Quality of teachers still very much an issue

Prof Dr James Chin

KUCHING: Among the significant problems with regard to education matters in the nation is the quality of teachers at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels.

In saying this, Prof Dr James Chin of the Asia Institute, University of Tasmania in Australia pointed out that Malaysia actually had very good primary and secondary education from the 1950s to 1970s as it used to take in the best graduates and train them to become quality teachers.

“However, from the mid 1980s onwards, basically they took in every Tom, Dick, and Harry to become teachers. That is reason that we have low quality teachers.

“A big group of the really good teachers, especially good graduates who want to enter into the teaching profession, were actually recruited by Singapore.”

He said this when discussing education as one of the key challenges facing Sarawak in his lecture on Past, Present and Future Political Landscape in Sarawak held via Zoom on Thursday (July 22) – the first in a series of lectures under an inaugural leadership programme organised by The Sarawak Initiatives (TSI).

He said the tertiary level also faced the same issue of quality of educators, on top of the problem of overabundance of universities in Malaysia.

Another issue, he said, was that politics played a major role at the higher level of public university administrators in Malaysia.

“Some of the senior administrative posts in Malaysia — the vice-chancellor, deputy vice-chancellor, and deans — are  directly appointed by ministers,” he said, though he added that this was not always the case.

He also highlighted the profound transformation in Malaysia’s education landscape with the trend of more people moving towards private institutions, especially at the tertiary level.

This rising trend of private education resulted in more divisions, such as those between rural and urban schools, between government and private schools, and also the language difference as almost all private universities use English while government institutions use a mixture of Bahasa Melayu and English.

“The really sad thing is that if you look at the education league tables internationally, you will find that the government reforms in the education arena, especially at the primary and secondary school levels, have largely been a failure if you compare the standard of Malaysian students in subjects such as Science and Mathematics. We have really fallen behind.”

Elaborating further on problems arising with the shift towards private education, he pointed out that there was a strong argument that students would have no common outlook.

“Students who pursue private education will have a completely different outlook and a different set of skills.”

He said this could potentially reinforce class and ethnic differences in the country – building up rather than taking down walls between the different communities and classes.

Prof Chin also expressed concern that students from madrasa schools or private Islamic schools had very little contact with non-Muslims and grew up with essentially no contact outside their communities.

“I’m not sure that it is a good thing that they grow up thinking that Malaysia is a country made up of only one community.”