Malaysia: School choice

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat May 20 16:44:51 UTC 2006

>>From The New Straits Times 21 May, 2006

Editorial: School choice

MALAYSIAN education has always been an assortment of public and private
institutions, a mix of instruction in the official language, mother
tongues and English, and a miscellany of national and international
curriculums, especially in higher education. School-leavers have been able
to pick from a veritable smorgasbord of international pre-university
programmes. They can study at Australian and British offshore campuses,
and obtain international credentials at local colleges without having to
set foot on foreign soil. While thousands of young Malaysians go abroad,
constrained only by finances and the ability to meet the entrance
requirements, the country is on a quest to become a regional education
hub. However, while a Chinese bloodline is not a pre-requisite for study
in Chinese schools and the Islamic faith is not a pre-condition for entry
into the International Islamic University and foreign students are welcome
to dissect cadavers in Malaysian medical colleges if they so desire
Malaysians have always needed a special dispensation from the Minister of
Education to enrol in the international schools. Whatever the rationale
for the restriction, and however valid it may have been in the past, in
the free flow of educational experience and exchange that has
characterised Malaysian and global education, especially of late, it has
stood out like a sore thumb.

This somewhat curious situation has now been corrected with the loosening
of the regulations to allow more Malaysians into international schools.
Not that the barrier mattered very much to the parents concerned. With the
means of sending their children abroad, there was no lack of choice in
providing for the best education possible. But it was a source of
dissatisfaction nevertheless, and a financial drain on the country. While
the lifting of the restrictions opens another option in the type of school
that young Malaysians can attend, it means little to the vast majority.
Critics may well jump up and down in indignation at a move which seems to
pander to the privileged and deepen the social divide. However, while
international schools remain out of reach to the majority because of the
expense involved, there is really no detrimental effect on access to
education. Nevertheless, the state should not lose sight of its
responsibility to provide a first-class public education to those who
cannot afford the tens of thousands of ringgit in private tuition fees.

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