Reaching the unreached in Malaysia through education
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF features 'perspectives' from advocates around the world about this landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children. Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education TAN SRI DATO’ MUHYIDDIN MOHD YASSIN uses his Government’s policies as a lens to examine the role of states in providing education and institutional protection to children.
KUALA LUMPUR, 20 November 2009 - The desire to attain the best education in life is a common aspiration that binds all people together. Education is a universal dream, one that grants transformative seeds of opportunity to every child. It is the dream of a young girl who pores over her books by candlelight and carefully tucks them into her bag for school the next day. It is the dream of a little boy who falls asleep to the humming rhythm of a city, and the same dream of children who wake up to the sound of boats returning from the early morning catch.
In Malaysia today, children and adults enjoy access to education as part of the legacy formed more than 50 years ago by the founders of our country. Shortly after independence, the Government passed the 1952 Education Ordinance, resolving to honour education as a basic right. This legislation laid the groundwork for strong Government commitment to investing in education, which was further enhanced by the country’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1995. Learning in Malaysia was democratised, ensuring that all children have the right to schooling, regardless of their sex, social or economic background, resident or HIV status. By providing free and compulsory primary education, as well as 11 years of universal education, we are turning the spirit of the Convention into a reality.
Government investment in education
Our forefathers recognised the singular importance of quality education in meeting the development needs of the country, and shaped their policies around the idea that when every child has an education the entire nation prospers. By committing continuous and substantial Government expenditure on education, we have worked tirelessly to lift children out of the shadows of disparity.
Public investment in schools has been a key factor in successfully reducing poverty from the high levels seen in the 1970s to the negligible level prevalent today. In 1970, one third of Malaysia’s population aged six and over had never attended school. Today, Malaysia is close to achieving the second Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education, with almost all school-age children completing six years of learning.
Likewise, the Government has worked towards ending gender disparity by ensuring that women have access not only to school but also to the full range of business and political employment enjoyed by their male counterparts. These efforts complement the Convention’s vision that every child’s individual personality, talents and abilities should be developed to the fullest.
Equality of opportunity
Our goals in meeting the requirements of the Convention are to provide equity in education, regardless of whether a child is from a minority group, has special needs or comes from a vulnerable community. One way we are contributing to this effort is to ensure parents and families have resources to enable their children’s full engagement in school. Poorer families are assisted through support programs that help with uniforms and shoes, scholarships, textbook loan schemes, tuition vouchers, supplementary feeding and school milk programs, school health facilities and residential schools.
While we have made great progress in achieving universal enrolment, the more elusive challenge now facing the country is guaranteeing access to quality education for the most vulnerable children. In addition to building classrooms and putting children in them, educating disenfranchised children requires identifying disparities in children’s abilities and socioeconomic status. Addressing these concerns involves acknowledging the importance of self-accessed, self-directed and self-paced learning.
Malaysia is charting a new path by using information and communication technology (ICT) to make education relevant and attractive in an increasingly globalised world. More than half of all schools across Malaysia currently have computer labs and nearly every school is equipped with Internet access, courtesy of the Government’s SchoolNet project.
Developing ICT infrastructure, however, is only the first step. Our broader vision is to awaken and nurture the desire for 21st century knowledge and skills, and to transform the education system towards a ‘Smart School’ model that utilises technology in learning. We are integrating this approach into a student-centred system that stimulates thinking, creativity and caring by teaching ICT literacy in primary and secondary schools. Additionally, we have introduced holistic education through 88 pilot Smart Schools and by equipping special-needs schools with computers and courseware for the hearing and vision impaired.
The endeavour for technologically advanced education is not without its challenges, and staying on the forefront of infrastructure development and cutting-edge technology, as well as providing access and equity to advanced learning tools, requires significant resources. One method for overcoming these hurdles is through strategic partnerships with the private sector. These collaborations not only engage the community but also create exciting opportunities for students to expand their horizons beyond traditional academic offerings.
A promise to every child
One such project the Government has undertaken involves working with Malaysia’s first cable TV provider, Astro, to bring the world to children living in the remotest interiors of East Malaysia. With this partnership, we are beaming learning content through satellites and giving these children the opportunity to interact with science and technology through mobile learning trucks.
As the world grows increasingly connected by technology and the transfer of ideas, comprehensive education is becoming a reality for children across the globe. But much remains to be done to ensure that regardless of age, sex, race, ethnic origin or socioeconomic status, all children are given the opportunity to learn.
In Malaysia, education is no longer a distant dream, but a promise we have made to every child. Drawing on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we will press on in our efforts to care for the most vulnerable and isolated of children. Our hope is to build a better future for the children of our country and, in turn, to see them build a better future for our world.
A father of four, Tan Sri Dato Muhyiddin Bin Mohd Yassin is committed to ensuring students in Malaysia receive a well-rounded education that blends classroom learning with extra-curricular and sporting activities. Minister Yassin previously served as the Minister of Youth and Sports.
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