The Disparity of Private-Public Malaysian Education Standards: What Can We Do About It?

Confident. Eloquent. Responsive.

I was torn between the two ends of hope and despair when I recently attended a student-held event at an international school in the posh neighborhood of Sierramas, although initially it felt like there is light at the end of the tunnel upon seeing bright and passionate teenagers whom mostly possess the above qualities.

“The future doesn’t look so bleak.”  

No doubt that my generalisation had probably narrowed the large majority of others that I didn’t get to engage with, but the truth is undeniable that they are in the league of their own. It took me a while before the disappointment sunk in—the reality of Malaysian education system is nowhere near the whiff of the excellence of the privileged.

While not all were born with golden spoon in their mouth, many benefited from the incentives of their parents’ illustrious careers which emphasise on global-standard of education; be it as civil servants, professionals or expatriates. In the world where money is ‘God’, it goes without saying that these schools are well-equipped with modern amenities and the best-you-can-imagine breed of teachers.

In the same breath, neither do I undermine the quality of our public school teachers but it is only logical that the free market system works its way to attract the best talents for the survival of the fittest. What’s more eye-opening is the active parent-teacher-student relationship in outlaying the best of the students’ all-rounded self-improvement—which is least to be expected from public schools unless if their credibility is hinged upon working their way towards isolated excellence i.e perfect A-scoring boarding schools.

But that’s only the superficial way of looking at the disparity of our education standards. Let’s not go all-Bollywood to blame the social class for the disadvantages that we are living by. Putting aside the gradiosity of ‘global-standard of education’, perhaps the students’ excellence are as a result of beneficial exposures that they have been getting since young! The school can’t possibly take the sole credit of moulding ‘confident, eloquent and responsive’ products when the parents themselves are excellent individuals within their fields of career.

Push comes to shove, the least they could learn from their parents is the way they carry themselves in daily conversations; which often exude confidence and substance.

Meanwhile, 13-year old kampong kid surely will hesitate to reason his arguments with the class teacher when the culture at home is not to talk back to the elderly!

Therein lies the contention; the future of our nation is based on how they are moulded by the environment closest to them.

It is a nationwide concern that the products of our public schools and universities are incompetent, weak, and grappling to be bi-lingual.

But can we then afford to blame the parents of millions for their inability to prepare their children for the reality?

Are the parents expected to shoulder the responsibility when majority of them are struggling themselves to meet modern day’s rat-race?

While there may be various factors leading to the root of the problem, essentially our public education system’s major flaw is its over-emphasis on academic excellence. Ever since day one, students are grilled to minimise the errors on exam papers than the self-development and the pursuit of knowledge itself.

Malaysia is obsessed with data and statistics when it comes to academic achievements. While the officers are busy compiling information on how many students ended up being perfect scorers, they are forgetting the fact that a large majority of students are in the below-average category. Not only the obsession to chase As had failed them on paper, the years of neglect on the students’ self-development had left them unprepared to adapt to the ruthless reality.

Throughout my public schooling years, no individuals nor bodies were concerned to find out who couldn’t read, write and count properly. I was oblivious to this reality only until I started mingling around with students from the ‘low-performance classes’; majority of them couldn’t even construct basic sentences, be it in Malay or English, or both. After a decade of schooling with rising workload and heavier content each grade, surely they would lose interest to capture the bigger picture, or to even have the conscience for self-improvement when no extra help and incentives were attended for their suffocating, presumed incompetency.

Confident. Eloquent. Responsive.

It was my university’s tutorial system that began to struck me—majority of us couldn’t react to arguments put forward by our tutor or other outspoken colleagues–mainly because we were never exposed to interactive learning!

Our classroom learning in public school was regimented, rigid, and narrowed to connecting the dots between A to Z while minimising any forms of error. I couldn’t recall moments of my classmates being encouraged to argue or defend ideas and concepts from varying spectrum, and mind you, we were the top 30 of the school!

It is for this lack of two-way communication that students are setbacked to be reserved, inferior in speaking out their minds, or to practice their English. Comparatively, students in international schools are expected to be critical, responsive and participative since Grade 1 whereby talents are polished, and imperfections identified for further assistance.

Ultimately it is not a matter of where you started off, but how far are your leaps of steps ahead.

Any concerned citizens can ramble for endless paragraphs on the inadequacy of our public education standards. The list goes on to issues such as scope and relevance of syllabus, over-burdening of teachers, large students to teachers ratio, outdated teaching methods and facilities, and the politicisation of education.

My point here is to prove that the disparity of standard between different social classes is not exclusively down to what money can afford, but the collective effort in identifying the root causes.

Having observed the ethics, structure of education, as well as the comprehensive collaboration between various stakeholders for the students’ betterment in international schools, it is timely for public schools to put a halt to this obsession of academic perfection, but to focus more on the intrinsic values of education—which is for the pursuit of knowledge and continuous self-improvement of each student.

Worry less about the grades as once the right prescription works it way, our students will slowly realise their potentials to be on the path of excellence. After all, success is not about the end goal but the journey itself.

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