The Malaysian Insider 25 October 2015

Too much autonomy in education can exacerbate inequality between segments of society, and could lead to schools looking after their own interests without serving the needs of the society, said an educationist.

Asia Pacific Schools CEO Nina Adlan Disney said based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) scores, there was clearly a correlation between countries with high autonomy and Pisa scores.

“For instance, people say that in Finland, there is no national curriculum, teachers can do what they want, which is fine in the Finnish context, because they have a teaching profession which is highly driven, motivated and highly capable.

“I think if you give the same degree of autonomy to Malaysian government schools, it is not going to work, unless you really have the passion and capability to use that freedom in a positive way.
“Autonomy can exacerbate inequality,” she told the forum “A Peek Into Private Schools in Malaysia – are they really better than government schools?” organised by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) in Kuala Lumpur, yesterday.

Asia Pacific Schools CEO Nina Adlan Disney says giving schools more autonomy won’t work in Malaysia’s very fragmented education system. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Ahmad Muslim, October 25, 2015.Asia Pacific Schools CEO Nina Adlan Disney says giving schools more autonomy won’t work in Malaysia’s very fragmented education system. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Ahmad Muslim, October 25, 2015.Private education is increasingly popular in Malaysia for those who can afford it amid concerns that the standard of public schools is declining.

According to Nina, private schools used three areas of autonomy – funding, staffing and delivery method – to improve their quality of education.

But she added that autonomy by itself could not produce high achievement and as such, cannot be a standalone policy.

“Just because you give schools the freedom to do what they want does not mean they are going to improve.

“It must be in the context of using that autonomy to drive teaching and learning and enhance operational efficiency,” she added.

As such, Nina said if the country’s vision was to level the playing field and make education opportunities more even, autonomy alone would not achieve that as the different types of schools would do what they want within their own context.

“If you give autonomy to certain schools, they are only going to have their own agenda, and serve their own community, their own parents.

“They are going to go along with their own priorities.

“That is what is happening in Malaysia, to a certain extent. There are private schools, vernacular schools, international schools and each of these systems is working for their own interest.

“It’s very difficult to see the bigger picture, and why should they as they are only serving their community,” she added.

She said a fragmented system would gave rise to chauvinism within the different groups, where there was a tendency for Chinese chauvinism and Islamic chauvinism, given the different types of schools that existed.

“Ironically, the greatest mix is in private and international schools, but that again is among the middle income who are happy to mix, but in other segments of society, there is very little integration.

“We need to address this as a key issue to move society forward,” Nina said.

Another speaker, Iman Research director Altaf Deviyati (pic, left), supported the concept of decentralisation, arguing that education in Malaysia was too federal-centric.

“But that does not mean you throw everything to the school and just leave it be.

“You need to get roles at the state level, we found that schools that tend to have bigger participation from the immediate community, for instance when the teachers are from their own community, this has an important influence on how a child learns.

“Decentralisation is not the key to everything, but it’s a step to take more ownership,” she added. – October 25, 2015.

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