TUN MAHATHIR MOHAMAD – Educational system

In 1974, Mahathir was appointed Minister of Education. He had always believed in the need for “education for the masses”, with greater emphasis on maths and science, at high school level, in order to achieve his dream of a developed Malaysia. He continued to strongly promote his agenda of quantity-and-quality higher education during his term as prime minister.

In those days, English, Chinese and Tamil-medium schools were fully run by private and missionary organizations. Students from these school sat for the respective overseas examinations set by the board of school committees and associations. For instance, Overseas Cambridge School Certificate (OSC) was set for English schools. Under the former Prime Minister’s order, he drafted the KBSM syllabus in these schools. Overseas examinations were subsequently abolished one after another throughout the years. Schools which converted to the national type received heavy fundings from goverment. Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (SRP) were fully introduced as national examinations.

In order to cater for the lower income indigenous population, boarding schools were promoted and constructed. Through government scholarships, tens of thousands of students were sent yearly to universities in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia – western-type countries that Mahathir aspired to achieved par dvelopment with. Middle-and higher-income groups from non-Bumiputera Malaysians who were unable to get a place in the local universities, due to the restrictive quota system and limited government scholarships, also independently sent their children to these universities. This had led Malaysia to have the third largest number of student going to western-type countries to pursue higher education, after China and India.

In 1980, education quota was introduced as part of the National Economic Policy. Mahathir who became the acting prime minister, introduced the quota system to a economic sectors in Malaysia including the education system, whereby a designated percentage of undergraduate seats of higher institutions were reserved for Bumiputra citizens.

Towards his later years, Mahathir promoted the liberalization of university start-ups, leading to branch campuses being built or the formation of permanent tie-ups with some of the most prestigious universities in the world. Amongst others, these led to the construction of the University of Nottingham in Malaysia (in partnership with the University of Nottingham, U.K.), Malaysia University of Science and Technology (M.U.S.T), in partnership with M.I.T. (U.S.) and Motorola), Monash University Malaysia (in partnership with Monash University, Australia) and Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak Campus (in partnership with Curtin University of Technology, Australia)

Private companies with a long running history in Malaysia like Intel and AMD were also encouraged to set up, and run partnerships and/or higher education centers and centres of exellence.

In the year before his retirement, he announced that Mathematics and Science subjects must be taught in English in all primary and secondary schools with aim to increase competitiveness of Malaysian students.


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