Issues in Malaysian Education

The history of issues in Malaysian education started from the British government: the Barnes Report in 1951 to unite all races with the colonial language. The later Razak Report was made to replace the unsuccessful Barnes Report, and the system remains until today.

The issue of language and schools is a key issue for many political groups in Malaysia. UMNO champions the cause of using Malay as the medium of instruction in all schools. However, under the Razak Report, primary schools using the Chinese and Tamil language as medium of instruction are retained. Up until 1981 in Peninsular Malaysia (and some years later in Sarawak), there were English-medium schools, set up by the former colonial government and Christian missionaries. Following the severe race riots in Kuala Lumpur in May 1969, English-medium schools were phased out from January 1970; by 1982 these became Malay-medium schools ("national schools").

The existence of national-type schools is used by non-Malays components of the ruling Barisan Nasional to indicate that their culture and identity have not been infringed upon by the Malay people. Dong Jiao Zhong (the association of Chinese school boards and teachers) and other Chinese education organisations took on the role of safeguarding Chinese education in the country and are opposed to Malay replacing Chinese as medium of instruction in Chinese schools. They shape much of the views of the Chinese educated community, which is a key electoral constituency.

In 2002, the government announced that from 2003 onwards, the teaching of Science and Mathematics would be done in English, to ensure that Malaysia would not be left behind in a world that was rapidly becoming globalised. This paved the way for the establishment of mixed-medium education. However, the policy was heavily criticised by Malay linguists and activists, fearing that the policy might erode the usage of Malay language in science and mathematics, which led to a massive rally in Kuala Lumpur on 7 March 2009. Chinese education groups opposed the policy as well, fearing that it might erode the usage of Chinese as the medium of instruction in Chinese schools. The government announced in 2009 that this policy will be reversed in 2012: the teaching of both subjects would revert to Malay.

Due to the lack of Chinese and Indian students attending national schools, coupled with the increasing number of Malay students attending Chinese and Indian national-type schools, the government announced in April 2005 that all national schools will begin teaching Chinese and Tamil to attract more students, not as mother tongue courses but as elective courses.

In 2004 the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) representative Dr. Richard Leete stated that Malaysia's ranking in the UNDP gender index was not "as high as it should be". Former Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Shafie Salleh replied that it was not unique to Malaysia. His quoted statistics revealed that there was a 2:1 ratio of boys to girls in polytechnics and at public higher learning institutions. In virtually all developed countries females and males enter university in approximately equal ratios. Thus, the 2:1 ratio in Malaysia is seen as rather peculiar when placed in a global context.

Malaysian polytechnics and community colleges are not degree-producing institutions and none have post-graduate programmes. Most are vocational or technical institutions. This imbalance is corrected once the respective genders leave the education system.

Racial quotas in public universities
In 1973, the Malaysian government implemented an affirmative action program, setting a quota of 55% of university places for Bumiputeras and the remaining 45% for Chinese and Indian students. The university quota system created considerable unhappiness among the Chinese and Indians.

In 2010, the Indian community was shocked at the low 2% to 3% intake of Indian students into public universities. Indians are faring badly under the meritocratic system used for university intake. Under the quota system, about 5% to 10% of the students were Indians.

After the abolishment of the race quota, matriculation was introduced as an alternative for STPM. It has come under criticism for being easier than STPM and serves as an easier education path for Bumiputeras. Matriculation certificate, however, is only valid in Malaysia unlike STPM which is recognised across the world.