Thursday, May 07, 2009

School choice in Malaysia

A major shortcoming of the Malaysian education system is its cookie-cutter style of teaching, which assumes students are homogeneous, have the same learning styles, and learn at the same pace. One solution which is often touted by education reformers in other countries, and one I personally am partial to, is the idea of school choice.

The fundamental idea is to give families a choice of schools besides those in the standard public school system. A common mechanism for accomplishing this is school vouchers: the government gives each family a voucher, which can either be redeemed for a standard public school education, or at a private school. Another such mechanism is charter schools — schools funded like public schools, but more like private schools in terms of autonomy and freedom to operate. (Charter schools are funded by the central government, but held accountable by the local government or another entity which sponsors the charter.) Both have been implemented to some degree in many other countries; New Zealand in particular has completely switched over to charter schools for its public school system.

The BBC has a brief and interesting piece on school vouchers in Sweden. I have brought up the idea of school choice on this blog before, but many people dismissed it as unstructured and giving schools too much autonomy to operate. As the Swedish example shows, school choice doesn't mean removing government from the picture. The government sets out some fundamental requirements from schools, and sets schools free to accomplish these requirements however they wish. If we were to have school choice in Malaysia, we could well still have standardised exams -- schools would still be required to perform according to set metrics.

One last, brief word on school choice: although I have never been a fan of the Chinese school system, a reason I think they work so well (compared to other public schools) is because they are run like charter schools. Chinese schools are primarily accountable to the communities they serve, and are relatively free from government interference in how they are run. Each school thus has some distinct character to it, and does things differently -- and this positive competition thus not only leads to better schools overall, but also caters to a broader spectrum of people than the standard, homogeneous national schools.


Wei Jiet said...

I have to say, unlike Sweden, Malaysia consists of various races which automatically translates to different needs. Although charter schools is a good idea, these schools, if set up in Malaysia, are bound to have certain elements of a particular race. Sadly, for example, I don't think a Malay parent would send his child to a charter school set up by Chinese. The Malay parent may have doubts on the food provided, culture and so on. So I don't think this will work. This charter schools will only end up like SJKCs and SJKTs. In Malaysia, that is.

m. said...

I agree. Education should not force individuals into moulds that they struggle to fit into - education should enhance the different potential each individual possesses.

Winnie Lim said...

Last time, I use to take PTPTN loan together with some frens. But when 1 of them got 1st class, government says cannot give exemption for loan payment. I think it is not fair!

Just now I read something which I read today at Mstar. Do u think government should give exemption for 1st class student who take PTPTN??

Exemption of Repayment for National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN)
I refer to the previous policy by National Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) whereby graduates who obtained first class honours for loans approved before 1st July 2005 may apply for exemption for the repayment of the PTPTN loan. However, I understand that this policy had been discontinued.

In view that it should be the utmost priority for our government to assist Malaysian students who excel in their studies, I would like to request Dato Seri to consider:-

1. Allowing full exemption of repayment of the PTPTN loan for graduates who obtained first class honours for their undergraduate programmes; and

2. Allowing a 30% discount of the repayment of PTPTN loan for graduates who obtained second class upper for their undergraduate programmes.

This would serve as recognition by the government of the student’s academic excellence and in line with the promotion of better quality undergraduates in local universities.

Currently, there are students who are given full scholarship to enter local varsities before achieving any result and who may not eventually performed up to expectation.

Thus, it would be disappointing to see that Malaysian students, who were not granted scholarship initially but actually performed up to expectation not being rewarded for their academic excellence.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate Dato Seri for the success to date by PTPTN in granting opportunity to Malaysians to enter local universities

TAN KENG LIANG Gerakan Youth Chief of Kedah

Anonymous said...

Again, another example of unfairness in Malaysia. Good students don't get scholarship and got to take up PTPTN loan and have to pay interest at 4% (not sure how much the rate now).

Why is malaysian government teaching young people to take loan from early age????

Anonymous said...

To hear that PTPTN no longer wants to give repayment exemption to 1st Class student is making me PISS OFF!!!!
So, who is government giving the god damn scholarship?

Shawn Tan said...

Getting back to the OP.

Your solution does not solve the problem of cookie-cutter schools. It merely creates different kinds of cookies. Until the day comes where we can have individual teaching, we are still reliant on group teaching. A result of group teaching is that the teacher has to move at an average pace.

As for its application in Malaysia, even the universities engage in a single standard style of teaching. In spirit, universities should set the individual free. So, I don't see it as likely that the general education system will be able to cater to individual needs.

I'd still like to see your numbers that prove that the Chinese school system is better than the national schools. You shouldn't be making sweeping statements like that without some metric to back you up.

For one, national schools are far from homogeneous. Even the national schools are divided into different categories of schools and are run differently with different targets and results.

Coltz said...

Shawn Tan's comments are sometimes so far out of sync it's amusing.

For starters, let's not look not at the academic performance but the crime rate at public SMKs versus Chinese schools. I don't think I'll need any hard numbers to convince you that one is much higher than another. That takes care of the bottom 25%.

For the top 10%, since Chinese independent high schools often have to deal with two exams at once (still does pretty well!) I would not use standardized exam results, but take a look at Math Olympiad results over the years:
Olympiad listNote the disproportionate number of Chinese SMJK/independent high schools relative to population in the list.

The middle is hard to quantify, but again I will point to the bottom 25%: where will you rather put your kids at, somewhere with a constant fear for gangsters and crime, with little to no discipline and gross numbers of incompetent teachers, or without? I would have to say that the "incompetent teachers" part is all anecdotal, and can in fact be explained by the fact that the more "charter-like" Chinese schools able to fire their incompetent teachers if deemed necessary.

As for "national schools are far from homogeneous", very muchly agreed - it's also called "elite schools" and "schools left to rot". Different targets? Sure. I'd take the more "homogeneous" Chinese schools over that any day, thanks.

Anonymous said...

On PTPTN and the exemption for 1st class honors, the cause of this is due to the loan defaulters numbers being high enough to cause a strain on the financial resources of the fund.

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Anonymous said...

maybe the exemption should be borne by the government through other mechanism (example channeling funds from scholarship to pay the PTPTN for the 1st class student). In such situation, PTPTN cannot give any excuse e.g. loan defaulter, etc.
If the government say no more money for scholarship, then the answer to the government is "PLEASE STOP WASTING MONEY BY GIVING SCHOLARSHIP TO UNDERSERVING STUDENTS". Give it to the one that actually perform and got 1st class.

shinliang said... question. Why are you not a fan of chinese schools?

Shawn Tan said...

Hi Coltz, let's take this off-line.