Enhancing The Role of the Private Sector in Education

By M. Bakri Musa

[First of Six Parts]

Introductory Remarks

In the proposed Tenth Malaysia Plan scheduled to be unveiled next year (2010), the government will again re-commit to develop human resources through improving our education system. We have heard all these before, but the twist this time is that the government will actively engage the private sector.

I applaud this. There are many avenues for private sector involvement in education at all levels, either independently or in a variety of public-private partnerships (PPP).

Two points are worth noting as Malaysia embarks on this endeavor. The first is that there are already many models of private sector involvement in education throughout the developed and developing world. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. All we have to do is study these existing models, ascertain their strengths and weaknesses, and then adopt with suitable modifications the ones that would best suit our needs.

There is no point in adopting wholesale a system that works wonderfully in South Korea or the Netherlands. Their society is very different from ours. Theirs is homogeneous ethnically, culturally and also linguistically. Ours is diverse, separated by race, culture, language, and religion, among others. Failure to recognize this essential difference would doom any plan.

The second is that no matter how brilliant and diligent our policymakers are, they cannot anticipate everything. Thus the policies they create can never be perfect. Even when the policy is sound but if the implementation were flawed, that would also destroy and discredit the policy. That would make the later resurrection of what otherwise had been a sound policy that much more difficult.

In Malaysia there is a wide gulf separating the formulation and implementation of a policy. There are many ready examples, the latest being the debacle over the teaching of science and mathematics in English. In the end it is our students, not our leaders and officials, who bear the brunt of that poor planning and execution.

I may be stating the obvious, but it would take more than just a bit of humility on the part of our leaders to acknowledge and then accept this reality. Our leaders and policymakers think they know it all.

When formulating a policy, you want the greatest possible input from all sources, especially the various stakeholders. The best time to do this is after you put forth your preliminary plan. Then post it on the Internet and invite written submissions from all. Go beyond simply issuing a passive open invitation but actively solicit the views of key players like heads of private universities, leaders of industry, local and foreign educators, student and faculty leaders, and yes, even if not especially politicians. Make it clear to all that the plan at that stage is only preliminary and subject to radical changes.

Again I would also post those submissions on the web so others could view them. At this stage the submissions would have to be written to ensure that only those who are serious and willing to put their thoughts on paper would respond. This is also an effective way to weed out those who are interested only in posturing and spouting off. This would also discourage ugly and distracting demonstrations.

Asking for submissions before you have a preliminary plan would result only in unfocused and jumbled submissions, as responders would not have an idea of the scale and scope of your proposed reform.

When all the comments are in, I would invite those with substantive ideas (as judged by their submissions) to direct conversations. Only after all that would I rewrite the policy incorporating the fresh insights and perspectives. This is the only way to garner the widest possible input and to tap the wisdom of the crowd. It is also an effective way to make the stakeholders buy into your proposed policy as they had been engaged in its formulation.

Even after all these I would still be cautious when implementing it. I would first do some downstream analyses anticipating possible problems and sources of opposition. Anticipate a problem and you are already halfway to solving it.

Again to be cautious, I would start small, with a limited number of pilot projects that could be easily monitored closely. It would also be easier to iron out the inevitable kinks, get feed back from the participants, and evaluate the preliminary results. Only when all is working smoothly and as expected would I expand the program nationwide. Anything less and you would risk jeopardizing your policy.

Likewise with the upcoming policy of engaging the private sector in education; I would post the proposed policy on the Internet, seek the widest possible input, and then revisit your policy based on those comments. When implementing the final policy, be cautious and start with a manageable number of pilot projects. Only when all is smooth sailing would you expand the program.

Malaysia has yet to recognize the full potential contributions the private sector could make to education as there is as yet no coherent policy to govern it. Instead, what we have is a series of ad hoc rules and policy pronouncements.

If we were to have an enlightened policy we would realize that creatively marshaled, the pubic sector’s contribution could be significant. It would lighten the government’s load, thus enabling it to focus on the truly needy and be able to do a better job. With its flexibility and responsiveness, the private sector would be in a better position to meet the increasingly sophisticated and varied educational needs of Malaysians. Most importantly, the entry of the private sector would provide much needed competition thereby improving services all around. It would also provide our students (and their parents) with some meaningful choices.

Before these could happen however, our leaders must rid themselves of their entrenched “zero-sum” mentality that views the private sector in adversarial rather than complementary terms. Otherwise all those fancy policy statements and earnest public pronouncements would mean nothing; the reality on the ground would remain unchanged.

In this six-part essay I explore ways for meaningful and productive private sector participation in Malaysian education. Following this introduction, I will discuss the rationale for such a participation (Part Two), followed by my examination of the current state of affairs. The fourth part is my appraisal of the experiences elsewhere, from both developed and developing countries, for useful lessons that Malaysia could learn. The next two parts are my specific prescriptions for greater private sector involvement in our schools (Part Five), and then post-secondary institutions (Part Six).

We have seen far too many examples of ill-conceived policies, of sound policies incompetently implemented, and privatization projects that benefited only the few at the expense of the many. I hope this time around the government will do it right. This commentary is my contribution towards that goal.

Next: Part Two: The Rationale For Private Sector Participation

  1. #1 by OrangRojak on Thursday, 3 December 2009 - 11:37 am

    six parts… there goes the ad revenue

  2. #2 by undertaker888 on Thursday, 3 December 2009 - 11:39 am

    hopefully they dont $crew up the private sectors like they $crew up the country.

    the only thing the govt can do in order to bring up the country is by being color blind. this is the only obstacle that stands between jungle law and progress.

    If they cannot look beyond race, whatever they try to do is in vain.

  3. #3 by trublumsian on Thursday, 3 December 2009 - 3:09 pm

    duh, of course what works in other countries will not work here in the land of affirmative action to protect the MAJORITY! hello! how insignificant can these people be! cintanegara, kassim amat, got an explanation??

    in america, educational instituations volunteer to set aside quota for minorities, but that’s as far as the handicap parking pass get you. you’re supposed to be assisted to be equipped to take on the world beyond the school gates. here in umno’s malaise-sure the skin color is a handicap, yes i’m talking about bumi-color, n it doubles as lifelong membership to Club Freeloading.

    In all seriousness, if Jibby is thinking of using private institutions to satisfy and pacify the non-bumis, it will work with the conditions umno do not interfere. and please don’t feel obligated to do something if private gets to be too successful. umno has proven to be the anti-golden touch. everything it tries a hand in falls apart!

  4. #4 by k1980 on Thursday, 3 December 2009 - 3:10 pm

    what sort of education system we have when the Penang State Govt could not find 1,000 Electrical & Electronics engineers to guarantee to foreign companies which intended to set up plants there? (But there are 1,000,000 Islamic studies grads available)

  5. #5 by trublumsian on Thursday, 3 December 2009 - 3:38 pm

    here’s a sad story.

    i recently returned to the town i spent my formative years in. the town has grown much, much outwardly, but the original part of it, for the most part, is in disrepair. shopping malls stand hollow because somewhere out there is a place called jusco. what feels like a kilometer’s frequency rise landmarks that try their best to be angkor wats – mold-covered, nature-stained concrete structures that shouts abandonment by barisan freeloaders.

    in the heart of old town finds a perfectly square lake. or pond. whatever. it is square because it was an entire block for what stood as a catholic primary and secondary school. in my few years as part of the town’s habitants, the school was the pride. it was ran with the best of values, year after year churning out future doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and musicians. i since left this dreamy little town, after which barisan freeloaders took away the catholic name, call it puteri something, moved it to an outskirt and mixed in hordes of malays. plan was to build a mall. but turning it into a mosquito raising pit seems to work just as well. the rest is history.

    bottom line is this – if the govn wants a model that works for private institution, just take what was this little catholic school and extend it to tertiary levels. there you have it. perfect recipe.

  6. #6 by trublumsian on Thursday, 3 December 2009 - 3:52 pm

    here’s another no-brainer recipe. eliminate private colleges in disguise, you know, the atm machines set up by tycoons after feeding barisan freeloaders money.

  7. #7 by k1980 on Thursday, 3 December 2009 - 4:21 pm

    //just take what was this little catholic school and extend it to tertiary levels//

    Then we would be only in possession of a shell of a building. We will still have to cope with the so-called educators who can’t speak, much less write in English.

    The rot in the education system actually began in the early 1990s when automatic promotion was allowed for third-formers. Scoundrels who can’t read the alphabet and count with their fingers are allowed to move up to Form 4, while the exam syllabus was continuously watered down to cater to these brain-damaged students.

  8. #8 by frankyapp on Thursday, 3 December 2009 - 6:15 pm

    Yep I agreed and any sincere and right thinking person would agreed too with k1980. But in malaysia,anything linking to catholism or christianity,it’s against the Umnoputras hallow thinking.They even hated the westerners’ idea and have been telling us not to ape the west,remember you guys !.But the funny thing is,these putras have not said anyting about malay girls,including some of their daughters are wearing “turdong”on the top and western jeans from the waist down,complete with booths made for walking tall.Some time I feel so funny,I don’t believe,I’m in KL or in Malaysia.So much hatred about the west,but western ideas and reality are everywhere in the cities,towns,and in kampongs too.Good examples are KFC, Levi jeans,nike etc.Hence,guys,what good private educational institution you expect when these shallow and hallow thinking people are in our midst,not to stop us, to create a good and great private institution. Like k1980 said again these umnoputras are welling to train one million or more religious scholars but are scary to let private institutions to raise more E&E engineers.These guys still are thinking that being an E&E engineer is aping the west,here again,I think they are pretty wrong about the west.But who would go and tell them that eh guys!

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