Education: Malaysia not getting value for money, says economist

This article first appeared in Free Malaysia Today on March 8, 2018

An economist has urged Putrajaya to re-evaluate the primary and secondary education system, saying the “returns” on the massive amount of annual allocations are not encouraging.

Woo Wing Thye of the Jeffrey Cheah Institute says Malaysia’s Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa) scores remained low despite the large amounts spent on education.

In the 2012 Pisa sample of 65 countries, Malaysia’s ranks for Mathematics, Reading, and Science were 52, 59, and 53. This was comparable to those of Thailand (50, 48, 49), Chile (51, 48, 47), and Mexico (53, 51, 55).

But in terms of spending, government expenditure on education per capita in 2011 as measured in purchasing power parity (PPP)  was US$1,307 for Malaysia, US$701 for Thailand, US$860 for Chile and US$832 for Mexico.

Malaysia was excluded from the 2015 Pisa rankings as the weighted response rate among the schools initially sampled came up to only 51% – far short of the standard Pisa response rate of 85%.

“Among developing countries, Malaysia is a leader when it comes to spending on education. But we are not getting enough value for the money. When you look at countries with similar Pisa scores, you can see that they spend much less than we do on education,” said Woo.

“Because other countries don’t spend as much as we do but can get similar scores, there appears to be great inefficiencies in our education system.”

Complicating matters, Woo said, was the country’s brain drain. Citing 2011 World Bank numbers, Woo said 20% of tertiary students migrate, with recent immigration figures indicating that the trend is increasing.

Woo said if a large proportion of the best-educated people migrated and the nation did not produce enough quality talent, Malaysia would not have a large enough talent pool to generate the vibrant intellectual environment that enables technological breakthroughs.

“Imagine that you want to build a car. You will need different expertise to produce a quality product. You need a complete set of experts on the mechanical engine, the electrical wiring, the suspension systems, aerodynamic design, and so on.

“This same process happens across all economic sectors. So if we want to develop, we must have the talent in all sectors of the economy.”

Source: Free Malaysia Today