Friday, December 29, 2006

Vouchers, National Education Fund and School League Tables

I was alerted to these two letters recently published in the Sun and the Star by the author of the letters. The content of both letters is similar. The author, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, is Director-General of Malaysia Think Tank London. He basically recommends three proposals as ways to improve the standards of schools in Malaysia: a targeted voucher system, a National Education Fund, a school league table that is published every six months.

Given that the links to the Sun and the Star might be taken down or the urls might be changed later, I've copied the meat of Wan Saiful's proposals and pasted them below:

To overcome this, I propose three strategies. First, introduce a targeted voucher system. Second, set up a National Education Fund funded solely by corporate and individual donations. Third, publish a school league table every six months.

The targeted vouchers give parents with low household income the necessary funds. The vouchers can only be used to pay for education.

Through this system, schools no longer get automatic funding from the state. Instead, “vouchers” are given directly to parents who can then use the vouchers to pay for their children’s education needs at a school of their choice.

The National Education Fund would be funded by the private sector and individual contributions, not the Government. Companies and individuals who donate would gain tax relief as an incentive. Money from this Fund can be used to top up the vouchers if necessary, especially to assist the very poor to pay for other costs like transport, books and school uniform.

Removing school-based funding and giving money directly to parents would effectively make schools like any other private companies offering a service.

Schools must compete to offer services that are the best value for money. Schools that fail to deliver risk closure because parents would simply not send their children there.

The six-monthly league table would provide parents with a tool to compare performance of schools and therefore help their decision making process. It would also inject more competition to improve the schools.

Similar systems have proven to be effective in countries around the world. The report submitted to the Education Minister by Malaysia Think Tank London provides evidence of these successes.

I'm personally in favor of Proposals 1 and 3. The economist in me (the late Milton Friedman was a highschool hero of mine) supports giving parents more choice, providing them with more information and introducing more competition into the education system.

Out of the two proposals, I think that Proposal 3 is probably easier to implement in the short run. Singapore has been publishing school league tables for more than 15 years now and I've been a strong proponent of a similar system being set up in Malaysia.

I'm more sceptical about the 2nd proposal which is the setting up of a National Education Fund for the following reasons:

(i) Cost to the government - if the donations are tax deductible, the more successful this program is at eliciting donations, the more its costs the government in terms of revenue forgone, revenue that could have been used to spend on other parts of the education system such as building more schools.

(ii) Little incentives to donate - the flipside is that if the tax relief is too low, there's little incentive to donate to this fund and which defeats the purpose of setting up this fund in the first place.

(iii) Administrative problems - if this fund is substantial enough, it will not be easy to administer. Imagine having to process all sorts of applications for textbook money from poor students or from schools representing these poor students. Such a fund might be costly to administer and inefficient to boot.

I think that new ideas should be injected into our education system. The problem is that these ideas take a long time to 'seep' up to our leaders and also civil servants, especially those in the Ministry of Education. And even if these ideas are approved, we usually run into massive implementation problems. (Think late delivery of school text books when there has been a significant change in the syllabus or when the medium of instruction for Math and Science was changed from BM to English)

I will email Wan Saiful to ask him for his full paper and will write further posts on this issue. I'd encourage those who are interested in his report to email him directly. His details are found below:

Wan Saiful Wan Jan is Director-General of Malaysia Think Tank London. Previously, he was at the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit (CPSU) and the Conservative Party's Research Department (CRD). The report "Introducing Choice and Competition into Malaysia's Education System" is available free by contacting Wan Saiful via email at:

In the meantime, if anyone else has any other reports from this education workshop in Nottingham, England in November, 2006 (last month), please email myself ( and Tony (


Anonymous said...

I'm not as fond of proposal 3 as yourself and the original contributor of the idea. In a system as inherently corrupt as what we have in M'sia, will this ranking really allow the people greater access to these so called elite schools? Or will it just benefit the elites who have the funds, resources and connections to get their kids in?

Asides from that, with such a ranking published, a situation could arise where donors would flock to associate themselves with these school thus neglecting further the other not so highly regarded schools.

Such a ranking can only work if there is a functional and fare merit based system in place so that everyone's child gets an equal chance of placement in such school. Unfortunately i don't see such a system being in existance in M'sia.

Is it neccessary for us to introduce another mechanism to aid the growth of the elites?

Anonymous said...

First thing first..
Let there be justice in education system
Eliminate the two way system of entering universities ie STPM and Matriculation
Its simply not fair
esp making the cgpa of matric being equivalent to STPM

Anonymous said...

I truly agree with proposal 1 and 3 but not with #2. Why do I agree with #1 and 3? School voucher is a good way for parents to investigate and select the school of their choice for their kids. This will open the eyes of administrators and teachers that if they do not do a proper job, they are at risk. Parents can pull out their kids from schools that have failed to |"educate" their kids. By this I mean round education. It is pointless to teach just academics but also morals and other aspects to kids.
Proposal number 3 will be a checklist for parents. Parents can compare notes and discover what these schools are doing. In other words, parents are going to rate and provide report cards for administrators and teachers.
Proposal number 2 is definitely out of question. You cannot expect fundings not to be misused. In any developed or developing nation, people with power have the tendency to misuse and abuse funds. This is especially evident in our country.

Anonymous said...

Eliminating STPM and Matriculation are suicidal issues. Look, UK, Australia, Japan, US. Canada, Singapore and many other countries have similar examinations. You need this to gauge the students capabilities. In Japan the entrance exam is the yardstick to measure students abilities. They can determine which students should be admitted to the top 5 national universities in the country. So is the ACT/SAT in US. Students must attain at least 1400 scores to enter IVy Cartel colleges/universities. I am a vekluever that matriculation/STPM should be the determinaation for college entrance...

Anonymous said...

yes i agree with anon who post at 11.18am. how can matric be equivalent to stpm? utter rubbish!why dun all take the same exam? one take 12 months on a condensed syllabus, internal assessment and the other a very in depth syllabus plus take one and a half year and subject to external assessment. such an uneven ground how to play fairly for the stpm students? remember students who take stpm are mostly those who cannot afford the exorbitant fees of private colleges and they are malaysians too! born, bred and schooled here.

Kian Ming said...

I forgot to ask - does anyone know if the tuition voucher scheme which the MOE proposed a couple of years back is still in effect? I ask this because it is a 'test-case' of school vouchers.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if any of u out there knows that unfairness has already planted its evil roots in primary schools.

My son was this year's UPSR batch. He scored 4As and 1B(malay) and couldn't get into a controlled school, or a good school for that matter. I was blatantly told by an Education Dept officer that only the malay students with 4As have the privilege, hence my son was sent to an unknown kampong school.

I have since enrolled my son in a private school. Wht abt those who can't afford private education?

I want to highlight that the high scorers of 5As in his school is questionable. Two days before his English paper, every student was given the actual exam paper, with answers written by the teacher and the students were told to memorise. The whole of Std Six got the paper with answers written by their individual English teachers.

The English paper is so simple, one does not need to memorise answers. For whose benefit to score A then?

Thank goodness there is a country down south who will recognise our children's efforts and give them quality education fairly and without prejudice.

Anonymous said...

The proposals by Wan Saiful, though noble, are nothing spectacular nor original. The voucher system is currently under debate in Japan as the government is working to reform its education system. They are already looking at the feasibility of introducing the voucher system that will allow parents to send their kids to which ever schools they like. The current system requires them to send their children to the school nearest to their homes. While it empower the people in choosing the right education for their children, it is not easy to be implemented without raising racial issues and other social concerns. I would urge the authors and readers to keep an eye on the education reform in Japan. If the voucher system proposal is employed there, there is much we can learn from them. However, I doubt the Ministry is even interested less committed to something like this. Commitment, cooperation from all parties and will-power that the Japanese possess are unfortunately lacking in our multiethnic society.

Anonymous said...

Junior Colleges in Singapore are no longer ranked officialy by the MOE of Singapore.

Elite Secondary schools have used the Integrated Program instead of the O level. These students are subjected to internal assessment unlike the rest of the cohort. They are automatically qualified to their respective affliated junior colleges once they pass the minimum mark.

Anonymous said...

Giving parents the ultimate say in choosing their children's school will never work because 'well-known' controlled schools would be innudated with student while 'notorious' ones be be quickly depopulated. Anyway, district education offices here have the final say in the posting of their children. The six-monthly league table comparing the academic performance of schools is redundant because here we already have the annual comparision of the schools' UPSR/PMR/SPM/STPM results. If implemented, I believe 80% of Malaysian schools will have to close down for lack of students while the remaining 20% will be forced to use their toilets as temporary classrooms to cater for the students from the schools above.

Anonymous said...

This is a good thread.

Anonymous said...

1. A Voucher system just show incompetency of the education system : who create the "bad school" in the first place?

2. Let educator run the education, not CEO! Please! The vouchers will mess up the education and turn the school to profit center.

3. The intention of School league table may be good, but it is results driven.

IMHO, those idea are pretty business driven than education driven. Worst, it is OBSOLETED ideas. The country need more "specialize, expertise" vocational school than common academic school. In globalisation, many specialize knowledge worker is more important than few elite common knowledge worker.

Anonymous said...

I am sure some libertarians are jumping with joy upon hearing the word "voucher system" =)

Anonymous said...

This is Malaysia we're talking about. If the Govt can screw up something as simple as entry to public med. schools, what makes you think they will be able to manage these proposals better?

1. targeted voucher system.
Who decides the entitlement & distribution of these vouchers?

2. NEF funded solely by corporate and individual donations - too complex & quantum of funds available will be hostage to economic conditions

3. school league table. Given that UM taikos can misinterpret/missuse the Times Edu Suppl ranking, how confident can we be that they know how to even construct a schools rankings or to not adjust its for their own ulterior motives?

Just see how MARA can have so many problems copying the Australian HECS scheme because MARA scholars never repay their study loans.