KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Janelle Chuah is a soon-to-be college sophomore studying biology and pre-medical studies at Waynesburg University in southwestern Pennsylvania. Despite Chuah’s near perfect English and her visible ease on campus, she is originally from Malaysia, a country struggling with complex educational problems.
Chuah is from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. In an interview, Chuah spoke passionately about her parents’ many sacrifices to keep her and her two older sisters in better educational programs than the nation’s public schools. She was fortunate to attend a prestigious Chinese public school for a time, but she says that her parents soon put her into homeschooling programs to better prepare her for college abroad.
Chuah’s strong desire to attend college is not the norm in Malaysia. World Education News & Reviews reports that relatively few students in Malaysia go on to college after secondary school. The World Bank considers funding for education in Malaysia to be adequate, but students from this country still do not do as well on tests as other low-income nations in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The World Bank claims that poor training for teachers and a highly centralized educational system contribute to Malaysia’s educational shortcomings. Schools in Malaysia are limited in their ability to respond to local needs as a result of centralized education policies that hinders schools’ autonomy.
Chuah’s parents recognized the problems in the Malaysian public educational system. They enrolled Chuah in an educational center and then an eight-year cyber school program called K12 that teaches in English. Her tuition was expensive, and Chuah explained that her parents used their income tax returns to pay for her to stay in this more advanced program.
Chuah’s father was suddenly out of work just before she graduated from high school. In order to financially provide for Chuah to stay in her cyber school, Chuah’s parents began to sell their assets one by one. When the time came for Chuah to apply for her U.S student visa, her parents sold their family’s house so that Chuah could meet the financial requirements necessary to obtain the student visa and study in the U.S.
Although problems exist for education in Malaysia, the government introduced the Malaysia Education Blueprint in 2013 to begin correcting some of these issues. The Blueprint recognizes the need for closing social gaps, keeping children in school until upper secondary school and improving test scores to begin tackling the problems. The Blueprint suggests many reforms that include making teacher requirements stricter and promoting creative and leadership skills within schools.
The Blueprint aspires to produce “access, quality, equity, unity, and efficiency” within education in Malaysia. These goals are ambitious considering the work the nation still needs to do in order to achieve them, but the Blueprint’s plan provides the structure in which these changes can occur.
Chuah’s story of sacrifice and dedication to get a more advanced education came with extreme consequences for her family. Her story shows just how difficult it can be for someone in Malaysia to get a quality education that adequately prepares him or her for further studies. Hopefully, the Blueprint’s acknowledgment of and plan to solve the problems with education in Malaysia will improve the system for future students in the nation to succeed.
– Addie Pazzynski