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Open letter to Education Minister Hishammuddin

I refer to the debate on the motion by YB Lim Kit Siang of Ipoh Timur tabled in Parliament on Nov 27 proposing that RM10 be deducted from the education minister's salary because of his failure, among others, to improve the standard of primary education in the country, especially in Chinese and Tamil schools.

In seconding this motion, I quoted from the Unesco report, 'Education for All: Global Monitoring Report for 2007' which was launched on Oct 26. This report clearly showed that the standard of primary education in this country is way below that of not only developing nations, but even some African countries. Apparently shocked by this revelation, you requested me to provide details of the said report, although to my thinking you should have already been well aware of it.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the statistics contained in the report, to facilitate your further investigation of the matter. The report presents statistics related to education in countries around the world, including Malaysia, and covers the period 1999-2004.

Our government's per capita spending on primary education as a percentage of GDP is 13.1% . Although this compares favourably to countries such as Laos (4%), Indonesia (2.5%), The Philippines (10.3%), Uganda (8.7%) and Zambia (9.4%), it puts us behind African developing nations like Kenya (23.3%), Malawi (13.4%), Senegal (13.6%) and South Africa (13.4%). The statistics also reveal that our government's spending on education has actually declined since in 1992 when it stood at 14.1%.

The report also shows that Malaysia is among 24 nations in which there has been a decline in primary school enrolment, along with the Maldives, Palestine, Lithuania and Malawi. In 1999, the percentage of children enrolled in primary schools was 98% but in 2004 it dropped to 93%.

This information was in fact reported in the local media on Oct 28. The policy analyst of this report, Dr Nicole Bella, stated that one of the main challenges for primary education in Malaysia was finding ways to get children from deprived families to enter and remain in school.

Keeping in mind the government's statement that development of human capital plays a vital role in the 9th Malaysia Plan, the statistics contained in the report, together with the analysis by Dr Nicole Bella, clearly need to be studied in depth and with an open mind.

We have seen how our local universities have dropped in the world index ratings, and we also know that some 80,000 of our graduates are unemployed, even though the level of government spending on tertiary education is quite competitive. It is very clear that the drop in primary level standards is a contributing factor in the decline of tertiary education.

Failure to address these problems will only add to the general trend of decline in Malaysia, which in so many respects is lagging behind in terms of competitiveness at the international level.

The writer is Keadilan president and member of Parliament for Permatang Pauh.

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