Local education in urgent need for reform

A challenge highlights the stagnant implementation of the MEB, primarily due to a lack of accountability and resistance from school and ministry administrators 


KEY figures in the Malaysian education sector are urgently calling for a comprehensive educational reform. 

Engagements with Seven Skies International School (SSI) principal Djohann Iskandar Kwan Abdullah; Monash University Malaysia VP (Education) Prof Beverley Webster; and Parent Action Group for Education (Page) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, along with insights from esteemed educators during a webinar series, painted a broad and detailed picture of the need for transformation within the nation’s education system. 

In recent years, experts such as former education DG Datuk Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim and former Education Performance and Delivery Unit (Padu) CEO Khadijah Abdullah discussed the roadblocks facing the Malaysian education system. 

A significant challenge highlighted was the stagnant implementation of the Malaysian Education Blueprint (MEB), primarily due to a lack of accountability and resistance from school and ministry administrators. 

Addressing inequity and inefficiency, Noor Azimah said the problem is inequitable access to education, noting that despite substantial funding, Malaysia lags in achieving desired educational outcomes internationally. 

“Despite our high investment in education, we are not seeing commensurate results,” she said, pointing to a major inefficiency in fund allocation and policy execution. 

Strategic Recommendations for Comprehensive Reform 

To effectively address these challenges, several strategic measures were suggested such as strengthening leadership, enhancing teacher training and professional development and promoting transparency and authentic data publication. 

Enhancing the stability in the tenure of DG of Education is crucial to ensure continuity and effectiveness in the execution of educational reforms, according to reports by media outlets Edunity, G25 and BFM. 

It was also reported that the quality of teacher training is critical. Hence, empowering teachers through continuous professional development and merit-based career advancements can significantly enhance educational outcomes.

There is also a strong call for the publication of transparent and authentic data on school performance. 

This transparency would facilitate targeted interventions and enhance accountability. 

Meanwhile, Djohann underlined the transformative impact of technology in modern education as he noted the dual-edged sword of technology in education. 

“Technological advancements are reshaping learning methods, providing students with varied tools and resources which necessitate an updated approach to education delivery to effectively meet modern learning needs,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

However, he was also concerned about the easy access to potentially harmful content via social media, which could adversely influence student behaviour and attitudes. 

Addressing the demands of the changing job market, Djohann said new skill sets such as adaptability, problem-solving and collaboration are increasingly important. 

“At SSI, our ICT (information and communications technology) curriculum is designed to equip students with essential skills to navigate the digital age, including digital literacy, Internet safety and coding,” he assured. 

He also shared insights into the specific changes implemented at SSI to foster a robust educational environment. 

SSI integrates technology in the classroom through interactive platforms and digital resources, which increase student engagement and prepare them for a tech-driven world. 

Alongside technological integration, SSI places a strong emphasis on character development. 

Its character development programme encourages students to learn beyond the classroom, enhancing their soft skills, introducing them to real-world issues, and fostering empathy and good behaviour. 

When asked about the role of community and parental involvement in supporting education reform, Djohann advocated for stronger engagement. 

“Involving the community and parents in educational initiatives fosters a sense of shared responsibility for students’ success,” he affirmed. 

SSI actively engages parents and the community through various events and activities, enhancing the educational experience and reinforcing the school’s core values of honesty, optimism, purity and excellence.

Moving forward, Djohann anticipated further enhancements in technology-integrated learning environments and a shift towards competency-based education.

He said these changes will emphasise skill mastery over traditional grading systems, allowing students to progress at their own pace and ensuring they acquire necessary life and career skills. Additionally, he stressed the importance of social-emotional skill management, which includes fostering empathy, resilience, communication and collaboration among students.

Webster articulates a vision for education that integrates AI tools to better prepare students in a technological world (Source: Monash University Malaysia)

Webster also highlighted the need for educational institutions to rapidly adapt to technological advancements and to place a greater emphasis on mental health within educational settings. 

She articulated a vision for education that integrates artificial intelligence (AI) tools to better prepare students for a technologically driven world. 

“Rapid advancements in AI and the expanding array of AI tools available require universities to ensure students have learning and assessment opportunities to use such tools, so as graduates, they are equipped for the modern and evolving workforce,” she told TMR. 

She stressed the importance of universities adapting to these technological changes to stay relevant and competitive. 

Webster also spotlighted the need for universities to foster global citizenship among students. 

“In an increasingly interconnected world, graduates must have the capabilities to work with and in diverse cultures,” she said. 

This approach not only prepares students to address global challenges like climate change and geopolitical security but also to contribute positively to thriving communities. 

Another key aspect of education reform discussed by Webster involves addressing factors that limit access to quality education. 

She said access to education makes a significant difference in the lives of those who would not normally be afforded opportunities to go to university. 

She advocates for ensuring equitable access to higher education as a fundamental aim for all universities. 

The importance of mental health and well-being was also a significant focus in her discussion on education reform. 

“Inclusive education is a universal expectation and includes the growing recognition of the importance of mental health and well-being in education,” she explained. 

Optimistic about the potential of immersive technologies in revolutionising education, Webster said the availability of such technologies will offer interactive simulations, virtual field trips, and hands-on experiences that would not normally be affordable nor practical at scale, making these available to all students. 

This innovation is seen as a way to personalise learning and meet the diverse needs of students from different backgrounds. 

Her insights underlined a comprehensive approach to education reform, highlighting the integration of advanced technologies, the promotion of global citizenship, and the importance of inclusivity and mental health. 

As educational institutions like Monash University Malaysia and SSI navigate these challenges, the goal is to prepare students not only for academic success but also for meaningful and impactful roles in an evolving global society. 

Noor Azimah expresses concern over the lack of progress in improving these international test scores. (Source: Azimah LinkedIn)

Similarly, drawing from the findings of the MEB 2013-2025, Noor Azimah talked about significant challenges and proposed vital changes aimed at elevating the nation’s education standards. 

“The MEB was developed as a response to our country’s stagnation in the middle-income trap and the urgent need to transition to a high-income nation,” she told TMR. 

She said international bench-marking tests like Programme for International Student Assessment and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study have consistently shown Malaysia’s educational performance to be less than satisfactory. 

“Our dismal performance on these international tests stresses the dire need for reform,” she added. 

With only a year remaining until the conclusion of the MEB, Noor Azimah expressed concern over the lack of progress in improving these international test scores. 

“We have been consistently highlighting the need to better train teachers and school leaders. Additionally, the structure of the Ministry of Education itself needs significant improvement,” she explained. 

She noted that effective accountability and implementation would require a substantial change in mindset within the educational administration. 

Noor Azimah also stressed the essential role of community and parental involvement in supporting education reform. 

She acknowledged the challenges many parents face, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged or from rural areas, in supporting their children’s education. 

“Many parents are busy with basic survival needs and trust the education of their children to teachers, believing them to be more capable and knowledgeable,” she said, highlighting the need for increased support and involvement from these groups. 

Like Webster and Djohann, Noor Azimah also identified the digital economy, robotics and AI as key trends that will significantly impact teaching and learning. 

She warned that if children are not equipped with the necessary knowledge, tools, and thinking skills to capitalise on these advancements, they will surely be left behind. 

Her call to action is a clear reminder of the critical work that lies ahead to transform educational practices and policies for the benefit of all Malaysians. 

Djohann says new skill sets such as adaptability, problem-solving and collaboration are increasingly important (Source: Djohann LinkedIn)

Real Change Required 

Further discussions underlined a vital need for a systemic overhaul to restore public trust and elevate Malaysia’s educational standards to global benchmarks. 

Exploring innovative funding models, such as outcome-based funding and leveraging Malaysia’s significant role in Islamic finance, could provide new avenues for financing educational initiatives. 

Further analysis reveals deep-rooted issues of inequity in access to quality education across different socioeconomic groups in Malaysia. 

The webinar panelists pointed out that while Malaysia’s investment in education is significant, with a budget allocation amounting to RM55.6 billion in 2023, the returns on this investment, in terms of educational outcomes, are not proportional. 

Malaysia’s expenditure on primary education is notably higher than that of upper-middle-income countries and even exceeds that of many East Asia Pacific countries. 

However, Malaysia ranks 72 out of 163 countries for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with considerable challenges in meeting the 2030 Agenda for SDG4 (quality education). 

Covid-19 Impact on Educational Progress

The prolonged school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic have exacerbated educational challenges, with Malaysia experiencing one of the longest disruptions to learning. 

This has led to significant learning losses, which were highlighted during the discussions. 

Experts like those from Malaysia’s first homegrown education service provider, LeapEd, who are currently undertaking extensive studies on the impact of these disruptions, stressed the importance of diagnosing and designing evidence-based solutions to close the learning gaps and accelerate the already delayed implementation of educational initiatives. 

Unified Effort for Educational Excellence

As Malaysia continues to navigate through these reforms, the vision is to develop an inclusive, equitable, and high-quality education system that is capable of preparing students for the demands of the future. 

Such a collective effort is essential for achieving the transformative educational outcomes that Malaysia aims for, ultimately fostering an environment that supports all students in achieving their full potential. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition