Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Academic Autonomy for Malaysian Schools

Written by johnleemk on 1:19:15 pm Jun 7, 2007.
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Not too long ago, my mother was bombarded with another fundraising attempt by my former school (yes, the same school which is trying to defraud a charity).

This time, the purpose is to raise money for the school band, so it can buy instruments. The expenditure will be substantial, running into the tens of thousands.

Why have a school band? To raise the profile of the school, my mother was told. Incredulous, she asked why they couldn't raise money to pay for better teachers — surely the main purpose of a school is to learn, and surely nothing could better heighten a school's reputation than academic achievement?

Well, alas, hiring teachers is under the purview of the federal government. Even where teachers are assigned to is completely dependent on the whims and fancies of bureaucrats in the Education Ministry.

A couple of years ago, the government announced that all civil servants (which means all teachers) would be given Saturdays as off days. Because no teacher could supervise my school's Scout troop meetings on Saturday, the school shifted the meetings to Thursdays.

However, this meant that the scoutmasters could not attend, as they had educational and employment commitments. They attempted to get the school to hold supplementary troop meetings on Saturdays, but the school forbid it as under the government's orders, teachers could not work on Saturdays, and so nobody could supervise the troop meetings.

My father offered to raise funds to compensate a teacher for coming to campus on Saturdays, but his offer was rebuffed — apparently there was something about union regulations which kept them from doing this, even though the teacher advisor of the Scout troop was willing.

How can our schools be run like this? How can our principals, our headmasters, our headmistress, be mere figureheads? How can they be paper pushers following the commands of some bureaucrat in Kuala Lumpur?

At the rate things are run, it's no surprising our educational standards are in the dump — it is bureaucrats, not educators, who make decisions about hiring, firing and assigning teachers!

How does it hurt anyone to give schools more autonomy? Oh yes, there may be problems with accountability — but in that case, why not make headmasters accountable to the community through a school board or Parent-Teacher Assocation?

A basic economic incentive for anyone to do work is the ability to pay the bills. If you risk losing your job, you will buck up. If you have the opportunity of a pay rise or promotion, you will work harder.

At the moment, all these decisions are made by bureaucrats, who don't know a thing about what individual teachers are up to. At this rate, why would any teacher want to do more than the barest minimum to get by?

It's time to restore educational autonomy, and give our principals some basic control over their schools. Let's allow them to make employment decisions about teachers, and allow the market system to take care of the rest.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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