Way Forward: Future Malaysian Education System Through NGOs’ Perspectives

Malaysian Students' Global Alliance
5 min
Saturday, November 20, 2021

Way Forward: Future Malaysian Education System Through NGOs’ Perspectives

*Opinions reflected in this article are of the author’s unless specified.

Education policies are formulated through a multi-stakeholders collaboration and contribution, which also include communities at large such as external agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Education NGOs  have proven to play a strong facilitation role in shaping the overall educational direction across various areas pertaining to every party involved within the climate, namely students and teachers. They are the “trusting bridge” in ensuring diversity and inclusion between all actors in academic institutions. At times, they are considered as the mediator to voice out concerns and opinions of other stakeholders and directly communicate them to higher authorities (e.g. the government) that determine the outcome of future policies. 

In Malaysia, there are various NGOs that advocate for education equality and equity as a whole. It is important to note that several NGOs are led by students and youths themselves which further accentuated the importance of their positions in decision-making of education policies. Their advocacy work, however, tends to reflect specific issues within the education climate that they equally believe should be resolved. Some of these issues are urban-rural education inequities, mental health support provision in schools, sex education, and general diversity and inclusion. In COVID-19 education, several other challenges arose which affected all education stakeholders. Due to this, members in NGOs have organised campaigns and programs to address issues that are more relevant to the current situation as well as problems that are still prevalent but have yet to be resolved. 

MSGA’s Advocacy Department of 20/21 engaged with Malaysian Youth for Education Reform (MYER) Movement for the final piece of the MYER Movement have said to observe five prevalent issues pertaining to the Malaysian education system during COVID-19. The organisation has been pushing for government agencies to address these issues which include: 1) accessibility towards online learning; 2) transition for SPM students to tertiary education; 3) SOP guidelines for schools to be operated upon; 4) mental health of students; and 5) safety of students especially in the cases of harassments and assaults. 

That being said, Elisa and her whole team in MYER Movement have organised several initiatives and programs to allow further education reforms to be executed. Some of the initiatives are related to the 5 issues that were previously mentioned. The main reason they have endeavoured in doing so was because they believe that the education system is not comprehensive enough to nurture students holistically. The initiatives are as follows:e Education Reform Article Series. MYER Movement is an independent youth-led NGO advocating for education reform and amplifying student voices in Malaysia. Featuring Elisa Shafiqah of MYER Movement, MSGA was able to collect thoughts and opinions that reflect the concerns of the NGO she represents. Elisa Shafiqah is an in-house researcher at MYER Movement in which her works focus on student activism and empowerment of civic literacy. She is currently 20 years old and reading Bachelor of Arts (International and Strategic Studies) at Universiti Malaya. 

Leveraging Everything at Your Disposal

Resources come in many forms. And without realising them, they are actually at everyone’s disposal. In order to recognise resources, especially for NGOs, they are to look within their organisations before focusing on external relations. Forming organisational direction, capacity building and advancing the importance of human capital are some primary steps in recognising the resources in an organisation. When it comes to education-based advocacy, it is paramount to understand the capacity and capability of one’s own organisation to focus on niche or specific areas within education. Reflecting MYER Movement’s organisation, as the members are students themselves, they regard their positions as their audience as well to realise the concerns and struggles that they face as a student. Through this, they are able to advance their advocacy and emphasise education reform as their primary direction. 

On the other hand, leveraging external relations and community engagement provide larger benefits to NGOs for their target audience. Elisa said, “organizations tend to be out-numbered or merely non-profit. Therefore, synergizing with similar like-minded NGOs will allow resources to be obtained and distributed strategically. With this, logistical issues can be tackled easily. “ As there are NGOs that have similarity in their organisational strategic direction, capitalising one’s assets and collaborating with another will create a large pool of resources to be used by everyone. Elisa also mentioned that advocacy is a collaborative effort, thus, it is significant for organisations and activists to be collective in promoting the reforms together. The bigger the circle is, the larger the impact can be seen. Furthermore, by allowing audiences to be a part of the advocacy also allow inclusion for them to help promote a cause that they believe in and provide them a chance to be a changemaker. With the addition of technology and a strategic approach, education-based advocacy can be accessible to every corner of the country in a highly interactive and engageable manner across all age groups.

Education Current Plights and Way Forward Pledges

  1. Literasi Advokasi Challenge. A one-month capacity building programme that witnessed more than 80 youths to be empowered through civic education and advocacy. Participants were provided with the necessary training materials that cover various aspects of civic education, such as youth participation and democratic values. The participants, which comprised students from the age of 15 to 35 from all over Malaysia, were expected to build numerous advocacy plans based on several problem statements. This digital programme was empowered by Felo Parlimen and Undi18.

  2. Projek Literasi Seksualiti. An educational advocacy project which aims to push for the addition of sex education in Malaysia’s current educational syllabus. The project is an online campaign that shares a basic understanding of sex education by producing infographics and creating safe spaces to understand critical topics such as consent, sexual care and sexually transmitted diseases.

  3. Project Suara Student. A student-led project which explores the student activism scene in Malaysia and promoting the importance of student activism and empowerment. Through the modes of interactive infographics, the project has dissected the history of Malaysian student activism, approaches taken and highlighted local activists to look up to with an engagement reaching over 1000 accounts. Recently, the project has organized a webinar with the topic ‘Demistyfing Student Activism in Malaysia’ with Wong Yan Ke (former President of UM Association of New Youth), Veena (President of Mahasiswa MUDA Johor), Muhammad Alshatri (Senior Program Officer of SUARAM) and Calvin Yeoh (President of Young Democrats Malaysia).

  4. Project Legal Rights for Students. A project focused on reviewing and analysing the current mechanisms of accountability that are available to Malaysian school students in situations where an abuse of power by an educator has occurred. The project will set up a national survey on accountability mechanisms in Malaysian schools soon.

  5. Project Malaysian Education Blueprint.  Led by a team of researchers and analysts to review the important document in the Malaysian education system, the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025. The analysis covers the aspect of accessibility towards education, quality of education received, equity and unity among stakeholders and lastly, the efficiency of budget spending. In this project, articles are written with call-to-actions to push for reforms following the four pillars dissected. The initiative was well received and was covered in several newspaper outlets. 

Call-to-actions and Conclusion

One overarching demand that MYER Movement wants to express is to push for the reform of the current education system so that it can be an inclusive education system that not only focuses on the academic spectrum but other achievements and overall well-being. Elisa and her team would like to emphasise on the inclusion of students as the main stakeholder in discussions, considerations and decision-making pertaining to education policies. Excluding students’ voices will result in ineffective, discriminatory and non-inclusive blueprints and policies. From this, students’ needs are not able to be accommodated. In turn, it will affect the overall provision of education, including quality of education, accessibility, infrastructure, and everything that is related to education for everyone that is involved in academic institutions. Therefore, consultations must be made with students and society to ensure each angle of the education system is improved significantly.

MSGA pushes for the same demands and call-to-actions when it comes to education reform. As a student-led organisation ourselves, there is only so much that we can do to voice out our opinions and concerns in regard to the Malaysian education system. However, we strive for our voices, representing over 80,000 Malaysian students locally and globally, to be heard, respected and included in formulating future education policies for the greater good of Malaysian students and teachers. To end, our endeavours will not stop here until we achieve education reform that benefits everyone equally and equitably. 

By: Ungku ‘Arifin

Vice President of Advocacy 2020/2021

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