Interview: Idris bin Jusoh

How will the Education Blueprint 2013-25 help to address the gap in soft skills for primary and secondary graduates, particularly for English?

IDRIS BIN JUSOH: In order to deliver the changes outlined under the blueprint, 11 different shifts will need to take place. Proficiency in English has been set as one of the six student aspirations. The ability to speak English as a second or third language entails thinking critically and formulating creative and rational ideas. Malaysia’s diversity makes it a natural place for producing multilingual students.

The current education system produces strong Bahasa Malaysia learning outcomes, with 75% of students achieving a minimum credit in the 2010 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) exam. However, in accordance with the Cambridge 1119 syllabus, only 26% of students achieved a minimum credit in the 2013 SPM exam for English. Indeed, since 2006, poor English proficiency among new graduates has been ranked as a pressing issue facing Malaysian employers. The Ministry of Education (MoE) has set a target for every child to achieve 100% basic literacy in English after three years of schooling. By the end of year five (age 17), it is hoped that 90% of students will score a minimum of one credit in SPM Bahasa Malaysia and, in line with the Malaysia 1119 syllabus, 70% for the SPM exam for English. In fact, from 2016, the MoE will make it compulsory to pass the SPM exam for English. In addition, the MoE will expand the Literacy and Numeracy Screening programme to include English literacy. Every student from year one to year three will be screened twice a year to determine if they are progressing in English literacy at an expected pace. Further, every student will be taught English by a teacher who is proficient according to global standards. This will be achieved by having all 61,000 English teachers pass the Cambridge Placement Test within two years. Further, the MoE is also focusing on promoting higher-order thinking skills and critical thinking, particularly in mathematics and science. More school-based assessments, with a less exam-oriented system, will be vital.

Will the merger of the Ministry of Higher Education and the MoE align educational standards?

JUSOH: The MoE’s vision is to provide students quality education through a single, integrated system that guides students from pre-school to tertiary education and beyond. The focus in basic education is to develop well-rounded global citizens who have mastered fundamental knowledge, skills and attitudes, and who are ready for university and prepared to enter the workforce. The focus in higher education is to develop leading professionals, researchers, scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators, who have an international outlook and who can propel Malaysia’s development. Accordingly, while the contexts and missions of basic education and higher education may differ with regard to expectations or specific metrics, the MoE’s fundamental commitment to the final outcomes is the same.

In what way can reducing the oversupply of private educational institutions increase quality?

JUSOH: Priorities include increasing competitiveness and building high-quality human capital. As of January 2014, the MoE had approved the registration of 525 private higher education institutions (PHEIs). This figure consists of 59 institutions with university status; nine branch campuses of foreign institutions (namely Newcastle, Southampton, Heriot-Watt and two campuses at Nottingham, all from the UK and Monash, Curtin and Swinburne from Australia) and 30 college universities and 427 colleges elsewhere in the country. In order to help enhance the quality and strengthen the capacity of PHEIs, the MoE imposed a moratorium on the establishment of new PHEIs for a period of two years from February 1, 2013, and encourages the private sector to help existing PHEIs develop more content and deliver.