26 October 2015


Private schools better than government schools?

26 October 2015, Kuala Lumpur –  A public forum held by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) on Saturday 26 titled, “A peek into private schools in Malaysia – are they really better than government schools?” had three speakers presenting case studies conducted on private schools to understand how they are using autonomies in the areas of finance, staffing, pedagogy and curriculums and internal policies to create educational choices that parents preferred.

Panelists were Altaf Deviyati, a Social Policy Consultant and Director of IMAN Research who presented on private religious schools, Dr. Grace Lee a lecturer at Monash University Malaysia who presented her case study on a Chinese Independent School, Nina Adlan Disney, CEO of Asia Pacific Schools Sdn Bhd who presented her findings on a couple of private schools which run national curriculums and a general overview of autonomy.

Grace Lee shared her insights from interviews with a member of the board of governors, principal and parents, “Many of the parents I spoke to cited a lack of confidence in government schools and also the culture – the Confucius values that Chinese schools provided – as the reasons for choosing the private option.“ She emphasised on how the set-up of the school and the culture was also geared towards producing students who take pride in a culture of self-sufficiency who assisted in raising donations for the school. This ability to raise funds for the school allows them to keep fees to a low level.

Nina Disney cautioned that while choice is a key by-product of autonomy afforded to private schools, too much autonomy can exacerbate inequality. She cited the example of Sekolah Kebangsaan Bukit Damansara where an “expectations crisis” was occurring – where wealthier parents were opting to take their children out of the school hence results were dropping. In other words, those students who were left in the school most probably came from less wealthy backgrounds hence had poor academic results.

Altaf Deviyati added that parents who send their children to the two private religious schools she examined into were looking for a school to inculcate a sense of identity or ‘jatidiri’. She added that this implied that for parents a quality education did not only mean a good academic performance.

The session, moderated by Dato Satinah Syed Salleh, Education Adviser to Khazanah Nasional Bhd, summarised mornings presentations by saying that while autonomy was important there were many other factors such as parental involvement, diversity and parents’ definition of quality of education that are also crucial when looking at how to improve education in the country.

Commenting on the event, IDEAS Chief Executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan said, “There are some valuable lessons to be learnt from existing private schools, how they raise funds, how they cater to parents’ demands and the accountability structures that they have set up which appeal to and serve the community rather than politicians. This is the key. Education serves the children and the parents, and must not be left to the whims of politicians and bureaucrats.”

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