Malaysia's racists and weak education system eroding talent

A powerful driving force behind the talent outflow is a waning education system that has fallen short of meeting youthful aspirations.
PETALING JAYA: The state of Malaysia’s public education system has never been as insistent a topic of conversation as it is today. It is hence unfortunate that most discussions on it are often fraught with sorrow, contempt or frustration.
Even more unfortunate is that those who hold court over these discourses are predominantly baby boomers. Not the Generation X who only just escaped the series of education policy flip-flops or the Millenials who lived through those policies.
But this has less to do with the latter’s apathy or oblivion than the fact that a significant number of them are either no longer residing in the country or in the midst of migration procedures.
The World Bank’s Economic Monitor 2011 has put the number of Malaysians abroad at 1.1 million and pinpointed the Malaysia-Singapore migration corridor as a significant channel for half this brain drain.
The National Economic Action Council meanwhile last year estimated that 50% of the Malaysian disapora is highly-skilled, tertiary-educated and representive of a heavy net loss to the country.
And Koh Sin Yee of the London School of Economics will further tell you that a powerful driving force behind this talent outflow is a waning education system that has fallen miserably short of meeting youthful aspirations.
Koh is currently researching a paper entitled “Emotional Geographies of Skilled Disaporic Citizenship: Malaysians in London, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur”.
Her interviews with students, graduates and new parents have dragged the painful truth into the open. Young Malaysians have lost faith in the country’s Education Ministry, policies and structure.
So much so that what sprouted as a bone of contention has since morphed into a cultural phenomenon.
“Education has in fact become a culture of migration,” Koh said during a recent forum on Economic Migration, Disapora and Brain Drain in the Asia-Pacific.
“Students abroad said that it was an automatic understanding that they would study overseas and many headed for Singapore where they could challenge themselves intellectually and make it big.”
“New parents also believe that their children’s global competitiveness would be better groomed through an education outside of Malaysia and many have made plans to migrate before their children reach school age,” Koh added.

Abolishment of PPSMI
The Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) would agree with her. PAGE has been fighting a longstanding battle with the Education Ministry since the latter’s decision to abolish the Teaching of Maths and Science in English (PPSMI).
Its chairman Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim reminded the ministry of its previous mistake in abolishing English medium schools in 1969 to appease the rioters at the expense of students being allowed to master the language.
“This allowed the teaching and learning of English to deteriorate because ultra-nationalists and young activists believed that being mono-lingual was enough for survival,” she said in a previous interview.
Azimah further predicted that slamming the door on PPSMI would only prompt wealthy parents to send their children off to international schools and inevitably contribute to the country’s brain drain.
For once, MCA and DAP stood on the same plaform. MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek voiced his support for PPSMI and called for English to be made a compulsory pass subject in the SPM examination.
DAP meanwhile urged that students be given the option to learn Maths and Science in English in order to combat the brain drain predicament.
Its publicity chief Tony Pua added that PPSMI would allow schools to produce “the best human capital for Malaysia” which was in line with the government’s goal to become a high-income nation.
Politics has never strayed far from education in Malaysia and the two have recently veered dangerously close to each other.
This year has seen waves of student hostility towards the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which prohibits students and faculty from hob-nobbing with political parties and trade unions.
Daasaratan Jeram and Vanitha Sivapragasam, both graduates from University Utara Malaysia, pointed out that the reluctance to allow greater student freedom of expression inadvertently made public universities a contributor to the country’s “endemic” brain drain.
“The quality of Malaysian higher education has been variable since the 1980s,” they said when presenting their paper “Ethnicity, Education and the Economics of Brain Drain in Malaysia: Youth Perspective” at the same forum as Koh.
“There is widespread perception that a top education can only be gained in a foreign institution and many Malaysian families are willing to make the investment with hopes for a brighter future.”
“So while policy makers dither and politicians strategise, younger generations will continue to determine the criteria that will either drive them out of Malaysia or convince them to stay.”

‘People with a choice’
Daasaratan and Vanitha’s research findings also corroborated with that of the World Bank which observed that the brain drain phenomenon has an ethnic dimension with the propensity to migrate abroad being higher among Chinese and Indians.
While student perceptions of ethnic relations were found to have improved at Universiti Malaya, the duo said that the higher education experience still perpetuates negative stereotypes.
“This increases the likelihood that talented graduates will seek opportunities for further education outside of Malaysia,” they said.
At the beginning of her address, Koh thre a question to the audience – who is the Malaysian diaspora?
In her wind-up speech, she answered the question, “The Malaysian diaspora are people with a choice.”
And right now it appears that the state of the country’s education system is shuttling Malaysians towards the choice of leaving for greener pastures.

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