Seminar on “Education Reform in Malaysia: Unfinished Business amidst Political Flux”

In this hybrid seminar, Dr Maszlee Malik spoke on Malaysia’s recent experience with education reforms, the impact of COVID-19 on the education system and the Perikatan Nasional administration’s response, and key inflection points in the country’s political trajectory going forward.


Tuesday, 7 June 2022 – Dr Maszlee Malik, Malaysia’s former Education Minister, was invited to the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute as a guest speaker to deliver “Education Reform in Malaysia: Unfinished Business amidst Political Flux”. Dr Maszlee served as the Malaysian Education Minister under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration (2018 to 2020) and is presently Member of Parliament (MP) for Simpang Renggam under Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). He also chairs the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) for Education in Malaysia.

Dr Maszlee Malik
Speaker Dr Maszlee Malik (right) with moderator Dr Francis Hutchinson. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Maszlee began his presentation with an overview of the challenges facing the Malaysian education system. He argued that the “quality” of education in government-funded schools remains a concern, as significant gaps remain in various curricula, vocational training, and the quality of teachers. In addition, there is “inequality” in terms of educational provision across Malaysia. While schools in urban districts typically enjoy decent infrastructure and digital connectivity, the same cannot be said for schools in rural and semi-urban districts. Dr Maszlee commented that dilapidated school infrastructure is not uncommon in the interior regions of East Malaysia.

Dr Maszlee subsequently shared that during the PH administration, the Education Ministry established a slew of reforms to tackle the “quality” and “inequality” issues in the education system. The proposals set out to improve engagements with key stakeholders while ensuring greater accountability and autonomy for schools. Some of the policies include the establishment of a National Education Recovery Council and the launch of a New Education Model. Nonetheless, these plans failed to reach fruition due to the collapse of PH in February 2020 resulting from the “Sheraton Move”. Dr Maszlee argued that under the incumbent Perikatan Nasional government, most of the education reforms have stalled. Dr Maszlee shared that despite the best efforts of the Parliament Select Committee on Education, which he chairs, to collaborate with the education ministry, the latter has not been forthcoming. Dr Maszlee also highlighted that the key initiatives implemented under the PH administration – including the upgrading of dilapidated schools – have not been adequately monitored to track the pace of completion.

In addition, the outbreak of COVID-19 has exposed the digital gap, with students in rural districts facing significant challenges to access online learning. Dr Maszlee warned that a “lost generation” of students has emerged, disinterested with learning in addition to behavioural problems. He urged the Education Ministry to urgently address this issue even as the societal consequences are not immediately apparent. Dr Maszlee concluded his presentation with a summary of the achievements made during his tenure as minister: Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) amendment to permit on-campus political activism, student representative in the Senate, Smart Collaboration among universities and Literature Laurette in universities.

In the question-and-answer session, participants inquired Dr Maszlee on the tasks required as Member of Parliament (MP) for constituency services, the lack of constituency allocation for opposition MP, his political affiliation with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and People’s Justice Party, and his experience in working with the civil service after Malaysia’s first change of federal government. The hybrid event attracted 50 participants online and on-site.

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)