Student loans, shop-house colleges and the government’s blunder
COMMENT To cope with the increase in population, more colleges were allowed to be set up. The twist to this seemingly liberal higher education policy was actually the government fund, something 'shop-house' universities which mushroomed overnight were aiming at. Here lies the origin of the PTPTN scourge.
Education is always a subject that is close to the government. Close, in the sense of policy, budget, infrastructure, training, control and management. In other words, government plays a big role in education; the way our children are educated – it decides the where, why, when, how and who of our children’s education through government policies.
A government’s seriousness, dedication and honesty are reflected in teachers and students that the education system produces. Therefore, it is safe to say that the success or failure of an education system depends on the government of the day.
In the case of Malaysia today, it is obvious that the national education systems have failed miserably for far too long and have not been rectified despite all the grouses raised. Parents with school going children will agree with this hard hitting statement. The system has failed partly because of corruption and and a combination of other factors. Endemic corruption that characterises the Malaysian government also has found its way into the Ministry of Education.
Every year education gets a high priority in the budget. The budget for development such as building of new schools, providing facilities such as computer and science labs, supply of computers, school text books, teaching equipments, aids, training, etc. is massive. Yet, some rural schools in Malaysia are in dire condition, in terms of both building infrastructure and facilities.
The national education systems are in dire straits too. Standards set are low so much so that many children still cannot read or write after years of primary education. The secondary levels are no better. The ‘spoon feeding’ and memorisation-oriented system is another major complaint by most parents. It does not encourage thinkers. Even worse, teachers are not fully dedicated and poorly trained.
Malaysia is probably one developing country where people become teachers as a last resort. They got into teaching not because they want to be teachers, but because their results were not good enough for other professions, and left with no choice but to become teachers.
So, many of them went into teachers’ training colleges reluctantly. By the time they got back to schools, they ended up becoming non-dedicated teachers and lacked commitment to the teaching profession.
Some nincompoop politicians or their relatives probably suggested that the private sector be given a role in education. Soon, private colleges and universities ‘mushroomed’ overnight.
Against this background and coupled with poor curriculum and teaching methods, can we expect Malaysian children to excel? This is the general condition and learning environment the present government has created.
On top of that, the ruling politicians, having ‘robbed’ the school development funds, are still the ones to decide whether English should play any role at all in this mediocre educational set up. The many times policies are overturned must be de-motivating to all parties involved in education: parents, teachers and students.
Beyond the secondary school set up, the government is supposed to provide colleges and universities for tertiary education. For so long, Malaysia by default had survived on five main universities. Obviously with the increase in population more universities should have been added. Here lies the origin of the present grand problem, called PTPTN.
Enter shop-house universities
At a time when more universities should be added and more resources needed, privatization was high on the agenda.
Some nincompoop politicians or their relatives probably suggested that the private sector be given a role in education. Soon, private colleges and universities ‘mushroomed’ overnight, many located above shop houses. These are called universities and places of excellence! But the twist to this new and seemingly liberal higher education policy was actually the government fund, which the private sector companies were aiming to lay their hands on.
Instead of building more public universities, the public money was parked in one agency, the National Higher Education Fund Corporation, or PTPTN, which pretends to finance student’s education but actually ends up in the coffers of private colleges and universities through study fees.
This is smart, for the benefits of a few. To majority of the students, they end up in debt - with interest.
Besides debt, their certificates, diplomas or degrees, are not of any substance or quality.
Private colleges and universities came into the picture not for the quality or excellent education, let alone national interest. They ventured into the educational field for the purpose of generating revenue and profit. The concept of the education for sale started here. This is insane. Even more insane is the government that allowed this system to flourish.
As mentioned some days ago, the person who tabled the PTPTN bill in Parliament, in 1997, was none other than the current prime minister. What a coincidence!
Such is the state of education in Malaysia today. But turning education into a political football is not clever either. Many countries have seen the demise of its government for failing to address issues raised by their youngsters. Education is certainly one of these issues.
Obviously PTPTN is a blunder that needs to be removed and the student debt has to be written off. We need to go back to the drawing board for a new and comprehensive education policy from primary to secondary and tertiary level. A new formula must be found. A formula that is best for the country and its future generation. And if the demand is of some standard and quality, it is not going to be cheap either. But going by the way the government is spending at the moment, I doubt that we do not have the money to fund a new education system.
* Dr Rosli Khan obtained his PhD in Transport Economics from Cranfield University, UK. He has been a practising consultant/company director in the last 25 years, being involved primarily in infrastructure development and economic policies.