Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Fix Education for the Bumiputra

Written by johnleemk on 11:48:33 am Aug 7, 2007.
Categories: ,

One of the most pressing problems for the Bumiputra, especially the Malays, has always been education. As long ago as the early 20th century, Malay leaders were bemoaning the discrimination against them in the education system: "In the fewest possible words, the Malay boy is told 'You have been trained to remain at the bottom, and there you must always remain!'"

To address the problem of education, at independence, Article 153 of the Federal Constitution allowed the government to give preference to Malay students in university admissions and public scholarships.

After the implementation of the New Economic Policy, the Bumiputra were afforded even greater advantages in the area of education. Until today, it is common to hear of a Malay student with 2As winning a public scholarship to study overseas, while a non-Malay student with 9As gets nothing.

Just in case this was not enough to offset discrimination, advantages were given to the Bumiputra in other sectors as well. They were given preference in employment opportunities in the public sector, and after the NEP, granted substantial benefits not accorded to non-Bumiputra in the area of entrepreneurship. (For instance, MARA even subsidises the rent for some Bumiputra professionals.)

Although these policies do not appear to work any longer (there is evidence that at one point they were effective), whenever their failures are brought up, they are cited as a reason to continue the miserable policies.

The reason we do not see too many successful Bumiputra is very simple: we have never addressed the root of the problem. There is no use in admitting an intelligent, let alone mediocre, Bumiputra to university if he is not prepared to handle the course work. There is no use in promoting him over more qualified non-Bumiputra applicants if he lacks the experience to do the job right.

The root of the problem lies in primary and secondary education. If we are trying to fix the problem at the tertiary or post-graduate level, it is much too late.

What is the point of teaching a student how to prepare her thesis if she is illiterate? What is the point of teaching an employee accounting when he has never learned to add and subtract?

These examples may be exaggerated, but they emphasise the need to get the basics right. As long as Bumiputra students are not adequately prepared by our primary and secondary education system to handle university-level work, there is no real point in helping the Bumiputra up over their more qualified counterparts.

All the money we are pouring into helping the unemployed graduates of our nation, who are mostly Malay, is not going to yield significant returns. As the saying goes, to prevent is better than to cure.

We have to prevent the quality of our secondary school graduates from dropping if we want to prevent the quality of our university graduates from dropping. This is true regardless of whether we are looking at the problems of the Bumiputra community or the larger Malaysian community.

If we truly want to help the disadvantaged Bumiputra of our country, let us do them a favour and stop wasting our money on fanciful grand projects to help them in university or after they graduate. Let us put our efforts and resources into providing tuition for the Bumiputra at primary and secondary level. Let us reform our broken education system. That would be a far better use of what we have than gallivanting trying to help Bumiputra graduates whom the system has already failed.

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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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