Date: 13 June 2015
Time: 10.00 am – 12.30 pm

“Should Putrajaya control education? Decentralising education in Malaysia” was IDEAS’ panel discussion on whether or not greater autonomy should be given to the state or even schools themselves. Speakers included Danial Rahman, Press Secretary to Minister of Education II who presented on current government initiatives and forms of decentralisation in Malaysia. Nina Adlan Disney, Chief Executive Officer of Asia Pacific Schools reflected on the merits of decentralisation and the necessity of improving teacher quality. Finally, YB Zairil Khir Johari, Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera gave an alternative more decentralised approach to decentralisation.

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Danial Rahman began by stating how Malaysia’s performance in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) was a big wake up call to the Ministry. This prompted a series of engagements with various stakeholders, resulting in changes to policies and the education curriculum such as the launch of the Higher Education Blueprint, the introduction of ‘Higher Order Thinking’ skills and capacity building programmes for English language teachers.

In terms of autonomy and decentralisation the Ministry of Education has granted greater autonomy over to the state education office, from procurement, teacher transfers to training requirements which was once formerly under the purview of the Ministry. District offices are also given the authority to provide for intervention programme in schools and to manage coaching programmes run by high performing teachers. However, autonomy is more targeted amongst schools themselves as autonomy has to be earned. Depending on certain criteria, e.g., academic achievement, awards and linkages with institutions of higher learning, schools are granted different statuses which result in varying degrees of independence.

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Nina Adlan gave a more personal account on decentralisation in Malaysia. She cautioned that decentralisation alone was not the answer, highlighting OECD studies stressing methods of learning as opposed to decentralisation. A great concern was over the quality of teachers themselves. Top PISA nations have teachers of the best calibre, whereas in Malaysia, there are issues over attracting and retaining talent as well as teacher absenteeism. Hence the need for reforms to the Teacher’s Education Institute of Malaysia and an upgrade to the pay scale of teachers.

Finally, YB Khir Johari asserted how the Ministry of Education should reduce its role to regulation and monitoring schools rather than directing policy, which instead should be left to education professionals. He highlighted how decentralization could go further beyond the state and district levels to schools themselves, by granting Heads of Schools the authority to hire and fire its own staff. YB Khir concluded by pointing out the Finland school system which had high quality education across the board and allowed schools to decide its method of teaching the national curriculum. Although, Finland differed from Malaysia in many respects, the system itself has merits that Malaysia can take after.

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The event ended with a questions and answers session. Participants highlighted how teacher training and development should be taken up by Heads of Schools besides the Ministry and state departments. Others pointed out how public schools tended to have more bureaucracy compared to private schools, thereby disadvantaging students. Audience members also pointed out the importance of a shared schooling experience for the purpose of racial harmony along with allowing for merit based hiring of Heads of Schools like in the United Kingdom.

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