Why Malaysia will stay a third world country

Update 2012-03-10: Thanks to all Facebookers, tweeters and re-tweeters for sharing this around! Virtual hugs to all of you! Be sure to read the comments as well, including this one.

Update 2012-03-11: Over 10.000 people have now read this post! THANK you all for sharing this stuff. If you are a Johannian, past or present, who am fed up with the current nonsense, please share your views. YOU are the ones that are losing in this situation, so voice up!

Update 2012-03-11: I have elaborated in the comments on a number of things, including what exactly it was in the delivery that caused me to write this. Please read this, this, and this. This comment also expands on what is taught in many cases is blatantly wrong.

Update 2012-03-14: Over 20.000 people have now read this post! All Tweeters and Facebookers, you are making a huge difference! You’re awesome! At this point, the comments section is as important to read as the post itself. Since there is so much good stuff in there, and more coming in daily, I hope to write a summarizing post that captures all the great feedback you have provided, with more analysis and references spelled out. Keep the comments coming!

Update 2012-03-17: Due to the supportive feedback, both online and IRL, I have now posted a follow-up entry which in more detail outlines why the Malaysian education system doesn’t work. Part two in that series can be found here, discussing systemic evil in the education system. Part three, discussing knowledge and understanding, can be found here.

I have lived in Malaysia for a couple of years now, and am getting reasonably used to it. But some things keep boggling my mind, and today was one of those days.

We went to a “academic information day” at my step-sons school, the St John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur, to be informed by the principal and teachers about their mission and vision, and how they intend to make our children and students into excellent academic achievers.

However, what I got instead (in the one hour I could muster before I had to leave, my bullshit-meter being completely off the charts), was the most highly condensed delivery of pathological, paramoralistic, delusional, and sadistic nonsense I’ve ever heard. And I’ve been to the school before, so I had some idea of what to expect.

Since we know from experience that when we as parents voice concerns our children get punished, let me be perfectly clear: we have no concerns. This school is great. Our son is learning things that he could never learn in any other place, other than possibly a mental asylum, which we deeply appreciate. When he leaves St John’s he will know everything about dick-fu, and other such useful skills, necessary to combat real life in full force.

Instead of boring you with the nitty gritty details of what was delivered, here’s sort of my conclusion of it all, from four different perspectives.

For westerners:

You know how we look at Malaysia as a third world country, full of uneducated and low-cost labour? Based on what I have seen and heard today, that is ensured to continue for at least one more generation, so you can use Malaysia for this purpose, as you have in the past. No change at all. Malaysians graduating from these kinds of institutions, like the current prime minister for example, are guaranteed to not ask any questions, not think for themselves, and not question corporate policies, of any sort. If you need to keep your employees in a box, and have predictable outcome based on what you tell them to do, Malaysians are for you!

For parents:

If you have a child at St John’s, they are guaranteed to learn such useful skills as bullying, brown nosing, cheating, and more, fully endorsed by the school’s policies. The statements from the principal and discipline teacher today on how they view students and their interactions makes me confident that this will happen, predictably. It always does. If you want your children to gain creative and critical thinking skills, communication skills, problem solving skills, and any such things, this school is not for you. If you want them to learn how to cheat maximally at tests to get A’s, without getting caught, since that is a very valuable skill in real life, then this place is what you want!

For residents of Malaysia:

You know how some of the politicians out of St John’s can’t seem to understand the difference between right and wrong? How they tend to use language to make you feel bad for something you didn’t do? Well, turns out they are not really “bad apples”, they are just  doing what they have been trained and educated to do. You wanna be angry at anyone, be angry at the governors of this school, for allowing it to degrade into this mess. Or maybe this is what they want? Who knows!

For employers in Malaysia:

If you are looking for highly skilled employees that can think for themselves and solve problems without having to ask you all the time for guidance, Johannians are not for you. They simply wouldn’t know what you are talking about, as any such concepts have been kept far away from them. If instead you want another braindead foghead to use as the office servant, then this place offers the best that there is. Just watch out during the performance reviews, because these guys have been trained to fake those A’s as best they can, and you bet they are going to try and do the same with you. You have been warned.

And that just about sums it up I think.

Updated 2012-03-05

It seems I’m not alone in making these observations. From yesterdays The Star:

KUALA LUMPUR: Graduates emerging from the national education system are failing to meet the expectations of prospective employers due to a lack of critical thinking skills and poor communication.

This has resulted in employers having to provide additional training to fit them into their respective job scopes while many graduates have to accept employment that does not correspond with their qualifications.

Malaysian-based education, human resource and recruitment consultants feel there is a need for a sound foundation in critical thinking to be incorporated into the education system to prepare future generations for the employment market.

The above is exactly what I have noticed. Not only are the students not taught critical thinking, they are actively punished if they try, at least at St. Johns. So it would seem that rather than being an isolated case, this is indeed a systemic problem.

There is a ton of reasons for this, as I have found out talking to other parents, ex-teachers, principals, journalists, and more. It all starts however with the policies of the Ministry of Education (which is such an awesome doublespeak name, as it is anything but), which then filters down to principals, some of which are well-intended but tied down, which then filters down to teachers, and finally our poor students that have to put up with this nonsense.

In the end, all of Malaysia gets to see the effect as outlined in the article, with graduates coming out having no useful skills whatsoever that applies to successfully performing any real job. Which, in the end, will indeed ensure that Malaysia will stay a third world country for a long time, no matter what the politicians say. ’tis sad.

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148 Responses to Why Malaysia will stay a third world country

  1. Alex Tan says:

    Interesting perspective, although I must say…as most Malaysians born and bred and educated in Malaysia, they already knew that they are in the spawn trap created and perfected by the government for decades. It’s nothing new, nothing special, at least not in Malaysia. I know it and I know it well, because I’ve spent 28 years of my life there and I know that I can never go back and work for any employer embracing the local policies and cultures, which they all do anyway because it is the policy to set up a company in the first place.
    Call me adventurous, call me thrill seeker, call me a traitor or even stupid, but I much prefer life with chances to improve, much more challenges to face, and to be able to get a fair fight anytime, the right to excel which simply doesn’t exist there unless you belong to certain elite group of people.
    Malaysia is a country that I love, but doesn’t love me back. Malaysia is the home of my family, which is 10,000miles away from me, and a place still strange to my wife. It’s a pity how a country has so much potential but being abused and exploited for hundreds of years, if not by the Portuguese, Dutch, English, then by their own leaders. Sad indeed.

    • uniquenikasy says:

      Thank God i’m finished with school, having sat for my final exam last year. I cannot deny what you people say, because it is true, However, we Malaysian students don’t have much choice. We can’t afford to go to international school, so the ‘elite’ schools of KL are our best option, if we don’t make it to institutions like MRSM or SBP. Consider this, this school is considered ‘elite’, can you imagine what a ‘non-elite’ school is like? Hopefully college and institutions of higher learning provide a reprieve.

      Btw, Malaysia is perfectly ripe for business, because its easier to get money from dumb people than smart people 🙂 bright side bro, bright side…

      • Rickard says:

        @uniquenikasy, yeah the scandal with the Rawang school last year definitely puts it into perspective. The choices are between “sucky” and “rotten”. “Sucky” is better, but not good.
        On the business stuff, that’s another thing I have been amazed with here. The amount of pyramid schemes and scams is STAGGERING, and we constantly have to point out the folly of these things to friends and family of ours. People believe anything. I wonder why? Oh right, lack of critical thinking…

      • It is me says:

        I cannot agree more when you pointed out about what is happening in Malaysia’s National Education System and the government-failed-us theory. But as a product of the same system, I could further my studies to one of the top universities in the USA for the whole tertiary level (Bachs, Masters and PhD) and I found myself to be one of the top scorers there (Dean’s list all semesters, awards, honor societies etc). I used to attend a charter school, “non-elite” national high school and MRSM and you know what they all have their own strengths. So stop this non sense. It’s just easy, every man is for himself. ADAPT! ADAPT! and ADAPT!

  2. Dimitar says:

    Welcome to the Asian Values – the school is not to blame though – elite schools only reflect the social expectations of the elite class. In MY and especially KL it gets even more complicated, as the school has to appeal to the rich South-East Asian parents, the Shariah value system and the “modern”/progressive western values – in the end you get the value-weighted average.

  3. anandasim says:

    Wonder what soured your point of view. I haven’t engaged with St John’s since oh, mid 1970s. When I was there, it was run by the Christian brothers – it did have a fair number of kids from the privileged class but gradually it was invaded by the upper echelons.

  4. Rickard says:

    @ anandasim, yeah I have actually been wondering if St John’s has always been this screwed up, or if it is a recent development. When we checked for other possible schools we found that they were all pretty equally sucky (private and public), due to the mandate to follow the deplorable policies of the education ministry. That seems to be one of the root causes, infecting everything else having to do with so-called education in Malaysia. ’tis sad.

    • Jon says:

      Hello Rickard,

      No, schools like these (especially St John’s) were not screwed up in the past. The national education system was something to be proud of back in those days. That was what ex-teachers, headmasters, and parents told me.

      Since the 80s the education ministry has been turned into a “factory” to attempt and shape the young into unquestioning drones. The Education Minister’s portfolio is regarded more as a waiting room for the Prime Ministership, and a lucrative money/contract making opportunity. With such noncommitted politicians heading the education ministry, its no surprise the system has been, and still is, on a decline…

      • Rickard says:

        @Jon, if that is the case, then it would seem that Malaysia has undergone the very serious process of ponerogenesis. The end result of such a process has been experienced time and time again in societies past, that no longer exist.

        You touch upon a great point with the factory reference. In fact, when you look at it from a slightly deeper perspective, this belief in the Tayloristic point of views dating back to the industrial revolution are completely misplaced in a learning environment. And as Ohno et al. have showed us, even in a manufacturing context they are misguided at best. Even Taylor himself would probably cry in his grave if he knew that his method is being used but without the scientific aspect that he describe (albeit simplistically).

  5. Johann Goethe says:

    If there was anything that I learned about the education system in general (be it 1st-world or 2nd-world), is that the the ones who conform most to whatever the rubric is are the ones who are considered ‘successful’ or ‘smart’. When it comes to Malaysian schools (SJI is not spared), the exam-based rubric itself is in such a state of disrepair (and ill-enforced to boot) that cheating was a feasible alternative to the mental regurgitation that would be actually studying for it.

    It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to such a profoundly sick society.

  6. Stacey says:

    Who has a better education system, I wonder? I can’t say the Brits… they haven’t produced brilliant minds in ages. England fared worse than Scotland in this case. They are mostly survived by foreigners working and producing income for them. The local has become a little too lazy. The Americans are good at producing independent, self-opinionated, critical thinking generation so much so paranoia has become them, the student has to bring gun to school to settle matters. The new generation of USA is in constant fear and worry, it’s not hard to find 1 in 10 people who have had some psychotic treatment in some stage of their lives. I think we better start looking at non-english speaking countries for better education system like Switzerland, Luxembourg and Germany. IMO, they’ve produced some of the best minds and productive employees. Skip the Orange and the Blondies, I find them smart but totally lack of discipline to be productive. They also complain a whole lot and love seeking recognition for something that is less of a valuable contribution (like changing the filter of the coffee maker for example). I suppose I should expect that from a First World country….

    • Aoshi_88 says:

      I don’t believe that the UK hasn’t produced brilliant minds(by what standard would we consider “a brilliant mind”?) in ages. Granted the education system is not what it used to be but Malaysian students still don’t hold a candle to your average British student.

      As a UK higher institution graduate, when I first arrived here 3 years ago, I was quite appalled at what I thought I knew of general knowledge and my understanding of the world around me. The average British student(in secondary and higher education to use as examples) knows much much more than your average Malaysian higher education or secondary school student.

      For example, my house-mate, only 20 years of age, can discuss topics that Malaysians and the Malaysian government consider “sensitive” with racial or religious undertones. Note that we can discuss such things without resorting to callous or inflammatory language. Indeed, I swear that his topics of discussion become ever more intellectual under the influence of alcohol! However, he barely remembers discussing such topics once he sobers up which is such a shame. How many Malaysian students can discuss about ever having read Christopher Hitchens’ “God is not Great” or Napoleon’s greatest failure in the Russian Campaign of 1812? Not many that’s for sure. Malaysian history books don’t even discuss World War 2 in detail let alone the Napoleonic Wars.

      14 years of both primary, secondary and 3 years of college is not enough education in Malaysia. Even with my love of books and history, I find my knowledge of the world around me paling in comparison to those around me. Granted, it is a difficult yardstick form which we can measure intellectual capability but I can only speak from my viewpoint.

      if you’ve ever watched “Mastermind” on the telly, where participants are quizzed on a chosen topic of their choice(which most specialize in) you will quickly notice that ordinary citizens, from housewives and secretaries to retired blue-collar workers sometimes have the funniest and oddest hobbies. Some that come to mind are Victorian history or obscure interests such as literature from the Edwardian period. Maybe even a specialized subject on the Dr Who TV series!

      • Rickard says:

        @Aoshi_88, one of my main issues with the Malaysian education system is that it does not inculcate this sense that learning is a life-long mission. There is rote learning for passing tests, to get A’s, which… means what? As an employer I couldn’t give a damn about any A’s if an employee is completely unable to easily pick up new knowledge, or create new knowledge when needed. What these skills are, and how to learn them, has been taught by people like De Bono for quite some time, so it’s not like those tools are unavailable. They are just not used.

      • Mindblowed says:

        I must say, there is always a huge gap between our brilliant minds created under formal education, and those brilliant mind outside of the system. It’s not of quantity of A’s they may or may not grab throughout their academia life, but rather quality of overall understanding of life they achieved. They seem to be kinda dull at dealing with real life problems, lack of creativity, no empathy, like a void, ya know?

        I learned history myself, just look at the current syllabus provided by Malaysian government, they’re scrapping down everything in the pages of history which might pose a threat to their current political standing and trying very hard to rewrite what had been done by the forefathers, for godsake they can’t warp in time space, or else, destruction of universe is a for sure deed by these nimwits. Can you believe, instead of sharpening our minds with more radical and critical issues, they’re putting us behind the bars and telling us our limitation of curiosity, ”u can’t find out beyond this and that. never ask about the fucking May 13, it’s forbidden. ” Now think, how the fuck would it be disastrous just to thirst for an explanation on something that brought a nigh degree of damage to overall societal structure since 1970? Or they mean, political structure instead? Now I know why we can’t ask. Everyone know.

        There you have it, politician to run the education. Other countries have their best brain
        in the practiced field to lead the education, i.e Nobel prize laureates, Professors, blah blah.. Guess it right, fuck Malaysia, even some kampung ding dong can be education
        minister,.. This country will stay third world, always. I say this from deep of my broken heart, and i mean it.

        Stacey’s statement are totally bullshit. As if Malaysian students won’t bring a gun if there’s no firearm limit. And critical thinking minds are the source of paranoia generations? So pasar malam strolling, flashy attire punks, and full time night clubbers are the one we’re looking for to rule the nation? Top scorers in Malaysia are handicapped minds! they’re best at following orders, hardwired to be best employee. Their way of thinking encompass around ”how much salary i get by doing this job and getting another licensed paper?”. not ”how should i get myself self employed?”.
        You can have all those sick machine, top scorers my ass. Oh yeah, not their fault, its the system,’s fault. yeah yeah. As if they have no brain to think. How you think Newton discovers gravity? Miss.School teacher told him? Funny.

        That’s how this nation crumble with people whose minds are closed and lid by nothing but refusal and denialism. Enough of flatters, and excuse to our graving mistakes, time to set Malaysia into a renaissance, revolt this foul era.

      • david says:

        Whilst I agree with your point of view on the inadequacy of the Malaysian education system, that it is factory system that produces answer-producing drones instead of developing leadership and critical thinking skills. But I do not seem to agree with the following examples:

        “How many Malaysian students can discuss about ever having read Christopher Hitchens’ “God is not Great” or Napoleon’s greatest failure in the Russian Campaign of 1812? Not many that’s for sure. Malaysian history books don’t even discuss World War 2 in detail let alone the Napoleonic Wars.”

        These examples may be relevant and in the context of the western countries, but I don’t see how they (except ww2) necessarily fit into being a must-haves knowledge, like hello if you ask these to Japanese, Chinese or Korean students they may not even had heard of it. But yes I do see your point of view. I believe this problem (of lack of critical thinking) is a common problem across few Asian countries as well. If you are an Singaporean employer, you will probably face the same problem – a significant proportion of fresh grads full of knowledge, expecting high pay but lacks independence, critical thinking and will power.

        In my opinion, the average UK students may have learnt up a lot on general knowledge, critical thinking, soft skills (which is essential); but I do observe that some schools from the Malaysian system produces one of the most brilliant and determined employees (but most of them got exported to western countries =.=). This is something I notice lacking among some western countries – some employees are just relying too much of human rights to the extent of abusing it, they get lazy.

        Don’t get me wrong though, I agree with you in every sense the Malaysian education system is somewhat a failure (in fact I think it is part of the plan so as to keep those in power in power- but that is another topic altogether), but I don’t discount the efforts of some schools that produces the virtues seen in some Malaysian employees.

      • david says:

        Oh I forgot to mention, (in my opinion, with all due respect), I think the average Malaysian student beats the average western system student in science and maths though. This is just what I observed as a fact. Also, whilst Malaysian system maybe a factory that mass produces non-critical thinking drones, there are schools that make the best out of it, and when coupled with off-education system co-curriculum/ training , it produces quality graduates -just look at the amount of Malaysians being taken up into Singaporean top universities.

    • Having worked in England and Malaysia, I would say the average Brit is a genius compared with the lazy, arrogant, unreliable, incompetent Malaysians I had the misfortune of attempting to get things accomplished with. The only thing I could rely on them to do properly was makan. These were mainly young people supposed to be learning about a field they wanted to work in. I didn’t expect them to be gifted, but I thought they would at least try. None of these people would have lasted an hour in London

  7. Shalyn says:

    I would like to begin by pointing out that it is unfair for you to generalize all Malaysians as “employees in a box” who will “have predictable outcome based on what you tell them to do”. My humble opinion is based upon my observations as a Malaysian (which means I have gone through mainstream education here) who had thereafter proceeded to further my education in the US for more than a couple of years. While you do have a point that the education system in Malaysia is no where near perfect, I strongly believe that parents play the most crucial role in determining how knowledgeable or equipped you want your children to be.

    My parents, just like yourself, have understood how imperfect the system is. In fact, from my observation of the American education system and how the country is having the necessity to “import” skilled labor (CNN.com had an article about that today, dated 3/5/12), it seems that there is no one perfect school even in a first-world country! Thus, in order to ensure that my siblings and I have better lives than theirs, the both of them taught us the meaning of hard work. That means we worked hard to earn our grades – definitely not through cheating. For instance, we attended outside classes taught by the best teachers of various schools (in which we were also able to pick up different perspectives on life), and took up extra subjects in addition to the “mandatory” subjects, such as art, accounting, and music, to cultivate our creative and communicative skills. It may seem like we have gone through “bootcamp”, but my lifelong friends went to the same classes I did.

    Besides that, I have to thank the education system for ensuring that each student participates in a sport, a club, and a uniform activity. I was a girl guide, albeit not the most dedicated one. From the camps which I have gone to, I have met really great people and learned to enjoy outdoor activities. From the sports I have participated in, I learned the spirit of sports and how winning is not the most important point, but rather, team-building, and how not to give up when life gets hard. From the different clubs I have joined, I have learned to play international chess, the art of recycling, and how to be a peer counselor (or in other words, how to understand people better), just to name a few. I do not see how these activities have made us “braindead, fogheads to use as office servants”.

    Through the exposure which I have gained, I, too, understood how the system is in dire need of reformation. And since I knew better, I opted to study abroad in the US when my father gave me the choice to decide which field I would like to explore further after finishing highschool. I knew he did not have the financial abilities to send us abroad and he made that very clear as well, but he tried all he could, and made sure we earn it ourselves. He told us that if we would like to study abroad, we will need to get scholarships from wherever we decide to go. So I did.

    I may not be as experienced as you are, sir, nor am I a parent, but I do think that you have the edge to expose your child to the valuable lessons which will be more helpful to gear him for reality because you are aware of the flaws. It is those who could see the flaws and chose to not take any actions to help themselves, which are doomed. I am aware that my People need help. Being one of the more fortunate ones, I am doing my best to equip myself before going back to contribute what I have learned. Hopefully, I will be able to help in some tiny way to ensure that we will not remain as a third world country as you have claimed. At any rate, I apologize if my views have offended you in any way. I appreciate being able to be exposed to different point of views, such as yours (thank the creators of the World Wide Web!), and to see what I can learn from you. Lastly, thank you so much for sharing, and good luck with your “battle” with the flawed education system.

    • Worried says:

      Well, let me tell you what’s in St.John:

      1. Fist rules in the school, brains are for sissies. Those involved in physical fights are respected, those ‘nerds’ are rejects that are constantly teased and avoided by majority.
      2. Seniority is #1 rule in the co-curiculum. Juniors cannot question senior’s orders or actions, they have to obey meekly. Those who rose against seniors are considered ‘stupid’ and have no future (they’ll not be chosen by seniors to take up posts)
      3. Gangsterism and bullying. We need gangsters to ‘protect’ our school from other schools like VI, for example. But we, the normal students got bullied as well. I was bullied for 2 years there, and right now, I’ve psychological problems such as violent tendencies, nightmares and uncontrollable anger.
      4. You don’t know the definition of bootcamp. Let me enlighten you how we guys treat our successors. We’ll train them, giving them pushups, run around half naked carrying tables, no eating in front of seniors, shout till your voice is hoarse, beat juniors up to train them to withstand pain, blindfold them and kick the shit out of them. There’re more. That’s bootcamp, real guys style. Am not supposed to reveal this but damn it, this have to change.

      I graduated with a scholarship offered to me. I speak for the silent ones, the nerds, although I was a hybrid, excelling in studies and occasionally fights. You’re lucky not to experience this. Would you want your child to experience this? Gear him for this reality then. Not saying that Malaysia sucks, but it really has to change.

      • Rickard says:

        @Worried, I’m not in the least surprised by the above. It matches everything I’ve already heard about St John’s. It’s basically a brainwashing facility, from which the “leaders” of the nation are supposed to arise. Well, you get what you breed.

    • Mindblowed says:

      Some schools are not as how you could imagine in your little fantasy world, missie. Reality are rough, and the way you embolden your achievements in hardcore terms, will not make up the fact you’re living in a much safer zone than these battle hardened veterans. They went through roughest in dirt, you won’t understand what it takes to live in both fear and the calamity of getting a breakdown in nigh. Tuition and girl guides?Tuition is the result of our system’s failure. You gotta be kidding me. Had you been taken beyond your physical limits by ‘non-school-standard-curriculum”? Everything you said are the exact I have in mind, the hardwired type students. Thinking that, been through some amateur level of war would make them infantry in Somalia. Not sarcasm, no offense.

      Don’t clamor the world in hokum of beginners fantasy, there are many jungle law out there. They might not make you a top student, but that’s how some of us live since we born. While top minds, aren’t even top students. I won’t thank the educational system, they failed miserably. Call me whatever you like, I simply had enough.

    • Katie Ismail says:

      I totally agree with Shalyn.

      I was very fortunate to experience the Malaysian education system, the American education system and the UK education system as well as the religious school education system in Malaysia.Now, I’m also in the education business because of the concerns I have with the current system.

      From my personal experience, this is what I can sum it up to:

      1. Malaysia really has to catch up with the outside world. It does seem like we are getting much worse than before. Although I am very much grateful to the Malaysian education I received, I still feel it hasn’t able to catch with the education I had in States, 27 years ago.

      2. Malaysian schools have turned into an unhappy place to many kids as well as great teachers due to the system, the culture and the environment.

      3. Having said that, the systems in UK and in US are not perfect either. I noticed when I was in UK the kids, ironically (being supposedly such a well-mannered country) were very rude, couldn’t utter a single sentence without saying the word ‘f**k’, and really lots of them were very mean! In contrast with the elder generations who always say ‘thank you’, ‘please’ and ‘love’.

      4. I was happiest with the American system though, cause I really had fun and really discovered my potentials there. I could still remember what I learned even after 27 years. The people are still very much nicer compare to the UKs, (although I shouldn’t be generalizing, it’s just my observation or maybe the people I ended up mixing with..heheh)

      5. My twinning TESL degree program between MPIK Malaysia (the local teacher training college) and Edinburgh university, and my years spent in States taught me most values and survival skills. I was very much happy at both systems. The rest felt more just like passing by. Everything seems more like a blur. My local boarding school experience for the secondary was a mix of both. Some were good, some were awfully bad and some were ok….Nothing really outstanding.

      As for kids of local government school nowadays, I noticed that they’ve turned into zombies! They no longer enjoy school. They’re much happier coming to our place than going to schools. I wasn’t happy either, when I was teaching in the local school cause I wasn’t able to really teach them and practice the effective approaches for teaching English. My times were filled up with courses, the SEA games which took more than 3 months away from school, and I ended up teaching 5 other subjects in total. So, I left, not because I dislike teaching but because I know I’ll able to contribute more to the Malaysian education system from the outside. I didn’t care much about pensions, my main concern was whether I was doing the right thing, and whether I was happy at what I was doing. I believe I made the right decision. It gives me great satisfaction to see my learners become confident, able to speak English and Malay well, having lovely manners, know how to respect the elders and most importantly able to make right judgement and differentiate what’s right and wrong.

  8. Rickard says:

    @Stacey, yeah it is hard to find countries that have well-functioning education systems. If you take into account that they are ALL based on the societal requirements of the industrial revolution, rather than the contemporary information society, they are all, pretty much, by default wrong. In order for an education system to be “good”, both in the sense that it is constructed to support the needs of the current societal structure AND actually well implemented, we would have to reassess pretty much everything, from the ground up. Sir Ken Robinson is a great inspiration, in my view, with regard to how we should view learning, creativity, intelligence, and balancing arts and science.

    I don’t think such a radical positive change will happen in any of our lifetimes though. Everyone is too busy doing the wrong thing, for the wrong reasons, producing the wrong outcome. Predictably.

  9. Rickard says:

    @Shalyn, there are undoubtedly skilled and professional Malaysians. But it is in spite of the education system, not because of the education system. Imagine the possibilities if the education system didn’t actually try to stop people from becoming great skilled individuals, endowed with tools for critical and creative thinking, well versed in both arts and science, and which are able to participate constructively in society, rather than continuing the corrupt practices they are taught in school.

    As an example of the latter, we found out that a teacher in St Johns were extorting her students for money, but when we notified the principal (me being a silly white guy thinking that the law actually extends to the school environment), our son was interrogated and moved to another class, and the teacher got an award of excellence. In other words “shut up and put up, or you get in trouble”. And this is the same school where Najib was “educated”. And people wonder why corruption is so prevalent in Malaysia!?!

    As another example, I’ve helped Scandinavian exchange students who had come here for higher education in business management. On day one I told them what to expect. They laughed. On the day they left they were almost crying, because of the cheating they had been forced to do by other students AND teachers. Copying others’ papers was standard practice, endorsed by the teachers.

    The point is not that there are some minor things that are positive, which there are, but that all in all the Malaysian education system is a MASSIVE failure from an educational point of view. As a psychopathic control system, however, it is extremely successful. Is this what Malaysians want? Because that’s what they’ve got! If you don’t like it, don’t complain to me, complain to the Ministry.

    And lastly, comparing to first world countries, and pointing out that they too have issues (which they do), misses an important point: they already ARE first world countries, while Malaysia is trying to become one. With the current education system, that is going to fail miserably. Predictably.

    • mekyam says:

      i do believe that given his age, the PM was probably educated in an SJI that was quite different form what it is today. 🙂

  10. Shalyn says:


    Thank you for elaborating further on the issue. I am beginning to follow your frustration. My sister have gone through her own battle with the Ministry as well, and we have lived in Malaysia for most of our lives, thus, we are VERY aware of the flawed system. I must say that we always count our blessings to have been born in Penang out of all other states in Malaysia. Governed by our current Chief Minister from the opposition party, Mr. Lim has been having his battles with the federal government, and even the blind could tell that the current federal government needs to go, what more, the education system. However, as a Malaysian, I believe that things are changing and we are all waiting for the upcoming elections. It is just a matter of time.

    As for moving forward from the “third-world country” status, no doubt that it might be “better”, for what the “category” is worth, but if being a first-world country still meant that corruption and societal issues will continue to persist, I do not see the importance of changing the “label” of nations. It would be like discriminating among ourselves based on the color of our skin, in my opinion anyway, if you get what I mean.

    In the mean time, while the country may or may not “progress”, (regardless of what country, as a matter of fact), I sincerely hope that you and your son will find your way around the system instead of following it verbatim. I am only considering about what your son will have to go through and trying to find productive alternatives (because his time is precious) rather than to point fingers. For most of us who are aware of the flaws of the system, we already know that we cannot do much to overhaul the system overnight. It will definitely take time. But instead of committing genocide or causing animosities, pun intended, we have continued to search for other possibilities in spite of the system, as long as we reach our goals. Perhaps that would better serve our current interests.

    Best wishes,

  11. Young Malaysian says:

    I’m a Malaysian educated person and I have to say throughout my years studying here, I have not experienced a number of your observations. Some of them, yes, but not all.

    Lack of creativity – Yes. We do emphasis rote learning too much.

    Teachers extorting students – No. I’ve seen students extorting students but not teachers.

    Widespread cheating endorsed by the teachers – No. Not to say there’s no cheating but it’s not condoned and if u get caught, well, there goes your high grades.

    I’ve been to a number of schools so it’s not just my experience with one particular school.

  12. Rickard says:

    @Young Malaysian, one thing I noticed with the extortion is that the teacher (for the BM subject) presented it as something else. Here’s what she did: “if you [the students] get B or below on my test, you have to pay me 5RM, and if you get a C or below you also get caned. Whoever gets an A gets a prize”. This was presented as a “motivation” scheme.

    Unsurprisingly, on the next test 29 students got C, one got B. No A’s. In a class of 30. It was only our son who realized that something was a bit fishy and informed us, at which point we immediately went to the police. The police confirmed that this was indeed extortion in disguise, along with three other criminal offences. When we talked to the principal of St John’s the above happened, i.e. our son got punished and the teacher awarded. When we talked to other parents they initially agreed with us, but later changed their mind, and went with the “motivational” aspect. The other students in the class were very upset that our son had told us about it, and blamed him for the group punishment they received after this sordid affair (they were forced to do 5 essays in short time). We also informed the board of governors at St John’s, but again, no action.

    We then dropped this, as we were apparently alone in seeing the madness of it all, and instead now educate our children about mental pathology, brainwashing, and other such topics. It has helped immensely in an impossible situation.

    So, one issue with the criminality aspect of all of this is that the human mind is infinitely capable of rationalizing bad behaviour. It’s a variation of the Stockholm Syndrome. In other words, you might have seen extortion, or other similar criminal behaviour, in school without realizing that that is what it was.

    You can extrapolate this notion to other aspects of Malaysian society. For example, in one case of systemic corruption I am aware of in the banking sector, there is a system of “commissions” between lawyers and banking people. However, it really is “bribes”. But many lawyers I have talked to refuse to understand this distinction, understandably, as the implication is that pretty much all of them are criminals. They rationalize their own behaviour to be ok, because if it wasn’t they’d have to quite their jobs. Opting to not bribe is unavailable, due to the systemic nature of the bribery.

    And on and on. It’s complicated.

    • bakh says:

      I’m an ex johanian who studied in st johns in the 80’s. I’m very sorry to what happened to your step son and what he and you had to go through. If that was to happen to my child I would have indeed done the same thing as you. I think it wasn’t that bad in the 80’s. I have a few serious complaints about my experience in St Johns but they were somewhat different in nature so I will not eloborate here, but one thing in common was, only I at that time and even now aming all my schoolmates really thought there was misconduct by the school authorities (ie head teacher / head of year). no one else seriously thought much of it and just seem to think of it as normal, not unexceptable behaviour by the head or teachers in charge. it still baffles me till today. though, after reading your comment, i am most curious on what were said by the teachers during that session that you attended in the school. would you be willing to say what exactly went on during that session? thanks.

      • Rickard says:

        @bakh, unfortunately I didn’t take notes, and the presentation was in Malay so my wife had to real-time translate for me, but here are a few of the main points I can remember (details may be wrong, but the gist of it is as below):
        * The principal was almost entirely focusing on the average A’s that students got. No mention of method, no mention of why, just that this number was what mattered.

        He also showed his method for calculating this average, which it turned out was statistically flawed. A,B,C,D,E,G were assigned 1,2,3,4,5,6 respectively, and then an average was calculated from this. But to get more “precision”, he then outlined a scheme whereby A+,A,A-,B+,B,B-,C,D,E,G got assigned 0 through 9, respectively. With the first scheme, which is pretty normal, if you have one student with each grade you will end up with an average between C and D. With the second scheme, with the same grades, you end up with an average between B- and C. In other words, the second more “precise” scheme is a way to “cook the books”, as it by design skews the numbers towards A and B by assigning them more weight.

        In any case, from modern business managament practices (not practiced AT ALL in Malaysia from what I can tell), we know that when you focus on KPI’s and targets like this, you systemically reduce quality, and promote cheating (see e.g. Seddon, Freedom from Command and Control, for reference). Rote learning and “prepping” classes for tests are examples of this, as is the principals flawed statistical scheme to cook the end result to look better. When I say that the students are encouraged to cheat, this is the root cause. The original purpose, learning, gets lost, and everyone in the environment, from principal down to teacher and students, focus on the measurement, which in the end loses its meaning.

        Why is there such a focus on average A’s? Why is the original purpose of school, i.e. learning for life, lost? Ask MoE. They bear the ultimate responsibility for this nonsense.

        * The merit-demerit system that many schools are using, including now St John’s, and which was presented by the co-curriculum teacher, is pathological by design. For example, you get more merits if you are in the “international events”, and less if you are in “national events”. Being a president gives more merits. But since those are scarce resources it becomes impossible for everyone to get top marks, contrasted with grades where theoretically everyone *can* get all A’s.

        Because of this it encourages application of Game Theory, whereby the students are motivated to create pacts and work together, until comes such a time that they have to fight for the top-dog position. Or, as its founder of Game Theory John Nash called it when he went to school: “Fuck You, Buddy”. It encourages unhealthy competition over healthy cooperation. It is psychopathic, by design, and rewards psychopathic behaviour between students, while punishing cooperative empathic connections.

        The demerits that you can get, for example by having long hair, promotes Stasi-style “spy on your friends” behaviour, whereby you are considered “good” if you “report” such evil misdoings as having too long hair, which is a cause for demerits. This is a hallmark sign of fascist, pathological thinking, and is common in all places which undergoes this transition from healthy society to pathological insanity.

        * The discipline teacher was quite a character. First of all he talked to us as if he was talking to a group of children, in a condescending and demeaning manor. “Discipline”, according to this school of thinking, involves caning students if they skip school, and also caning them if they come late. So if you are 5 minutes late (for ANY reason, including valid ones such as crazy morning traffic jams), there is really no point to enter the school, because either way you are going to get punished. If you don’t want to go to school because of the verbal, emotional and physical abuse that the teachers consistently dish out to their students, that is also not found out and dealt with in a healthy manner. There is no respect whatsoever from the teachers to the students, and yet they demand blind obedience and loyalty. I teach my kids NOT to respect ANYONE that does not respect them back, so this is the worst kind of bullshitting they are being subjected to.

        And so on and so on. There’s more, but the above would give you a sense of what I mean with “pathological, paramoralistic, delusional, and sadistic nonsense” that was referenced in the initial post.

        In closing, here is a quote from Political Ponerology (“ponerology”=”science on the nature of evil”) that I find to be quite fitting (p130-131):
        “During stable times which are ostensibly happy, albeit dependent upon injustice to other individuals and nations, doctrinaire people believe they have found a simple solution to fix the world. Such a historical period is always characterized by an impoverished psychological world view, so that a schizoidally impoverished psychological world view does not stand out as odd during such times and is accepted as legal tender. These doctrinaire individuals characteristically manifest a certain contempt with regard to moralists then preaching the need to rediscover lost human values and to develop a richer, more appropriate psychological world view.

        Schizoid characters aim to impose their own conceptual world upon other people or social groups, using relatively controlled pathological egotism and the exceptional tenacity derived from their persistent nature. They are thus eventually able to overpower another individual’s personality, which causes the latter’s behaviour to turn desperately illogical. They may also exert a similar influence upon the group of people they have joined. They are psychological loners who then begin to feel better in som human organizations, wherein they become zealots for some ideology, religious bigots, materialists, or adherents of an idology with satanic features. If their activities consist of direct contact on a small social scale, their acquaintances generally just consider them to be eccentric, which limits their ponerogenic [evil-generating] role. However, if they manage to hide their own personality behind the written word, their influence may poison the minds of society on a wide scale and for a long time. ”

        This fits the situation quite well, I’m afraid. So the process that the St John’s students are subjected to is quite well understood, as is the eventual outcome of said process.

        Concerned readers may also want to view the following TED talk, discussing how good people can be turned evil:

      • bakh says:

        I can just imagine the scene and scenario in that school hall unfortunately, with the principal and discipline teacher, one hand holding a mic and one hand behind his back speaking ‘down’ to the audience. it is a sight that i’ve seen many many times when i was a boy, but the worst is not their manerism but their attitude and way of thinking which is far from what a good educationalist should be like or aspire to be. there were some teachers who were wonderful. the teachers who were wonderful were from the different races, they weren’t only from one or two races, as most malaysians would like to think. people like to assosiate these kind of negative inward thinking short sighted attitude to malays generally but this is not true. ive seen bad attitude from teachers of all the races, and have seen good teachers from all the races there too during my time at st johns. but i have many negative things to say about my days in st johns, and although i know alot of my ex school mates still think the school is/was great!! i always had the opinion that the school is maybe great in some aspects BUT….. etc.

        A lot of things about the attitude towards punishment, way of teaching and supervision of the students were far from right. i have never thought of putting my son in st johns, lets just say thats how bad my impression was/is of the school that i actually love and still have many fond memories of.

        This ‘kpi’s and targets i wouldn’t think suitable for a school at all. its ridiculous. i have a strong feeling it’s just meant to make the school look good with the percentages A’s blah blah blah. It’s really the teachers’ KPI’s, one that maybe shouldnt be imposed on them strictly on grades, but definitely a kpi that shouldn’t be ‘delegated’ to the school kids. first time i really realised that my education in st johns havent done me justice was during my first year in a british university. turorial sessions!!! where the tutor would expect the student to proactively discuss in a group. i found that a difficult task while the british students had no problems at all. it is because i was not encouraged (or rather almost discouraged) to speak, question, discuss ideas and engage in dialogue during my high school years in st johns. to me if there was something that had to change in the school system, that would be it!!! thats a no brainer! so, what you have told us is quite saddening to hear, as it will mean that this aspect has not improved in fact it may have even become worse. before anyone says it was different when the christian brothers were in charge, let me break that bubble and tell you that that is not entirely true. because they were there when i was in st johns primary and also secondary. i didnt/dont think that they were doing a great job at that time and also looking back at it now. i would hate to give examples.

        your quotes from the author is interesting observation and enlightening by the way. thanks.


      • Rickard says:

        @bakh, with regard to KPI’s and targets, let me be excruciatingly clear. This notion stems back to Fredrick Winslow Taylor’s ideas of “principles of scientific management” (1911). As Pink (Drive,2010) has shown in general, and Seddon (Freedom from Command and Control, 2005) has shown for service organizations, the use of these types of performance measurements PREDICTABLY lowers performance and quality, and increases cost. This is true for any activity that is not strictly mechanical, such as doing dishes or moving stones from A to B. Any other activity, involving planning, creativity, communication, etc. has been shown to be drastically impaired by the use of KPI’s and targets. So, to me, not even teachers should have KPI’s, as they will predictably lower performance and quality. This is not to say that there is no feedback loop, with which they are evaluated, but it is NOT done by KPI’s and targets.

        Now, consider that almost the entire ETP is based on targets and KPI’s, and what have you? A predictably low quality, wasteful, and corrupt system. Guaranteed. But that, as they say, is another story….

    • Liz says:

      Wow, seriously??! I’m shocked and surprised that you didnt win your battle. After all, what the teacher did was totally wrong. I always manage to “win” over the teachers! I have 3 kids in public primary school, and I wouldnt let any slight nonsense from the teachers or even other kids. I would normally report to the principal and/or confront the teacher straight away. And normally they apologize to me and promise not to repeat such things again. So they know not to mess with me or my kids again! But what they did was nothing as serious as yours though.
      And bullying and copying during exams..are seriously banned. Perhaps SJI encourages that so that they can keep their high standards and ranking… But that’s really stupid. Anyway, I dont think your judgement on Msia is 100% correct Rickard. Yea, I do notice Msians like most Asians they tend to be very “polite”… to them voicing out means disobeying orders. And the bosses always think that the subordinates just have to listen to them and only their views matter! They may be lack of creative thinking, but I think its more of being afraid to voice out or perhaps they dont have enough confidence to speak up in other language.. These are the skills they really need to brush up! Hmmm perhaps you can check out other good schools and firms or mix with better network! 😉
      – Truly Msian –

      • Rickard says:

        @Liz, we thought it would be quite uncontroversial to see to that basic rule of law applies in school as well, but, well we were proven wrong. It does not apply in SJI anyway. And as outlined, not only was this teacher not fired and put in jail (as she should have been), but she got an “Award of Excellence” and our son was punished by putting him in the lowest class.

        Malaysia boleh? Or Malaysia bodoh?

        I’m puzzled that it would take a mat salleh to be upset over this. As in the opening post, I could take the “easy” position of a european and say that this nonsense is awesome, as it would continue the undeveloped status of Malaysia. But that the Malaysian parents were not outraged and enfuriated by this behaviour by the school is really saddening. This is your kids, your future, and you do not care? Come on…

  13. Zaki says:

    Dear rickardo,
    Thanks a lot rickardo! Now every employers wouldn’t hire me because I used to studied in St. John. But, you need to know the inside of the school’s system to know what you are really talking about. By the way, thanks for the heads up! and screw you

    Sincerely, a johannian student

    • Rickard says:

      @Zaki, you’re welcome 🙂 But like I said, if you want to complain, complain to the ministry, not me.

    • macman says:

      Not that they won’t hire you because you are an ex-Johanian, its that you couldn’t even right a proper sentence in English! Try in Bahasa, if you would. Maybe that would convey your anger at Rickard, which is what you were aiming for, wasn’t it? Or am I confused?

      • Jie says:

        @macman. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. “right” as opposed to “write”. I would study my own writings before policing others. Shame on you for your holier than thou attitude.

        @Zaki: Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion and let’s not get our panties in a bunch. Be more objective and even more so courteous when expressing your views.

        Ps: I apologize if i have offended anyone. Have a good one. Rejoice. It’s Friday 😉

    • Saturn says:


      I completely agree with your article.

      Another flaw regarding malaysian graduates:

      The inability to accept constructive criticism and the high tendency to react defensive after.

      A clear example would be Zaki.

      I am a Malaysian graduate, and I am so thankful I was not brought up to be as brainwashed as Zaki and the plethora of “obedient” Malaysian graduates”.

      Though I must add that not all Malaysian graduates are as hopeless as it may seem, there are many who do strive to be better, but due to the conservative nature of our society and a flawed education system filled with many apathetic ministers and officers, they strive to no avail.

      I have met many Malaysian students with excellent soft skills and the guts to question the system we live in. Let us hope, that these students influence the rest, because I do love this country, despite agreeing with your opinions, and I do hope for a gradual change.

      • Rickard says:

        @Saturn, being able to deal with constructive criticism is one part of learning critical thinking, and also a part of growing up where you separate the discussion you are having from your own persona. If you don’t identify too strongly with what it is that is being discussed, this makes it easier to listen to, and adjust to, criticism. I can tell you, when my Malaysian family sees me and my mother – who has been a politician most of her life – arguing about something, they may believe we are angry at each other. Then at the end of the discussion we are both happy, having fully explored something.

        And I do agree that of course not all Malaysian graduates are hopeless. I am just so sad that the education system is stopping them, rather than helping them, being the most excellent they can be. I do sincerely hope that many have the guts to question the nonsense they are presented with, but first step in that is to actually be able to see that it is in fact nonsense. Bullshit-meters must be tuned, bollocks must be called upon.

        And yes, I too love Malaysia. Otherwise, why would I care?

    • Alang says:

      How “mature,” and what a tedious creature you are, sir!

  14. There’s no argument here. And as a matter of fact, this is not only true at the said school, but most schools in Malaysia, sadly.

    I could comment a lot more on this, but everything will be to no avail. It will always stay like that. And I have to say, as a university lecturer, it really is tiring to teach this type of students.

    • Rickard says:

      @A Concerned teacher, I was suspecting as much, and the Star report sort of confirms it in part. I was wondering if it has been this bad at St John’s all the time, or whether it has changed recently for the worse, and similarly, how widespread this phenomenon of pathology is in other schools. Would be really interesting to hear about. Feel free to email me stories, if you have.

  15. Fatimah says:

    Sir, I recommend you to go directly to our Ministry of Education & voice out your brilliant ideas to enhance the overall quality of Malaysia education system. We will always welcome & keen to hear your opinions. Thank you.

    • Rickard says:

      @Fatimah, thanks for your suggestion. Indeed, I have thought about education, learning and systems thinking for quite some time, and have talked to quite a lot of Malaysian parents, teachers, and individuals otherwise interested in education. There is a lot that can be done.

      But first, in this particular case, at a minimum the criminal activities of, for example, the above BM teacher must be dealt with. If the Ministry cannot even see to that basic rule of law is enforced in schools, what hope is there that anything remotely relevant for education is achieved?

      • Alang says:

        Didn’t you know Rickard, that addressing that issue would mean a lot of paperwork? In triplicate? That will get passed around until you they fall apart or language in some forgotten file in some god-forsaken room? And government servants loath to do that! Which is why, in my opinion, you son got punished and the teacher got an award!

        Oh yes, by all means go to the Ministry! They will question the headmaster, the headmaster will then question the teacher, the teacher will question your son, and your son will be punished further by his teacher and his peers for rocking the boat, causing a heck of a lot of paperwork in triplicate (see above), and for not getting with the program.

      • Rickard says:

        @Alang, yes the paperwork, oh the paperwork! To some extent the paperwork issue seems not entirely irrelevant, because I have seen other cases of teachers being criminal, such as selling porn to students, where the solution was to TRANSFER the teacher to another school, and somehow that was a victory. Mindblowing!

        But we certainly expect the Ministry to talk to the headmaster, which will then talk to the teacher on how to get around this, which will then punish our son (as they did last time). They probably won’t have the guts to talk to us, the parents, but you never know. If they do take the childish approach of punishing our son, you can be sure that we will post it here, in excruciating detail.

    • You don't want to know says:

      Why don’t bring them here and read this FEEDBACK, and update/upgrade their self ?
      That’s what they like to do .. recommend nothing useful.
      If your supporting him to voice this out, SHARE this post on everywhere.
      You should want Malaysia’s Education system to be enhanced right?right?right?
      ANSWER ME~~~ >”<
      He at least can voice this out in words, and u can what?

      • Alang says:

        Before I address this comment, I would like to correct a typo. There is an access *you* and “language” is supposed to be “languish.” My bad…. Anyway, to address “You don’t want to know,” (anyway, kudos on using your own name there. Real brave! Before you start on me, my name is Alang)

        My dear Sir/Madam,
        Can’t you recognize sarcasm when you see it? I was being sarcastic! I am totally in Rickard corner! Geez!!! I was one of the few people who succeeded despite the education system. To illustrate, here is a copy of my rant on Facebook when I shared this link railing at whomever listening at MY fate at my old high school that is supposed to be the place to be in my town :

        “I have always said that my life really began the day I started college. I totally and mentally block so many memories from my high school days. It was the worst five years of my life! I hated that school with a passion.

        My primary school teachers were MUCH more effective than any of my high school teachers. I LOVED Puan Siwar though who was my English teacher for 3 out of 5 years I was there. I just remember mentally escaping through the books I borrowed by the bushel from the library. I would read the book that I hid under the table all throughout class time, and I got away with it! Of course, people thought I was a snotty/weird kid for speaking English and loving English books so much.

        Curiously, for most of the books, I was the first borrower even though they were bought/donated in the 60’s and 70’s. I honestly don’t know how I passed my high school standardized tests. I really don’t! I tried to flunk Arabic when I was 15 so that they would kick me out. I couldn’t even manage that… lol!”

        Furthermore, I am in the front line of this battle. As a university lecturer, and I GET these students in my class. Having been trained in the US made me want to pull my hair out. I shared with them the article on _The Star_ what they are facing and how it is actually up to them to help themselves. I can only do so much. Funnily enough, the first year students are very motivated to help themselves, but the fourth/final year students couldn’t seem to care less.

      • Rickard says:

        @Alang, “You don’t want to know” was responding to Fatimah, not you. You’re both in the same corner. It’s just that the comment thread layout makes it a bit confusing.

      • Alang says:

        Thank you for correcting me, Rickard. Dear “You don’t want to know,” I stand corrected, and I apologize… You were not talking to me, and I blew up on you. That was wrong of me for not looking carefully.

  16. kusme says:

    I did thought about this, and blogged about this here

    The automatic promotion all the way till Form 5 is also something that we could do without…

  17. Mo says:

    Perhaps the pondock schools are a better option ….

  18. Soh Tze Vee says:

    It is funny to see that people don’t even understand what a third world country mean. This term appear during cold world era where 2 major blocks form, the western world and the communist world. Some countries choose to not associate with any of this 2 blocks were therefore called the third world countries. It is just political view not whether a country is advance or not.

    • Rickard says:

      @Soh Tze Vee, you are right in the original definition of the term, but if you are a language geek like me you will also realize that terms evolve into more colloquial forms. For example, it seems pretty much everyone else were able to understand what I mean with the “third world” notion, so it’s not like I was unable to communicate.

      This redefinition of use happens to many terms. One of my favourites would be “schizophrenia”, which originally was used to label people with multiple personalities. Then, as the science of psychology progressed, the term changed to Multiple Personality Disorder, and now Dissociative Identity Disorder, whereas “schizophrenia” instead refers to people with delusional, paranoid, black and white thinking (btw, many common food items, like bread and milk, contain a form of morphine that make schizophrenic symptoms worse. How odd that such things are served in schools!). So, when someone uses the term “schizophrenia” I will take the context into consideration, to see whether they refer to the original (wrong) use, or the more current (precise) use of the word, and react accordingly. All as part of being externally considerate, and helping communication be smoother whenever possible.

      But, if you really do take issue with the use of “third world”, then by all means replace it with whatever makes it possible for you to grasp the point I’m trying to get across. Possible words might be “undeveloped”, “pathetic”, “pitiful”, “depressing”, “insane”, “loopy”. Pick one.

  19. waitingformySPMresult says:

    wow St. John’s Institution really is messed up. The things you’ve mentioned didn’t happen when I was in school – and I went to a normal public school. Yes, there were some kids cheating (like there is in every school all around the world) but they are always caught because other kids will tell. I’ve never cheated really, well because I believe in God.

    Yes, there were also bullies but they are the type of bullies who takes other kids’ can of soda. Which, the prefects then reported to the discipline teachers.

    and yes, most students do not speak up that much. IMO, and this is just from my observation being a Malay myself. That, is more of a cultural thingy. Chinese and Indian students are far more outspoken than Malay students. Except for a mere 5% of us and those who go to MRSM and SBP. We were being taught, as children that you’re not suppose to interfere when adults are talking, and if you ask questions, they will say ‘jangan masuk campur hal orang2 tua!’ (I hope you understand that. Given the fact you’ve lived here for a few years) And that’s why the students are so afraid to ask questions. They were raised that way. At least most of us are.

    I think, Malaysia is developing too fast, Malaysians are having trouble catching up with it’s pace. Our mentalities are not as tall as KLCC, unfortunately.

    P/S: About the BM teacher, I can’t believe such teachers exist! Really, all my teachers are great people and I really look up to them. (and even they don’t like our education system). Just get your son out of St. John. Immediately. There are waaay better schools out there. Even if they don’t meet your standards, at least they’re better. But I’ve heard most schools in KL have a lot of problems. I live in a suburban area, everything’s good here as far as I am concerned.

    • Rickard says:

      @waitingformySPMresult, when it comes to cheating, you may have done it without being consciously aware of it. What is the purpose of a test? To measure your grasp of a subject. So, when you are being “prepped” for a test by looking at tests from previous years, and am being taught by teachers how to answer particular questions, that is a form of cheating. You are circumventing the purpose of the test, and so the test will not measure your level of expertise in a subject, but rather your ability to take this form of test. So when I say, as an employer I couldn’t give a damn about your A’s, this is precisely what I mean: your ability to take a test doesn’t impress me one bit. What I care about is your ability to apply your skills in real life, and for this, your test-taking-skillz are useless.

      I’ll give you a simple example. I usually ask people I meet how to measure the volume of some weird item, like a stone or a pen, or whatever. They will start looking for cylinders, cubes or whatever, but never get close to being able to provide an answer. How would you do it? Think about it before reading on!

      Only unspoiled minds are able to take the pen, put it in a measuring glass with water, and tell me precisely the volume that was displaced. THIS is the kind of ability I’m talking about. This mathematical mindset to transform a hard problem into a simple one is what real life will require from you, but which school does not prepare you for, with its predefined questions and answers. You are being bullshitted into believing that solving these kinds of questions have any relevance whatsoever in real life! YOU are being cheated by the school, my friend!

      And do you still believe that you have not cheated? Really?

      As for being raised to not ask questions, that is one of the biggest threats to democracy that exist. Period. Then again, maybe there was no democracy to begin with?

      As for better schools, when we looked for alternatives we were recommended Stella Maris. We went there and talked to the vice principal, and during that conversation it became obvious that it was not substantially different, even though this was a private school, because, again, the root problem is the policies of the MoE, which infect any public or private educational institution.

      • Malaysianatheart says:

        I have read through your article and also all the comments up to this one now and could not resist giving you my personal opinion from the past experience i’ve had.
        I grew up in Malaysia all my school life and went through the full Msian education system (all 13 years of it!) from kindy all the way up to the fifth form and out the other end.
        I somewhat empathise strongly with what you are saying as I have a mother who is also a foreigner in Malaysia who was equally as appalled as you are at many of the things me and my siblings had to endure going through all stages school in this country. Her concerns were somewhat similar to yours and I recall many interesting discussions around the kitchen table about this.
        On the other hand, my father- a very highly educated individual trained both locally in Msia and overseas encouraged us to go with the flow but would discuss each of the steps we took and motivate us to pursue academic achievements set out by the schools while still taking my mother’s concerns/complaints into consideration. At this point you may be wondering what my point is exactly for telling you all this?
        Well, having gone through the whole 13 years of my education in Msia, i was then sent overseas to continue my tertiary education. In my naïve, fresh from school mentality at the time, I had in my mind that it was going to be very different from the terrible system in Malaysia where too much emphasis is put on achieving all A’s, using past year exam papers to make you go further etc2. However, my observations over all my years of study at this so called ranked university in a first world country proved that human nature will prevail no matter where we are in the world- even if it is in one of the so-called least corrupt countries in the world!
        As I was taking part in a competitive first year health science course I found that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE no matter where they were educated used the exact same methods that our education system encourages us to do at an early age. Heck, the university itself has an archive full of past year exam papers free for all students to access and practise on. And guess what? At the end of the first year at uni doing health sciences, those who were smiling at the end of it having been accepted into their chosen courses were those that did exactly that. What more, my Msian friends at the time (also doing the same course) and myself felt that we were at an incredible advantage both in terms of the content of these papers and also the methods of succeeding in these papers that was instilled in us during our schooling. Needless to say I am now happily graduated in my field of choice thanx to my good start.
        My first point here is, it is not just in Msia that all these probs are taking place but it’s a worldwide phenomenon brought about by the need to compete these days and be better than everyone else. Secondly, apart from the bullying and all that totally unacceptable crap, the academic side of things in primary and secondary schools are quite good and produce results that then get followed through with actions. Being Mr Nice guy and not doing past year exam papers would be the fairest thing to do but in the end you would lose out and watch as other people go ahead and you are left behind knowing that at the very least you were nice. Point is, our education system and preparation produces results which is what is needed so just bear with it.
        The downside however is that this is only sustainable practise in the undergraduate phase of learning as further studies (post-grad) requires a more proactive, creative synthesis of knowledge approach to it. At this point however, one should hope that by now you are old and wise enough to see your flaws and work on righting them so as to enable you to adapt accordingly.
        In conclusion I don’t think that Msia is doing to badly in terms of preparing their students to compete on the international stage so don’t worry too much about the academc side of things. However, do try and find a place where there is minimal seniority, bullying issues etc so that your children can take the time to actually learn properly and do well at what they are doing. Talking through your beliefs with your children at every stage of their education is also important so that they can see what mess they are in from a higher view also helps and it looks like you are already doing that so well done!
        Best of luck, focus on the results that bring about action, that’s the sad reality of today. Self-reflection is the way to balance this out.
        Sincerely yours,

      • Rickard says:

        @Malaysianatheart, what you say about the extent of the problem is true, and if you study history, not only is it true geographically, but also temporally. It has always been like this, all over the place. So, the point of view that you describe, which is what you could call self-calming rationalization in the face of an impossible challenge, is certainly to some degree logical.

        The only catch is that, if you watched the YouTube video on how 7% works, it is now (metaphorically speaking) 11:59. The choice of “easy” over “true” will get us all killed, is the problem. Tick, tock, tick, tock.

      • AMalaysianStudent says:

        Before reading your article, I’ve never realised that the teachers’ are actually encourage students to teach. As a student, I’ve noticed that most teachers’ teach their students how to answer the major exams (UPSR, PMR & SPM) from day one. To be brutally honest, the entire education system is based on exams and exam answering techniques.
        One doesn’t need to go far to witness this situation. JUst step outside of your house and there most probably be an advertisement for tuition or ‘spot’ questions for exams. Furthermore, while teaching, the teachers normally give ‘helpful tips’ on what might come up for exam.
        It is clear that something is definitely wrong with the education system. I sincerely hope the MoE will stop focusing on petty issues (eg. bringing handphones to school) and realise that they need to do a complete overhaul to the education system.
        Rickard, I wish you good luck in trying to change the education system though I most probably get the benefits as next year I’ll be taking SPM. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to live with the system.

  20. aKidos says:

    It’s kinda embarrassing but i have to admit u r absolutely right .

    • Rickard says:

      @aKidos, there is no need to be embarrassed. Don’t identify yourself with the failure of the MoE or the educational system. You should be angry *at* them, rather than being embarrassed *for* them.

      Rejoice in being able to admit to yourself that, yeah, this stuff kinda sucks.

  21. Steve says:

    I’m an educated man, so I KNOW what you mean. I can TOTALLY relate.

    I’ve always believe, and this belief continues to this day, that Malaysia is shy away from one revolution before it becomes a great nation.

    People can be oppressed, but ideas won’t. The time will come.

    • Rickard says:

      @Steve, revolutions are little like changing jobs. Not only do you need to know where you are going from, but you also need to know where you are going to. Revolutionaires tend to focus on the first, and not so much on the latter, thereby often ending up in a variation of where you started. History is littered with well-intended revolutions ending up on the winding road to hell.

      As an example, many people seem to think that “if only the opposition would win, then things will change”. See above on the folly of such thinking. The americans have learned the hard way that “change we can believe in” is not necessarily so.

      Here’s a little exercise for y’all: go to the homepages of all Malaysian parties. Check the list of top politicians in each party. Now count the percentage of people with aristocratic titles (Datuk, Tan Sri, etc.). In any real democracy this number would be well below 1%, reflecting their prevalence in the overall population. Now, can anyone tell me the corresponding number for Malaysia?

  22. Unlayerme says:


    I had recently wrote on the same subject matter titled Illusion of Competency for Business For Sale Magazine. Same thing… I am so glad my last child is leaving the system soon as he is in his final year. They are making him wrong for having knowlege beyond his textbook which is such a nightmare for him and they give zero points eventhough he is actually right. e.g What is the function of bank? Text book answer is “deposit savings” my son answer “to lend out money to earn interest as income” which in reality that is what is so. No no no. Zero points for him.

    The accounting subject being taught is opposite of the accounting standards established and I struggle teaching my son even though I am a finance consultant. So Imagine the ludricousy of it all. It doesnt get any better in college either. My son is considered a nerd for being able to do well in his studies and being made a pariah while at the same time he does well in his extra co curiculum by his own course mates which is so typical Malay. I told my son dont mind them because not like they are gonna help you to get a job or feed you anyway.


    • Rickard says:

      @Unlayerme, amen to that! We (parents) often have to check what the kids have learned in school, and then actively teach them the correct answer, while forcing them to retain the wrong answer so they can pass tests.

      Here’s one example: in “science” (quotes purposefully added) our kids are taught that different parts of the tongue are for different tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter). This archaic understanding has been disproven for a long time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongue_map), but it is still in the Malaysian text books. So, we took the five minutes required to make a scientific experiment, putting lemon, sugar and salt in water glasses, and then asked our kids to use the tip of their tongue to see if they could distinguish them. They could! Ergo, the tongue map theory was falsified. But they still need to believe it in order to pass the “science” test! CRAZY!

      And I have the same issue with money and accounting. Our daughter, schooling in CBN, was told in her accounting class that you should save money in the bank, because “then you get interest”! That’s CRAZY! The interest you get is WAY lower than the inflation. And I don’t mean CPI, of course (or CPLie as we affectionately refer to it in my family). I’m talking about the real currency supply (M3) inflation, which in 2010 was 7% according to Bank Negara (reference: Bank Negara Annual Report, http://www.bnm.gov.my/files/publication/ar/en/2010/zcp07_table_A.22.pdf).

      Just to keep up with inflation you would then have to find a bank that gives you 7%, just to NOT LOSE VALUE, not even thinking about GAINING value which would require 8% or more! Putting your currency in the bank is hence a total waste. And yet this is what the school wants our students to believe. Amazing.

      To put the 7% number into perspective, for those who don’t know the power of the exponential function (cue nerd pun giggles), watch this video which explains it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY . This also applies to EPF and stock exchange growth as well: any growth below 7% means the value is DROPPING, as it is not keeping up with currency supply inflation. Think about that.

      So yeah, please do tell your son to ignore the ignorants. They will find themselves in a lousy position once they enter the real world. In the real world, nerds win. And both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were dropouts, if that is of any help, as was Einstein. 🙂

  23. AJN says:

    Very interesting! I am Malay and my husband is British. I however am considered “more successful” than my husband— I am a local graduate doctor, whilst he was a librarian in UK; and a part-time self-published author. In Malaysia, if you were clever in school then you were expected to be a doctor. Not to mention the “complete obedience” culture persists everywhere in the governement sector including in the health system too. I however adore my husband’s vast knowledge in everything else especially History… Though I think his writings wouldn’t appeal to regular Malaysians; having been intermingling with “the clever ones” throughout my life here, I don’t see any one person here would be interested in anything else except their regular office-hour job-related issues. I am still in dilemma on where to bring up my future children— UK or Malaysia. However my husband was badly bullied whilst in UK school leaving him psychologically scarred; whilst I felt that my local religious high school was very good and it has produced so many successful….doctors!! (both malaysian and overseas graduate doctors). Malaysians, in my opinion are laid back, much like the Irish, where you can bend the rules; whilst British are pretty “proper and strict”. So Malaysians would always be Malaysians, some love it, some loathe it, I hope my kids would stay in the middle :-)) I wont have any doubts to put my kids in the same previous “local religious” school where I went to, it worked for me :-))

    • Rickard says:

      @AJN, my wife recently met a local doctor. She was paid 2000RM per month. That’s almost what I pay my maid! But the doctor had tons of extra costs, with loans and whatnot, that my maid doesn’t. Bad economical choice of profession I’d say, unless you are lucky and get to be a high-paid specialist.

      Ah, and yes, history. Here’s a fun excursion you can do: go to Muzium Negara, and find the plaque that says “History Begins Here”. Note its context. Very illuminating.

      As far as I can tell, if you want to measure the relative suckiness of UK and Malaysia, I would say they are about the same, but in different ways. My main concern with the UK is that it’s continued existence hinges on the survival of the Gulf stream, which has been extremely shaky after the Mexican Gulf oil spill. It even turned off completely a few times recently. So, just from a climate point of view, Malaysia has better conditions. Other than that, it’s a toss up.

    • Alang says:

      Dear AJN,
      Thank you for sharing. Let me present another side of the story. Before I start, I just would like to say that I hope your children’s religious school is better than mine. Mine was really shitty. The bullying was horrible! They even have a special name for it: “Torture.” For a school whose students didn’t (probably still doesn’t) speak English much, that was something major, akin to the way I don’t swear at all in Malay, but I swear like a sailor in English. Using another language somehow psychologically distance you from what you say.

      An example of “Torture” is (true story): This girl was suspected of stealing. They stripped her until she was only wearing a thin petticoat. They pushed her into the shower, drenched her. and sat her dripping in the middle of a room with the fan going like a helicopter rotor fan so that she would freeze, ringed by all the senior girls (Form 5, Lower 6, and Upper 6). You decide what that is.

      An example (true story) of the usage of the word “Torture”: I overheard, ” We think it’s X who stole that money. She has a face of a thief! We are going to torture her tonight after lights out at midnight. Are you coming?” Everything other than the word “torture” was said in Malay. My cousin who went to the same school gravely advised me to stay away from her if I knew what’s good for me; a piece of advice I promptly ignored, of course.

      Not to say anything about shunning the “undesirables” to birthday parties, which made me throw my birthday party and only inviting the “undesirables” and my closest friends. And feeding them more delicious food than the other birthday parties. I was broke for the REST of the month because of it, but, “IN YOUR FACE, BITCHES!!!” The only reason why I didn’t get tortured was because my brother was senior at that school, and they think he was really hot.

      As you can probably tell, I was at a religious boarding school. To recap, I REALLY SINCERELY HOPE that your kids’ school is better though. I don’t want anyone else to go through that.

  24. Mike says:

    Hey there,

    Thanks for speaking out. It’s great that someone who’s brought up outside our system can remind us how the bad the Malaysian Education system is. Sometimes we’ve been so mired in it for such a long time that we forget what our education system should be like, instead of accepting it for what it is.

    I’m currently studying abroad in the US and the UK, and I have to admit these past years outside the Malaysian education system have been some of my most enlightening years. (Some credit also goes to my A Levels in HELP University College which challenged me to think broadly relative to my SPM education.)

    I am grateful that I know my peers currently studying abroad as individuals who have waded through the muck that is our education system, and emerged as independent-minded and creative individuals. (Or at least I think this is the case, haha) In this sense, I do not think I share the same degree of pessimism as you that Malaysia is absolutely doomed, but I agree that if the Education System is not fixed, the problem is only bound to get worse and worse.

    During my secondary school years as a teenager, I was absolutely frustrated with the incompetency of the entire system, as well as the incompetency of certain teachers. (One chemistry teacher didn’t even know her elements, and the students had to point out her mistakes) Certain things like being forced to learn trivial subjects like English in Science and Technology and Pendidikan Moral (Moral Education), in which scoring on these exams were totally based on how well student’s answers matched the marking scheme. Those were really dark days for me, and writing all this brings back bad memories.

    The problem with raising up an issue like this in the elections in order to force a change is that it’s so far down the list in terms of priority. We still have to deal with corruption, free and fair elections, and other more serious matters before the issue of education becomes a priority in the public sub-conscious. Add to the fact that most Malaysian students and their parents, coming from an Asian background, don’t realise that a rote education system is severely flawed in this day and age)

    I really hope that the Malaysian Education System will change for the better, but I do not foresee any change on the immediate horizon, and even if it does come, I believe that the current system is so endemic, institutionalised and culturalised that it will be at least 1 decade or more from the time that real change is implemented before our Education System can emerge from this muck.

    • Rickard says:

      @Mike, to me, as a systems thinker, the core issue is that the current education system is built upon flawed assumptions. More specifically, flawed with regard to 1) purpose 2) motivation 3) method (or lack thereof). There is far too much to be said about this than would fit in a comment, but because the current system “isn’t even wrong” (and by that I mean: “1+4=Proton” is an example of “not even wrong”) there is literally no way to “improve” it, just as “Proton” as an answer to “1+4” is not a “bad” answer (“7” would be a “bad” answer).

      But, still, let me give you a brief outline of the faulty assumptions that underlie the current problems.

      The current system is designed for the industrial revolution of one century ago, with the understanding and assumptions that held true a century ago. They don’t anymore. For example, we should not have smaller classes in school, there should be no classes at all. “Classes” is a factory concept, relating to batching and economy of scale (hence the use of the name “batches” for students from a particular year). In the information society we work with economy of flow, and the concept of “pull” rather than “push”. Classes and “batching” become irrelevant.

      There should also not be more teachers. There should be fewer teachers, of higher quality, and higher paid. When I say “higher quality”, I mean specifically that they should not have mental health problems (in my estimate roughly 50% of the SJI teachers need serious therapy, based on how they behave towards the students), and they should have a solidly founded METHOD for how they teach, and an ability to constantly improve this method (the school MUST provide the meta-method for this). Teachers who don’t want to constantly improve their method, or use a method at all, should be fired. We owe it to our kids.

      There must also be a focus on learning skills rather than subjects. For example, if someone comes to me with an A in history, I don’t give a damn. What I want to know is whether they have the SKILLS I need, such as critical thinking, creative thinking, mindmapping, presentation skills, etc. Now, you acquire all these skills by applying them on individual subjects, such as history, but history itself is not the main point (caveat: from an individual and cultural perspective it IS important, just not for getting a job). The main point is to have something with which you can practice the skills on, your true value for the rest of your life. These are the things we need as employers, and so these are the things I want my kids to learn. As it is now I have to teach them all of the above at home, and actively counter what the school does to destroy for example critical thinking.

      And so on. These are a FEW of the basic assumptions that the current education system(s) are based on, and they are all a century old. So as you can see it is impossible to improve the education system. It must be replaced with a system that is based on current understanding of learning, skills, and motivation (see Pink/Drive for reference on this), and which has a meta-method of continuous change to keep up with societal changes.

      This would be useful. Anything else, not so much.

    • Aoshi_88 says:

      Pendidikan Moral: Confused me for the first year in Form 4 as you had to conform to a standard sheet, not answer how you felt fit. I certainly didn’t follow any established script or “moral values” for the first half of the year and suffered for it!

      EST: What was the point of this? It did give me an extra “A” so I probably should be thankful for that!

      Let’s not even begin to discuss how having the “worst” examination results could result in you being ostracized from the rest of the class. Instead of fellow students(many of whom you consider friends) sitting you down and saying “Hey, I think you need help and I’ll help you and in return benefit me too” the system makes everyone selfish and only interested in their own survival that is the horrific education system. Asking for help would sometimes result in you being blown off or rejected in a manner that beggared belief.

      The type of competitiveness being bred in the fourth and fifth forms is absolutely ugly. It was very much to my surprise when people were more than willing to put in some extra time if you asked for help when I came to the UK. In my MSc class, the rivalry between my colleagues and I was a lot less stressful and instead encouraged me to do better. If anything, it taught me that competitiveness does not have to be petty.

      You know what the worst part is? Many(it is hard not to make generalized statements here) carry on this trend of competitiveness into the workplace and beyond. And not only that, these “wrong” methods that Rickard has so much spoken about creates a generation that cannot articulate or discuss maturely topics that are second nature to many. They cannot explore and think creatively of solutions and are forever bound to be enclosed in a trap of the MoE’s own making. The lucky ones such as myself and you who’ve been(or are this very moment, in) higher education overseas recognize and see the problems but how many of us are LUCKY enough to be able to have an education outside of Malaysia?

  25. Rickard says:

    Thanks for all your replies so far! Keep them coming! The discussion in the comments section is proving to be quite helpful, and I sincerely thank you for your feedback, making this post even more relevant, in so many ways.

    I have also noted that quite a few of you mention psychological trauma coming from what you have had to go through. I feel your pain, and have had similar issues myself. My home country Sweden is in no way perfect, to say the least.

    But there is actually help available, and one that I can really recommend: my wife works as a therapist, specializing in dealing with this kind of trauma (funny coincidence, huh?). Anyone who wants help in dealing with psychological trauma should contact her, and she’ll be able to help you out. And no, it won’t take years and years of therapy, I promise 🙂 Check out her website here: http://remind.com.my

  26. Terry says:

    Just couldn’t agree more.
    From my point of view,
    Malaysia were not set to fail, but the government itself.
    I believe that there are much more smart peoples around this country, just these bullshit education systems failed us, most of the Malaysians.
    I’m not tend to blame the government, somehow this is the truth.
    However, not only the systems failed us, but we failed ourself, we’re blaming around, just like what I’m trying to do now, but at last, no action taken.
    This is the main reason why Malaysia will stay as a developing country forever and forever.

  27. Aoshi_88 says:

    Also, in addition to my earlier reply, I would like to say that for all its faults, I did have some wonderful dedicated teachers who knew their subject matter and were really interested in the wellbeing of us students. But they are or were reaching retirement age and how many of these teachers whom I look up that are still educating remains to be seen. ‘Tis a sad day indeed.

  28. mekyam says:

    [*hi rickard, i was linked here from a friend’s fb wall.]

    while a tad harsh, i find this a very astute article and the comments esp interesting. 🙂

    currently, finland is considered as having the most successful education system. there have been a lot of discussions and articles about it recently. given the mindsets of most malaysians [regardless of how we like to apportion blame, i do believe that in the end governments are reflections of their people, in as much as they are complicit through allowing certain things to become the statusquo], i have no illusions abt something like the finnish system being introduced in the country anytime soon, nonetheless i’d like to share some links, with the ubiquitous Wikipedia one thrown in, to add to the discussion:


  29. Lara says:

    I’m born and bred in Malaysia and I couldn’t agree with you more. Very astute and well-written.

  30. Rachel says:

    I’ve been residing in the U.S for 10 years now and I absolutely agree with your article about Malaysia’s future. Of course, I’m Malaysian! It is sooooo sad how this country will continue to burry themselve in this CORRUPTED & IDIOTIC govenrment system which has proven to fail!!
    I just had this discussion with my family few days back (we came home for vacation) and we all agreed that it will NEVER EVER CHANGED! I feel extremely sad to see the future of our children being buried in this kind of corrupted country.

  31. imran rashid says:

    hi sir, i agree with your views but on the otherside malaysia got world class infrastructure. And another issue is brain drain.

    • Rickard says:

      @imran rashid, Malaysia, like any developing country, can take advantage of being late to the game by using current technological standards for the infrastructure. That much is true, and I love my internet fiber connection to the house. But you should also ask yourself where the money for these projects come from. Taxes? Oil? Genting gambling? How about the 60Bn+ RM that is printed every month? Free money, it rocks! Oh, right, it will eat up the value of your savings interest and make any salary increases beneath 7% an effective loss, but hey, at least we got roads. That are badly built and requires constant repair. By inefficient means measured by useless KPI’s that encourages corruption and cheating. And why are all these smart people moving out of the country again?

  32. rob says:

    that is why Malaysians granted the dean’s list and awards at European universities. i pity u!!narrow minded ppl

  33. Justme says:

    Dear Rickard,

    It was my honor to be able to read this depressing yet unfeigned article of yours. I absolutely agree with your point that it is the system implicated by MoE that deviate us from being successful. I am currently studying in US for my bachelor’s degree. FYI, I was a really poor and hopeless student, as claimed by all my teachers back in Malaysia, and I only have a CGPA of 2.0 when I leave my home country to study abroad, and guess what? Professors from my university are encouraging me to look towards Harvard for my MBA with my 4.0 CGPA. (While my malaysian teachers are laughing at my stupidity) The sole reason why I was deemed hopeless back in my country is because of my learning attitude. I questions a lot and I challenged almost every single thing given by my teachers. Just like you mentioned in your post; students are not supposed questions nor challenge, just follow what the instructions said, which turns us into just another office servant. The teachers don’t like us to question them, as they take it as a challenge to their status as superior. Thus, I lose interest in studying as it is really pointless to learn how to be a A-grade scoring machine, instead of gaining precious knowledge through clarifying questions. In US, however, things are not the same. It was a total opposite system and our professors encourage us to ask, ask and ask. I started to flourish under this education system and has developed various priceless skills such as critical thinking and etc. I cannot be more agree than what you said about the defensive attitude of Malaysian teachers. It is time for them to realize the fact that we students have the right to voice our concerns or questions too. What is the point of us LEARNING the answer instead of knowing HOW to get the answer?

    It is just sad that the system is killing the future generations, and yet the government is happy with it, ironic enough. I am happy but at the same time, sad to finally having people to share my frustration and realizing the indisputably fact of Malaysia’s rotten education system. I am happy because people are realizing the impact it is making; sad because there are people who suffers from the same fate as me.

    • Mindblowed says:


      I would love to know more. Can I have your facebook? or email?

    • Rickard says:

      @Justme, I feel your pain, and it is frustrating to say the least. I’m happy that you got out of the stupidity trap, and am sad for those who still have to put up with it. As much as my mind boggles with the idiocy that we have been faced with, it also boggles to think of what could happen if the education system didn’t work against creative and intelligent individuals, who want to learn and succeed. It’s like this: the bad news is that the current situation is really bad, but the good news is that because of how bad it is, the sky is the limit in terms of how much better it can get 🙂

  34. Mindblowed says:

    Our infrastructure aren’t really first world.

  35. tico torres says:

    The education system has been systematically built to make the young believe that the malay race is the be all and end all of the country. The government has tried its level best to drown out the achivements of the other races. What we have now are national and educational policies that are centred around malay dominance to ensure that the ruling UMNO party maintains its hold on power. These racist policies are designed to divide Malaysians, to ensure that no other political faction is a threat.

    • Rickard says:

      @tico torres, yes taking a stroll through Muzium Negara was certainly educational in that respect, and the “History Begins Here” plaque reinforces what you say (you have to see it to get what I mean). If unity of races is to have any meaning, then at the very least an acknowledgement of your multi-coloured past is a must.

  36. G says:

    Followed someone’s link from FB….

    Having been to school in M’sia (primary), Singapore (secondary), and Australia (tertiary), I find this article fascinating. In my experience, the secondary schools in Singapore suffer the same fate. I remember studying for my O’levels, and every subject was about using past exam papers as revision tool. I completely gave up on History in my final year (one of my favourite subjects) because I kept failing for not providing the “correct answer” as deemed by the teacher. What she considered the “correct answer” had to be a word for word reiteration of the paragraphs she gave us to memorise. One word out of place and it was marked wrong. I have a good memory, but I learn through actual understanding of the material, not memorising large paragraphs word for word. I went from an A/B student in History (we had an Australian teacher the year before who encouraged independent thinking but he retired) to a D student in one year because of that. In the end, I didn’t even bother studying for it for my final O’level exams. But I was lucky enough that the questions asked were on topics that I was interested in and had read about before, and managed to get a B (answered it all in my own words! What a miracle!) despite the teacher’s best efforts to crush my spirits. Every time I remember that, I mentally go: “screw you, teacher X, screw you!”

    The same thing happened in Chinese. I went to a Chinese primary school in Malaysia, where by the end of Primary 5, told us to stop copying answers straight from the reading material (in comprehension exercises) and try to paraphrase instead (ie. start to actually process what we’re reading and think for ourselves). When I started doing that in secondary school, I was penalised for it while classmates with far crappier Chinese language skills got better marks. After 3 years of getting Bs and Cs doing it my way, I gave in and went the easy way, and despite getting to the final exam late, I finished early and scored an easy A. It was a complete joke. In the 4 years that I was in the Singapore secondary school system, I felt that my Chinese language skill actually went BACKWARDS instead of improving from my primary school level in Malaysia.

    University in Australia was/is a far more positive environment. So much so that I keep going back for more (on to my 2nd post-grad qualification in a completely different field from my undergrad). I was actually encourage to argue with our lecturers/tutors and question everything and copying/reiterating answers word for word will get one expelled for plagiarism.

    So yeah, it’s not just Malaysia. Actually, I found my experience at the Chinese schools in Malaysia far more positive than in Singapore. OTOH, that was in the early 90s. No idea how they are now.

  37. Preeta Samarasan says:

    I grew up in Malaysia and attended regular government schools. I left in my late teens and come back to visit regularly (my whole family is still there) but have never lived there as an adult. I could not agree more with your take on Malaysian education and on education in general. Please don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you that Malaysian education is so much worse today than it was in their time/their parents’ time. The education system in the 1950s and 60s was directly inherited from the British; we have foolishly clung to rote learning, competition, a narrow focus on exam results, etc., while the British themselves have moved on. Malaysians who grew up in the 50s and 60s are some of the *least* critical thinkers I know. School for them was all about memorising “facts,” not asking questions, and keeping their fingernails clean. These are exactly the people falling for pyramid schemes and quack doctors. In the Catholic Convent schools, girls were not even taught science (no, not even in the warped Malaysian incarnation that one can hardly call “science”). So no, it was not better then. The complaint that things are so much worse now is just code for any of the following things: people spoke better English then; students were more “disciplined” then; there was a fixed and established education system with which everyone was familiar, and little to no experimentation by the government. Malaysian parents are uneasy with any hint of educational reform — e.g. doing away with some of the public exams — because they are suspicious of the government (and rightly so!), but also because they themselves have been raised to believe that exams are good; that performance in exams is the most important part of “education;” that competition is a essential motivating factor; that their children must get “good jobs.” By and large, Malaysians are not ready for your message. Creativity and critical thinking are all very nice, they’ll tell you, but are you going to guarantee that my son/daughter will get into medical/law/engineering school? (Or they fall back on the other Great Malaysian Safety Net, i.e. racism: “The only reason the government wants to abolish the SPM is because the Malay buggers can’t study!” I heard this exact comment, verbatim, from someone the other day. I wanted to say: Why not give the government the benefit of the doubt? Exams are useless anyway. But I didn’t say it, because frankly, who can give *that* government the benefit of the doubt?)

    To anyone who has read and/or thought a little bit about the subject, it’s abundantly clear that today’s education systems are still trying to fulfill the needs of the industrial revolution. I’m assuming you’re familiar with the work of Ivan Illich, John Holt, Alfie Kohn (on competition), etc., and I’m wondering, if I may ask, why you aren’t homeschooling/unschooling your kids?

    • Rickard says:

      @Preeta, I was not familiar with Ivan Illich et al, but am reading his views on unschooling now. Very illuminating, and spot on so far! Thanks for the references.

      As for why we are not homeschooling, we did consider it. But it is a joint decision between the biological parents, of which I am not one, and right now the biological father is not agreeable to any such thing.

  38. Lucas says:

    Most of what you mentioned seems to happen more in so called “elite” school. Being educated in a suburban area, I skipped through most of the cheating you mentioned. Sure, we were told to buy past year question books, but whether it was done or not, that’s up to you. And being exceptionally lazy, mine normally stays empty. Bullying was rare, and extortion, even less, though occasionally, we’re forced to buy certain books, through the teacher, with prices higher than what you’ll get in bookstores.
    Coming to exams, I did get my fair share of “your answer is different from the textbook/notes/answer scheme, so you’re wrong”. Examination system is total bullshit. My SPM was a couple of years ago, and I did my revision for each subject overnight. Sure, didn’t get any sleep and lots of coffee drank, but I did finish covering 2 years of syllabus for every subject in 1 night. Results? 6A+, 3A, 1A-. That’s how screwed it is.. There’s just no quality behind the As!!
    After SPM, and the As, the inevitable scholarship application came. So, I applied (like everyone else) for JPA scholarship. That bit that hurts the most was, even though I didn’t even expect to get it, thanks to some policies, members of a certain race, at lower grades scored their scholarships. The rest? Unless you have the minimum 8A+(my year’s requirement), it’s self-funding.
    Then comes university. Currently doing my foundation course, and still I see tonnes of students blindly memorising to get through. If there’s anything I hate more than corrupted education system, it’s the fact that in the end, it doesn’t matter whether you understand what you’re doing. It all comes down to how good you are at memorising your textbook. You can spend your time reading up extra bits that will help you understand, but those don’t help at getting better marks at all. Questioning your lecturer’s answers, which conflicted with a different lecturer, as well as what you’ve read is seen as rudeness, which then led to being picked upon by that particular lecturer. Having an inquisitive mind is more of a curse than blessing here, unfortunately.
    Awesome education system, I’d say..

  39. Karen Hau says:

    Its really sad to hear that the Malaysian education system has dwindled down to an “almost nothing” empty drone making machines. I left Malaysia 10 years ago and have contemplated going back there so that my children, as American could pick up the various languages we have. I am obviously homesick but everyone I talked to has told me the same thing. “Stay there for the children’s education, it a whole lot better than what we what here in Malaysia ” unless you want to home school them. Sigh ..what is a mother to do.

    I read the many comments and am very saddened but the states of affairs that exist. When I was in school , I remember the syllabus as being very centric Malaysia.. But what I really appreciate being in a Methodist Girls School was the development of character, discipline and the fearlessness of hard work , traits that I found that was commendable in my career and motherhood. That is what I want my children to learn and cultivate. It seems to me that all those wonderful traits and ethics I want my children to have is no longer there.

    Education wise ? I think we as parent need to play a real active role in broadening out children’s mind. World history ,geography and current affairs are all teachable…. with the love of reading !
    So question now is , what am I looking at schools to teach my young ones ??? And how much responsibility should I shoulder in educating them ?

    In the good old days, parents would just leave everything up to the teachers, Teachers were revered and were given carte blanche to spank the kids if they stepped out of line. We were just suppose to follow the rules ……… sigh..

  40. 8th kl eagle scout says:

    Unfortunately, what you wrote is true to some extent. It will be more of the teachers, not the school. Teachers in my alma mater (yes, i’m from st.john’s) today are mostly from regular, and some even rural schools. they do not know what is creativity, alternatives, and leadership. I was a humble scout 10 years back, and whatever i’ve learnt, i’m making use (or at least try to) in my real life now. St.John’s was a school of Elites back when it was ran back our Christian brothers, not until Malaysian took over. Malaysian principal are natured in a limited space of creativity and ample space of disciplined. They want the students to score As and give up on cocuricular activities. Which leads to what the school is now. We used to take in only bright students, and each students will get reviewed by the principal himself before enrolling in Form 1/Secondary 1. Today, just send in the application form and some money, you’ll be sitting in one of the classes in St.John’s. Its a shame.

    If any Johanians were to be reading this, i’d like to stress one more thing which is my beloved Eagle Scout Group. Its currently ran by a teacher which has imbalance hormones (i would like to believe so). Scouts’ Den were left empty and used by drugs addicts. Developers are eyeing that golden place for a condo 10 years down the road. please do something if we were to preserve whatever tradition we’re left with.

    Johanians are all-rounders. We do not score all As, and not to know how to start fire in the jungle. We might disappear for a long time, but we’ll be back with a bang.

    To the owner of this blog, you have my word, your son is in the right school, let him develop himself and find this blog again in 20 years time – at that time, read it together with him. He will tell you, thank you for sending me to st.john’s.

    • Rickard says:

      @8th kl eagle scout, well as I said, we really don’t have any concerns. Our son is getting an inside look into pathological thinking and how such social groups develop. Usually that is associated with harm to ones life. As he is going through my psychology books now, and finding them rather revelationary with regard to what he sees in school, ironically enough I do agree that he is getting a good education, although perhaps not as the school intended.

    • C.O.H says:

      Well said. Well said. That current imbalance teacher is claiming to retire next year. Well that’s what he says every year. The scout’s den was once the pride of the 8th Eagle Scouts Group. Now, it’s just another building. It’s really sad to see our of my favourite place to go to turn into a piece of history left behind untended,

  41. W.L says:

    Dear Rickard I understand what you’re going through. Being a former johannian I did have some ups and downs with the school. However, things weren’t as bad as they were before. Most of the good teachers are good. And it is sad to say that the school really is dying and losing its brotherhood sprit. Before this, there were a handful of teachers that promotes critical thinking and therefore encourages students to think out of the box. However, over the years the school has been turned upside down due to poor management and largely due to the current ministry of eduction’s policy. I respect you for voicing out but do take note not to criticize the whole school for some idiot’s presentation. There are still some good people there. 

  42. Rickard says:

    @W.L., I am not criticizing the school so much as I am criticizing the system. And a bad system will beat a good person, any day of the week. See the linked TED talk on evil for reference.

  43. opfarhan says:

    try Royal Military College, sungai besi. there’s nothing like that. your son doesnt have to be an army after graduated from that. But I assure u he will become a Human

  44. opiniated says:

    Hi Rickard,

    Thanks for your comments. I certainly think that the Malaysian education system should be revamped (but to what kind of system is the question I have).

    Honestly, I am not sure what is the best education system for kids? One which creates unthinking robots is certainly not good. One that creates a person who only wants to give opinions on everything without working is also not good. Maybe one which combines the need for work hard, to think outside to box, to give your opinions in moderation, to know when to keep quite to ensure a successful overall picture?
    You mentioned that Malaysians are 3rd world.
    But can you really say this? Have you not met many Malaysians who are civilized and can express their opinions politely during your 2 years stay in Malaysia? I know of many Malaysians who are civilized and many 1st world citizens who are not (and certainly vise-versa). The image that many Malaysia have about Americans is that they always talk alot but refuse to put effort in their work. I personally experienced this. The company I work for, a multinational based in a 1st world European country, stopped hiring Americans due to this. Their preferred candidates were Malaysians that had a combination of hard work as well as thinking outside the box. Believe me, there are plenty of Malaysians with this trait. This could be due to the mix education in Malaysia and abroad which created this special trait or due to the influence of their parents/family?.

    So what defines the ideal education system?

    Thank you

    about me: For my primary, secondary and College education, I studied in the infamous Malaysian schools and then did 3 years in London for my University degree.

    • Rickard says:

      @opiniated, I have met civilized people in Malaysia, just as I have met uncivilized Swedish people here in Malaysia, but that is inconsequential to the fact that Malaysia is still behind in terms of development as a country. The system is the key, the individuals are not. To say that “Malaysians are third world” has no meaning, but a country can certainly be said to have a particular degree of development. If the individuals are not willing to change the system, for whatever reason, then it will stay the same.

      As for what defines an ideal education system, see my previous comments which outlines some basic requirements. For now, at least a good education system would be an improvement. As also previously stated, the current one “isn’t even wrong”.

  45. Cathy says:

    Maybe you just need to find another school. We might have a not so perfect curriculum but not all schools focus on the ‘A’s. I went to a Chinese Independent School in KL. Like all Asian schools, we focussed a lot on academic acheivements but we also learned a lot about being a responsible learner. I have met a group of great people, we have been friends since then. I have never experience bullies throughout my schoollife. We participated in differents clubs, we met students from various schools. That was one of the best time in life. Our education system might not be a perfect one, not that one will ever finds one, but it’s not as unworthy as you have experienced. I decided to be a teacher after high school and have persuaded both my undergraduate and master degree from Australia. I see the problem you have pointed. Malaysian students are lack of creativity and crtical skills. However, I don’t think that education system is the only one to be blamed. Malaysians just don’t read enough. From children till adults, how often do you see a person reading in public ? Rarely, if compare with other countries. Korea, China and Japan share very similar education perspectives with us, but they have produced ;great’ minds. Therefore, I believe if we encourage our children to read from young, we will be able to fill in those gaps.

  46. Ah Pam says:

    Yup, people who think that going to school and getting “good grades” will help them get set for life are sadly deluded. Public school for me was all about taking attendance, making friends and learning how to play the alto saxophone in the school marching band.

    As for my education, I spent my after school hours at tuition and snuggled up in my room reading awesome books (CS Lewis, Enid Blyton, JK Rowling, Terry Pratchett but to name a few). I turned out alright and I do agree that the beauty of being educated in a school like St.John’s is that once you understand how twisted and wrong certain philosophies are, you’ll be able to quickly rise to the top of the pack with not many challenges in Malaysia 😉

    We might be a third world country but it sure is easy to survive and thrive in this condition while the Grown Ups debate about what language our syllabus should be taught in!

    • Rickard says:

      @Ah Pam, another Blyton fan! Awesome! Yes I remember reading Blyton, Lewis and all those fantastic authors too when I was a teenager. Looking back now, I am really wondering how much of my education was in school, and how much I took care of on my own at home.

      Funny story, a couple of years ago my university contacted me, since I am relatively successful in my profession, and asked if I could give a testimony that they could use for marketing. After careful consideration I said no, because I realized that most of what I am and do today is not because of my university time, but because of the BREAK I took from uni in the middle of my masters, to work as a consultant. During that time I had the great privilege of having a good mentor, which coloured everything I have done the past ten years. After university I founded a company, and even had my mentor as one of the main competitors. We always have great discussions when we meet again.

      And no employer has ever asked me for my masters degree certificate, or grades. Ever. My work portfolio is all I need, and I started building it during my uni time. The extra-curricular work I did has been the most useful, easily.

      So, I have actually considered whether it would be possible to get some kind of apprenticeship for my step-son here in Malaysia, that could work out. Haven’t found any such possibilities yet, but we’re certainly looking for it.

  47. biatch0 says:

    Another former Johannian here – and sadly, I agree with most of your views. I believe I was one of the fortunate ones to have studied at SJI at the tail end of its glory days experiencing first-hand the remaining handful of staff that were still interested in actually educating; while on the other hand being one of the unfortunate ones to also experience first-hand the effects of the Malaysian education system as it slowly took over the once great St. John’s. Looking a little further past high school, our colleges and universities aren’t that much different either; which is probably why anyone with the means to not be “educated” in Malaysia is leaving at first opportunity.

    But hey, Fide et Labore right? :]

  48. Peter Yee says:

    And the politicians are still debating whether Malaysia Education should be in English or Malay. Silly. Just because majority students are incompetent and they have to reverse the better.


    Malaysia MoE won’t change much. Not even in future.

    I learned this reading Mahathir – A Doctor in the House. From what I understand, he said that the Malay socio-economies are pushed and imbalanced with other races due to British colonisation. To fix this, they create NEP (Malaysian New Economic Policy). And he bound to protect and continue this policy. It’s been 40 years since, yet Singapore are more blossom than Malaysia.

    Anyhow, you gave me some insight of home education. Very nice.

  49. lili says:

    I’m a Malaysian. I really love my high school, formerly known as Kuen Cheng Girls High School (which is one of the 60 independent schools in Malaysia).

    Unfortunately, my semi-government university which I went to, Multimedia University in Cyberjaya is a let down. Friends often tell me it’s really good enough for a local university if I compare it to other local universities like so and so. But then I don’t get it, why do we have to compare ourselves to other lower levels university when we can actually look up to better universities and improve from there? Why do we have to compare ourselves to the worse just to prove that we are better?

    I never felt so terrible until a senior lecturer (and one of the founders of the Faculty of Creative Multimedia) invited a guest speaker to hold a talk for us. Besides making it compulsory (which he said in a super fierce way, because when nobody showed up, it will embarrass him and the speaker), what I couldn’t stand is that the day before the talk, he actually WARNED us sternly NOT to ask questions – can you believe this? And the reason was, because it will embarrass the speaker when he couldn’t answer the question. Secondly, he actually ENCOURAGED us to ask stupid questions, yes he said that, ‘stupid questions’, and he gave examples like those questions with meaningless fixed answers (eg. useless digits, statistics etc).

    We have quite a number of international students, but the same lecturer actually humiliated the international students in class, without them knowing it – because he spoke Malay when he wants to talk bad about them, not to mention that he praises his own race and culture during the same time, and boasting about his achievements as a founder and a senior lecturer of the faculty for 10 years. But then, 10 years of a university is not considered that long…. but maybe he doesn’t know about Harvard University, so he is really proud that he has to tell the whole class of his 10 years.

    I had really, really respected him because he is really professional and skillful in what he does, and he is funny at times too, but then I lost respect for him because of what he said as stated above.

    Of course I have really knowledgeable and helpful lecturers (which I really like) over there as well, but then generally the learning culture in local universities, well, at least in my university, I would say, is somewhat unhealthy and uncreative. I don’t have much friends who feel the same as me, I think they don’t understand why I feel dissatisfied or unhappy with the university, because they probably aren’t as lucky as me, they had probably been through worse things or worse culture in school, so they think the university is a great place already.

  50. jeffrey says:

    I am a doctor in the United Kingdom. Born and bred in Malaysia. scored 10A1s for my SPM examination (GCSE equivalent) Year 2000. I went to Taylor’s college to do my Cambridge A levels of which I scored 4As. I obtained 3 out of 4 places to study medicine in the United Kingdom. Despite the differences in education system, I find myself settling in easily into medical school. Self-directed learning is a major part of the education system in Britain – the part which I enjoy the most. With guidance and supervision from my lecturers and senior doctors, I find myself growing in my studies and work. I enjoy every moment of it.

    I feel the education system in Malaysia has prepared me for my studies in Britain. In subjects such as Biology, Physics and Chemistry, they involve alot of critical thinking. It is not easy to get an A during my time. A lot of creative thinking is involved in answering these questions. I do not know if the system has changed now. (I do realised there are a lot more straight As students nowadays).

    However, I am thankful to God for the opportunity to study medicine in Britain – indeed, top class teaching and research. Learning to adapt in a whole different culture is a challenge in itself. I always find students who study overseas are more tolerant and understanding of others – perhaps because they are at the receiving end in Britain.

    At the end of the day, it boils down to your own self-initiative. You can find a successful businessman in Malaysia and a social outcast in Britain. Make best of what you have and be thankful and content.

  51. Yee Ling says:

    You should know what is 3rd world country list!!

  52. Farrah says:

    Dear Rickard,

    Firstly, I’d just like to say that I read half of the comments section so I may be repeating some points that many others have made. Secondly, I do partially agree with your post in terms of the lack of creativity and critical thinking that most Malaysians have. I am currently a third year Psychology student in a private university here in KL-PJ area so I would say that I still remember my high school years well. Also, before I start my very very long discussion, I admit that I do have a lack of knowledge perhaps in some areas that you delve into especially in business, philosophy, and education theories; and therefore if you have some to share, I would more than willingly read up on them.

    I would like to say that I agree with you wholeheartedly on the point that the Ministry of Education has pathetically shaped a terrible education system. It is one which reinforces the deplorable nature of viewing authorities as the source of righteousness and in which cheating is condoned in manners that perhaps is best outlined in the phrase “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” – with a twist by which they literally pretend to not see anything wrong, to not hear complaints and problems, and to never ever talk about the fact that there is a problem. It is not so much a matter of just education but also culture that is the root of it all. Malay culture perhaps is what I believe, feeds this problem.

    In case anyone starts accusing me of being a racist, I am half Malay and half Chinese and I have seen the ugly and good of both sides. I have been raised with a very good mix of both influences, thus what I observe is pure objectivity and not subject to biasness in part of being more heavily influenced by one culture.

    Have you heard of Hofstede’s study on Power Distance Index (http://www.clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions/power-distance-index/)? Basically it is a study on culture and the way people of that certain culture view authority in terms of their absolutism. Malaysia ranks the highest which means over here in Malaysia, we apparently view authority as something that has to be respected no matter what they do wrongly. Though this is in my view only, I believe that a huge part of why we are ranked highest for the PDI is because we are still steeped in so much culture-hugging traditions. Back in the olden days of the Sultanate, we had customs to follow in terms of even language when addressing royality. Even now, we LEARN the manner to which to speak this in school, and we also learn to address them with ridiculously long titles in speeches. One name with all its honorifics can take up to a full 5 seconds just to pronounce everything (maybe even more!).

    Now, the dominant culture here that is practiced is of course the Malay culture because our Agong and our Prime Ministers have all been Malay. This, I highly doubt, will change since we are an Islamic country. But then, the problem with this country is that, we tend to get religion and culture mixed up to a point that is difficult to separate what is actually a religious custom and what is actually a Malay traditional custom. Ask most Malaysians here and they automatically assume Islamic gatherings and anything to do with it, as Malay customs. No doubt they may be one and the same at times, but there are times when they (the non-Muslims) automatically assume that if you are a Muslim, you wear the songkok (the Malay men’s traditional head gear worn sometimes for prayers) or you must wear the baju melayu (the traditional Malay men’s clothes) – in other words, stereotyping. What I am getting at here is that this country is ruled with so much of a feudalistic system still in place due to the Malay cultural “heritage” that we are made to believe that we are meant to never challenge authority. Although this problem of conformity and non-questioning is prone to other Asian countries as well, I believe that the fact that we have feudalistic “lords” still reigning over us in the guise of the government is what contributes highly to the way the education system was formed.

    I myself have experienced firsthand the sort of culture shock from first being introduced to the education system here. From the ages of 2-7 I had been in Jakarta with my family and was therefore enrolled into the International school system over there. I loved it there immensely, with the amount of freedom and encouragement for creativity, I felt that there was a lot of support and understanding for whatever I did; that there was a niche for me to fit into no matter what. We then returned to Malaysia when I was 7 and I was subsequently enrolled into a public primary school nearby my house since international schools here were quite stringent during that time with their enrollment policy. Within the first month, I experienced so much culture shock that I was absolutely miserable. I was shouted at for taking the initiative to start on work immediately given by the teacher just because she was in a foul mood with the noisy delinquent class I had been assigned to. She threw my book out and told me to re-do my work after she had given the proper instructions – by which, when they were given, was exactly what I had done in the book thrown outside the class. A perfect example of never doing anything without say-so, and I learned this right from the first month in primary 1. Imagine that.

    Now, as much as this is all true and such (i.e., the education system is the worst, etc.), I do believe that your generalisation to all SJI students as being non-thinking drones a little too far. I do admit that for my high school education, I was privileged enough to attend a private school which saw little of the problems we see in most public schools and “elite” schools. I was rather naive throughout then but since graduating five years ago till now, I have had my eyes wide open and have been learning a lot from people I meet. Sure, there are the numerous drones you meet pouring out of all these number of institutions with As bagged in every subject, but I have also met countless of other people who have been good thinkers and challengers – those who also question authority and worry about the state of Malaysia. I also admit that before graduating high school, I had the biased snub-nosed belief that people from public schools are typical drones and nothing close to real critical-thinking intelligence. However, I was sadly mistaken as I have met many different individuals from all walks of life who actually are critical and more knowledgeable than I. This has truly humbled me and has made me feel so lacking in knowledge despite what I felt initially, was a good abundance of it. Some of these people I have met, came from these public and “elite” schools that I had thought only churned out drones. This includes even SJI.

    I know some Johannians have stated their regrets that SJI has fallen into such miserable conditions, but I feel that they are too quick to dismiss all the students currently now there as being third-rate workers. I know of someone, who is now a successful enough Malaysian blogger and who had set this all up back in high school by initially buying and selling gadgets off from his site. He took the initiative to learn photography and the skills of photoshopping while also learning HTML coding and such – all by himself. Sure, you may isolate these people as a handful out of a whole institution but I do believe its actually more than a handful. I have met a group of them comprising of both the delinquents and the star students, all friends and yet so different in personality and behaviour. Yet, they all share the same thing and that is that they aren’t the type who take things as it is. They challenge and question things and always have discussions. They look for a good time to hangout and have fun but they have serious discussions once in awhile. These were people (in particular the ex-delinquents), whom if I had met them in my high school years, I would have straight away dismissed as future third-rate workers myself.

    I come to defense of them only because that it is not fair to just generalise the products of the school easily. Yes, you are correct to refer to the system and the people running it as the factors to producing third-class people. However, it is not a definitive to say that all of them will turn out that way. I know of some who were openly defiant (in SJI) then, and not because they were of true bad character, but because they didn’t believe in the system and were just challenging them. He cut class, vandalised, was even at one time accused of stealing a computer though he was innocent and laughed at the principle’s face as he was being screamed at to make him confess to a crime that he didn’t commit. If I introduced you to him now, you wouldn’t even believe that he did all that stuff because he is actually of a brilliant mind, and a very nice person to boot.

    Its not that I’m glorifying the bad stuff he did, but its the fact that I’m saying that the reason why a system runs as long as it does, is not only the people on top who are at fault, but also the people at the bottom. You can blame it on brain-washing from the school, but I believe that its more of the problem of succumbing to what cultural norms ask us to do which is to obey the authority. This could possibly start in primary school even but its also the families that reinforce it at home. Even if they didn’t go to school ,they would believe that conformity is best. When everyone conforms, there are no problems, and when there are no problems, no change takes place. If, for instance, all the students in your step-son’s class had supported him – be unafraid of punishment from the teacher – then, maybe that teacher would be charged for extortion. If the parents had not backed out, and believed that its better not to create a fuss (something we Asians do so very well), again, that teacher could have been charged.

    As someone before me has said in your comments, it is in part, the parents responsibility to inculcate a better learning attitude in their young. If teachers were doing the right thing anyway and deviated from the MoE syllabus, the parents would complain and ask “Why are you teaching them something unnecessary? I want my child to get straight As so don’t distract them with other things.” So perhaps, to be fair, I would say it is not only the teachers and education at fault, but also the people around who are at fault. And mind you, you cannot make the roundabout argument that the parents had been in the education system before and thats why they are like that. Some are the most successful, creative, and critically thinking people that you have ever met (I am not referring to some of our less than clever ones like Siti Nurhaliza), but because society dictates that your child is not a good child unless they get straight As, then they tend to follow in line with that same thinking and disregard the fact that they had gone through a thoroughly different path.

    I apologise for being so long-winded (and a rambling mess) in making my point but what I basically am saying is that in terms of Malaysia, its the culture that is at fault. To say that there is no way of changing this, is partially true and untrue at the same time. The culture influences the degree of conformity and therefore the degree to which they tend to follow what everyone else is doing and that is: Never argue with authority and never be scared to cheat and lie. Conformity is actually the root of all the problems and it exists so long as a group exists. To recognise when conformity is taking place, and then acting in a manner to review the decisions made is what needs to be done to combat this and in my observations, most of the world (not just Malaysia) still fails at this. KONY 2012 was a good example of everyone jumping into the bandwagon before doing thorough research besides the watching of a 30-minute video, and making a good informed decision whether or not they still want to or not want to support it. So in my opinion, you cannot say that SJI will most likely churn out drones and therefore so will Malaysia most likely be a good supply for workers with no initiative.

    If you had read from top to bottom without skipping, I am truly grateful for the time you spent reading it.

    Thank you!

    • Rickard says:

      @Farrah, I agree with everything you said. Well written! The only difference between us is that you spelled it out in plain, whereas my intent with the original post was to shock people to stop and reflect. I’m happy it worked out.

      Please, keep sending in your reflections! It is most helpful for everyone to see that you are not alone in seeing that the Emperor has no clothes.

      • Rickard says:

        For references, I can summarize it as follows:
        On business and management, read everything by John Seddon and William Deming.
        On psychology and pathology, read Sociopath Next Door, In Sheep’s Clothing, Snakes in Suits, and Political Ponerology. Read them in this order. First three should be available in Kinokuniya, last one on the web from Red Pill Press. Most people will also find Narcissistic Family enlightening.
        On education and thinking skills, Sir Ken Robinsson and Edward De Bono are awesome. Also available in Kinokuniya.
        On monetary issues, such as understanding inflation and the difference between money and currency, I found Mike Maloney’s Guide to Investing in Gold and Silver to be quite helpful.

        And don’t forget the suggested excursion to Muzium Negara, keeping in mind what Farrah said above. Most illuminating.

      • Farrah says:

        @Rickard, just read your reply. Thank you for thinking it was well written. I had been up all night by the time I wrote that comment and I wasn’t quite sure if I was making much sense in it all from the lack of sleep but I guess I did. Hahah. I am glad you thought that they were interesting and that you agree.

        On another note, I understand that you wanted to shock people to reflection, but on my part, I felt it was a little over the line as it indirectly insulted some of my friends who are from SJI, which is why I wanted to come in their defense (as graduates of the school who don’t fit the statements you made) while still agreeing with the truth of the appalling state of the school’s administration and the MoE itself. I do commend you for discussing the issue openly with considerations on the feedback given by the commentors and I like how you still manage to keep this comment area civilised (have you seen what happens on youtube comments? crazy!) and prevent any name-calling arguments within here.

        Also, just to iron out a few crinkles I felt I had to explain in my previous comment, in terms of culture-wise, I don’t necessarily condemn the fact that we retain so much of the Malay or for that matter, Asian culture. I just feel that a compromise should come into play when it comes to moving on to develop a nation. Considering the fact that Japan is an Asian nation (which usually is associated with high conformity), they have managed to balance retaining cultural traditions and have advanced development in building a nation that is known for its technological advancements. Achievement of As are still stressed there but to a certain extent they have accepted that there are other different types of intelligence/skills that can be pursued. Creativity and critical thinking are appreciated there, not just the school transcripts. (However, they still have quite a high rate of suicides – this is more of societal pressure in the work environment to bring money home to the table & also as a means of deliverance from shame).

        I think Malaysia once had a “Look East” campaign by one of our ex-prime ministers, in which he said we should look to Japan. Perhaps, we are trying to follow the lead of Japan in the sense that we can balance corporal punishment, the stressing of As, and pushing for an excellent CV by joining all number of random clubs and societies. What I think is the biggest failure in Malaysia that prevents us from following in Japan’s footsteps is that our people itself are half-hearted in what we do.

        I’ve been for an exchange programme during my high school years and the vast differences I see in school spirit just amazed me. They were gung-ho over there in all school activities. As much as I have the guilty pleasure of reading Japanese comics about their culture or watch their dramas, I never really believed it to be true in reality. However, it was!

        I had come during the middle of my host school’s (Jr. and Sr. High) Sports Festival preparations and all the students were very dedicated, working on any number of different aspects of things. They planned, organised, created all the materials they needed from scratch! They literally hammered all the nails for the signboards and sew the clothes they had to wear and choreographed moves for the performance all by themselves.They, the students who were only 13 to 17 years old. During practice for the performance, no-one did a half-hearted twirl or pose no matter how embarrassing the moves were. If you were to ask the same from a bunch of Malaysian students no matter what school they were from, the response you get would be feeble at best (except for certain schools on certain things like drama or debate). No response at all would be more in line to reality – and this is only for a small group of Malaysian students. I’m talking about a whole Japanese school having everyone pitch in, which says something of what we’re missing. As you can tell, the memory stays with me till now, years later because it had such a huge impact on my perception of what we were missing in our student life here in Malaysia.

        Again, I get carried away telling stories, but I believe that stories reflect points better and my point here is that the Malaysian people need to learn to be more dedicated to not just academic grades but also the other aspects of school. We can’t be like the Japanese since we don’t have the same spirit of giving all that you do the full 100%. The schools itself shouldn’t try to restrict these clubs and societies from doing what they plan to do – as long as it is not harming anyone, if they want to think big, they shouldn’t be limited.

        My experience thus far, from being involved in some extra-curricular activities in school and the student council in my university is that, over here, we have so much red tape to go through. Not because the schools or societies are afraid of safety or litigation like in America, but because they are afraid of the unknown territories they will be entering if they venture to do things out of their normal comfort zone. So naturally they come up with a million and one sorts of forms and other bits of steps that makes us lose confidence in the possibility of successfully carrying out what we planned to do. The successful projects from societies I’ve seen so far, are those who allow their students flexibility, creativity and accountability towards the projects. They don’t always approach a student with, “I think this is wrong, re-do it.” They say, “Hey, this is your thing. You are in charge, if you feel its right, do it, If you think its wrong, don’t do it. I am merely an observer who makes sure of the safety of everyone.”

        Unpredictability/ Ambiguous situations are what makes us Malaysians stop in our tracks most times. We don’t like moving from our comfort zone! Even I have experienced doing this to myself, because that fear of the unknown has been ingrained in me for so many years. I try to fight it as best as I can though but its made me hiccup at the thought of calling up people, leaving comments (such as now!), voicing out, planning an event, and heck, even recruiting people to be participants of experiments for my research assignments. But I think this is the point you probably were trying to make, that you wish schools would step up in providing an environment which allows the students to challenge and grow by themselves. One which doesn’t have us restricted all the time by useless rules and obligations that are potentially just a waste of time and gets us nowhere forward and sometimes even make us take steps back in fear of doing something others haven’t done before.

        I have noticed that a bunch of students in my course as well, aren’t used to the University system. I am thankful at the very least that my course had good lecturers at the start to cement a good foundation for critical learning and thinking. At the beginning, my classmates often lamented on how they felt that lecturers never explained assignments in detail and therefore they had no idea what to do. They loathed term papers which asked them to pick a topic on their own and do a critical analysis of it. They wanted direction/instructions and they wanted it spelled out to the last minute detail – pretty much what we’ve been hardwired to lookout for since we entered primary school. I admit, even I was guilty of this at the start but eventually, some of us saw how much we have grown from where we were 3 years ago, and now when we’re about to graduate, we joke that we’re so critical about everything, that we’ve developed a false sense of superiority over others, hahah.

        Jokes aside, I probably wouldn’t be able to write you these long essays if I hadn’t gone through such an intense course that had lecturers who were grading us fairly and with high expectations on critical thinking. If I had been in any other course in my university (or maybe in any other university, period), I probably would still be accepting any and all information that I read from the newspapers or internet instead of filtering and processing them with a degree of skepticism and thoughtfulness. Needless to say, some of the other courses in my uni (some affiliated with established foreign universities!) still accept google/wikipedia-information as acceptable resources of work for an academic paper at the tertiary level! Its no wonder most local graduates are as what the Star article described!

        To end this rather long reflection on culture, academics, and the Malaysian human-condition, I would just like to thank you for the suggestion of titles you have given. I would be able to invest in some of those books using the vouchers which the MoHE gave us. Probably one thing I can thank them for at least; though it should have been only given to those who really needed it (i.e., not me!). I do appreciate your acknowledgement of what I’ve written and I hope that some day soon, our hopes of a better education system will come through. Till then, I hope your step-son goes beyond the boundaries of what the current system can supply, and maybe help cultivate thinking skills in the people around him as well.


  53. Peter says:

    Hi Richard. I’m a Malaysian, 26 now, and I’ve been telling people since 8 years ago, that the Malaysian education system’s aim is to create drones, not intellectuals. I don’t think I need to point out the differences between ‘worker’ and ‘intellectual’. I use the term ‘drone’ because I drew the comparison with Malaysian society, and….. ants (watching too many wildlife documentaries as a child). See with ants, their workforce is made out of highly skilled drones (workers). However, these drones only do something when they receive chemical signals given from their Queen. They won’t do anything until they receive a signal to do something, and they won’t stop doing it, as ridiculous as it may be, until they receive a chemical signal telling them otherwise. I found the comparison uncanny. Needless to say Richard, what you’ve noticed is the final product from a certain ex-Prime Minster’s grand vision – a nation of highly skilled, completely ‘in the box’ workers that cannot function without someone giving them orders, and the government creates and controls, those who gives orders.

  54. Rickard,

    You not alone in how you feel towards are edu system and the type of people it produces. Its a sad state to say the least when they (PM & Co.) claim we’re doing okay, heading towards achieving high income status and what not. I believe the 1st step to get the whole system fixed requires political transformation as the biggest transformation needed before any other change can follow. The next election is set to take place soon and that is the time many like me are waiting for 🙂

    • Rickard says:

      @Mohd Hafiz Yusof, well usually “change we can believe in” turns out not to be so. But I’m curious, do you know where I can find any suggestions from the opposition parties on how education should change? I.e. is there any reason for hope, or is it just hope that something different, anything at all, will be better?

  55. PassionateM says:

    I’m pleased to know that a non-Malaysian is concern enough to write on the deficiencies of Malaysia and had taken the initiative to act on the shortcoming of our education system. It is for this very reason, that even a non-Malaysian like you, Rickard, is taking Malaysia’s flaws to heart that Malaysia will not stay as a third world country. The latest news on Malaysians’ discontentment and our appeal for change on many issues (environmental, political etc.) is evident that change for the better may well on its way. Evolution was, is and will never be easy. The road to change for the better may be long and hard, but Malaysians are working very hard to fight for the betterment of our lives here in Malaysia.

    Many brilliant Malaysians have left Malaysia with no hope for its improvement, this is sad, as I wonder, why have these Malaysians run away from their home country’s problems?? Don’t they face issues and problems in the country where they are at now? Are these Malaysians contributing to the mockery of Malaysia from afar or are they contributing to the many efforts to change Malaysia for the better by leveraging on external source? For the many brilliant Malaysians that have left the country, the remaining brightly strives on to evolve Malaysia and even a non-Malaysian like you, whether thru your love for that special Malaysian, for the good of the community at large or to raise a point of personal privilege, care enough to contribute for a better Malaysia no matter how arduous that effort may be.

    I have not had time to read all the comments here but have read the most recent and agree with Farrah. The ingrained culture we have breeds the very attitude and character of our nation. Since we are all mere mortals, I believe problems at the schools of Malaysia do happen in the schools of other countries too but the culture that we have and the culture that other countries have will very much influence how problems are managed at hand.

    Have it every crossed your mind, why teachers can be in the defensive and offensive mode? Do educators feel insecure because they lack in expertise and therefore have no confidence in managing the many demands of the parents for improvement in our education system? Do parents merely complain of the deficiencies or complain & give constructive feedbacks? Is this because teachers’ training, exposure and education level may not have progressed (due to many possible constrains) at par or better than the level of training, exposure and education that the children’s parents have gained? I trust these are aspects which parents, educators and MOE must assess and reflect upon i.e. have the educator profession caught up with the times and requirements of the community in terms of the level of training, education and exposure to international educational standards. There is always room for improvement and there are things to learn till the day we die. But no amount of external trainings, international exposure and benchmarking efforts will help if current educators continue to think that their glasses are already overflowing or acknowledge the education deficiencies but are idly contented with status quo. Perhaps, then, it is time to revamp and pump in new blood into the education profession.

    There are things that we cannot tolerate and cannot get used to, for “an amputated spirit… has no prosthetic”. If the school escalation procedure fails to address the issue, the headmaster needs to be made aware that the matter will be brought up to the media and to the state MPs, if necessary. Things must be set right at its core, thru all possible avenues. If it is not, it must be made known to the public & let the matter speak for itself. Speaking up, questioning, giving constructive feedbacks does not mean any less respect for the education profession. Educators must be made to understand that our children’s emotional wellbeing will not be compromised and as such, they must maintain an objective mindset, learn to listen, seek constructive feedbacks from children and parents and take the appropriate action for improvement.

    The Malaysian generation of today is aptly different. We are better educated (thanks to our parents’ time and money invested on us), well exposed to different cultures, systems and policies of the world (thanks to overseas education/trainings and the many MNCs which Malaysians are employed in) and very much able minded to stand up, speak up and constructively challenge current deficiencies for a better country and community.

    Have faith in Malaysia, Rickard, for its progress will not stand still. With you and all the passionate Malaysians here rallying with you for a better Malaysia, we will not stay as a third world country.

  56. todd says:

    I went through all this bullshit from pre-school to graduation day.. One thing for sure is that the whole system is rotten to the core!! The rote system doesn’t produce humans but manufactures mindless drones!! Creative and critical thinking skills are nowhere to be learned (except by learning yourselves!!)

    I know that the system sucks, but I’m gonna stay here and get it right!! I don’t want to be No Action, Talk Only!! But I don’t want to fight this bullshit all alone!! To those who have left, if you’re concerned about this country, please come back n join the fight together!! Stop complaining and start doing something!!

  57. Ashraf Latif says:

    What an insight. Seth Godin has written quite a bit about this. Mind if I share? http://www.squidoo.com/stop-stealing-dreams

  58. No Names.. says:

    its the truth..i am graduated from one of the best school in Malaysia..i am from SBP year 2005..i will tell you..even one of the best school in Malaysia also not that good..i can give you an example which is a true story all around Malaysia..why most of SBP and MRSM will get superb grades than any other school?? the reason is because of the teacher who are making the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) is the teacher who are teaching in the SBP and MRSM institution..the problem lies at the teacher themselves who are not promoting student to be the best among the best..why?because the teacher gave out the real questions of SPM..how would you expect student to be good if they already know the question that gonna test them..in Malaysia..in my point of view and observation..it is hardly for anyone to distinguish which one of the Malaysian student is good..there might be a “Steve Jobs” genes inside a 8A1 student rather than the 12A1 students..not only that..the system to go extend your study (degree) also full with corruption..for example..not because you are good you are selected to be a scholarship student..but sometimes because of your background such as a son of some politicians or big names in Malaysia..it is a disgrace how low can the system of education in Malaysia could go..in Malaysian Media..there will always news about thousand got straight A’s and no one knew which one of this student are a critical thinker and a genius one..maybe the genius one is the one who got 8A’s or 9A’s..we never know as the system itself camouflage all the good students with the bad one..which will only cause further unfairness in term of who deserve to get scholarship to further their studies..to tell you the truth..i never gave a damn about any “soalan bocor” from my teacher during SPM preparation..and that cause me at my 3rd Physics paper..90% of the questions my teacher said he “predicted” were true..but that doesn’t bother me as i still manage to get A1! hehehe..

    • Rickard says:

      @No names, so that’s an excellent example of what I mean by “targets encourages cheating”. So students cheat, teachers cheat, and principals cheat. Everybody cheats. Why? Because the system encourages and rewards it, that’s why.

      Maybe this is where to start with regard to abolishing the current education system: the utter and complete loss of faith in the results it provides. If no one, be it students, parents, employers or universities, believe that the A’s have any value, because of the systemic cheating involved in getting them, maybe then we can just kill the damn thing by non-confidence.

  59. disappointed says:

    I totally agree with you, Ricard !! As mentioned in some comments i that i read through, Malaysia is a country that i love but didn’t love me back. The systems are meant to keep us in a box, like ants, we do not need to think but just follow the arrows, the perfect cheap labour that they wanted to produce. Even when we suddenly realised, something is not right, best example : Lynas. How many object voices, doesn’t shake the government’s greed. They think people are forgetful, we may object for awhile, few months passed, we don’t remember anything and they will be where they wanted. Why so many of us left, because in our head we know, Malaysia will always be a “developing” country.

  60. Salina Nan says:

    Hi richard,

    Interesting read for me. However, i am one of the optimistic ones for our Malaysian education system. Since i have primary school going children its good news for everyone here that MoE are now adopting new system free from exams orientated that we are now currently in. The new system apparently is going to teach the children creating thinking and they are being graded not with A, B, C anymore…instead they are being given grades for the competency level that they are in . Example if they only know how to read, the children are graded as achieving grade 1 which means the child can read… Grade 2 is read and understand….grade 3 is read, understand and apply…grade 4 is read, understand, apply and moral values…grade 5 is all of grade 4 plus excellent moral values. The highest grade is 6 and its all of grade 5 with exempliry manners…no exams for them…only assessment by the teachers to determine the grades and these assessment is being filed and sent to the ministry as prove of the grades the teacher is giving….Sadly when the system is being explained to parents, most of the parents seem to be at lost with the new system…They keep wondering how the child will score in their year 6 exams now known as upsr…what i mean is how much A’s their children will get…. To me the systems is the reflection of what the parents view as important… In Malaysia, getting straight As are a must to be socially accepted as someone to look up to and perceived as successful…. It is in the culture. Sometimes we locals harshly blame the system but the real fact is we are actually the culprit who caused the system to be such. You know why the headmaster must talk about how many A’a the school plans to have is because presssure from the parents to ensure their children scores. It will take Malaysians some time to adapt themselves with exam free system…some i see in my children’s primary school are really dissapointed when their child gets grade 3 instead of grade 5…. Well, our eduction system is changing but if the mind set of Malaysians parents are still the same…its diffcult to actually make a success of the new system… Do look up kssr system in the web.just google kssr…dunno if they have explanations in english though… i believe there is also some changes going on to the form 1 going student starting 2012…. Hope parents out there can accept the new improved system with an open mind… To me what is most important is instilling good values in the child…it comes with religious teaching…religious or spiritual teaching will allow students to have good moral values….the rest…we can learn along the way. Don’t expect a school alone can prepare a child to face the world… It is a combination of parents, teachers and society to do that… Its everyones responsibility to create a good samaritan and a creative thinking person in a child….pointing finger at one party over a problem raised, please allow the remaining fingers to point at our contribution to the problem.

    • Rickard says:

      @Salina Nan, interesting, but I must say I’m a little confused. What does ‘moral values’ have to do with being able to read? And what moral values are we talking about? As my quote from Ponerology indicates, so-called ‘moral values’ aren’t necessarily always moral.

      From what I could find on KSSR, I have to say I’m not all that impressed. All the big picture problems, such as understanding of purpose, motivation and focus on skills, seems to be still missing. And teachers have more paperwork to do, which is never a good sign.

      If anyone have any good links summarizing KSSR, that would be much appreciated!

    • Rickard says:

      I managed to find the KSSR descriptions at MoE, but they are terribly confusing and non-informative (my wife, who is Malay, tried to read it and translated for me).

      You know what, read the Stop Stealing Dreams manifesto that Ashraf linked to. I’ve been reading that, and find myself agreeing with pretty much everything in there. It’s that kind of radical change that is needed, simply because the update is sooooo long overdue.

      There should not be smaller classes, there should be no classes.

      There should not be more teachers, there should be fewer teachers that are more highly paid, and what they do should be rethought. . See Khan Academy for one example of what teachers should do (record high quality instructional videos). And every student can, and should, be a teacher. In the martial arts we’ve known this for centuries, and there’s no logical reason why this could not be applied in education. Also see the results of the Visible Learning meta-meta-study which points this out:

      Multiple choice questions have to be abolished. PERIOD. It’s the STUPIDEST thing I’ve ever seen.

      Abolish caning. Child abuse has no place in any form of education. You can’t learn anything when your body is pumped with adrenaline and “fight or flight” instincts. Any school that uses caning and the word “empathy” in any of their mission statements are hypocrites.

      Abolish blind obedience and loyalty, encourage mutual respect. “Discipline” problem solved.

      These are some examples of minimum requirements that I would put on any effective education system.

  61. Muhammad Firdaus B Anuar says:

    i agree with you sir,malaysia education system must be changed in order to producing quality,survival and skill graduates.To survive in this world, it is not based on theories and how many A’s you get at the school but how skill you are in order to survive in this world.As an example, a lot of billionaire is not finished their school, however, the determination,hardship and their skill in doing business make them in good future in the end.

  62. Sofwan Albar says:

    A lot of thanks for that views. I am a Malaysians and will keep being positive for any comments and opinions about my country. I dont blame Rikard for mentioning the “bad habits” or other stuff that he thinks very inappropriate with this country. I think you should be patience with us. We got our independence by 1957, it is about 55 years ago. Do you think I dont want Malaysian to bloom like so called first-class thinking country. If you study to the root of this problems, you will find many unhappiness but the percentage is becoming minimal nowadays. You can treat most Malaysians like an infant, take some years to grow. Yes, our leaders should be concern about cleanliness of mind, physical and material, transparency and many more. But there is unseen hands that shape Malaysians. What we perceived daily is merely superficial, it depends either you want to more deeper for more answers, or you are just being fine with it. Yes, I agree again most of us are not used to think critically but it is a matter of choices, either you want to think critically or not. I dont the blame the system, I dont blame the leaders. Blaming others will be endless story. Starts first by building up your own family. You want to know something, my parents are Indonesian and they are hardly speak English but for my surprise I can speak this language at reasonably well. How can I become like that? It is their attitude towards education is so great that they push their children. Schools are merely tools. Your attention to put your children must be clear, push them to gain more knowledge or skills, or merely want the teachers to look after them when you are away busy doing other business. So it is a matter of choice and attentions actually. Patience Rikard, patience….

    • Rickard says:

      @Sofwan Albar, I understand what you are saying, but unfortunately it’s not true. Critical thinking is not a matter of choice. It is a skill, like being able to run fast. If you don’t practice running fast, you can’t do it. Similarly, if you don’t practice critical thinking, and the tools associated with it, you can’t do it. It’s as simple as that.

      The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. Conversely, the less you know, the less you are aware of that you have no clue. Specifically, most people don’t realize that critical thinking and creative thinking are skills that takes hard systematic disciplined training. If you do not put in the time to do this, you will be unable to think critically and creatively, just as you won’t be able to run fast without training.

      Our collective understanding of learning and education has progressed immensely since it was created, but the system itself has not. There is no excuse for this situation. There is no reason to be patient with a system that does not fit societies needs anymore. If this was a free market thing, the current system would have been out of business a long time ago, as the product it sells is just not very valuable anymore.

  63. ibrahimkhalid says:

    the moment grades are the only information being used to resemble students’ intelligence, all sorts of problem appears. be it bribery, drones factory, emotional stress, slow physical,mental, emotional and spiritual development. be it the system, the society, and the individual itself. change everything. when i say everything, it includes politics, educations, economics, morals, ethics. EVERYTHING. it all starts with dedicated individuals. Thanks Ricard for bringing up this topic. Really appreciate it.

  64. Rickard says:

    @ibrahimkhalid, couldn’t agree more. One question that comes up in situations like this is the question, well, if we are not going to grind their “academic performance” down into simple numbers, then what? What is the alternative?

    I think this is a very crucial question, and one that should be discussed. If I look at myself, and noone has EVER asked for my grades. I used my high school grades to get into university, but after that, I have only used my CV and reputation to get jobs. My work is available online, for everyone to see and judge. If we can’t use grades as a way to measure if a potential employee is good or not, because what it measures is useless and because of the systemic cheating (by principals, teachers and students) to get them, then that option is obviously off the table.

    What if reputation and CV simply is the new grades? A CV can be as detailed as you want it to be, listing skills and accomplishments, references to projects, your best essay work (if you’re applying to be a copywriter for example), and so on. If I hire software developers, I want to see what they have done thus far, and what their attitude is. That matters way more than any grades would.

    A friend of my daughter is truly AWESOME at painting shoes. It’s a very special talent, and which I think she could EASILY do as a living. But that talent doesn’t show up at all in any kind of grades, so her parents don’t encourage it. But in a CV and portfolio of accomplishments, no problem.

    Any other ideas? As an employer, what are you interested in? What should school provide that would be USEFUL to you to make a decision?

  65. Concerned Parent-to-be says:


    I totally agree regarding the issues that you have put up…but to me, I think u missed one thing. A thing that I felt is another strong reason that contributes to all this. I’m saying this because this is what I felt when im studying in Msia’s secondary school (school shall not be named). It was the ‘mentality’ of the people itself. Even though the education system is still to be blamed, yet I still think the main culprit is the mentality itself.

    Most of Malaysians are Malays and most of them are trained since young to ‘follow orders’ n not to question anything…or it is to be considered rude, worse ‘anak derhaka’ (U can ask your wife to translate this). Much worse, in religion….u’ll be considered ‘murtad’ or apostate for questioning religion. So, you have no other choice…other than just to listen n obey.
    Trained since we were born.

    Sadly, these kinda of people that turns up becoming teachers in my school.

    If you talk about caning, have you even heard of ‘handphone demolishing ceremony??’
    This is the day where a huge spot check would be held…looking for the student’s handphone. Guess what the teachers do with it…throw and demolish every single handphones that they found, by smashing it to the ground. If its not broken, he will pick it up…n throw it again n again..or even step on it. YES, they did it to every phones that they found…..good strategy huh!!

    Other than that, there would be ‘Public Marriage’ where they’ll make a mock wedding ceremony to those so called ‘couples’ in the school. Just so that the student will feel ‘shy’ for having romantic relationship other than mariage itself.

    Male teacher’s not only cane their students, but in order to fill the mosque for subuh prayers, they slap the students at their face….with their own dirty SLIPPERS. Ouchhhh!!

    At the female’s dormitory, they go check out for any unwashed sanitary pads in the bin, (there were this saying that we have to washout our period blood from the pads, not sure was it because of religion or because their mother teach them to do so)….chanting some spells on it n BURN them…so that the girls that didn’t wash them will feel that their vagina is on fire…just to teach them a lesson that THEY MUST WAS THEIR PADS…WTH is that for???

    If your late to class just because it took you several minutes to walk from A to B…The teachers will end up saying “All the knowledge that I thought you ‘TAK BERKAT’ “(you can have you wife translate this too)…Sadly, all the students went all haywire thinking about their future of not scoring ‘A’ for that particular subject. I have a friend that actually blame the teacher’s BERKAT for the main reason that he cant get A for that subject…

    If you question your teacher, instead of having the explanation….they will turn your question into homework just so that you will stop questioning, and so that they wont look dumb because they failed to answer them. Yesss…this is the part where the whole class hates you because you just added more homework to them. (Sadly, I’m still having these in my university life…can you imagine that?!)

    Additional to all this is the typical ragging, brainwashing, etc etc….I feel like living in hell.
    To me, the teachers there have less respect towards students. They also have numerous ridiculous punishments in store, which I dont understand why it was even there in the 1st place.

    So Rickard, what do you think about these scenario. Does it even sounded like school to you?
    And yes, all these happens in the so called ‘elite schools’ in Msia…and every parents are dying to send their kids in THESE KIND OF SCHOOL…

    • Rickard says:

      @Concerned Parent-to-be, yes I have heard about the things you outline, and more. When I say “caning”, that also doesn’t always involve canes: metal rulers, brooms, shoes, whatever is handy, has been used at least in SJI. I’m sure “teachers” in other schools have even more imaginative and painful options at hand.

      While I agree with you that mentality is a big problem, I have also read enough psychology to know that this has nothing to do with being Malay (my wife is Malay), or Chinese, Indian or Swedish. I have met pathological individuals of all races, simply because this is not strictly related to race (although it to some extent IS genetic). The underlying issue is mental pathology, be it schizophrenia, psychopathy, pathological narcissism, or any variation thereof. And currently, these mentalities are to a large degree encouraged and nurtured in school. It’s a cyclical phenomenon between society, parents, school and students, and it’s hard to tell where it starts and ends. The only conclusion you can make safely is to say, that’s what it is.

      Does this have anything to do with school? Depends on what you want to get out of school. If you’re an Evil Industrial Globalist, which wants to keep Malaysia as a third world country full of uneducated and easily controlled workers, then it’s great. If you don’t, then not so much.

  66. sup1109 says:

    hello there,I’ve just read ur article from saifulislam.com,its really surprising that a mat salleh is very concern for us,Malaysians,and i really love it!hehe. Its true though about the education system.Im currently studying in one of the local university,and really sick and tired of the ways where A’s is all that matters!people copies assignments,quizzes and even tests just to ensure they get an A!what’s the point,u dont even understand the beauty of seeking knowledge.i love to quote ur sentence “learning for life”, which is not really practised any more. hope malaysia will soon changed for the better.

  67. Anonymous says:

    Well Mr. Oberg, welcome to Malaysia. This problem is indeed systemic and I believe our dear leaders would like to keep it that way. As a proud product of their system I know full well it’s capabilities in spawning obedient voters =)

  68. Jo Bloggs says:

    The Chinese have an apt adage, “fish rots from the head”! The writer hit the nail on the head when he discounted the effectiveness of the Ministry of Education. So, start with the government and its mission and soon you’ll find that the objectives have been suitably skewed (note that I do not say, compromised!) to achieve that end. The complete system – ministry, facilities, curriculum, teachers and even parents to a significant degree, simply abide by this charade that results in a product quite unfit for its intended application!

  69. Evan says:

    Hi Rickard,
    I’ve read your post together with quite a number of the responses. I do hope that your writings are provocative enough to allow those that need to hear it the most to stop and think rather than shut their ears in disapproval of your stark honesty.

    I am a course director in a private college; and I do have to work with students that come from various education backgrounds. I can testify that majority of the Malaysian students from public schools develop an competent level of critical thinking; the capacity to do self directed studies and the ability to process and make crucial judgments in spite of the ambiguity of facts presented at a much later stage compared to societies which has education systems that encourage that at an earlier age

    Indeed we fail when we don’t see the need to change; just as much as Finland would still fail if complacency sets in. But I think one note that I disagree amongst a lot of the comments here is how some people think the education system is suppose to prepare people for employment. Some call it the “real world”, and I disagree with that kind of mentality completely. Real world starts at conception, the first “taught” lesson in life was to learn to breath. I think public education policies cannot have employment as their end goal. The system should be designed to equip people (or maybe just the “average man”, whichever standardized testing has now labeled) with the necessary knowledge, skills, discipline and inclination to make better choices and better mistakes in life- irregardless to whatever age they are at.

    So where exactly are we heading? While this current system does look grim, I think that the upcoming generations will never fall short of knowledge, information, and skill training. (thanks to the internet), we end up with children with diverse, and varied levels of base skills, with a better level of critical thinking and all that lot. We definitely still need a public education system to curate a pool of essential knowledge crucial for most people to know; but what’s more important is that it must direct a STANDARDIZED values of use, not abuse, of knowledge. The current end-goal mentalities of employment, survival, affluence and getting on top of this meritocracy laden social system- The attempts to reverse engineer those goals then formulate an education system to facilitate that; I think that’s where a lot of these current problems are stemmed from.

    • Rickard says:

      @Evan, thanks for your thoughtful comment. As I point out in the third post of the “Why the Malaysian education system doesn’t work” series, the number of potential subjects to study are vast, and it’s a hit’n’miss with regard to what you’re actually going to need for a particular employment.

      Because of this the focus for a public education system should therefore be more on languages and skills, applied to subjects for the purpose of training, as they are more generally applicable. But just as you would never think that hitting a punching bag has as its purpose to soften the bag, but rather to learn the skill of hitting it, the subjects are not the point. Learning the skills of doing so, is. If you have this, then learning the specifics of a particular trade is what you will do by following your passion, wherever it may lead you.

  70. GirlyGirl says:

    Hello, like sup1109, I’m also a student in a local college. Found your article while doing some random searching online haha..

    I didn’t suffer that much despite being in a “non-elite”, somewhat new school for my previous studies. We aren’t really pressured to score As despite being in the top class (but we aren’t that good in terms of academic result compared to the elite schools). It is true that most students would cheat their way up just to get a pass or As. But I’ll never understand the concept of doing so, since you’ll always have to carry your textbook even if you work -.-.. and during your interviews, you wouldn’t be able to answer questions from your prospective employer, yet you get such great results.

    Thankfully, my ex-school didn’t have any extreme case of bullying, caning, or any sort. I guess these things don’t happen in some Malaysian schools. Well, at least I hope so. However, I was caned by my headmistress because some of my classmates and I went to the foyer to call our parents that we were going home earlier that day, with the permission of our teacher at that point of time. Yet, when our principal questioned us, our teacher denied it, and we were punished simply because “phone calls are only allowed for life and death issues”, according to her. Our teacher, I believe, was terrified of her or simply to protect his ‘bowl of rice’ as we Chinese called it. Moreover, we couldn’t bring cellphones to school. I mean what do they expect us to do? Wait like idiots? What if we’re kidnapped?

    Our education system is lacking. Eg, all you do for Moral is memorise word-by-word and bla your way through the paper. I got an A for that by the way =P. Then, when you get straight As, your parents/schools/everyone else/etc. would be so darn proud or impressed by it. There’s a huge flaw in the syllabus too. I’m having no difficulties in my accounting studies since I enrolled for CAT and now ACCA yet I have no prior knowledge at all (because I didn’t take it for my SPM), compared to my peers who took accounting and even get As or Bs for it. You’ll probably think they’ll have an edge over me

    Sorry for my long rant post. Thank you for your post! Made me realised that I’m blessed to survive my high school years without any physical or mental scar.

    (I still really don’t understand the true meaning of critical thinking, mind to enlighten me?)

    • Rickard says:

      @GirlyGirl, what is critical thinking? I think the Wikipedia page on this is actually pretty accurate, so I would suggest that you read that.

      Apart from that, it is important to know that critical thinking and creative thinking together are like breathing. You can’t breathe out if you haven’t first breathed in. Critical thinking is about reducing whereas creative thinking is about increasing. If you only do critical thinking, then you start from zero and end up with zero. Similarly, if you do creative thinking only then you will start from zero and end up with way too much, most of which will be wrong and useless.

      It is when combined, when you first do creative thinking around a problem to come up with a set of potential solutions, and THEN apply critical thinking to reduce them or just pick one of the options.

      That being said, I will also echo what Edward de Bono said, that in an unstable and developing society creative thinking is MUCH more important than critical thinking. Just like with breathing you are in an expanding state. When you are in a developed and stable situation, then critical thinking becomes more important, as the need for change becomes smaller.

      And the main caveat to THAT rule is that in a society ruled by pathological people, who convince people of this that and anything, it still is important to apply critical thinking. Is what is said correct? What are the assumptions? What are the consequences? Does the person stating something have a personal gain in whatever is being said? Those kinds of questions are always important, to avoid nonsense being taken as truth.

  71. I am a bit shocked. I am from Sri Lanka. To us Malaysia is a highly developed country we aspire to become. You take our local TV programs which has dozens of self-proclaimed “intellectuals” coming and telling us that we need to emulate Malaysia and be like Malaysia and need a leader like Mahathir Mohamad. Malaysians also have an average IQ of 92 ( http://www.rlynn.co.uk/pages/article_intelligence/t4.asp ), quite high but does not seem to be behaving like people whose average IQ is 92. Contrast this to our situation where our average national IQ is just 81 (borderline retarded). I have been reading and studying about Malaysia for a few months and the more I read the more disappointed I get. I have read so many times in so may blogs that Mahathir Mohamad, the so-called savior of Malaysia in fact a tyrant and actually sent Malaysia backwards towards the end. I also read blogs saying how bad Malaysian driving is. Normally, the way the people drive is a very good indication of the development of a country. Malaysia has one of the highest per-capita road deaths in the world, a whopping 24 per 100,000 population where in developed countries it is around 4 and 6. This shows that Malaysians although with quite a high-IQ (Compared to us, Indians and blacks) are in fact worse than us when it comes to driving (our road death rate is 10 per 100,000) which makes me wonder what the hell is going on??
    It has been shown by Dr. Richard Lynn, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, and Dr. Tatu Vanhanen, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland that there is direct co-relation between GDP per capita and IQ. i.e. the higher the IQ the higher the GDP-per-capita. If you look at all the HIGH-INCOME countries, leaving out countries such as Brunei which is a high-income country simply due to the oil and gas exports, then we see that to be a true high-income country which Malaysia is aspiring to be by 2020, you have to have an IQ of 100 or above. All high-income countries have average IQs of near 100 or above. This is just another side of the coin I want to show. Anyway, good blog this one.

  72. I am not as lucky to be able to pursue my education overseas. At the current rate of my calculations. it cost me a RM90k per year minimum to go to the cheapest uni in either UK/AUS. I currently only have a diploma obtained from a private college. Due to the ministries regulations I will have to continue here for another 2 years to complete my degree. Or if i could pay to go overseas, I will need to only study one year to complete my degree. I’m studying to be an architect, which is a highly regulated profession by many bodies. After my first degree, I will have to study another 2 more years to be considered for an architects licence. I am a highly critical thinker. And I have strong opinions. I am 22 and already sought after by international companies, but due to my level of qualification, I can’t be an architect. So I sought other means, I design and build for the community for free, just to be able to design, and be an architect. My work is already published through international platforms due to this. The idea of spending 2 years of my time in a local university where debate is prohibited, and thinking is frowned upon just seems dark. And the probability of my first degree not being recognised, in my efforts to try to get a scholarship for my second degree in the future is a torment.

  73. ajan says:

    Needless to say, it reflects on the people more than on the systems. We have lost focus of the most important things in learning.. Abusive manners are by all means unacceptable and the headmaster’s decision is totally upsetting. What that teacher did is unethical. But you should be proud of your son for being able to sense a trick done by his teacher. That really shows how well his critical thought have been developed.

  74. faizul says:

    Hi Rickard , I’m a Malaysian student myself and the education system has always been my primary concern. As a Malaysian myself , I’m doing my best in playing my part to make the education system better. After doing many research and discussion , I’ve decided to promote the flipped learning , and I’ve also started my own blog. Here’s an open letter to Malaysian teachers out there. http://faizulzuraimi.blogspot.com/2013/05/an-open-letter-to-teachers-my-name-is.html . On top of that , I’m also hosting discussion on TED conversation http://www.ted.com/conversations/18310/what_can_we_do_an_open_lett.html as well as lowyat forum https://forum.lowyat.net/topic/2817026/+20

  75. Arnold says:

    Keeping a population dumbed down and obedient , then having policies in place to give that population hands outs , then ad religion to the mix to further ensure control of the masses and you have Malaysia. Critical thinking is the enemy. Imagine people thinking for themseves and questioning authorities.

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