Our research

Research report

Choice, competition and the role of private providers in the Malaysian school system

Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz, Afif Abdullah and Wan Saiful Wan Jan

This project aimed to examine whether or not choice and competition exist in the Malaysian system, to describe models that utilise market competition, and to explore how choice and competition can be strengthened.

The five key research questions asked if choice and competition exist; whether there are any barriers to greater choice and competition; what models currently exist; what can be learned from the various models; and how Malaysia can bring more choice and competition into the school system.

A brief overview of the Malaysian education system is provided, detailing the origins of national schools, English national schools, religious schools in the guise of sekolah pondok and madrasah, vernacular and national type schools. The impact of subsequent legislation is considered as well, up until the most recent policy announcements. All of this is placed into a timeline for easy reference. We then discuss what we learned from the literature review and members of the advisory group, addressing each of the key research questions in turn.

We conclude that Malaysian literature advocating choice and competition is limited because central planning has been allowed to become the natural state of affairs when it comes to education in the country; but that this situation is changing. In practice, there has been choice and competition through the existence of many different types of educational establishments, but a desire to protect that sphere (and a realisation of greater choice in the past) is leading to more civil society awareness.

We recommend that the merits of choice and competition be injected into mainstream thinking on Malaysian policymaking in education through lobbying, while noting the challenges of ethnic, religious and class differences in Malaysian society. We call upon political parties to decentralise power to schools themselves and we recommend that civil society actors be strengthened.