On March 7, 2014, the Penang Institute hosted an education roundtable involving a diverse group of experts, researchers, academics and stakeholders. The following conclusions were reached:
(i) That Malaysia lacks a persistent and consistent vision for educational outcomes and reform, especially given that education policies constantly change every few years following changes of Education Ministers.
(ii) That Malaysia lacks a commitment to comprehensive and broad education goals. The discourse of the current framework gives too much focus on economic outcomes rather than incorporating other important social objectives.
(iii) That the implementation of changes in education policy is not well planned and hastily executed without proper pilot projects and trial periods.
(iv) That the current education system does not take into account the challenges faced by those from marginalised backgrounds and does not allow them to improve their life chances and opportunities.
(v) That many parents are choosing to send their children to private or alternative schools because they lack confidence in national schools.
(vi) That the current School Based Assessment (SBA) has many shortcomings including over-centralisation, the lack of capacity at the state (JPN) and local district (PPD) levels to implement SBA, poor IT infrastructure, the lack of understanding among teachers about the educational principles underlying SBA, just to name a few.
(vii) That Malaysia has an overly centralised education system at the federal level according to most studies.
(viii) That the current education system has many problems that need to be addressed including but not exclusive to: grade inflation, falling standards as indicated by Malaysia’s TIMSS and PISA scores, lack of infrastructure especially in the rural schools, low motivation among teachers, lack of engagement with the teaching force, focusing on the teaching rather than learning, the lack of an authentic learning culture in our schools, the lack of opportunities for NGOs to work with schools, the training in our teacher training colleges (IPGs) and in-service teacher training, the proficiency of reading and writing of our students, the role of PIBGs in the system, overcrowded classrooms in certain schools, the de-skilling and de-professionalisation of our teachers, the current quality of the teaching force, the lack of a flexible and fluid system to monitor and assess performance, just to name a few.
(ix) That while the Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) addresses some of these concerns, it is not far-reaching enough in its proposed reforms and does not sufficiently address the underlying structural problems.
(x) That the Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) only proposes de-concentration of power and responsibilities within the Education Ministry to the state (JPN) and local district (PPD) levels but does not allow for decentralisation to give room and opportunities for other stakeholders to have greater powers and responsibilities in the education system.
(xi) That decentralisation should be investigated as a possible solution to some of the problems highlighted above.
The problems which have been highlighted during this Education Roundtable are not necessarily new. There are complex and multifaceted reasons as to how these problems emerged and how they continue to plague our education system. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that can address all the problems highlighted above, nor is decentralisation the prescribed cure.
However, given the paucity of the research on the potential impact of decentralisation of the education system in the Malaysian context, it will be tremendously helpful if a more in-depth exploration of this topic can be conducted. With this in mind, a research project which focuses on the potential impact of education decentralisation on key areas of educational outcomes such as equity, access, identity and quality will be proposed.
It is hoped that such a research project would be able to lay the groundwork to spur more informed public discussion on the impact of decentralisation on our education system. Such a research project will also be designed for the benefit of education policymakers should they wish to explore education decentralisation that goes beyond what the current Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) proposes. Details of this proposed research project will be released at a future date.
PENANG INSTITUTE is the public policy think-tank of the state government of Penang.