay down the policies of reform in stages for the next five years. I believe there are many good people out there who are most willing to help for free.

    Just let the ministry’s public servant carry out their routine and appropriate tasks as it is. Listening only to the senior officers in the Education Ministry and get the advice from those who sits in the posh air-cond offce will only land him into trouble like the black shoe white shoe issue. It makes him looks very foolish and mediocre. This is a good lesson to learn. Dear Minister, you are getting wrong advice from the wrong people. Just make sure that they don’t pull your legs when you are launching your new policies of reforms, that will be good enough.

    So, dear Minister, you have not much time left. Eduaction reform is very time consuming and it is extremely tedious. You need political will and extreme courage to face off those who stand in your way. The Rakyat is watching.

    The ball is at your court now. Act fast.

  6. “Silly ” ministers do silly things to please their elitists- leaders.

    Bakri’s suggestions on executions of good policy in the education field are clearly productive and are of academic quality and practicality, especially on the proficlient in English and the impotence of STEM.

    Reducing Form VI from 2 years to 1 year is another good suggestion that save cost and time for undergraduate.

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