KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — Malaysians’ deteriorating command of English and education system leaves its workforce vulnerable to regional competitors that are both cheaper and improving, a Forbes magazine contributor wrote today.
The article published by the American business magazine noted that the use of English, “the language of the global economy that is transforming Southeast Asia”, has steadily declined here in the past four decades.
“National educational policy has made it hard to find qualified teachers of English, covered in Forbes Asia in 2012,” Donald Frazier, the writer noted.
He wrote that this has forced many Malaysian to attempt to address the weakness themselves, most notably in the explosion of international schools here that use English as the medium of instruction.
Beyond English, Frazier said the problem was also in Malaysia’s education policies, noting that students here a were ranked 39 out of 44 countries in problem-solving, according to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
“Dysfunction runs deep in many of the public schools. In rural areas, according to international observers, the national policy of preference for ethnic Malays in government jobs has resulted in a number of classrooms where teachers are time-servers, disengaged with their students as long as they collect pay-checks.
The effects of both problems were already manifesting, Frazier added, highlighting a recent government study that showed only one in four Malaysian workers were skilled or less than half of what Singapore has to offer.
Local consultant Kal Joffres of Tandemic is quoted in the article as saying that Malaysians are willing and able to work and the country has “good connections” to the region and has “decent infrastructure”.
“They could make this place the back-office to the economy of the Internet. But they need more and better basic education for this to become a reality,” he said.
Though seemingly aware of both problems, Putrajaya has been at a loss on how to stem the decline.
Earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyididn Yassin said he was “shocked” that Malaysian students continue to lag behind global counterparts despite Malaysia spending as much on education as some developed nations such as the United States.
Last year, Muhyiddin, who is also education minister, expressed bafflement at local students’ inability to master English despite nearly two decades of education.