Malaysia’s ranking in OECD worrying: We need more school autonomy and better teachers

Kuala Lumpur, 15 May 2015 – Malaysia’s ranking in the latest OECD report on education titled, ‘Universal Basic Skills: What countries stand to gain’ should come as no surprise to anyone in the country. Malaysia is ranked at 52 out a list of 76 countries, well behind some of its neighbours in the region.

What is interesting, especially in light of the soon-to-be-released 11th Malaysia Plan, is the link between education and economic growth. The OECD report states that if all 15 year olds in a country acquire basic skills or modern functional literacy (420 points in the PISA scale) then the country has massive room for growth. In our case, this would mean that there is a potential for 505 percent of growth in GDP until 2095.

“We have to ensure all 15 year olds have basic skills in Maths and English,” commented Wan Saiful Wan Jan, CEO of IDEAS. “How? Perhaps the first step would be to move away from the current education policies and aim to bring in new approaches to education. Our research found that decentralisation and school autonomy play an important role. We have documented the experience of a school that enjoyed autonomy and we found that for autonomy to produce the desired impact there must be a concentrated effort to remove structural barriers.”

“The OECD report also points out that expenditure is not the be-all and end-all in education. The quality of teachers is just as important,” he added. “The government doesn’t seem to be serious at all when handling the quality of teachers. If they are serious, they should give clear performance indicators and remove underperforming teachers immediately. But the government now says even underperforming teachers can remain in the system for up to three years. That is enough time to destroy the future of thousands of children.”

The OECD Universal Basic Skills report can be found here: The report will be discussed at next week’s World Education Forum 2015 in Seoul, South Korea.

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IDEAS is Malaysia’s first think-tank dedicated to promoting market-based solutions to public policy challenges. We are an independent not-for-profit organisation. As a cross-partisan think tank, we work across the political spectrum. Our purpose is to advance market-based principles, and we are not bound by party politics, race or religion.

Our mission is to improve the level of understanding and acceptance of public policies based on the principles of rule of law, limited government, free markets and free individuals. For more information, please visit

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