Education in South-East Asia 9781472544469, 9781441101419

Education in South-East Asia is a comprehensive critical reference guide to education in South East Asia. With chapters

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Series Editor’s Preface The volumes in this series will look at education in virtually every territory in the world. The initial volume, Education Around the World: A Comparative Introduction, aims to provide an insight to the field of international and comparative education. It looks at its history and development and then examines a number of major themes at scales from local to regional to global. It is important to bear such scales of observation in mind because the remainder of the series is inevitably regionally and nationally based. The identification of the regions within which to group countries has sometimes been a very simple task; elsewhere, less so. Europe, for example, has multiple volumes and more than 50 countries. National statistics vary considerably in their availability and accuracy, and in any case date rapidly. Consequently the editors of each volume point the reader towards access to regional and international datasets, available online, that are regularly updated. A key purpose of the series is to give some visibility to a large number of countries that, for various reasons, rarely, if ever, have coverage in the literature of this field. For this volume, Education in South-East Asia, it has been a simple task to identify the region. A degree of regional identity and cohesion is evident in the existence of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The ten members of this well-established and meaningful group, are joined by TimorLeste. This region embraces a wide range of national circumstances from among the most educationally advanced in the world to among the least developed economically. The majority fall into the ‘middle income’ bracket, a status often overlooked by literatures examining the richest and the poorest nations. Consequently this volume makes a somewhat special contribution to the series, and I would like to thank the editor, Dr Lorraine Symaco, for all the effort and skill she has brought to the task. Colin Brock Series Editor

The Contributors Luise Ahrens received her PhD from Fordham University, USA. Her research areas have been centred around higher education issues in South-East Asia. Her present work is at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she has supported the reform of higher education at that institution and throughout Cambodia for twenty years. Bob Boughton is an Associate Professor at the University of New England (UNE), Australia. He has been undertaking research in Timor-Leste since 2004, on the role of adult education in post-conflict development. Prior to his appointment at UNE, Bob worked for over two decades as an adult educator and development worker with Australian Aboriginal organizations and communities. Murray Brown has been engaged with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education for 25 years as a secondary school teacher, Advisor in Educational Computing at Massey University, New Zealand, and with the New Zealand Ministry of Education as a Curriculum Facilitator, Senior Advisor for ICT and Manager for e-Learning. Since 2008 he has been an educational consultant working in New Zealand and Brunei Darussalam. Haji Abdul Rahim Derus is the Director of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Chief Information Officer for the Ministry of Education, Brunei Darussalam. He is actively involved in many ICT projects at the ministerial and national levels including the e-Government projects and appointed as the Project Director for the e-Hijrah: ICT in Education Strategy and Blueprint. Letchmi Devi is Lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Her doctoral dissertation focused on instructional differentiation strategies and challenges faced by Singaporean secondary school teachers in mixed ability classrooms With more than twelve years of experience in teaching and curriculum development, she constantly provides professional development and consultancy services to teachers in Singapore and abroad.

The Contributors


S. Gopinathan is presently Adjunct Professor at UniSim, Singapore and served as the Dean of the School of Education at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is a founding member of the Educational Research Association of Singapore, serves on the International Advisory Board of the Asia Pacific Journal of Education, and co-edits the Routledge Critical Studies in Asian Education. Martin Hayden is Professor and Head of the School of Education, and a member of the Centre for Higher Education Policy and Practice at Southern Cross University, Australia. He is co-editor of a book on the higher education system in Vietnam and author of various chapters, articles and reports on issues in education in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Mark Heyward holds a Masters and a PhD from the University of Tasmania. Mark has worked as a teacher, a school principal and an education consultant for over thirty years, the last twenty in Indonesia. Mark co-founded Sekolah Nusa Alam, an international school in Eastern Indonesia and currently works for Research Triangle Institute (RTI Inernational) as an education consultant. Le Thi Ngoc Lan is Deputy Director of the Research Management Office at the Foreign Trade University, Hanoi, Vietnam. She is a national consultant to the Strengthening Governance and Management in Higher Education in Vietnam project being undertaken for the Ministry of Education and Training, with funding from the World Bank. Hema Letchamanan holds an MSc in Comparative and International Education from the University of Oxford, UK. She is a Lecturer at Taylor’s University, Malaysia, and her research interests include education for refugees, education in developing countries/South-East Asia and curriculum development. She is currently carrying out research on refugees’ quality learning centres. Richard Martin was previously Education, Science and Training Counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam, also covering Lao PDR and Cambodia. Richard served as Director of International Cooperation and Development at Southern Cross University, Australia and currently operates his own consultancy business providing support and assistance to various government and international organizations in Australia and South-East Asia. Vincent McNamara has worked for the Victorian State Board of Education in Australia. He also served as a consultant in the Solomon Islands, Vietnam


The Contributors

and Myanmar and was Deputy Director of Education in Papua New Guinea. He has also worked as a consultant in Planning and Administration to the Ministry of Education in Cambodia for almost two decades. Richard Noonan is an education and training economist and planning specialist and holds doctoral degrees from Columbia University, USA, and Stockholm University, Sweden. Richard has extensive experience working in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Since the mid-1990s he has worked mainly in South-East Asia, especially Laos, where he has lived since 2002. Inthasone Phetsiriseng began his career in the performing arts in Laos and continued his studies in Moscow and Charles Sturt University, New South Wales, Australia. Since 1992 he has worked with the Ministry of Education and Sports in Laos and has served as a consultant for the Asian Development Bank, the International Labour Organization, UNESCO, and UNICEF. Phouvanh Phommalangsy holds a Masters Degree from the Flinders University, Australia. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland, Australia. His dissertation involves an analysis of donor engagement on policy development in basic education in Laos since the early 1990s. Previously he served as Education Officer at the UNICEF country office in Laos Chaiyuth Punyasavatsut is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Economics, Thammasat University,Thailand. He holds a PhD in Applied Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. Chaiyuth serves as the national expert on several research projects by the Ministry of Education in Thailand, UNESCO, Bangkok,and the World-Bank. He is currently leading the project on the National Education Account for Thailand. Moses Samuel is Professor and Deputy Dean at the Faculty of Education, University of Malaya,Malaysia. A teacher educator with more than 30 years’ experience, his research and teaching interests include literacy development, discourse analysis, language planning and policy, and TESOL teacher education. His current research involves representations of the politics of medium of instruction in media discourse. Sopantini is a graduate of the State University of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. A former teacher, school principal and education consultant, she holds a Masters Degree from Deaken University, Australia and is currently a PhD

The Contributors


candidate at the University of Tasmania. She co-founded Sekolah Nusa Alam in Lombok and has worked on international development projects in Eastern Indonesia. Saefudin Syafi’i obtained his Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Sydney, Australia. He has been involved in projects under the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Indonesia and has taught in institutes of Islamic Studies, where he also took part as an activist in community empowerment projects, specializing in small-scale business development. Lorraine Pe Symaco is Director of the Centre for Research in International and Comparative Education (CRICE) at the University of Malaya, Malaysia. She holds a DPhil in Education from the University of Oxford, UK. Lorraine is editor of the Journal of International and Comparative Education (JICE) and co-editor (with Colin Brock) of Education in South East Asia (2011). Jason Tan is Associate Professor at the National Institute of Education, Singapore. He obtained his doctoral degree in comparative education from the State University of New York at Buffalo, USA. Among his publications is Going to School in East Asia (co-edited with Gerard A.Postiglione, 2008). Jason is executive editor of the Asia Pacific Journal of Education. Meng Yew Tee has a PhD in Education (specializing in e-learning), an MBA specializing in Information Technology, and degrees in Journalism and Psychology. His professional background is equally and necessarily diverse in his pursuit of understanding ways for education be more effective. His research interests include knowledge construction, communities of practice, organizational learning and e-learning. Anthony Welch is Professor of Education at the University of Sydney, Australia. A policy specialist, hehas acted as a consultant to national and international governments and agencies, as well as to US institutions and foundations, particularly in higher education. Substantial project experience includes work in East and South-East Asia. Recent books include ASEAN Industries and the Challenge from China (2011), and Higher Education in Southeast Asia (2011).

Introduction Education and Issues in South-East Asia: A Regional Overview Lorraine Pe Symaco South-East Asia is one of the most compact regions in the world, and also one of the most economically, culturally and politically diverse – with approximately 600 million in population, or 9 per cent of the total global population. Issues of scale would need to be considered in discussing the region in terms of, among others, education. This book aims to alleviate somewhat the relatively thin literature on education in South-East Asia by presenting country case studies on the education systems and selected issues of the ten country members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Timor-Leste. In this regard, I would like to thank all the contributors who have worked on this project or have made valuable contributions to the research and literature in this field. Alongside the eleven case-study chapters are five additional thematic chapters, a ‘second chapter’ on the country involved which deals with issues ranging from humanitarian, religious, and ethnic to development concerns of education. Each of the country case study chapters lists relevant education database links which can provide readers with updated education information pertinent to each country.

South-East Asia: A Myriad of Contrasts From populations ranging from as small as 400,000 to almost 100 million, from landlocked mountainous terrains to archipelagos, South-East Asia is a myriad of contrasts. Economically, it is home to highly industrialized nations such as Singapore and Malaysia, and to low-income Cambodia and Myanmar. Most of the countries are classified by the World Bank (2012) under the low income to low-middle income status range, with the exception of the high-income states

xiv Introduction

of Singapore and Brunei Darussalam, while Malaysia and Thailand are classified as upper-middle income. The ASEAN, established in 1967, with its secretariat based in Jakarta, serves as the main organization linking the diverse South-East Asian countries. All countries included in this book are member states, aside from Timor-Leste, which filed its application for membership in 2011. An ASEAN 2020 is envisioned, where the region would be ‘a concert of Southeast Asian nations, outward-looking, living in peace, stability and prosperity, bonded together in partnership in dynamic development and in a community of caring societies’ (ASEAN, 2012). Additionally, the ‘ASEAN Economic Community 2015’ is proposed: it is hoped that this will help propel better economic integration among member states through the free movement of skilled labour, goods, services and investment. Financial sub-sector services, such as banking and capital markets, among others, are marked for liberalization by 2015 (ASEAN, 2012). This move is reckoned to make South-East Asia a major growth force in the global community by luring greater investments from outside the region as a result of the anticipated integration of the member countries in an association that straddles a huge section of the global economic configuration. Culturally, the region is a kaleidoscope image of influences resulting from colonial legacies – from the British in Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore; the French in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam; the Dutch in Indonesia; the Portuguese in Timor-Leste; and the Spanish and the American in the Philippines. Thailand is the only country in the region that was not colonized by the West. The result is a multitude of influences reflected in the South-East Asian countries’ languages, institutions and governmental and business policies. Because of incisive, not merely superficial, influences from the West, religion in South-East Asia has become greatly diverse, from Islam and Buddhism to Christianity. The religious influences, as may be expected, extended to political and business matters. In particular, education and political philosophy were much affected. But religion aside, and speaking only of political systems in the region, we find great diversity, as may be well exemplified by the liberally democratic Thailand and the Philippines to the more restrictive Vietnam and Myanmar. Just as diverse are the geographical-geologic features of the region ranging from mountainous territories to open seas, and with some of the countries being part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Hence, large parts of the region are rather frequent hosts to some of the most devastating natural disasters – typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions – words, or their native equivalents, that are familiar to all who live there. The devastation brought by these to schooling and to physical facilities makes it all the more difficult to



address the matter of education throughout the region, given that much of the region most often traversed by nature’s furies are the less developed zones.

Education for Development Changes in the global economy over recent decades have repositioned the role played by education. The 1996 Havana regional conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) concluded that ‘education in general and higher education in particular are essential instruments for facing up with success to the challenges posed by the modern world’ (UNESCO, 1996: 3). Governments in South-East Asia, in their policy framework, priority goals and budgeting, have felt constrained to position their education sector at the forefront – from primary to higher education – with a view towards achieving greater socio-economic advancement by equipping its human resource with the necessary training needed in the rapidly developing global economy. Across the region, policies emphasize the role of the education sector in national development plans; as is the case, for example, with Brunei’s Wawasan (National Vision) 2035 and Malaysia’s Vision 2020 – both of which visions proceed from the aspiration of Brunei and Malaysia to be highly developed/ industrialized countries by 2035 and 2020 respectively. Especially significant is the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations – specifically the Universal Education goal (primary schooling) – with education policies across the region setting this goal as an international benchmark to be attained by 2015. In addition to this, the role of higher education in South-East Asia has been highlighted with regard to equipping its university graduates with skills needed for the knowledge-based economy. This is especially relevant to countries that have a young population such as Cambodia, Lao PDR, the Philippines and Timor-Leste, where the median age is below 25 (CIA, 2012). As mentioned earlier, issues of scale/disparities should be considered when discussing the education programme of any country. The impact of native culture, religion and politics in one society in one place inevitably influences the make-up of the educational aims and arrangements in the region. The chapters included in this book will now be discussed briefly in the following comments. The chapter on Brunei Darussalam by Murray Brown and Haji Abdul Rahim Derus focuses on the role of information communication technology (ICT)

xvi Introduction

in the educational policies set by the government. Brown and Rahim give an overview of the history of education in Brunei and also focus on the macro policy changes that have been set in this area since 2006 and the innovations made in the Education Strategic Plan for 2012–17. The SPN21, or National Education System for the 21st Century, is discussed in line with the development of e-Hijrah, or the transformative use of ICT in education for development. Vincent McNamara discusses the policy initiatives set for education in Cambodia. Sector-wide changes affecting quality, teacher capacity and decentralization, among other topics, are also discussed. Access and disparities issues and capacity development problems are highlighted. The second thematic chapter on higher education in Cambodia, by Luise Ahrens and Vincent McNamara, reviews the recent trends in higher education and contextualizes them within the conditions prevailing in the country. Similarly, Bob Boughton examines the role of education in post-conflict Timor-Leste, and the role of education in decolonization and development. Boughton’s chapter on Timor-Leste, along with McNamara’s case study chapter on the education system in Cambodia and the thematic chapter of Ahrens and McNamara, all point to the increasing role of education as a humanitarian response. Alongside this we find reflections on the role of international organizations in post-conflict/fragile states like Cambodia and Timor-Leste, a matter which is discussed in all three chapters. The chapter on Indonesia by Mark Heyward and Sopantini examines the education system and reforms of the country in three periods: the colonial years prior to independence; the period 1942–98; and the post-Suharto period. Additionally, conventional issues such as quality and equity are discussed, along with disparities between the rural and urban sectors of the country, as such divergences affect education. The country case study chapter on the Philippines by Lorraine Pe Symaco likewise looks at the issues of quality, access and equity in education. Access and equity in education are mirrored by the education of indigenous peoples and Muslims in the Philippines. Policy orientations set or being considered by the government to address such concerns are discussed. The second chapter on Indonesia is provided by Anthony Welch and Saefudin Syafi’i; this part expounds on the higher education system in that archipelagic country. A comparative analysis of higher education in Indonesia is made with reference to other Islamic higher education systems in South-East Asia, particularly that of Malaysia. Quality issues in Islamic higher education, in general, are also examined in the chapter. Lorraine Pe Symaco looks at the role of higher education in development strategies in the Philippines. This thematic chapter, which acts as the second



chapter on the country, provides a general overview of literature on development and education expansion. Policy reforms and initiatives made by the government and issues related to the tertiary sector and development are also discussed. Richard Noonan, Phouvanh Phommalangsy and Inthasone Phetsiriseng expand on the education system of Lao PDR. The chapter focuses on the issues and strategies set from 2000 onwards. Among other matters, this chapter considers the financing of education, and quality and access issues. The chapter concludes by focusing on the significance of involving local communities in decisions pertinent to their learning needs. Similarly for Vietnam, Martin Hayden and Le Thi Ngoc Lan give an overview of the regulatory framework of the education system in that country while highlighting the issue of quality and challenges faced by the sector in the areas of finance, management, teaching and curriculum, and equity, among others. The chapter concludes with a note of the need to orient the education sector to the needs of the twenty-first century. Chapters discussing equity issues are mirrored by the two chapters on Malaysia and the thematic chapter on Singapore. Moses Samuel and Meng Yew Tee give readers an overview of the education system in Malaysia, highlighting the role of language policy in general and the overriding political nature of this issue. This brings to the fore ethnic policy orientations that are well imbedded in the country’s multifaceted combination of races, cultures, languages and needs. The thematic chapter on Singapore similarly brings to the forefront the ethnic issue in education. Jason Tan discusses the Malay ethnic minority in Singapore and their disadvantaged state in educational achievement. The chapter starts off with a historical background of the education of Malays from 1959 to 1980 and then discusses the courses of action taken, relevant to the access of Malays to education. The second chapter on Malaysia deals with the education of refugees and asylum-seeking youth of school age. Hema Letchamanan documents the challenges these people meet in accessing education in line with the immigration and asylum policies of Malaysia. Letchmi Ponnusamy and Saravanan Gopinathan look at the transitions and initiatives that arose in the development of education in Singapore, including the use of English language and the bilingualism policy and the development of national cohesion through citizenship education. The second part of the chapter deals with issues confronting the current system, such as those that relate to globalization, teacher training capacity and equity concerns. The chapter on Myanmar by Richard Martin starts with historical developments in the country. It also gives an overview – aside from the particular

xviii Introduction

problems of basic, higher and vocational education – of the general character of the civil education system, Buddhist education and teacher training issues. It further considers the impetus to reform provided by the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in 2010. The financing of education in Thailand is expounded by Chaiyuth Punyasavatsut. Whilst financial mechanisms in the education system take precedence in the chapter, the universal issues of efficiency, quality and equity are also looked into. The chapter ends with recommended finance-related policy reorientations that are expected to result in better quality education overall.

References ASEAN (2012). (accessed 30 June 2012). CIA (2012). The World Fact Book. (accessed 1 July 2012). UNESCO (1996). Regional Conference on Policies and Strategies for the Transformation of Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Havana: UNESCO. World Bank (2012). World Development Indicators. data-catalog/world-development-indicators (accessed 30 June 2012.)

Useful Websites Relevant international datasets for ASEAN education: South-East Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO): http://www. UNESCO Institute of Statistics: aspx World Bank development indicators: world-development-indicators


Brunei Darussalam: Planning for Educational Transformation and ICT in Education Murray Brown and Haji Abdul Rahim Derus

Introduction Countries around the world are grappling with how education systems can meet the wide range of expectations and demands that are emerging in our increasingly complex and interconnected world, and Brunei Darussalam, although already a wealthy country by South-East Asian standards, is no exception. Information Communication Technology (ICT) in education and its integration in education are seen by many as a powerful way of addressing these challenges. This paper uses a framework developed by Robert Kozma (2008) as a way of contextualizing and describing changes in education in Brunei with a particular reference to strategic planning for education and ICT. Kozma has created a conceptual framework, ‘The Knowledge Ladder’, as a reference point for educational policy makers to plan for educational policy to support economic and social development over time. Kozma has aligned his knowledge ladder to an economic development ladder developed by Jeffrey Sachs (2008). The economic development ladder describes the stages of economic growth that a country may go through as subsistence, commercial, emerging and information. Sachs identifies four factors that drive economic growth: capital accumulation, capital deepening, high quality labour and knowledge creation. As economies develop, their growth moves from a dependence on physical capital to one that increasingly depends on the development of human capital, that is, the development of the skills, knowledge, creativity and innovation of its people. Building on these ideas, Kozma (2008: 6) notes that ‘Educational change can contribute to development goals by:

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Education in South-East Asia

Providing the skills needed for improved health and welfare and to participate in the formal economy: the basic education approach. Increasing the knowledge level of the workforce and citizenry and their ability to use technology: the knowledge acquisition approach. Increasing the ability of the workforce and citizenry to use knowledge to add value to economic output and apply it to solve complex, real-world problems: the knowledge deepening approach. Increasing the capability of the workforce and citizenry to innovate and produce new knowledge and by increasing the capability of citizens to benefit from this new knowledge: the knowledge creation approach.’

These overlapping and complementary approaches to economic development have different implications for education.

History of Education in Brunei1 Formal education in Brunei Darussalam began in 1912. Since then it has evolved over the years to meet a range of challenges. The first school in Brunei was a Malay medium primary school established in 1912, followed by schools in other parts of the country. In 1916 the first Chinese vernacular school was established, followed by the establishment of the first non-government English medium primary school in 1931 in Seria. By 1941 there was a mixture of 32 Malay, Chinese and English primary schools, but there were no secondary schools. With a mainly subsistence economy, the education system was primarily engaged in delivering basic education. Within the Brunei economy it should be noted that the oil industry, which provides most of Brunei’s wealth, was in Sach’s terms already part of the commercial and emerging economy. Throughout Brunei’s economic development, the oil industry has always been more advanced in economic terms than the rest of the country. Along with the establishment of the Education Department in 1951, the first government English preparatory school was established in 1952, with students then progressing to the first English medium secondary school in 1953. The department was headed by the British Resident but with the declaration of the Brunei Constitution in 1959 all internal affairs including education were put directly under the charge of His Majesty, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III. It was not until 1976 that the first local Malay became the Director of Education.

Brunei Darussalam: Planning for Educational Transformation


The First National Development Plan (1954–9) laid down the basic foundation for the infrastructure of Brunei’s current education system of six years of free education in Malay schools for Brunei Malay children aged 6–14 years, and three years of lower secondary and two years of upper secondary. In the early 1950s the qualifications of local teachers were generally only at upper primary level. During the 1950s and 1960s, local teachers were trained at teacher training colleges in Malaysia. In 1956 a Teacher Training Centre was established and became the Brunei Malay Teacher’s College in 1960 and through the 1970s and 1980s was continually upgraded and developed, culminating in 1984 in the Sultan Hassaanal Bolkiah Institute of Education (SHBIE). This was then incorporated into the Faculty of Education in the University of Brunei Darussalam in 1988. In 1966, Malay medium secondary education became available with the establishment of the first Malay medium secondary school or Sekolah Menengah Pertama (SMMP). In these early years the aim of schooling was to provide opportunities to learn and become literate. The focus of education was to provide knowledge and the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic as well as general knowledge in subjects such as geography, health science, handicraft and gardening. The curriculum and textbooks used were mainly from Malaysia and Singapore. At lower secondary, English medium students sat the Lower Certificate of Education (LCE Exam) while Malay medium students sat the Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (SRP), both exams set by the Malaysian Examination Board. At Secondary 5 and Upper 6, English and Malay medium students sat the appropriate Malaysian examinations as well as a range of other technical and vocational examinations from the United Kingdom. In Kosma’s model, the education system reflected basic education but was moving towards the Knowledge Acquisition Phase. Throughout the 1970s the Department of Education developed new sections and capabilities in response to demand, and the provision of free education was extended to six years of primary education followed by three years of lower secondary education. Brunei achieved full independence in January 1984 and this provided the catalyst for the acceleration of reforms and developments in all aspects of education. In an effort to streamline Malay and English medium schooling systems and ensure high levels of proficiency in both English and Malay, the Bilingual Education policy was implemented in 1985. With its implementation, all government schools followed a common national curriculum from pre-school until pre-university. This policy was later extended to private schools, excluding international schools.


Education in South-East Asia

The curriculum from lower primary to lower secondary became more general and all subjects up to lower primary were taught in Malay except English language. In 2008, lower primary mathematics also shifted to English. At the upper primary level all subjects were taught in English except Bahasa Melayu (Malay language), Islamic religious knowledge, physical education, art and history. The Department of Education became part of the Ministry of Education and Health headed by a minister and there were further increases in size with new sections or units added or upgraded to departments. In 1989 the Ministry of Education and Health was split into two separate ministries. During this period several higher educational institutions were established to provide for post-secondary and tertiary education. These were the University of Brunei Darussalam (UBD) in 1985, the Institute of Technology (ITB) 1986, technical and engineering colleges, vocational schools and the School of Nursing (1986). Wasan Vocational School (2005) and Universiti Islam Sultan Sharif Ali (UNISSA) 2007 were established to meet an ever increasing demand for technical vocational and higher education. Increasingly, changes in the school curriculum focused on the emerging needs of the country for human resources with capabilities and skills in science and technology. Science became compulsory in 1988 at secondary level and in 1992 in upper primary. The early 1990s also saw the introduction of ICT for the first time into the education system. This phase was characterized by computers and ICT being primarily used as a subject of learning in the school curriculum, with new subjects such as computer studies (1993) introduced at the secondary level, as well as increased emphasis on the teaching and learning of ICT across the curriculum. A range of special initiatives for technical and vocational education and new pedagogies were also used to try to improve the quality of instruction. Throughout the 1990s there was also increasing localization of the school curriculum, certification and textbooks as well as a number of new bodies and departments to reflect these new aspirations and maturity within the system. These included the Brunei Darussalam National Qualifications Accreditation Council (1990), the Brunei Darussalam Technical And Vocational Educational Council (1991), the Department of Technical Education (1993), the Special Education Unit (1994), the Department of Co-Curriculum (1995), the Science Technology and Environment Partnership (STEP) Centre (1999), the Department of Information and Communication Technology (2001) and the Department of Planning and Estate Management (2002).

Brunei Darussalam: Planning for Educational Transformation


In 1997 an Inclusive Education policy was also implemented, making provision for pupils with special education needs to attend mainstream schools. By now students who obtained the required number of O levels could further their studies in Brunei-Cambridge GCE A levels, or enrol in technical and vocational institutions, the teacher training colleges or seek employment. Within ICT, additional computer laboratories (or ICT labs) were built for primary and secondary schools. The ICT labs, library and staff room in schools were also connected to the internet under the Internet for Schools Project. Increasingly in this phase of the use of ICT, including multimedia, the internet was used as a medium to enhance instruction or as a replacement for other media without changing the beliefs about the approaches to, and the methods of, teaching and learning. The establishment of a separate Department of ICT (DICT) within the Ministry of Education was a key development and a major milestone on Brunei’s ICT journey. Approval was granted to establish the unit in 2001 and it became operational towards the end of 2002. This small team of five people with a specific focus on ICT was unique in Brunei’s ministries and was recognition of the increasing importance of ICT both within the Ministry and in schools. This phase of development fits the Knowledge Acquisition phase of the Knowledge Ladder moving towards Knowledge Deepening. In 2003 a new Education Order was promulgated which aimed to develop an effective, efficient and equitable system of education that reflected the national philosophy of Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) as well as the needs of a modern, technological and ICT era. The importance of education was further reinforced in 2007 with the Compulsory Education Order which mandated that every Brunei child residing in the country above the age of six and who has not reached 15 receives compulsory education for at least nine years. Due to a variety of strategies implemented by the Ministry of Education and parents becoming more aware of the value of education, the educational system had made a huge impact on Brunei society. By 2001 (Leete, 2008) most Bruneians (94 per cent) had attended school and 48 per cent had reached secondary level and above, compared to a generation before when 31 per cent of citizens had never attended school. The success of the development of these educational opportunities has also seen a steady increase in literacy rates. These had risen from 69 per cent in 1971 to 94.7 per cent literacy in 2001.


Education in South-East Asia

The Brunei Education System By the mid-2000s then, a comprehensive, free, effective and mature education system had been well established in the relatively short space of 50 years. The Brunei system is small and highly centralized, with schools and teachers considered part of the Ministry of Education. These government schools are the most important part of the system. There are also a significant number of private schools in Brunei (30 per cent) and several international schools offering a British and international curriculum working towards GSCE and A level/International Baccalaureate (IB) qualifications. As well, there are a number of religious schools or Arabic schools managed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The Brunei education system is also relatively small and compact. In 2009 there were 256 schools across Brunei divided into four administrative zones. Of the 161 government schools, 119 are primary, 29 secondary, 12 post-secondary and three tertiary education. There were eight schools managed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs: two primary, four secondary, one post-secondary and one tertiary. There were 85 private schools, 81 of which were primary schools. There were 7087 government teachers: 47 teachers in religious schools and 2060 in private schools. There were 77,199 students in government schools, 2,652 in religious schools and 32,138 students in private schools (Ministry of Education, 2009) By 2006 the citizens of Brunei were being provided with a minimum of 12 years of free education (seven primary and five secondary). The main emphasis at the primary level was on literacy, numeracy, science and physical education, as well as civic, spiritual and moral education. The bilingual policy was enabling children to acquire the national language, Malay, and English. English was enabling students to access a greater mass of information in a globalized world, and students were experiencing ICT to promote creativity and independent learning and enhance higher-order thinking skills. The upper primary curriculum strengthened the basic skills in formal education and bilingual competence. Learning was orientated toward the study and understanding of information related to the surroundings and the environment. At the end of upper primary, students were prepared to cope with the variety of subjects offered in the secondary curriculum. At the end of their primary education, students (including those attending Arabic schools) sat for the Primary School Assessment or Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (PSR) before entering the lower secondary level.

Brunei Darussalam: Planning for Educational Transformation


The lower secondary level covered three years of education, at the end of which students sat for the Lower Secondary Assessment or Penilaian Menengah Bawah (PMB). The earlier PSR examination determined the pupils’ programme: either mainstream or Level II. The majority of students proceeded to O level following the mainstream curriculum, whilst Level II catered for those who are motivated more by a vocationally-orientated curriculum rather than an academic one. There was no PMB Level II examination and the programme is fully school-based and carried out on a continuous and less formal basis. For Bahasa Malayu, religious knowledge and MIB, all lower secondary students cover the same curriculum. Based on the PMB performance, mainstream students were placed in either the science or arts stream. Level II students follow the Secondary Vocational Programme (Program Menengah Vokasional (PMV)). The duration of schooling is either two or three years. Education at upper secondary is general in nature, with some provision for specialization in science, arts and technical fields. At the end of the second year, high academic achievers may sit for the Brunei-Cambridge GCE Ordinary level (GCE O level) examination. The PMV students have a number of National Certificate options. Other routes available for secondary students based on their performance at PSR include sports schools and science schools. As noted in the Brunei Darussalam Millennium Development Report (Prime Minister’s Department, 2010: ii), the country is making great strides in education for boys and girls, with enrolment and completion rates in primary schools well over 95 per cent. In addition there are high levels of literacy achieved in the 15–24 age group as well as those above nine years old (Prime Minister’s Department, 2010: 45) The same report (p. 20) notes that absolute deprivation amongst the population has been eliminated, with no difference in income between urban and rural areas. Post-secondary technical colleges and sixth-form colleges have also been established. Sixth form colleges provide a two-year pre-university course leading to the Brunei-Cambridge Advanced level certificate (GCE A level). The tertiary sector centred on UBD and ITB has been growing steadily and showing increasing maturity. The Division of Higher Education within the Ministry of Education was established in April 2008 and a new university – Sultan Sharif Ali Islamic University (UNISSA) – was established in 2007. There has been a strong emphasis on increasing the engagement of students with higher education with the goal of increasing the percentage of students’


Education in South-East Asia

enrolment in higher education from 14 per cent to 30 per cent by 2011 (Iskandar, 2009: 1) Knowledge Acquisition still appears to be the dominant characteristic of the system but there is an increasing number of Knowledge Deepening elements emerging, with ICT playing an increasingly important role.

Macro policy changes since 2006 From 2006 on, a number of changes in the macro policy environment generated a requirement for Ministry of Education policies and programmes to respond to a new set of national planning policies. The impetus for these changes came from the Long Term Development Plan initiated by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, Sultan, and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, and launched in January 2008.2 The plan covers a period of 30 years and consists of three elements. The National Vision (known as Wawasan 2035) provided a vision for Brunei Darussalam of a country in 2035 with educated, highly skilled and accomplished people, a quality of life among the top ten countries in the world and a dynamic and sustainable economy. Supporting this Vision was an Outline of Strategies and Policy Directions 2007–2017 (OSPD). These listed 50 policy directions for the government to follow over the ten-year period with eight policy directions under the Education Strategy. These Education Policy directions are: MM








Investing in early childhood education. Adopting international best practices in teaching and learning. Having first-class secondary and tertiary education including vocational schools that produce expert professionals and technicians required in commerce and industry. Strengthening the competency in ICT for students, teachers and educational administrators including the integration of ICT in the school curriculum. Devising programmes that promote lifelong learning and widen access to higher education. Promoting research, development and innovation in government-funded institutions and through public–private and international partnerships. Adopting cost effective methods of educating our people through the use of technology. Improving the management of all our educational institutions. (Prime Minister’s Department, 2008)

Brunei Darussalam: Planning for Educational Transformation


A five-year National Development Plan or RKN 2007–2012 was also created with four development thrusts. These thrusts were: widening the economic base and strengthening the foundation for a knowledge-based economy; accelerating the pace of social progress and maintaining social stability; enlarging the pool of a highly-skilled workforce; and strengthening institutional capacity. The Ministry of Education Strategic Plan 2007–2011 was first promulgated in December 2005 and then revised in June 2007 around new mission and vision statements reflecting the Long Term Development Plan. The Strategic Plan provided a broad strategic framework for a number of internal and external plans that contribute to the education system in Brunei Darussalam. This Strategic Plan was directly focused on delivering the eight directions for education contained in the OSPD. The Strategic Plan made a strong link between the need for quality education to increase the human capability of Brunei Darussalam, a critical element in the drive for economic diversification which is at the forefront of national planning. Quality education was at the centre of the plan and its characteristics are described as: MM




Quality education that moulds individuals within our society to be balanced and well-rounded. Quality education that develops the personal attributes (spiritual, mental, physical and aesthetics values, leadership, entrepreneurship, morale) of the students. Quality education that produces team players, caring individuals, good communicators, accountable and responsible citizens. Quality education that produces an education system of international standard, which fosters valuable and marketable skills and encourages a lifelong learning orientation that will contribute to a harmonious and politically stable society. (Ministry of Education – Brunei Darussalam, Strategic Plan (2007–2011))

At about the same time as the development of the Strategic Plan, a National Education System Review Committee was formed with a mandate to review and make improvements to the system at that time: ‘The Committee recommended that the present system be improved, fine-tuned and aligned with [the] Ministry of Education Strategic Plan (2007–2011)’ (Ministry of Education, 2008a: 4) As a result, in 2008 the Sistem Pendidikan Negara Abad Ke-21 (SPN21), or The National Education System for the 21st Century, initiative was developed to distinguish itself from the system current at that time. SPN21 describes the


Education in South-East Asia

organizational, curriculum and process changes required to enable the Ministry of Education to deliver its reform and quality education agenda. Overall, these policy documents establish a range of targets to continuously improve the overall quality of education, transform key practices, and set standards in alignment with current and emerging twenty-first-century education. In addition, these plans established broad alignment with the national development context and mandated the need for Brunei Darussalam to focus its education development in a manner that aligns with a twenty-firstcentury globalized and innovation-driven world. In terms of the Knowledge Ladder, SPN21 is providing the policy drive and operational changes required to accelerate change within the system through the Knowledge Deepening Stage and if possible to leapfrog as quickly as possible to the Knowledge Creation Stage.

Sistem Pendidikan Negara Abad Ke-21 (SPN21) SPN21 is an important step in this journey towards educational transformation, with its emphasis on changes in three main ways: system structure, curriculum and assessment, and technical education in primary and secondary education. The aims of SPN21 are to: MM




meet the social and economic challenges of the twenty-first century; realize the Ministry of Education’s vision and mission; equip students with twenty-first-century skills; fulfil the Strategic Themes as outlined in the Ministry of Education’s Strategic Plan (2007–2011).

The SPN21 curriculum is designed to provide learners with broad-balanced relevant and differentiated learning experiences and it takes into account each learner’s needs while making provision for progression and continuity. SPN21 aims to provide a smooth and continuous developmentally appropriate curriculum from pre-school to senior secondary. This curriculum is intended to be responsive to the changes in society and the economy and will lead learners towards lifelong learning. The SPN21 curriculum places the learners at the heart of teaching and learning, based on an appreciation of their individual needs. In secondary education the students are provided with multiple pathways through four broad programmes: General, Applied, Specialized, and Special Education.

Brunei Darussalam: Planning for Educational Transformation


Because of Brunei’s small size there is little difference between districts, but some acknowledgement is made of the needs of the more remote schools. Optimal opportunities are provided to accelerate individuals who can progress faster, as well as special guidance being given to those who need help. In technical and vocational education the focus has shifted from students’ needs, capabilities and development to the needs of the nation, reflecting the vision of Wawasan 2035. A three-tier qualification structure has been developed leading from a National Skill Certificate, to Diploma to a four-year degree sandwich course. All current technical and vocational programmes are continuously being reviewed and revised and new programmes introduced in order to meet the future manpower requirements of the country. An important cross-government plan that has significant links to education is the e-Government Strategic Plan 2009–2014. The vision and mission of this plan is to develop a smart, innovative, transparent, integrated and effective set of government services that inspire trust, confidence and accountability. The key themes that emerge are a technology-savvy society, accessibility, convenience, citizen centric and integrated e-services. Five key strategic priorities have been identified, with work programmes for each strategic priority: (a) developing capabilities and capacities; (b) enhancing governance; (c) strengthening security and trust; (d) integrating the Government; and (e) delivering integrated accessible and convenient e-services (Prime Minister’s Department, 2009: 9). The developing capability and capacity goal is intended to equip government employees with the relevant ICT skills, attract and retain trained quality ICT professionals in the public sector and develop competencies and skills guidelines for ICT professionals. There has already been a significant transition to a more sophisticated information and communications environment, with rapid growth in mobile phone and internet usage since the introduction of internet and mobile broadband services (Prime Ministers Department, 2010: 90).

The Ministry of Education Strategic Plan, 2012–2017 The latest plan affirms the underlying mission and core values developed in the 2007–12 plan. It also provides a review of the progress made in implementing SPN21, with a summary of the main initiatives so far and a review of the current situation, the core frameworks and organizational supports that will


Education in South-East Asia

be utilized, as well as highlighting areas that need strengthening. This review also provides data that identify some core measures and their trends over the period 2006–11. The Quality Education goals now have two additional characteristics. These are: setting the foundation for a knowledge-based economy; and improving students’ learning achievements to be comparable with international standards (Ministry of Education, 2012: 6). The 2012–17 Plan identifies globalization as the major challenge for Brunei, in order to maintain its human capital. This is now seen as the critical challenge if Brunei is to be relevant and competitive and continue to be a stable and successful country. In light of this demand for highly skilled and competent Bruneians, the latest Strategic Plan recognizes the critical role of teachers in achieving these outcomes. The need for teachers’ pedagogy to keep pace with changes, the importance of research and development to shape policy and investment, flexible curricula, the use of ICT to enhance teaching and learning and participation in international and regional organizations are all seen as critical to ensure that Brunei is able to meet the challenges of rapid global change. The Strategic Plan describes the SPN21 reforms as in the critical middle stages of implementation and it is now important to both consolidate its foundations but also accelerate its full implementation. The key to this will be continuous professional learning programmes for teachers. These programmes will include curriculum and assessment, teacher competency standards (Brunei Teacher Standards), literacy and numeracy, early childhood education, technical and vocational education, teaching and learning pedagogies for twenty-firstcentury skills and co-curriculum capacity building. The approach will be to build on current good practice and highlight Bruneian cultural heritage as well as developing new ways of working in an ICT enabled environment (Ministry of Education, 2012: 19). All these developments reflect a determined and concerted focus on knowledge deepening characteristics as critical foundations for the development of a knowledge economy in Brunei.

An Information Society The transition to an information society is critical if the goal for Brunei Darussalam to become a knowledge economy is to be reached. An analysis of

Brunei Darussalam: Planning for Educational Transformation


Brunei Darussalam’s place in an international index that measures the transition to an information society can tell us how well advanced is Brunei Darussalam and where development is needed to help in this transition. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has developed a threestage model to describe a country’s transition to an information society. This model is outlined in their publication Measuring the Information Society 2010 (ITU, 2010). The stages are: MM



Stage 1: ICT readiness (reflecting the level of networked infrastructure and access to ICTs). Stage 2: ICT intensity (reflecting the level of use of ICTs in the society). Stage 3: ICT impact (reflecting the result/outcome of efficient and effective ICT use).

‘Movement through these stages is measured through the use of the ICT Development Index (IDI), a composite index made up of over 11 indicators covering ICT access, use and skills. It has been constructed to measure the level and evolution over time of ICT developments taking into consideration the situations of both developed and developing countries’ (ITU, 2010: 5). Moving through these three stages depends on the combination of three components: ICT infrastructure/access, ICT intensity/use, and ICT skills. In the first two stages of development, ICT readiness and ICT use tend to be dominant. Reaching Stage 3, and maximizing the impact of ICT, crucially depends on the third component: skills. Indeed, ICT skills determine the level of effective use that is made of ICT and are critical to maximizing the potential impact of ICT on social and economic development. In 2010, Brunei Darussalam ranked 42nd out of 159 countries on this index, which is a relatively high ranking across the world; in relation to the Asia Pacific Region, the ranking was eighth. Brunei Darussalam has shown steady growth in its IDI since 2002, as there has been increased access and intensity of use which has maintained the country’s relative position with around average growth. This data suggests that Brunei Darussalam is well into ‘transition’ towards Stage 2 of the Information Society as expressed in this model. A breakdown of the IDI index into its component parts shows that Brunei Darussalam, with an overall rank of 42, ranks 36 in use, 43 in access and 78 in skills in the world index. The skills indices are adult literacy rates and gross secondary and tertiary enrolment. With high rates of basic literacy, the secondary and tertiary enrolments rates are the key areas of weakness. The full shift to Stage 2 will require


Education in South-East Asia

increased intensity of use and a substantial increase in skills and competencies across Brunei Darussalam’s population. The data is clear. For Brunei Darussalam to complete transition as quickly as possible to increased efficiency and intensity of use and to move to an innovation-driven knowledge economy it must lift the capability of its human resources across a range of areas. The key to these changes is a substantial shift in the efficiency, spread and quality of educational outcomes. Education programmes that support ICT capability development and raise the levels of ICT confidence and capability amongst all leaders, teachers and their students and the wider community are critical.

ICT and its Role in Education Transformation Both the Strategic Plan and SPN21 made specific reference to the role of ICT in supporting these changes. Adding to these new policy demands for ICT within this time frame was the release of the e-Government Strategic Plan 2009–2014, which has had a significant impact on the ICT educational landscape. The national e-Government Strategic Plan, as well as coordinating strategies across the government, clearly establishes ICT as a fundamental lever of change and transformation. As Brunei Darussalam embarked on this next phase of national development toward a dynamic information-based economy, the role of ICT in education was becoming ever more critical. From 2003, substantial funding was provided for ICT in education as part of a broader government investment in e-Government within two national development plans. This funding was spread relatively evenly between schools, tertiary institutions and the Ministry of Education. Analysis of the e-education projects’ expenditure showed there has been consistent investment on three main goals; infrastructure development; transformation of teaching and learning environments; and supporting administrative and managerial excellence. This investment has been positive. All schools are now connected, with at least 512kbps leased line internet connectivity, and all have received a welldesigned internal network. Every school has at least one computer lab – or more, depending on its size. Schools are also a high priority for the roll-out of fibre planned for the next few years. A regional review of the status of ICT integration in South-East Asian countries identified Brunei Darussalam as one of the three Group 1 countries

Brunei Darussalam: Planning for Educational Transformation


in ICT integration, along with Malaysia and Singapore. The report (SEAMEO, 2010: 13) noted that ‘all three countries have highly-developed national ICT in education plans and policies that are integral to the overall education development or improvement plans … Almost all the classrooms in these three countries (except in the less developed areas in Malaysia) have been equipped with computers and other ICTs, have a high student–computer ratio, a high level of Internet access to all schools and an education delivery system that is increasingly online ... In this group, Malaysia and Singapore are well ahead on the ICT in education journey than Brunei, especially in the dimensions of teaching and learning pedagogies and community/partnership.’ Significant challenges emerged in the implementation of the e-education projects from 2003 onwards, particularly around a lack of integration across the different projects despite an overarching framework. This was primarily due to the processes used to identify, design and develop these projects, which often meant that in their development they lacked a shared vision or goals, internal coherence and alignment. There was also a significant lack of capacity and capability within the Department of ICT to implement these projects within the expected time frames. As systems and teacher/student demands become more complex, this lack of alignment and separate development became increasingly difficult to manage effectively. It was clear to the Department of ICT that Brunei’s national and education strategic plans required a more direct alignment and contribution from ICT towards these outcomes which, when coupled with increasing levels of activity and overlapping timeframes, has added significant complexity in designing and developing appropriate policies and initiatives for ICT. There were also an increasing number of relationships and dependencies that had to be managed between plans and which cannot be addressed through a fragmented decision and prioritization process. As a result, a number of existing e-education projects were put on hold while the whole e-education plan and its implementation were put under review. In 2009, as the Ministry embarked on a series of changes related to the implementation of SPN21, the question of how ICT could support the new system and enable change became a key planning imperative. Concerns over the value and relevance of existing e-education projects and an increasing understanding that if the full value of the considerable investment in ICT in education was to be realized lad to an appreciation that a more strategic and integrated approach to ICT development was required.


Education in South-East Asia

Building on both the lessons learnt from the implementation of the e-education projects in the national development plans and the requirement to engage all stakeholders and ensure that the Ministry of Education kept ahead of the various rapidly emerging technologies, the Department of ICT began a process to design and develop a forward-looking, comprehensive ICT in Education Strategic Blueprint (IESB). The IESB was to guide planning and implementation of ICT across the Ministry and in schools and to help generate the transformation of the system towards knowledge creation. A goal of the IESB was to realign existing projects and synchronize planned projects with emerging technology. It was also expected to integrate technology infrastructure, practices and systems with teaching, learning, professional development, learning space design and general quality improvements, in a way that ensured the successful future development of the education system and the nation. The development of such an IESB was seen as a critical aspect of linking the Ministry of Education Strategic Plan, SPN21 and the e-Government Strategic Plan to actionable and measurable change. It would establish a clear road map for ongoing and future development across the entire education sector. The tertiary sector is already responding to these challenges. As described by Yong (2010), all the three higher education institutions – the Universiti Brunei Darussalam, the Universiti Islam Sultan Sharif Ali and the Institute Technology Brunei – are changing their degree programmes and including ICT to meet the demands of a more diversified economy. Additional funding for science and technology from the National Development Plan to the tertiary sector is reinforcing the importance of ICT. Several competency centres and ICT-related training funds are being considered by various government agencies to enhance the capacity to establish, implement and maintain ICT projects. The establishment of the IT innovation/incubation centre (i-Centre) has continued to act as a hub for local and international entrepreneurs interested in developing ICT-rich start-up activities and services.

The Development of e-Hijrah The development in May 2010 of an IESB was led by the Department of ICT, assisted by a consultancy company. The process used to develop an ISEB had four main phases: review, foresight, insight, and action. The approach to the

Brunei Darussalam: Planning for Educational Transformation


blueprinting and strategic planning used was one that placed a great deal of emphasis on developing and building implementation structures and change readiness throughout the process to ensure that the strategic blueprint to be developed was implementable.

The e-Hijrah strategy and blueprint From this substantial process of consultation, review and refinement, emerged the e-Hijrah Strategy and Blueprint, a six-year, tightly-aligned strategy, execution and implementation plan designed to establish all the necessary components toward the transformative use of ICT in education. The Strategy and Blueprint was completed in 2010 and launched by the Minister of Education in 2011. The document defines a clear link to Wawasan 2035 and its aspirations of nurturing twentyfirst century Bruneian citizens who are ICT-savvy, display a range of literacies and are strongly grounded in Brunei Darussalam’s Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) traditions and values. The e-Hijrah Strategy and Blueprint represents the first coordinated, systemic and fully integrated national effort for ICT in education in Brunei Darussalam. It is designed to be dynamic and generate a strong momentum for change over the next six years. The goal is to ensure that by 2017 the Brunei Darussalam education system will have a level of maturity that will enable a period of consolidation and sustained adaptive change. The e-Hijrah Strategy focuses attention on the need to simultaneously change both the culture of ICT across the Ministry of Education and schools and deploy a strong supporting foundation of physical ICT. Within the framework are strategic mandates that define three broad changes that must occur in the culture and values of both schools and the Ministry if these goals are to be achieved. These mandates are: (a) establishing a culture of ICT; (b) building a foundation of ICT services; and (c) aligning with emerging innovations in education. The mandates are realized through three specific strategic pathways which are a coherent set of actions designed to achieve the e-Hijrah goals. The pathways are: (a) whole school ICT development; (b) i-Services; and (c) foresight and innovation. Each pathway includes several strategic thrusts that identify specific areas of development and investment within the education system. Each strategic thrust contains an integrated series of e-Hijrah initiatives that represent projects and programmes to be implemented. The pathways, thrusts and initiatives provide

Education in South-East Asia


the detail of the e-Hijrah Blueprint which is also aligned with an Evaluation Framework comprised of a series of performance indicators and measures (see Figure 1.1 below).

Culture of ICT

Whole school ICT development



Curriculum and resources MOE capability and capacity

Foundation ICT services

e-Hijrah i-services

Infrastructure architecture and systems Infrastructure devices and software

Spaces Communities

Infrastructure networks and connectivity Emerging innovations

Foresight and innovation

MOE governance management and strategy

Figure 1.1  The Structure of e-Hijrah (Source: Ministry of Education (2010). e-Hijrah Strategic Framework and Blueprint: A Comprehensive Plan for Transformation Use of ICT in Education in Brunei Darussalam)

The e-Hijrah ICT in Education Strategy and Blueprint was the first output of the e-Hijrah initiative. This aligned the existing and new ICT programmes and projects towards transforming education in the SPN21 and wider government context. Under the National Development Plan, various e-Hijrah projects have been started or are in the planning stages of implementation. It was decided to focus in the first instance on three projects that would provide the building blocks and a strong foundation for all the following initiatives. The implementation of these projects began in February 2011. One of the projects was the design and development of the functional specifications for four priority systems for an Integrated National Education Information Systems (INEIS). These systems will automate many existing mature core management, administrative, teaching and learning processes and practices across schools and the Ministry of Education. A key output of these systems will be student data that will help enable the redesign and transformation of current educational processes required by SPN21. The Education Enterprise Architecture project on the other hand has been completed. This is where a solid systems design and architecture will generate a

Brunei Darussalam: Planning for Educational Transformation


world-class technology and management platform for schools and the Ministry of Education. This is also envisioned to support the demands of a twenty-firstcentury education system. A unique design feature of the Education Enterprise Architecture is the integration of both administration and teaching and learning elements. The final project is the development of an e-Hijrah Office of Programme Management (OPM). The OPM is now established as the central office that coordinates and integrates all of the Ministry departments and schools in deploying all e-Hijrah projects. A key theme in the development of the OPM has been a strong collaborative partnership with the E-Government National Centre (EGNC) which is responsible for all e-Government projects. EGNC see the OPM’s focus on collaborative project and change management as critical in the difficult task of technology deployment. The other distinctive feature of the OPM is having a dedicated cross-functional and cross-ministry team to implement e-Hijrah which will provide a strong foundation of support and integration, facilitating the institutionalizing of ICT within the Ministry. Associated with these design and development projects has been the development and application of an e-Hijrah Change Management Strategy designed to support the rapid changes that will be required in the future. A centrepiece of this Change Strategy has been the completion of a series of events, seminars and workshops, known as the Knowledge Development Series. These have been designed to raise awareness and understanding of the e-Hijrah Strategy and Blueprint as well increase knowledge of key international themes and current issues around ICT in education and their relevance to Brunei Darussalam. Following this foundation stage there will be a shift in momentum and focus, with the deployment of several more initiatives beginning in 2012. These include (Ministry of Education, 2012: 20): MM



e-Hijrah Media and In-Service Centre for building new media content and materials for teaching and learning, specifically for Brunei’s needs, and for the training of teachers in real-life twentyfirst century classroom set-ups to support and encourage changes in professional practice. e-Hijrah Whole School ICT Development to develop the processes, practices and skills of school leaders and teachers to develop and manage a strong ICT culture in their schools. e-Hijrah Interactive Technologies for Schools where mobile interactive whiteboards will be integrated with student response and monitoring devices as well as interactive computers (tablet technologies).

20 MM


Education in South-East Asia

e-Hijrah ICT Leadership will develop ICT leadership through training and development and provide effective tools as part of an established programme for all school leaders and select Ministry personnel. The e-Hijrah 1:1 Computing in Model Schools Project will pilot and evaluate in five schools intensive use of 1:1 devices for students and teachers.

In the 10th National Development Plan there are 44 initiatives to be implemented under the e-Hijrah Strategy and Blueprint.

Conclusion The education system of Brunei Darussalam has developed rapidly over the last 60 years to reach a stage of maturity and level of outcomes that is significant within South-East Asia. It is now poised to make a significant leap forward to a Knowledge Economy and Information Society, and ICT in education is expected to make a significant contribution to this transformation. Kozma (2008: 13) identifies four guidelines that he believes are essential if ICT is to make the contribution required to advance the economic and social goals of a country. MM




Create a vision and align education policies with national goals. Align education programmes with education policies. Use ICT as a lever for change. Private–public partnerships.

To maximize the impact of education investments, education policies must be aligned with national social and economic development goals. The development of e-Hijrah and its integration with SPN21, Ministry of Education strategic plans and the e-Government Strategic Plan, as described in this paper, have made these goals a central focus of the e-Hijrah Strategy and Blueprint. Education programmes also need to be aligned with education policy. Within the e-Hijrah framework the future and desired characteristics of the key elements of the education system have been described to provide clear and measurable outcomes to drive policy and project decisions. Change is not easy in education, but the design and development of e-Hijrah directly tied to the changes envisaged under SPN21 has established an important relationship. The comprehensive nature of the e-Hijrah initiatives touch on all of

Brunei Darussalam: Planning for Educational Transformation


the key elements of the system, creating leverage for change in teacher training, policy, pedagogy, curriculum, assessment and school organization. Finally, it is envisaged that all of these initiatives will require partnerships with the private sector that can bring the technological understanding and expertise from both other countries and other sectors to address Brunei’s unique needs. As the Brunei Minister of Education noted when he launched e-Hijrah, the ‘e-Hijrah Strategy and Blueprint is holistic and integrated to both rapidly emerging twentyfirst century education practices and also focuses on harmonising Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) and ICT. It is this simultaneous approach that we believe will enable us to transition to producing twenty-first-century digital citizens who are well grounded in our values and traditions that have stood the test of time.’ Wawasan 2035, SPN21 and the e-Hijrah Strategy and Blueprint provide both the vision and a master plan for ICT to make a significant contribution to the transformation of Brunei Darussalam to a country in 2035 with educated, highly skilled and accomplished people, a quality of life among the top ten countries in the world and a dynamic and sustainable economy.

References Derus, Haji Abdul Rahim (2010). Overview and Development of ICT in Education: The e-Education Journey in Brunei Darussalam. ICT Futures Summit, Universiti Brunei Darussalam (unpublished paper). Iskandar, Ira (2009). Higher Education in ASEAN – Working Paper. Singapore: EU Centre. ITU (2010). Measuring the Information Society. Switzerland. Kozma, R. B. (2008). ICT, Education Reform and Economic Growth: A Conceptual Framework. San Francisco: Intel White Paper. Leete, R. (2008). Wawasan Brunei 2035: Beyond the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and High Human Development. Singapore: Brunei Economic Development Forum. Ministry of Education – Brunei Darussalam (2007). Strategic Plan (2007–2011).

—(2008a). The Development of Education, A National Report. UNESCO. —(2008b). Sistem Pendidikan Negara Abad Ke-21 (SPN21) The National Education System for the 21st Century.

—(2009). Education Statistics March 2009. —(2010). e-Hijrah Strategic Framework and Blueprint: A Comprehensive Plan for Transformation Use of ICT in Education in Brunei Darussalam.


Education in South-East Asia

—(2012). Strategic Plan 2012–2017. Available from: resources/strategicplan (accessed 21 May 2012). Prime Minister’s Department – Brunei Darussalam (2008). Brunei Darussalam Long Term Development Plan.

—(2009). e-Government Strategic Plan 2009–2014 – Brunei Darussalam. —(2010). Brunei Darussalam/Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Report. Sachs, J. (2008). Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet. New York: Penguin. SEAMEO (2010). Status of ICT Integration in Education in Southeast Asian Countries. Bangkok: SEAMEO. Yong Chee Tuan (2010). Digital Review of Asia Pacific 2009–2010 ‘.bn’ Brunei Darussalam. Singapore: Sage Publications.

Useful Websites Ministry of Education Brunei Darussalam: Ministry of Education Strategic Plan 2012–2017: resources/strategicplan SPN21: e-Hijrah Initiative in Brunei Darussalam can be found on the website:

Notes 1 This section was sourced from the Ministry of Education, Brunei Darussalam (2008). Sistem Pendidikan Negara Abad Ke-21 (SPN21) The National Education System for the 21st Century. 2 Brunei Darussalam Long Term Development Plan (2008).


Cambodia: From Dependency to Sovereignty – Emerging National Leadership Vincent McNamara

Introduction In the millennium leading up to its days of glory and regional leadership under the iconic Angkor empire, and even in the centuries of dependence since, Cambodia has often benefited significantly from the influence of its patrons, starting with traders from India who sailed up the Mekong at the beginning of a magnificent water transport system including an inland sea. Most recently such benefits have been from global and multilateral sources. Equally, due to its pivotal strategic location at the centre of the South-East corner of Asia, Cambodia has also suffered, at times enormously, from the competing influences of a plethora of well-intentioned but radically different influences: religious, cultural, linguistic, imperial, political, ideological and educational (Chandler, 1993). Finally, at the beginning of this twenty-first century, and following five centuries of Thai, Vietnamese, French and then repeated Vietnamese ‘protection’, Cambodian nationalist leaders are at last achieving political and now psychological freedom from dependence on foreign dominance and tutelage. At the same time, emerging prosperity is beginning to deliver the means for national self-realization.

Rehabilitation – Dependence on International Support After the expulsion of the Khmer Rouge (KR) in 1979 from Phnom Penh to the Thai border, Cambodia’s Vietnamese saviours faced the task of assisting a demoralized and largely starving population to rebuild a functioning state and to commence the rehabilitation of an abandoned and shattered school system.


Education in South-East Asia

Despite the human and material resource limitations of the first post-KR decade, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) initially made considerable quantitative progress in rebuilding primary education enrolments from 947,319 in 1979 to 1,597,081 in 1982 (MoEYS, 2010–11). However, total primary enrolments had fallen off to 1,279,053 by the 1987–8 school year and did not again exceed the 1982–3 figure until 1993–4. This decline was no doubt due in large part to the effects of the poverty of the period (Mysliwiec, 1988). The quality of primary education was a major issue, with consequences persisting through to today (see below the section Strengthening the quality of education). Following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, Western bi- and multilateral aid commenced to flow into Cambodia, a further leap to hitherto unprecedented levels of external support. However, this high level of investment called for experienced educational planners to facilitate absorptive capacity and achievement of delivery deadlines.

The Missing Generation of Trained and Experienced Educational Leaders In 1992–3 it was common to see Education Ministry staff playing boule in the Ministry yard, gossiping at their desks and departing early for lack of any clear idea of what to do in the office. But following the election of the National Assembly in 1993, political leaders had welcomed the promise of large-scale foreign aid, concurrently urging Cambodians to be enterprising and to take the lead in national development. Unfortunately, few education personnel with the necessary experience were available. So from 1994, frustrated donors had to recruit large numbers of experienced, but necessarily foreign, advisors and consultants to fill the planning gap. However, the foreign consultants themselves were often constrained by the diverse sets of implementation regulations of their own particular agencies. Many were ill-informed on the Cambodian context and, visiting on shortterm contracts, few stayed in country long enough to understand the unique challenges to be faced. A further constraint on development planning and implementation was the intransigent behaviour of the Khmer Rouge (KR). Despite the overwhelming evidence of the 1993 election results, which clearly put the lie to the KR claim

Cambodia: From Dependency to Sovereignty – Emerging National Leadership 25

that they had the support of most of the nation, the KR remained a destabilizing force, continuing to receive covert foreign support, partly fuelled by the surviving dynamics of the Cold War. A remaining distraction was the contending political parties, only resolved in favour of establishing an orderly state towards the final years of the twentieth century. Following the resolution of these limitations, there were some significant achievements during the first decade of the new century.

The First Sector Wide Education Policy Framework The final stage of dependency was still reliant on international consultants working directly to the Minister for Education, Youth and Sport and his secretaries of state. This stage saw the establishment, from the first plan in 2001, of the planning mechanisms of the annually updated ESP (Education Strategic Plan) and the ESSP (Education Sector Support Programme) (see, for example, MoEYS, 2006a, 2006b). This effective initiative in aid coordination, using a Sector Wide Approach (SWAp), was donor-led by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) (Pok and Ratcliffe, 2006) and multi-donor supported. This advanced planning process was fully realized, progressing in published annual rollovers of the four-year forward plans throughout the first decade of this century (MoEYS, 2010). The ES(S)Ps from 2003–6 through to 2006–10 were the last major plan documents written primarily by foreigners. For future plans, following considerable debate over who was to determine content, the choice of planning priorities shifted to national leaders in the Ministry (albeit often assisted by foreign consultants, but by now working at Ministry official rather than Minister level).

The Evolving Cambodianization of Education Development Over the two decades from 1991, misperceptions on both sides of the aid transactions led to rising disillusionment with foreign-aid planners by both Cambodian political leaders and their educational administrators. As the new century proceeded, better educated and more experienced Ministry managers began to focus attention on significant professional issues in educational planning.


Education in South-East Asia

The annual updates of the ES(S)Ps through to 2006, initially written in English, then translated into Khmer, brought to light numerous priorities, and the absence of other priorities, to which national education leaders within the Ministry began to take exception. The conflict resolution and inter-language communication tasks, and the consequent planning process reforms required by the Ministry’s national promoters of this changeover, led to a long gap of four years in plan production, so that the next plan, actually finalized at the end of 2010, incorporated Cambodian initiatives in the priorities to be funded under the ESP1 2009–13 (MoEYS, 2010). By contrast with what had been observed in the 1990s, it was now possible to find, from the later part of the first decade of the new century, many Cambodian staff acting in a professionally disciplined way. However, this capacity is still unevenly distributed across and within schools and higher education institutions, between regions, provinces and districts and across departments within the MoEYS. Cambodian initiatives in education and in other fields were beginning to replace those of the donors in shaping the country’s future. For example, revisions were made to methods of learning to read in order to take account of the unique characteristics of written Khmer (see below the section Strengthening the quality of education). Another example from primary education is the reduction of the long enduring (1985 to 1997), but eventually resolved, massive 40 per cent repetition rate in the transition from Grade 1 to Grade 2, still 41 per cent in 1996–7 (MoEYS, 1997). By this stage international organizations were beginning to recognize the need to work directly through adequately trained Cambodian professionals and administrators, rather than through transient foreign consultants. This message (Godfrey et al., 2000) took some years to be fully realized and applied.

The First Nationally Driven Education Strategic Plan – the ESP 2009–13 This was the first plan that Cambodian professional leaders could call their own. It has undoubtedly benefited from foreign consultant support to Ministry directors, but embodies many policy changes initiated by Cambodian professionals.

Cambodia: From Dependency to Sovereignty – Emerging National Leadership 27

The current version of the ESP (MoEYS, 2010) justifies the long four years of its gestation by the superior quality of its systematic approach to identifying strategic priorities, then detailing programmes and budgets to address them. Programme 7.3, Enhancing Aid Effectiveness (MoEYS, 2010: 91), concludes the statements of the new initiatives in all programme budgets with the following declaration of ownership of the reform and development partner (DP) processes: Opportunities and Next Steps: Ownership MM MOEYS leadership and its ownership of the sector reform and development partnership processes will be further strengthened through the dialogue surrounding the formulation, implementation and monitoring of the new ESP 2009–2013 which has received support from all the DPs.

The new ESP’s utility as a planning instrument has been considerably strengthened, particularly by reporting progress on target indicators, including the frank documentation of significant shortfalls where experienced. The format has been changed to incorporate the Education Sector Support Programme (ESSP), formerly a separate supporting document, into the ESP. All recurrent budget-funded development elements of the plan are now built around the programme-based budgets (PBB), now the planning, funding and reporting basis for reform implementation. The PBBs provide a clear statement of the prioritized strategies and how much is to be invested in each over the coming four years. The statistics presented mark a keen awareness of emerging needs. Serious disparities between city and country, between regions, between remote and central provinces and districts, and between poor and rich families, are tracked and addressed. One outcome of the analysis of performance reports incorporated into successive ESSPs was a recognition that that the national level plan was not well understood and incorporated into planning at implementation levels below that of the Planning Department. Even the Ministry-level departments were patchy in their incorporation of ESP policies into their departmental plans, let alone planners at province, district, cluster and school levels. This shortcoming was particularly noticeable in many of the departmental presentations to the Annual Congress of provincial and central Ministry staff, attended also by DPs (Development Partners). These shortfalls formed the basis for demands from the joint Ministry–DP Education Sector Working Group (ESWG, 2007: 33) for incorporation of all levels of plan implementation into the planning process.


Education in South-East Asia

One of the strengths of the current ESP is the high priority it gives to the development of Annual Operation Plans (AoPs) at technical department and field levels, aligned with programme budgets, and designed to address emerging implementation tasks. A typical implementation task, now identified and to be tracked in successive ESPs, is the preparation by each department of its plans to achieve in its own subsector the good governance goals of the Education Law (RGOC, 2007). It is envisaged that this priority in the mechanics of turning plans from wish lists into effective central and field level plans will progressively be applied to the development of AoPs at province, district and cluster level, through to school development plans prepared by school management committees.

Sovereignty Confirmed Following the elections of 1993, the regular Government–DP Cross Sectoral Coordination conference addressed issues of harmonizing conditional DP support with national development planning. For the DPs, a key element of this process was their joint advice to government on such general governance issues as transparency in the management of financial resources and respect for human rights. DPs regularly sought government commitments on targets to meet these conditions. By 2011, China, never a participant in the Government–DP coordination meetings, was investing at a level rapidly approaching that of the largest donor. China does not demand commitments other than to achieve the goals of its aid projects and to repaying, admittedly at relatively high interest rates, the development funds advanced. In mid-2011 government cancelled the scheduled annual coordination meeting with the other DPs. The cancellation of that meeting could be seen as the final step in the Government’s emergence from dependency on DP direction as a condition of support to the assertion of unrestricted sovereignty.

Risks: Cambodia as a Fragile State This chapter would be unbalanced if it did not draw attention to the worst case scenario. Ayres (2000) documents thoroughly the background to, and the KR processes in, the destruction of the education system, arising out of the chronic crisis in

Cambodia: From Dependency to Sovereignty – Emerging National Leadership 29

educational planning which characterized the third quarter of the last century (the years following independence from France). These failures contributed to the KR establishment of the paradoxically named ‘Democratic Kampuchea’. Ayres’ incisive analysis is then carried through to the two decades succeeding the expulsion of the KR from Phnom Penh. For a description of the characteristics of the paternalistic mode of governance persisting to this day in Cambodia, the reader is referred to Education and Fragility in Cambodia (IIEP, 2011). This work cites numerous examples of current cases of the tension between traditional Cambodian and contemporary international values. The continuing predominance of the tradition of patron–client relationships, symbolized at the peak by the king as the patron of his subjects, and now in the form of Prime Minister–citizen relationships, is seen as a constraint on change and development. While the French colonial period achieved much in the way of stability, economic development, population growth and quality of life, it is seen as essentially promoting education as an aspect of loyalty to the state, marked by the persistence of traditional rote learning rather than by developing the capacity to analyze, criticize and challenge. It is not surprising then that DP-supported efforts to develop the learner’s capacity to be a ‘self-starter’ are often inhibited by the traditional culture of loyalty to the patron protector. Contemporary international policies are written into the constitution and the laws, often at the instigation of DPs, but fail to be implemented. Cambodians’ apparent tolerance of the loss of their human rights is surprising to many foreigners working in Cambodia. However, those who have never had a tradition of entitlement to human rights could hardly regard them as being lost. Post-KR Cambodia is seen by the writer as effectively a one-party state, in which respect for and, at worst, fear of authority undermine the capacity to challenge policies constructively. An education example of collateral damage is the persistence, contrary to repeated policy direction, of ‘informal’ fees charged by schools (Bray and Bunly, 2005), often at classroom level on the initiative of the individual teacher. While the needs of underpaid teachers cannot be denied, the exclusion from teacher delivered benefits of pupils whose parents cannot afford the fee is a daily model to all pupils of the corruption of paper entitlements (the Constitution) and the impunity of agents of the state who fail to enforce policies (Tan, 2008, quoted in IIEP, 2011: 41, 47). Some argue that KR survivors will put up with any neglect of human rights rather than risk another civil war. But what will happen when the younger


Education in South-East Asia

generation, knowing little about the KR horrors, express their dissatisfaction with the lack of employment? This could be a future challenge to current paternalist practice. Government leaders seem genuinely bewildered by donor demands for the separation of the powers of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Such concepts have no validity in Cambodian history and traditional practice. It is, perhaps, not surprising that democratic protections, which evolved in the West out of centuries of learning how to regulate corrupt practice, have not yet developed some meaning in a short few decades of the history of modern Cambodia. In short, Cambodia has made much progress since the expulsion of the KR, but the persisting cases of fragility do provide warnings of the risks which might be faced in future years unless these fragilities are effectively addressed. Counterbalancing these fears is the evidence of growing reform, albeit demanding time and patience.

Evolving Characteristics of the Cambodian Education System Early childhood education (ECE) The prioritizing of primary education has not included ECE until quite recently. The few pre-schools in operation at the beginning of this century included small numbers of Ministry and private pre-schools, mainly in Phnom Penh and the bigger towns. Pre-school enrolments in 1996–7 totalled 44,814 as against 678,863 in Grade 1 (MoEYS, 1997: Tables 1 and 7). By school year 2010–11, total enrolments in formal pre-schools had more than doubled to 99,130, still well short of Grade 1 enrolments of 454,346 (MoEYS, 2010–11: Tables 1 and 16). Until the implementation of the Fast Track Initiative (FTI – World Bank, 2010), pre-school education was not a high priority investment target for government, so such pre-schooling as did exist was largely dependent on parent fees and DP support. A national pre-school teacher training centre based in Phnom Penh received considerable Japanese support and produced 100 teachers per year, allowing limited scope only for expansion. Since the end of the last century there has been growing public and Ministry awareness of the critical importance of the foundation years in education. This perception has been reinforced by the global priority given to Education for All

Cambodia: From Dependency to Sovereignty – Emerging National Leadership 31

(EFA). By 2007, with the prospects of joint international donor funded support (World Bank, 2010) to achieve EFA through a Fast Track Initiative (FTI) grant of $57m., attention was focused on the enormous gap between current formal pre-school provision and the scale of the task of achieving universal pre-school education in Cambodia. The result of the FTI agreement was a hybrid solution, comprising the addition of a third floor to the Pre-School Teacher Training College to double the annual outputs of fully trained formal pre-school teachers and the construction of new pre-school class facilities (but still far from enough), supplemented in most communes by the provision of support and training for non-formal community-based pre-school classes. Consistent with a number of other very ambitious targets, early childhood education is now defined as covering children aged three to five years, with a notional target population up to half that of the entire primary school system. There also remain serious questions about the awareness and capacity of the staff of the Early Childhood Education Department (ECED), created relatively recently as a separate department and using staff whose task had suffered decades of neglect.

Primary education Due to the 30-year post-KR period of priority for primary education, enrolment and retention rates in this subsector, including the participation of girls, have improved greatly, as has quality of teacher output, numbers of schools constructed and provision of equipment, learning materials and school libraries. The ESP reports significant improvements from the 2005–6 school year in factors such as enrolment and progression rates, with significant effects on both efficiency and equity. Table 2.1  Escalating Enrolment Rates Net admissions





Over that four-year period, disparities between the capital city and the rest of the country were reduced as the rate of admission in the provinces rose 3 per cent as against a rise of only 1 per cent in the already well served urban areas. However, mixed progress is seen in achieving the goal of increased efficiency of pupil throughput:


Education in South-East Asia

Table 2.2  Progression Rates-Mixed Progress ESP 2009–13 Repetition Dropout Survival from Grade 1–6

EMIS 09–10




11% 11.6% 49.3%

 8.9%  8.3% 61.7%

 9.8%  8.7% 61.7%

The efficiency gains overall were visible in the shape of the bar graph representation of primary school enrolments by grade, which has been progressively moving from that of a broad-based, narrow-topped pyramid (most enrolees bunched in the lower grades) closer to that of a rectangle. As a result, total primary enrolments actually dropped, making investment in primary education more cost-effective per pupil. The benefits of these impressive quantitative improvements may be slowing down, despite FTI and other investments since 2008. This is evidenced by the updating of the ESP figures (above), from the EMIS2 indicators for 2009–10, of the data on repetition, dropout and survival. This slowdown may to some extent be related to concerns over the factors undermining the quality of education, such as, for example, teacher absenteeism in rural areas outside the main centres. Unfortunately this problem is widespread in rural areas (Benveniste et al., 2008: 66–9).

Lower secondary education (LSE Grades 7–9) By the beginning of this century, attention was turning to the woefully neglected levels above primary education. From the beginning of the new century, multilateral DPs, led by the ADB, have invested heavily in successive secondary education development plans, focused mainly on lower secondary education, a subsector which still has major shortfalls yet to be addressed (see relevant websites, ADB (Education Sector Development Programme (ESDP) I, ESDP II and Enhancing Education Quality Project (EEQP)), World Bank (FTI and Cambodia Education Sector Support Project (CESSP)). Despite the DP support efforts, the number of LSE pupils actually decreased over the period, while the increase in the LSE Net Enrolment Ratio (NER) over the period barely got ahead of population growth. These figures make a strong EFA case for commencing the ADB-funded Third Education Sector Development Programme (ESDP III) to support secondary education development, proposed to target 2012–17, supplemented by further investments in improving primary school throughput.

Cambodia: From Dependency to Sovereignty – Emerging National Leadership 33

Table 2.3  Stalled Progress in LSE Enrolments No. of LS Schools Survival from Gd. 1–9 Pupil–Teacher Ratio NER LSE LSE Enrolments



911 26.3% 31.7 31.3% 588,333

1,172 37.2% 24.4 31.9% 585,115

The big issues facing LSE intake are incomplete primary schools and higher repetition rates in primary – the bottleneck at the transition from Grade 6 to 7. LSE needs to be made more relevant as two out of every three lower secondary school-aged adolescents are currently not enrolled and there is a very low parent tolerance for repetition in lower secondary schools (LSS), which results in high dropout rates (18+ per cent). There is a perceived need to develop a coordinated and comprehensive approach to employability skills in LSE, building upon successful initiatives thus far.

Upper secondary education (USE Grades 10–12) Due to the demand for entry to university, upper secondary schools have tended to attract more donations from wealthy Cambodians, many of them university graduates (including those overseas) wishing to support access to higher education in their natal communities. As statistically documented in the ESP (see below, Polarization – the revival of social class based on wealth), the poor are least likely to be among those who get through this gateway to higher education, where a surprising four out of five of those who pass Grade 12 go on to some sort of higher education institution (HEI). The current ESP (MoEYS, 2010: 29) therefore plans the following. Upper secondary scholarships for Grades 10 to 12 students will be mainly merit driven, but also poverty-indexed, based on Grade 9 examination scores. There will be scholarships for 3 per cent of the enrolment per year for upper secondary schools including 60 per cent for females. The scholarship incentive for females is needed due to the time lag from nine years earlier when primary school entry enrolments were underweight in girls (now close to parity). In 2002–3, Grade 1 enrolments stood at 656,641, of whom 305,770 were girls (MoEYS, 2000–11: Volume 2002–3, 10, Table 10).


Education in South-East Asia

Technical and vocational education (TVE) and non-formal education The former MoEYS Department of Technical, Vocational Training and Higher Education was split following the 2002–3 school year by the migration to the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoLVT) of the MoEYS Technical and Vocational Training functions and staff. The TVE policies and plans described in the MoEYS ESP therefore refer only to recent endeavours to include vocational skills as a part of life skills training (LST) in the school level curriculum. The ESP (MoEYS, 2010: 36–8) outlines responsibilities to commence planning for TVE education in the upper secondary subsector and for LST at basic education levels. For the non-formal sector, the current ESP (MoEYS, 2010: 31–3) outlines the planning steps to be taken to invigorate this long neglected subsector. Plans are to be developed by the responsible department to expand re-entry and equivalency programmes for which a programme budget of over $3 million is to be provided over the five-year plan period. The higher education sector in Cambodia is discussed in detail in Chapter 3 of this book.

Sector Wide Challenges Given the long-term evidence, from planning trends since the mid-1990s, of Cambodian aspirations to participate fully in regional and global progress, challenges such as the following will need to be more effectively addressed.

Strengthening the quality of education and teacher capacity Quality is one of the three strategic priorities incorporated in the MoEYS strategic plans since the mid-1990s and in the ESP since its early inception at the beginning of this century. The public examination measures adopted to improve the quality of entrants to higher education institutions have failed to achieve this goal, despite substantial investments in testing and certification technology and the management of the examinations. In an attempt to get a more reliable indicator of the effectiveness of the education system, the MoEYS has in recent years introduced a system of performance testing at Grade 3, 6 and 9 levels, which avoids the distortions of gateway

Cambodia: From Dependency to Sovereignty – Emerging National Leadership 35

exams by small-scale sampling nationwide, with anonymous results – that is, a measure of the system rather than individual performance (Marshall et al., 2009).The results provide evidence of quality improvement needs on which Ministry professional leaders are now taking action. For example, evidence of serious weaknesses in Khmer reading performance has drawn attention to pedagogical problems, remarkably similar to the worldwide debate, dating back to the 1950s, over the effectiveness of phonic versus whole word approaches to teaching reading (Adams, 1995). The current lack of the phonics approach, which was employed in Cambodia in the pre-KR days, is now seen by professional leaders in the Ministry as a serious lapse in enabling all pupils to read the complex Khmer script. This task is further complicated by the traditional practice in Khmer of running words together to make a whole sentence (i.e. a phonic whole sentence approach, which is very difficult). Perhaps a solution would be a compromise, in which the words in a written sentence are separated (as in written Thai) so simplifying the learners’ reading task to the application of the needed phonic skills to the decoding of the relatively short string of sounds in each separate word, rather than to the relatively long string of written sounds running the full length of a sentence and not, as in Khmer speech, separated into individual written words which can easily be recognized when each is phonically pronounced. Teaching in Cambodia (Benveniste et al., 2008) is a detailed up-to-date description of the problems at the heart of education quality in Cambodia, of reforms currently under way and of needed reforms yet to be addressed. The final section of the book, ‘Teacher performance: delivering high quality education’ (pp. 97–102), will give the reader a taste for perusing the full document.

Strengthening decentralization Those Cambodian policy and funding innovations at field level which do best do so in the context of the curious mixture of top-down control and largely unregulated decentralization, amounting in many cases to the de facto autonomy of provinces and institutions. Central intervention is largely limited to perceived threats to governing party authority. As a result, increasing attention is now being given to regulating processes of decentralization of management to province, district, cluster and school level. The World Bank-funded Education Quality Improvement Project (EQIP) was an early policy initiative to trial the decentralization to school level of


Education in South-East Asia

community-level school funding. It piloted in three provinces grants to school clusters to support school improvement initiatives at both cluster and school levels (Turner, 2002). The obvious cash and empowerment benefits of the project to the favoured three provinces were soon demanded by all other provinces. From school year 2001–2, in the face of irresistible political pressure to share benefits equally across provinces, the government funded rapid extension of the grant methodology to all provinces, financed through the new Priority Action Programmes (PAP), with the grants going direct to each school. This process continues through today, now on a programme-budgeting basis (PBB funding of school operation budgets). Turner describes the effectiveness of this decentralization and also the remaining challenges to these pioneer initiatives in the decentralization of educational planning and management to each school. The PAP process of spreading school grant decentralization nationwide was distinguished from the EQIP process in that it succeeded remarkably well in moving the process from the initiation of school grant funding using donor funds to its extension funded by a significant increase in the budget share of the Education Ministry. This again gave some hope of government movement towards ownership of both the problem and its solution.

Access and other disparities Statistics on disparities monitored in the current ESP (MoEYS, 2010: Figures 1–3 and Tables 1–3) describe targets, progress and shortfalls in grade repetition, distribution of educational opportunity as between cities and rural areas and between central and remote provinces. Much has been achieved in reducing gender disparities in basic education but this goal has yet to be fully achieved at post-basic education levels and has a long way to go in the staffing of the MoEYS itself, where the proportion of top level staff who were female had risen from 1 per cent in 2006 to only 7.7 per cent in 2009 (MoEYS, 2010: Table 3). The most promising sign of future prospects for reduction in disparities is the ESP’s careful reviewing of policy goals against the relevant indicators via PBB, and the naming in the relevant programme descriptions of the department in each case accountable, on the basis of annual management information reporting, for implementing the reforms designed to improve performance. For detail on current priorities and funding to reduce the many disparities relevant to the achievement of EFA targets, the reader is referred to the Fast Track Initiative agreement (World Bank, 2010).

Cambodia: From Dependency to Sovereignty – Emerging National Leadership 37

Some of the more significant factors underlying quality shortfalls are general (i.e., not exclusive to education) characteristics of the evolving culture of contemporary Cambodia. These include weak governance and the consequent privatization arising out of multiple unregulated conflicts of interest in government funding. In large part the continuing and in some cases growing disparities are due to the low and declining level of government investment in education through share of the recurrent budget, resulting from weaknesses in tax and revenue collection, now being remedied, and in part from limits on MoEYS’ capacity to absorb budgeted funds.

Underlying Problems Public resource shortfalls and proposed remedies Government budget items can be important indicators of serious policies and plans for changes in a nation’s behaviour. Popular expressions worldwide express this truth in simpler terms, for example, ‘Putting your money where your mouth is.’ In the early 1990s, Ministry of Education staff old enough to remember would express their yearning for the days of the 1960s when the education budget was 24 per cent of the total national budget.3 With the education budget share (as distinct from expenditure) by 1993 of the order of 14 per cent a year (MoEYS, 1994: 10), it was not too difficult to see why teachers on $20 a month had to find other sources of income – at the expense of the energy they could devote to their profession – and why supplies of school books, materials and equipment were so inadequate. By the end of the century, government was commencing a process of progressively raising both teachers’ salaries and expenditures on non-salary items. By 2007, policy-driven reforms such as the Priority Action Programme had lifted the education share of the national recurrent budget (often considerably above final expenditure share) to 19.2 per cent. In 2010 the Budget Law had allocated an education recurrent budget of Cambodian Riel (R) 825 billion (MoEYS 2010: Financing Plan, Table E, 102). At 16.4 per cent of the total national recurrent budget (R5029 billion), this was 2.8 per cent lower than the peak share of 2007. However, there was worse to come. For 2011, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) (see Ministry of Economy and Finance (MoEF), 2010a) proposed a recurrent budget for


Education in South-East Asia

the Education Sector of R939 billion, an increase of 13.8 per cent on the 2010 allocation. This would have lifted the education budget share to 17 per cent of the projected national recurrent budget of R5539 billion. But the Budget Law for 2011 provided a total for all government recurrent expenditures of R5518 billion, of which the education share was R916 billion, amounting to 16.6 per cent of the national recurrent budget. For 2012 the ESP proposed an education share of 19.7 per cent of the recurrent budget for that year (MoEYS, 2010: Table E, 102). The revised MTEF had proposed 17.9 per cent (R1133 billion). The Budget Law passed in late November 2011 for the 2012 calendar year allocated R1008 billion (15.91 per cent), a loss of R125 billion (approximately $US31 million) to other ministries. A further reduction in education resources is revealed in the actual expenditure achieved as a percentage of the funds finally allocated by the Budget Law. As can be seen from MoEF records (e.g. MoEF, 2010a, 2010b), the MoEYS has had a chronic difficulty with expending each year all the funds budgeted. By 2010 the proportion actually expended had declined to 86 per cent, which can help to explain why the final allocations the following year had been reduced so much. It is not clear what the causes of these shortfalls in expenditure are, but it would seem there is a strong case for a joint investigation by the two ministries responsible. One possible factor is the lack of synchronization between the school year (SY) and the budget year. The school year straddles the budget year, with growth notionally arising each September from new enrolments, requiring additional budget funds, which arrive at best from early January at the beginning of the budget calendar year. But the efficiency reforms of primary education throughputs have resulted in declining enrolments (due to much less repetition) over the past five years as against rapidly escalating post-secondary enrolments (MoEYS, 2010: Annex 1, Table 1). Conversely, the general education budget has proposed marked budget increases (only partly realized) – for example, an increase of 47 per cent for primary education from 2010 to 2011 – while the higher education increase for the same years is 13 per cent. There may be a problem of absorptive capacity in primary education management, given that the great bulk of primary school funding is expended mostly at province level on teacher salaries, which are carefully limited to the actual rather than the projected numbers of teachers being paid for being in front of classes. Recurrent budget allocation records since 2006 also show declining shares for the Programme Based Budget (PBB), the policy-innovation-focused portion of the education recurrent budget. The ESP (MoEYS, 2010: 84, Table 7) proposed

Cambodia: From Dependency to Sovereignty – Emerging National Leadership 39

that up to 22 per cent of the recurrent budget should be committed to the PBB, with the remaining 78 per cent sustaining already established operations. While the PBB cash amount has been virtually fixed since 2007, and is projected to increase slightly through 2015, its share of the education recurrent budget has slid from 26 per cent in 2006 to 15 per cent in 2011. In purchasing power parity terms, inflation adjusted, its annual value has slipped by approximately 16 per cent since 2006. In the light of the decline in actual recurrent budget allocations over the years 2008–12, the target education share of 22 per cent of the national recurrent budget seems unlikely to be achieved, particularly when account is taken of unanticipated costs such as the border conflict with Thailand and the flood damage in Cambodia, both experienced in 2011. The ministries of Defence and of the Interior seem much more likely to be the ones receiving large increases in their budgets. These shortfalls could be mitigated by the large-scale loans now being planned. The Budget Law for 2012 has authorized an expenditure of $2.6 billion. Concurrently the government is discussing with donors, including China, the borrowing of an additional $1.1 billion (Cambodia Daily, 25 November 2011). Will Chinese loans include the funds needed to achieve the well planned ESP programmes for system improvement?

Resource anomalies and teacher quality At all levels of education the low level of government teacher salaries constrains the capacity of government to enforce regulations which could serve to assure some degree of equality of opportunity. The benefits prized by underpaid teachers are long holidays (both formal and informal) and short hours (four hours per day), so allowing the teacher time for other forms of income generation or food production, often at the expense of lesson preparation time (Benveniste et al., 2008: 56–9). A 2005 nationwide survey of teachers by the Cambodia Independent Teachers Association (CITA) found that 40 per cent of teachers surveyed earned more from their second income or enterprise than from their pay as teachers (CITA, 2011: 8). That proportion is probably higher now.

Polarization – the revival of social class based on wealth As is evident from the effective political pressures to ‘spread the butter thin’ in extending school support grant funding from three provinces to all, the


Education in South-East Asia

majority of Cambodians have a strong preference for equality of opportunity. At the base of many disparities is the increasing polarization of the post KR communist society in terms of equality of opportunity. Starting in 1979 from a communist base of absolute equality, albeit equality in misery, Cambodia has achieved, within three decades, the following differences in access to education: Table 2.4  Proportion of children in poorest quintile 2009–10 (MoEYS, 2010: 5, Table 1) attending: Primary schools Lower secondary schools Upper secondary schools

77.2% 16.9% 7.3%

The educational consequences are obvious, sourced in the now growing differences in wealth as among classes of parents. The effects of the rapid post KR polarization (see below) of Cambodian society are only too evident where those pupils in a class who can afford to pay their teacher for private tuition receive priority attention and higher test scores than their classmates, whose parents cannot afford the fees demanded by the teacher. Fees are forbidden in government primary and secondary schools but routinely collected wherever parents can afford such fees (Bray and Bunly, 2005; Brehm, 2011). In many cases they are collected and retained at the level of the poorly paid classroom teachers. Many see one possible solution to the shortfall in government funding in the funding of schools either partly or fully from private sources. Private primary and secondary schools are popular with those parents who can afford them, particularly in the towns. Since the 1997 elections a broad range of private schools has appeared, catering for Cambodian and international parents and for a diverse range of religious affiliations. Enrolments in these schools are not included in education statistics. The private schools proudly announce on their websites authorization by the municipal or provincial Ministry of Education office but receive little supervision. The growth in Cambodian enrolments at private schools is seen by some as evidence that many parents lack confidence in the quality of government schools – and those who can afford it are voting with their feet. The issues are finally beginning to be addressed. The ESP (MoEYS, 2010) proposed implementation of a sub-decree and directive on providing licences to private primary educational institutions, reviewed and strengthened in 2012.

Cambodia: From Dependency to Sovereignty – Emerging National Leadership 41

Capacity Development This chapter has traced the beginning of the process of learning to take control of their own affairs which has marked the gradual re-empowerment of Cambodian educational leaders in taking control of development planning. It should not be overlooked that their foreign partners are also undergoing a learning process to enable them to engage more effectively with their Cambodian counterparts. Much of this re-education of the foreign staff of agencies providing support to Cambodians relates to the question of what constitutes effective capacity development.

Training boom and bust The shortage of experienced Cambodian educational planners in the 1990s (see the earlier section, The Missing Generation of Trained and Experienced Educational Leaders) led to a DP prioritizing of what was described as capacity building, delivered via training courses, often cascaded. DP support for the MoEYS gave a high priority to teacher training, with in-service training of serving teachers seen as the quickest way to get results. Subsequent experience with mass training workshops over several years began to raise questions about their effectiveness. The limitations of training workshops in Cambodia were first identified a decade ago, but it took a long time for the message to be widely recognized. Chhinh and Tabata (2002) describe an early evaluation of the effectiveness of in-service training of MoEYS teachers in a sample of Phnom Penh schools in the school year 2001–2. The summary of the results is instructive: ... the study found no relationship between student achievement and the numbers of in-service training programs the teachers have attended since the introduction of the new curriculum in 1996. Investigation must be pursued to find out the mechanism underlining the issue. In-service training programs are thought to be one of the most outstanding achievements in educational reforms since the middle of 1990. However, the payoff at the classroom level seems to be minimal ... It is difficult to conclude whether the teachers learn what they are expected in the training programs or not as the programs are short, irrelevant, irregular and conducted in a cascade system. (Chhinh and Tabata, 2002: 13)

Years later, Pearson (2011a) has now described in detail the learning experience of some NGO aid workers as they have grappled with the discovery of


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Chhinh‘s ‘mechanisms’. What does and does not work in developing the capacity of Cambodian counterparts to deal with global change and its impact on Cambodia? Pearson demonstrates that the answer to this question depends on encouraging a constructive Cambodian dialogue between Cambodian demands for modernization and traditional Cambodian values. Drawing on her experience of training workshops in various Cambodian ministries over the past decade, Pearson has concluded that conventional training methods, which work well in cultures with a long tradition of universal literacy, do not work so well in Cambodia, nor in other countries with a strong reliance on oral rather than written communication.

Effective capacity building Despite the achievements of senior MoEYS professional leaders in taking over from international consultants the direction of educational planning and management, effective leadership at provincial and school level is still heavily dependent on staff with limited professional training. Chhinh and Dy (2009: 113–30) list some of the factors which limit success in implementing reforms. They question the effectiveness of capacity building in the form of training and of study visits to other countries. Training can be very effective where it relates to manual skills such as those of a motorbike mechanic. However, it is hindered by a ‘knowledge gap’ where ‘analytical, predictive and evaluative skills’ are required to enable management, planning and leading. This was a problem for the then 5916 out of 7119 Cambodian school administrators, including school principals, whose education had not gone beyond the end of secondary school. Those who are capable are most likely to have the marketable skills to move to adequate remuneration by leaving government employment. Pearson’s view now, based on her long experience of the challenges of capacity development in Cambodia, is of a need to develop in learners the will and the capacity to reflect on experience, leading to critical thinking, confidence in questioning the status quo, and flexibility in adapting to change. Training may be appropriate for tangible ‘hard’ skills such as knowledge of regulations, procedures, and budgeting. But learning for understanding, analysis and application requires developing the capacity for flexibility in adaptation to change and in the use of new technologies in responding to the needs for global participation. Pearson (2011b) concludes that conventional training courses have a very low rate of success in development of the less tangible ‘soft’ skills of learning from

Cambodia: From Dependency to Sovereignty – Emerging National Leadership 43

reflection on experience, analysis, critical thinking, leadership initiatives, negotiation, political relationships, and ultimately changing organizational culture. Developing the capacity of workplace managers requires long-term mentoring of their experience in applying the multi-dimensional complexities of innovations as affected by the concept and language limitations of the learner’s cultural and political context. Constraints include those imposed by trainer funding conditions and by particular donor policies such as results-based management, in a local culture where the results cannot be predetermined but need to be shaped by evaluating the evolving process of managing the change.

References Adams, M. (1995). Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print. Cambridge: The MIT Press.  Ayres, D. (2000). Anatomy of a Crisis: Education, Development and the State in Cambodia 1953–1998. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Benveniste, L., Marshall, J. and Caridad Araujo, M. (2008). Teaching in Cambodia. Washington, DC: The World Bank. Bray, M. and Bunly, S. (2005). Balancing the Books: Household Financing of Basic Education in Cambodia. Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong, Comparative Education Research Centre (CERC). Brehm, W. (2011). Rean Kua – Why Private tutoring? YouTube video. CITA (Cambodia Independent Teachers Association) (2011). Teachers’ Salary and Terms and Conditions 2010–12: Position Paper. Phnom Penh: CITA. Chandler, D. (1993). A History of Cambodia. Boulder, CO: Westview Press Inc. Chhinh, S. and Dy, S. (2009). ‘Education reform context and process in Cambodia’, in H.Yasushi and K.Yuto (eds), The Political Economy of Educational Reforms and Capacity Development in Southeast Asia: Cases of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. New York: Springer. Chhinh, S. and Tabata, Y. (2002). ‘Teacher factors and mathematics achievement of Cambodian urban primary school students’. IDEC Journal, 9 (1): 69–71. Education Sector Working Group (ESWG) (2007). Donor Performance Report. Phnom Penh: UNICEF. Godfrey, G., Sophal. Kato, T., Vou Piseth, L., Pon, D., Saravy, T., Savora, T. and Sovannarith, S. (2000). Technical Assistance and Capacity Development in an Aid-Dependent Economy: the Experience of Cambodia, Working Paper 1. Phnom Penh: Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI). Hayden, M. and Martin, R. (2011). ‘The education system in Cambodia: making progress under difficult circumstances’, in C. Brock and L. P. Symaco (eds), Education in South-East Asia. Oxford: Symposium Books.


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Marshall, J, Chinna, U., Nissay, P., Hok, U., Tinon, S. and Veasna, M. (2009). ‘Student achievement and education system performance in a developing country’. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 24, 2: 113–34. IIEP (International Institute for Educational Planning) (2011). Education and Fragility in Cambodia. Paris: UNESCO. MoEF (2010a). CAMBODIA: The Ministry of Education Youth and Sport: The Medium Term Expenditure Framework for 2011–2013. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Economy and Finance. —(2010b). Cambodia Macroeconomic Framework 2000–2011. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Economy and Finance, Economic and Public Finance Policy Department. —(any year). Phnom Penh: Ministry of Economy and Finance. MoEYS (1994). Rebuilding Quality Education and Training in Cambodia. Paris: UNESCO (for Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport). —(1997). Education Statistics 1996–97. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Planning Department, EMIS. —(2006a). Education Strategic Plan 2006–10. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. —(2006b). Education Sector Support Program 2006–10. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. —(2010). Education Strategic Plan 2009–13. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. —(2000–11). Education Statistics and Indicators (Annual Volumes). Phnom Penh: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Planning Department. Mysliwiec, E. (1988). Punishing the Poor: The International Isolation of Kampuchea. Oxford: Oxfam. NGO Forum of Cambodia (2011). Budget Transparency Brief Cambodia, Washington, DC: International Budget Partnership. Pearson, J. (2011a). Creative Capacity Development: Learning to Adapt in Development Practice. Virginia: Kumarian Press. —(2011b). ‘Training and Beyond: Seeking Better Practices for Capacity Development’. OECD Development Co-operation Working Paper No. 1. Paris: OECD Publishing. Pok, T. and Ratcliffe, M. (2006). Joint Approaches to Capacity Development: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (Cambodia). Reflections and Analysis. Manila: ADB. RGOC (2007). Education Law. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS). Tan, C. (2008). ‘Two views of education: promoting civic and moral values in Cambodian schools’. International Journal of Educational Development, 28 (5): 560–70. Turner, M. (2002). ‘Decentralization Facilitation’, Journal of Public Administration and Development, 22: 353–64. World Bank (2010). Kh- Education for All Fast Track Initiative Catalytic Trust Fund Cambodia Project ID P109925. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

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Useful Websites Asian Development Bank (ADB): Ministry of Economy and Finance Cambodia (MoEF): Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport Cambodia: MoEYS (2010–11): Statistics and Indicators-en.pdf UNESCO: (Search site for Cambodia education.) UNICEF: https://www.unicef cambodia education Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO): (Search site for Cambodia education.) World Bank Cambodia Education: menuPK=51515619&pagePK=51515592&piPK=51515607&q=Cambodia%20 Education&th World Bank Cambodia Expenditure on Education: http://www.tradingeconomics. com/cambodia/public-spending-on-education-total-percent-of-governmentexpenditure-wb-data.html

Notes 1 This current plan, for the period 2009–13, will henceforth be referred to as the ESP (MoEYS, 2010). Earlier plans will be reference labelled with the dates of their coverage, ESP (calendar financial years covered, e.g. 2006–10, to finance enrolments for school years 2005–06 to 2009–10) reference (MoEYS, 2006a). 2 Education Management Information System (EMIS), comprising statistics and indicators (MoEYS, 2000–11). 3 (accessed 17 October 2012).


Cambodia: Evolving Quality Issues in Higher Education Luise Ahrens and Vincent McNamara

International Trends: Lessons from the Literature Introduction It is widely acknowledged that higher education (HE) suffered the most from the civil war, the regime of the Khmer Rouge (KR) and the subsequent need to place emphasis and resources into getting primary and secondary school systems functioning once again in the following three decades (see Chapter 2). The development of a university professor takes time, money and, most of all, good academic guidance and supervision. Cambodia experienced a radical lack of those essential resources for HE, even in the three decades following the upheavals between 1970 and 1979. Almost all studies of HE in Cambodia in the years between 1989 and 2012 – see ADB (Asian Development Bank) (2011a, 2011b), UNESCO (1990, 1992, 2009, 2010), World Bank (2000, 2003, 2004, 2010, 2011, 2012), World Bank and Asian Development Bank (2004a, 2004b, 2006) – name the same issues which must be considered if there is to be reform of the system. These issues are expanded upon in the report on quality assurance and accreditation for South-East Asia (Lenn, 2003), and again in the report by the Asia Pacific Quality Assurance Network (Lenn, 2008). Various World Bank reports on Cambodia situate the issues of education, and especially HE, within economic and fiduciary strengthening: World Bank and Asian Development Bank (2004), World Bank (2010, 2012). All of these provide financial and economic background to the issues of HE in the country. In works on Cambodian HE by Howes and Ford (2011), Chealy (2006) and various other monographs in the form of studies, reports and theses, the same issues again come to the fore. It is important to note, however, that some of


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these issues are not only arising in Cambodian HE but also throughout the developing world. The International Higher Education Journal offers support for the idea that in many places in the world, there are complex and challenging issues about HE that need to be resolved before serious systemic reform can begin and move forward. Altbach (2007a: 137) summarizes the situation in this way: ‘What is known about the conditions of the academic professions and of academic work in the developing world is not positive. The conditions of work and levels of remuneration are inadequate, involvement in institutional governance is often very limited, and the autonomy to build both an academic career and academic programs in the university is often constrained.’ In addition to these factors, changes in technology, market needs and national priorities make the task of developing responsive higher education institutions (HEIs) even more challenging than it was just 20 years ago. In the literature, there are some common issues which are emerging in HE all over the world, and there are some issues which are particular to Cambodia – many of them overlap. The larger issues around the world that are mentioned in almost all documents are dealt with below.

How to Manage Mass Demand for Higher Education? Massification means that the system is expanding at a rapid rate because of demand for places in HE by more and more students. In the United States, this issue first arose in the period after the Second World War (1945–50) when veteran soldiers came home and needed better educational opportunities in order to get jobs. The way the US dealt with this time of great expansion in enrolments was by diversifying HE to meet different needs. They initiated community colleges with both academic and vocational streams within the same campus and programme. Colleges that responded to local needs opened one or two relevant vocational fields (e.g. for agriculture at those that had been granted sufficient land by the government). Differentiation of HE began as institutions were opened that were primarily for research and the development of new knowledge, while others were clearly aimed at teaching students in various and diverse fields. Altbach’s comments are relevant here: While some developing countries still educate fewer than 10 per cent of the age group, almost all countries have dramatically increased their participation

Cambodia: Evolving Quality Issues in Higher Education


rates. The ‘logic’ of massification is inevitable and includes an overall lowering of academic standards, greater social mobility for a growing segment of the population, new patterns of funding in higher education, increasingly diversified higher education systems in most countries, and other tendencies. (Altbach, 2009: 2)

Cambodia, too, has shared since 1997 in the movement of rapid expansion. But this expansion needs to be examined in the light of the need to improve quality and of the dearth of well-prepared academics capable of teaching well, even in the first years of university education. What are the graduates being prepared to do? One Cambodian academic (Chealy, 2006: 14–15) comments: There are many examples around the world where some professions [which are] needed for social and national development are neglected in order to serve what are often short-lived global market forces. Additionally, rapid expansion of higher education without sufficient quality assurance systems in place can lead to the creation of institutions of dubious quality weakening the whole system. Cambodia is currently exposed to both these dangers.

O’Brien (2004) takes this even further, noting that some observers ‘are concerned that unplanned changes within the sector are producing more graduates than the economy can absorb and that graduate skills are not matched to the needs of the country’. Thus, it is clear that some thought needs to be given to choices and options within the reform of the HE system in Cambodia. Hoem (2011) comments: There are enough HEIs to accommodate those born in the 1980s and 90s, but quality of education needs to be improved. Should the country continue to offer low-to-medium quality tertiary education, even at the best of the HEIs? Should differentiation occur in which some institutions are focused on research and others on teaching? Should no more schools of, for example, business, be allowed to open, encouraging instead the development of programmes that meet national priorities and needs? Should institutions be asked to combine in order to make better use of limited human and financial resources? Should some institutions be closed if they cannot meet at least 75 per cent of the Criteria for the Establishment of a University [RGOC, 2007a]? Should new institutions be given permission to open only in provinces that are at present poorly served by the existing HEIs? These are some of the questions that need to be addressed together by government and stakeholders (e.g. students, parents, employers etc.).


Education in South-East Asia

How to Finance the Rising Cost of Quality Higher Education? A second issue that is arising across the whole world, not only in developing countries, is the rising cost of quality HE and, at the same time, the decline in government funding for it. Some countries in Asia are the exceptions to the move to the lessening of government support, with, for example, Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia, the ‘Asian tigers’, committing a large percentage of their education budget to the tertiary sector (Morris, 1996). The diversity of perspectives on HE as a private or public good makes this question even more complex. HE understood as a private good (the student gets the degree and from it gets a better job and higher wages) is welcomed almost universally by relieved ministers of finance and regarded as a reason for decreasing government support for the individuals who attend universities. If HE is understood more as a public good (e.g. benefits to society of higher educated citizens, attracting more overseas investment because of worker quality), government has an obligation to support quality tertiary education to the highest level. This question is at the forefront of discussion across the world. Within the question, there are issues of social justice and equity of opportunity for the poor but able students who can afford neither tuition nor living expenses, and the issue of opportunity costs to families so that, although they may want their daughter/son to attend university, they just cannot afford to make that choice. How does government accept its responsibility for these students and still encourage quality higher education? Altbach has a warning for us: ‘… growing numbers passed these examinations [secondary] and chose to enter the universities. Governments in general did not, however, provide the funding needed to produce a quality education for these students, and as a result, the conditions of study have deteriorated’ (Altbach, 2007b). Examples of governments increasing their reliance on private funding to meet the growing demand for HE range from Australia (Welch and Altbach, 2011) to Cambodia’s neighbours (see below). Cambodia’s response to the public–private good question seems to fall in the private good arena. The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGOC) provides little money to those public HEIs which receive most of its scholarship students. The Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), for example, receives the largest number of fee-free students in the country; the government provides about $89 (USD – the second of Cambodia’s dual currencies) per year per student to cover everything but wage expense. That is less than $10 per month per student

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to cover such needs as development of library resources, new courses, field trips/practical application courses, new equipment and consumable expenses for laboratories, research programmes for faculty and students, facilities and equipment maintenance. A view by the government that HE is a private good, and thus not primarily the responsibility of government, seems to be the unstated but real policy. This is not a wholly negative stance, but it requires that financial regulations around collection, use of and reporting on student and/or parent income are taken seriously by university boards, and enforced by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS), the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MoEF) and other ministries which support public HEIs. Some solutions are offered by international examples of both cost reduction and increased income through cost-sharing. On the reduction side, many institutions that were formerly staffed by and limited by national civil service requirements and wage policies have moved into a semi-autonomous state where staff/faculty can be hired/fired/promoted/demoted in order to better use the available staff where they are most needed. This effort also introduces some clear standards for performance-based incentives which are added into faculty salaries. Second, expenditures can be reallocated as needed across the university, freeing up income for new programmes, multi-disciplinary programmes, or unforeseen expenses. Third, finances can roll over from year to year (not allowed by government ministries worldwide) which encourages both prudent saving and long-term investment. From the perspective of cost-sharing, one solution is to expand fee-paying to cover all but the poorest and brightest students in the country (x per cent), and ensuring that these excellent students have access to free HE at the best of the government institutions. Encouraging private HE also falls within this spectrum of choices. Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia have done this with notable success. Thailand and Malaysia are increasing private HE each year. Standards and a strict accreditation process play even larger roles as the system expands and many players enter the field of HE – expansion without quality is meaningless in terms of long-term benefit to nations or to the students/graduates themselves. One additional crucial factor in all of the above is the clear need to establish transparent financial accounting and a process for reporting to stakeholders on a regular basis. Without a willingness to account for the money given to HEIs by government and by government-sanctioned collection of fees, there will be little incentive for the government or the public to trust in the leadership of the universities.


Education in South-East Asia

The rest of this chapter is a detailed description of the extreme dysfunctions of the commercialization of HE in Cambodia. The Cambodian government needs to address all possible options to ensure that all HEIs have enough capacity and financial resources to run a quality HE programme. This calls for a review of the government budget share for HE in the light of private–public good theory. A balance between autonomy and accountability must be sought, in particular with regard to accountability for quality standards.

Professional Leadership Development Process for a HE Career Service The third issue raised at all HE forums across the region and the world is the changing face of leadership in the university environment. A book of collected essays (Altbach, 2010) includes various chapters that touch on change, planning, quality assurance, internationalization, funding, access and equity, and the academic profession. All of these topics are cast in the light of how one governs universities in times that are changing daily and how the need for constant adaptation to new realities is required of every HEI. Johnstone (2010: 196) long a scholar of HE, writes that ‘leadership, as the capacity to effect change, is a function not just of natural gifts, or learned behaviors, or tricks of the trade, but of the policy context in which institutions and their leaders operate. Better and more leaders depend on careful selection and on some leadership training.’ He goes on to say that good leadership must be supported by ‘better governmental policies that give people in leadership the freedom to make difficult decisions’. In Cambodia, there have been many factors in the history of the country which have shaped the current leadership styles: colonialism, the Lon Nol period, the Khmer Rouge regime, the subsequent socialist decade and, since 1993, the move to market capitalism. Each one of these systems of government has left its mark on leadership within the country. Cambodia is further influenced by its own culture in terms of social hierarchy and cultural norms which define patron–client relations, status and forms of governance. Ledgerwood (2009) offers insights into this reality for Cambodia. One’s own life experience shapes one’s world view and this includes one’s understanding of relationships, leadership and societal organization. HE in Cambodia clearly reflects some of these realities.

Cambodia: Evolving Quality Issues in Higher Education


It is an acknowledged fact that selection for leadership positions in Cambodia’s public HE involves many factors, especially seniority – competency is often not the most important factor to be considered when nominations are made. Appointments are also made for ‘life’ (or retirement) in many areas of public HE, such as department heads, deans, vice-rectors and even rectors, a system that few, even post-socialist, countries still maintain. This issue becomes further complicated by the intricate Cambodian titling process and ranking system for government functionaries. It is possible that a university rector can be of a higher ‘status’ than that of an official in the Ministry which is charged with the supervision of the institutions under its purview. Some thought needs to go into these issues as HE reform calls for the very best leadership the country can offer to its educational institutions and universities. Such a reform could serve also as a model for new forms of leadership through all sectors of Cambodian public activity. In summary, this issue challenges government in Cambodia to commission clear and transparent guidelines for the selection/ hiring/promotion/firing and term limits for leadership positions in all HEIs, public or private.

Developing, Using and Keeping Global Standard Cambodian Professors A uniquely Cambodian issue arises out of the violent KR rejection of Western education. In 1979, at the end of the KR period, very few lecturers or professors of the former times were alive and present in Cambodia. For better or for worse, some HEIs reopened quickly, with traumatized professors teaching traumatized students with almost no resources – books, documents or even chairs on which to sit. One has to admire the enormous courage of these people who saw the need to re-establish HE in order to provide the teachers of the next generation of Cambodians. But an unintended effect was to graduate many people whose academic programmes were weak and based on little but the remembered learning of their teachers, without outside contacts, without books and without any real supervision. The Vietnamese and Russian assistance was invaluable and over 3000 lecturers and students went to the Soviet bloc countries to get degrees which, in the end, proved to be of uneven quality – some, excellent, especially those from Leningrad or the various technical institutes in Russia or the University of Ho Chi Minh Ville in Vietnam; others, not of the same


Education in South-East Asia

quality, though the graduates received the same degrees and titles. This has put Cambodia in the complicated position of having to choose among people holding the same degree on the face of it, but in reality holding qualifications of widely varying quality. In addition to this, with the onset of privatization from the end of the last century, local HEIs were allowed to grant postgraduate degrees (Master and PhD) without sufficient examination of the degrees and competency of the full-time faculty. Yet these professors would be entrusted with the task of supervising Master theses and PhD dissertations, an academic effort which needs both a high level of research capacity and also significant experience in mentoring students. As Prime Minister Hun Sen said at the closing of the National Education Congress in 2009, ‘we have people with advanced degrees who cannot even use typewriters well!’. The study by Brooks and Ly (2009) of the RUPP indicates that this particular gap is serious in terms of Cambodia’s pressing need for academics who have been trained in an academic culture and who understand the mentoring/ advising role of senior faculty members in any institution. Cambodia needs senior lecturers well educated in their fields, senior thesis advisors who can work alongside younger staff members, advisors for department heads and deans – in short, the models for the next generation. How will Cambodia find these people for the short term? Some have suggested that the best way to do this is to actively recruit expatriate adjunct faculty for at least the next 20 years. This task could focus on seeking out newly-retired international academics and/or those whose research areas will be expanded and advanced by spending a semester or a year in Cambodia. This is surely something policy makers in the HE sector have to consider. Creating partnerships as mentioned above can be a source for this needed support for the HE sector for the next 20 or so years. Young Cambodian graduates returning from abroad with excellent Master and PhD degrees need to be engaged in the strengthening of HE. This means welcoming them back, giving them meaningful work and responsibility and paying them salaries commensurate with their degrees. At present in the civil service system used by public HEIs in Cambodia, one receives $0.50 more each month after one receives a PhD, but receives a significant increase for lecturing, fee-funded in the privatized HE sector and in fee-funded departments in the public HEIs, even if the PhD qualification is not credible.

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Fluency in an International Language to Access Global Knowledge Another issue to be addressed is the issue of language – for both research and instruction. Much has been written about this subject in the context of Cambodia, beginning with Ablin (1991). The most realistic approach to this issue right now is the economics of proposed solutions. Cambodia has the lowest percentage of cohort registration in HE of any country in the region (Abu-Duhou, 2008). There are not enough tertiary students in Cambodia to justify the expenditure to pay for books in Khmer for all of the subjects in all courses. The logical explanation for this situation is the fact that publishers will not publish HE textbooks in Khmer as the return on investment would clearly be too low. Another factor is that among the more than 200,000 HE students in Cambodia, there are students in fields as disparate as nuclear science, military studies, social work, and various areas of health and social sciences, language, law, fine arts and agriculture. Even if one well-researched textbook were to be produced in the Khmer language for each subject in each one of these courses, students would still need to have another language to do the academic work needed for a quality programme. An ordinary undergraduate student in the developed world is required to read some or all of ten to twenty reference books, plus various articles, and also needs to undertake significant research from the internet. Much of the information on the internet is in English. As HE changes in Cambodia and as standards are raised and quality systems are enforced, more and more academic breadth and depth will be required, first of the faculty who are teaching in HEIs and also of the students who want to get high-quality degrees. Arguing for more textbooks in the Cambodian language is perhaps a viable strategy for foundation year materials in order to assist the students to make the transition to HE; it is not a strategy that will take HEIs and the country into the medium-term future. On the other hand, using English as the medium of instruction in years three and four would enhance greatly the scope of materials accessible by students and the possibility of using overseas lecturers; it would also improve the chances for employment of the new graduates. In summary, more thought and some serious research needs to go into this question before decisions are made that will affect the future of Cambodia’s best resource – its young people. The Department of Higher Education (DHE)


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and the HEIs must increase use of English (or, where available to students, other international languages such as French, Japanese, Korean) within their teaching, research and publications. This would also have implications for upper secondary education across Cambodia – English must be taught and taught extensively and well if Cambodia does not want its students to fall behind those of those of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional partners.

Cambodia: The Dynamics of Privatized Funding While the privatization and resulting commercialization of Cambodian HE initially dynamized a grossly underfunded system with considerable energy and real resource improvements (average expenditure per student by 2000 was raised to between 130 and 160 per cent of GDP per capita), this promise has by no means been fully realized in the longer term, with the share of GDP per student halved to 69 per cent by 2008 (World Bank, 2010: 4).

Three Emerging Strategic Challenges Fifteen years of public–private partnerships in lieu of a significant increase in government financing have failed to deliver adequate funding to produce a high-quality system. Three issues cry out for priority policy attention: 1. Quantity undermines quality in the number of HEIs, the number of students accepted and the number of postgraduate programmes. 2. Fee-funded, student-driven programme development priorities undermine the relevance of many programmes in relation to priority national needs for professionals 3. The fragmentation of system management paralyses prospects of establishing an agreed national vision to inspire an effective policy framework to guide HE development. For further and more detailed description of the foregoing challenges the reader is referred to Dy (2006).

Cambodia: Evolving Quality Issues in Higher Education


Background to the Data Which Follow HEI management in Cambodia The government which returned in 1979, sponsored by Vietnam and supported by Eastern bloc countries, applied the Soviet model of HE management, so fragmenting the control of HE. The various faculties of the University of Phnom Penh, together with the remnants of other pre-KR universities and institutes, most located on their own separate campuses, were assigned to the relevant ministries. For example, the Faculty of Medicine was allocated to the Ministry of Health, the University of Agriculture to its ministry, various defence institutions to their ministry, and so on.

The origins of the fee-funded system As late as 1996, university teachers had to survive on an income of $40 a month without even the most basic instructional support facilities and materials. Professors, even up to vice-rector level, often had no choice but to work overtime elsewhere – for example, as motor bike taxi drivers – in order to feed their families. When these distractions from their professional responsibilities were combined with an almost complete lack of government funding, the implications for HE quality were clear. The Australian government-funded project to train secondary school teachers of English at the Foreign Languages Centre (FLC) at the University of Phnom Penh (now the RUPP) was coming to an end in 1996. It was staffed by then with well qualified Cambodian professors who had completed relevant Master degrees in Australia. These valuable lecturers were likely to seek other employment elsewhere – for example, as well-paid interpreters with NGOs – once their project-funded salary supplementation came to an end. The project advisory committee proposed the innovative solution that, as an educational institution at university level, the FLC be exempted from the constitutional requirement of free education (HE as a public good – see above), in order to collect student fees to sustain the quality of the programme (McNamara, 1999: 296). When the first fee-paying private university (Norton) was opened by the Prime Minister in 1997, this was seen as a radical change in higher education financing policy. Norton became the first private university to be recognized by government (op. cit., 316–19). ‘Under that authorization, these private


Education in South-East Asia

institutions would not receive any public financial support and were to rely mainly on student fees for covering operational expenses’ (World Bank, 2010: 2). The FLC at RUPP was permitted to charge fees, so enabling it to retain its best qualified professors at an adequate level of salary, an achievement which has assured its survival with a high student entry demand to this day. In the meantime, public university staff, who had been moonlighting on much better remuneration at Norton and other private universities, brought back to their home base public institutions the case for institutional improvement by introducing fee income. They were successful in this. The charging of fees in a few public institution departments had started informally from 1996 (op. cit., 306 and 314) but the formal authorization from the Prime Minister came only in 2000 (World Bank, 2010: 2). Given the incentive of fee income, the staff of universities, both private and public, soon established much more flexible programmes to suit the needs of those who could afford to pay the fees. Evening classes flourished to cater for salaried Cambodians who could only study outside working hours. Supplementary solutions included weekend and vacation classes. Since almost all professors were Phnom Penh-based, branch institutions and classes were established in nearby cities to which the professors commuted several days a week. However, these services ballooned at many institutions at a rate far faster than the capacity of the institutions to staff them satisfactorily. Within the next decade the former public-only Cambodian HE subsector was transformed into a unique model which was 80 per cent privately funded, primarily from fee revenue at both private and public HEIs, as opposed to a typical developing country HE private funding level of 20 per cent only. By 2008 the public expenditure for HE was estimated at 0.09 per cent of GDP, while private expenditure accounted for 0.49 per cent. Combined, the total expenditure rate reached 0.58 percent, still well below the world average of 1 per cent. Cambodia’s public expenditure on HE is the lowest rate in the South-East Asia region. The next lowest is Laos with, at 0.21 per cent of GDP expended on tertiary education, four times the Cambodian level of government investment in HE at, by then, 0.05 per cent of GDP (World Bank, 2012: 113, Fig. 4.6). For a concise description of this extraordinary transformation of the Cambodian HE system, the reader is referred to the four-page summary report of the World Bank (2010). One conclusion is that the ‘Ministry of Education has limited power to governance [sic] and steer the higher education sector due to the lower portion of public financing.’ It appears that the priorities in course

Cambodia: Evolving Quality Issues in Higher Education


development are now set by the ill-informed students and their parents, who provide most of the funding, but only to the courses they see as valuable. Clearly, also, the progressively lower fees most parents and students can afford to pay cannot bridge the large gap between the exceptionally low level of government funding and the level of funding needed to achieve adequacy of HE resources, even by comparison with regional neighbours, which are themselves under-resourced.

Statistics Measuring the Quantitative Transformation of the HE Subsector Increasingly since 1996 the charging of fees has no longer been confined to private HEIs. The detailed annual volumes of system and institution HE statistics (MoEYS, 1995–2012) are most informative on the radical development trends in Cambodian HE over the last two decades. By 2009–10, 82 per cent of students enrolled at public HEIs were paying fees. The number on bachelor degree ‘scholarships’ (defined only as not required to pay fees) was 12,027, a little more than the total HE enrolment of 11,946 bachelor degree students in 1995–6, the last year in which all students at public universities received a free higher education. So, while the number of fee-free bachelor degree students at public institutions has remained stable, the share has dropped over 14 years from 100 per cent to 18 per cent. The fact that the proportion of fee-paying enrollees in bachelor degree programmes in public HEIs has risen to 82 per cent, despite a circular from the Prime Minister in 2002 limiting fee-paying enrolments in public HEIs to one third of enrolments, is an indicator of the pressures on public university rectors to maximize fee income at all costs, including a fixed low ceiling on fee-free access for talented but poor students. Between 1997–8 and 2008–9 the number of licensed public HEIs increased from nine to 32 while the number of private HEIs increased from zero to 45 (MoEYS, 1995–2012; DHE HEI Annual Statistics, e.g. 2008–9). In addition, the larger private Phnom Penh-based HEIs had established branches in provincial cities – 29 as of 2010–11. A few private HEIs had opened main campuses in provincial cities while government had established eight branch HEIs in provincial cities as policy has been to establish more HEIs in the provinces.

Education in South-East Asia


Figure 3.1  Growth in Number of Higher Education Institutions (Main Campuses only) Category University Institute Faculty* Total

1995-96 Pub 4 1 4 9


Total 4 1 4 9

2008-09 Pub 13 19 NA 32

Pte 26 19 NA 45

Total 39 38 NA 77

2011-12 Pub 15 23 NA 38

Pte 30 29 NA 59

Total 45 52 NA 97

Data drawn from MoEYS (1995–2012). * The pre-KR Phnom Penh University Faculties of Law and Economic Sciences, Pedagogy and Medicine, plus the newly established Faculty of Business, are all located on their own separate sites.

Exponential Growth with Inadequate Attention to Relevance and Quality Number of HEI undergraduate programmes Between 1997 and 2008, 45 private HEIs were established and licensed. A number of others had opened and been closed by then. This extraordinary rate of expansion was encouraged by government in view of the national shortfall in HE access, the lowest in the region. Cambodia’s gross tertiary enrolment ratio at 7 per cent was less than that of Myanmar at 10.7 per cent and Laos at 13.4 per cent (UNDP, 2011: 160). Note, however, that the World Bank (2010) cites a national HE enrolment rate in 2008 of 11.1 per cent, possibly due to the inclusion of associate degree students. Over the same period the number of public HEIs had increased by 23. Many of these, however, were not newly established institutions but existing institutions seeking relabelling as universities or institutes. By 2010, government concern was clearly growing about the quality of many of the newly created private institutions, by which time 11 had been closed. However, by 2012 many of those closed had been replaced by other new institutions as the total number of licensed HEIs had increased by 20 between 2009 and 2012. These new institutions, including some charging lower fees, apparently sought to mop up the remainder of the 80 per cent of the students passing Grade 12 who wished to continue on to a HEI. Many also offered associate degree programmes to attract additional students who had not passed the Grade 12 exam.

Cambodia: Evolving Quality Issues in Higher Education


Number of students and postgraduate programmes In calendar year 1995 (start of the university year October 1995 to June 1996), there were 11,946 enrolments at the only course level offered (bachelor degree) at Cambodia’s nine HEIs, all of which were public institutions (MoEYS, 1995–2012). By 2009–10, associate degree programmes alone, a new sub-bachelor level introduced with privatization, enrolled 20,020 students, the great majority (15,213) in private HEIs. The Education Strategy Plan (ESP MoEYS, 2010: 95) enrolment data combine two undergraduate levels, associate and bachelor, as the totals given for public and private institutions. For school year 2010–11, labelled 2010 in the ESP (MoEYS, 2010), a total of 174,913 students were projected for enrolments in associate and bachelor degree courses. Actual enrolments were 207,942, spread across 95 institutions and their branches. The ESP totals do not include enrolments in the by now rapidly expanding programmes at Master and doctoral degree levels and to that extent are an understatement of total HEI enrolment levels. Enrolments each year are far in excess of the planned targets set in the ESP. The latest enrolment figures for associate and bachelor levels in 2011–12 total 230,789 students, over 20 per cent more than the ESP projection of 191,407 (Virak, 2012: Table 2). This excess in enrolments is hailed as a great achievement for the strategic priority of increasing access. However, in a year where the government investment in education is a declining proportion of the national budget, there is little evidence of additional investment in HEIs, public or private, to cover the additional human and material resource increase needed to cater for such a large student increment. Unplanned increases in fee-paying, student demand-driven enrolments, as opposed to planned enrolment growth, result in a human resource service delivery deficit which can only undermine the achievement of the government’s parallel strategic priority for quality improvement. Within three years of the approval of the first private HEI in 1997, one institution was offering a Master degree programme. DHE statistics record 34 HEIs, 28 registered as universities, offering a Master degree programme in the 2008–9 academic year, of which 17 were also offering doctoral programmes. It is clear that there is a rapidly growing demand in Cambodia for postgraduate qualifications, a prerequisite for the best paid teaching posts in HEIs.


Education in South-East Asia

Virak (2012: Table 2) records 448 doctoral students in 2006–7, doubled to 998 in 2011–12. Doctoral level staff in 2010–11 (Virak, 2012: Table 3) numbered 689. Most of these would be newly trained and relatively inexperienced. In effect, the system feeds back into itself the large increase in the number of inexperienced and poorly postgraduate-trained professors, so enabling the rapid expansion from a narrow base. At a typical ratio of four students to one doctoral-level supervisor, this number could cater for approximately 2800 postgraduate students. In fact these professors had to deal with 14,540 students (Virak, 2012: Table 2), mostly at master degree level, over five times the normal workload. Dy (2006: 8) cites a policy decision that teaching staff of Master degree programmes at HEIs must have, in addition to a postgraduate qualification, at least five years’ experience of teaching at that level. This seems to be a policy observed more in the breach than in the observance, as the above data indicate that, due to the rapid expansion of postgraduate degree programmes, the professors must be mostly in their first few years of postgraduate teaching. One has to ask whether demand-driven enrolments, with no regard for capacity to deliver quality services, are consistent with the national strategic priority to quality.

The Impact of Privatization on HE Relevance to National Skill Needs Generally student course choices in Cambodia are a very poor match to national needs for professional skills. For example, approximately two-thirds of the postgraduate student body enrols in business courses while the job market can only absorb a small fraction of the graduates (CAMFEBA, 2008). On the other hand, approximately one-tenth of postgraduate students take agriculture, Cambodia’s largest activity and one desperately in need of quality improvement. The development of national agriculture is one of the government’s highest strategic priorities. However, the means to deliver sufficient trained professionals into rural areas have yet to be developed. A manpower demand analysis of Cambodian agriculture skill needs carried out by staff of the Royal University of Agriculture, with the assistance of experts from the University of Toulouse (RGOC, 1997a), specified in great detail a large number of agriculture-sector technical skill training needs. Unfortunately, little evidence has yet been seen

Cambodia: Evolving Quality Issues in Higher Education


of efforts to develop technical agricultural training programmes to meet these needs. Until recently, the concept of manpower planning analysis as a basis for HE and vocational training development in Cambodia seemed to have fallen on stony ground. Of course the example quoted above is now well out of date, but the methodology could be of value for HE and trade training targeting in all sectors of development in Cambodia. Technical vocational education and training in Cambodia is sidelined by the priority aspiring students attach to the claims of universities to offer an academic education as the road to well-paid employment. There is little vocational guidance provision in upper secondary and lower tertiary programmes to make students aware of under- and oversubscribed national needs for skills training and education. Hence there is a common student and parent failure to recognize that the quality of life in the developed world, to which ambitious Cambodians aspire, is underpinned by licensing to limit trade employment to well trained and reliably certified competent tradesmen whom consumers are prepared to pay well for quality trade services. As a result there is a yawning and growing gap between the demand for and the quality supply not only of specific professional but also of technical skills (CAMFEBA, 2008; CDRI, 2009). Many students in Cambodia are desperate to learn and are prepared to invest a great deal of their time and energy into the learning process. What they and most of their teachers lack is a model of what constitutes effective learning to function for the market in terms of employment success. For most students, learning is copying and repeating rather than problem solving, analysis and critical thinking (Howes and Ford, 2011). The current largely fee-funded HE process provides insufficient funds to enable system-wide quality learning programmes, so that most HEIs fall back on the cheapest form of delivery, lectures only, flooding the market with certificated personnel who can repeat what they have been told but cannot meet the needs of employers for professionals able to identify and solve service delivery problems (CAMFEBA, 2008). Donors – in particular the World Bank – have invested considerable resources over recent years in assisting MoEYS HE staff to develop a vision of the future for Cambodia’s HE. The Education Law has proposed a Supreme National Council of Education to address these needs. However, little progress has been made in deciding a national vision and setting up the necessary support mechanisms, as highlighted below.

Education in South-East Asia


Regional status Cambodia has enthusiastically embraced ASEAN, but few Cambodian decision makers seem to grasp how low Cambodia’s competitive status is. Cambodia’s GDP per capita, based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) in $US, was close to that of the East Asia and Pacific region in 1986 but less than half by 2006 (WEF, 2008: 124). On efficiency enhancers it was ranked 115th of 134 nations, and on HE and training 127th. With the opening of Cambodia to free-market competition from its fellow ASEAN members from 2015, it is difficult to see how Cambodia will be able to sell its neighbours in return skill-based products that can compete in price with those Cambodians will be buying from abroad. On human development, critical to an effective labour force, Cambodia was ranked 139 out of 179 nations, ahead of only Myanmar in the South-East Asia region (UNDP, 2011: 129). But note that on HE, critical to capacity to establish competitive advantage, Cambodia was ranked lowest in the region (op. cit., 160). It is therefore quite possible that the employers of technically skilled personnel for the management of Cambodian industries may be obliged to employ graduates trained elsewhere in the region, in a context where reserving jobs for Cambodians will run up against ASEAN open border policies. As a result there are signs now that, at least in the employer sector, the imminent risk of unprotected competition is beginning to energize attention to improving investment in the relevance and quality of Cambodian HEI programmes.

Key Policy Issues Yet to be Effectively Addressed At least in part, the failure to establish serious standards is due to the financing dilemma faced by most institutions. For an overview of this dilemma as seen by some Cambodian postgraduate students who have sought higher-quality HE in Australia, see the Phnom Penh Post (2012). The root cause of the shortfall in Cambodian HE delivery against priority national needs is the continuing failure of government to determine a coherent overall policy framework for HE development, despite all the urgings of the World Bank and other donors over the past 15 years that this base for planning has to be the highest priority need. Since 2007 a national vision for the future of HE has been a planning task on which it has not yet been possible to arrive at an agreed vision approved by the Council of Ministers. As a result, massification

Cambodia: Evolving Quality Issues in Higher Education


at the expense of quality has run to an extreme, regardless of priority national development needs for skilled professionals. The vision shortfall is evidence of the difficulty of the task. Unlike general education, responsibilities for HE are fragmented among the Council of Ministers, 11 technical vocational ministries, the National Bank of Cambodia and the MoEYS. It is a complex subsector because its funding, across both public and private HEIs, is 80 per cent drawn from student fees, placing an unprecedented amount of education funding in the hands of the institutions licensed by government to act in its name with, to the frustration of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, very little transparency. The governing boards of the private HEIs have successfully recruited powerful decision makers, including ministers, to their membership (see private HEI websites), so protecting their autonomous control of funds collected from students and parents under powers delegated by government. This is due to the licensing of institutions as government-authorized service providers, but with very little detailing, in the conditions of HEI licensing, of responsibility for financial transparency in the delivery of quality services, and with little supervision to assure such transparency. HE teachers, once the lowest paid of Cambodian professionals, include large numbers who are now amongst the highest paid for their level of training. While the upgrading of professional remuneration is long overdue, the distribution of these rewards lacks any design to provide incentives for the delivery of quality courses in those professions essential to achieving priority national development goals. Essentially much of the remuneration upgrade has been captured by those who staff high-demand and relatively low-cost courses such as business, paid by the hour for an impossible load of teaching hours, often spread across several institutions and campuses. In most public institutions, little or no additional funding, over and above the meagre government salaries, is provided for staff, other than lecturers, engaged in such essential services as institutional management, quality assurance, research, library support, IT, provision of tutorials, and mentoring. Teachers of postgraduate courses are often made responsible for supervising ten or more theses, as opposed to a typical three or four in a good university. The fragmentation of the management and supervision of the system of HEIs, spread across 14 authorities, does little to help with the coordination of policy and planning. The Supreme National Council of Education (SNCE) was legislated in 2007 as a coordinating authority but still has to be established before it can begin to have any influence on the coordination of the diverse


Education in South-East Asia

bodies managing and supervising HEIs. There remains also some debate as to what authority the SNCE will have over government education agencies other than its proposed secretariat, the MoEYS. Since 1997 the World Bank has been engaged in supporting HE planning in Cambodia. On the basis of the challenges identified over this period, it has now commenced the Cambodian Higher Education Quality and Capacity Improvement Project (HEQCIP, 2010–15), the largest ever single investment in Cambodian HE (World Bank, 2011). Priority targets include instructional and management capacity building, including research capacity to generate the knowledge to guide effective Cambodian participation in the coming ASEAN Free Trade region. This is a beginning of the needed task to meet the priority HE research and competency output needs of the nation. These needs might form the core of a vision statement for HE planning and development. Cambodian strategic planning for education has made remarkable progress in recent years, with the ESP 2009–13 providing an excellent summary of progress to date and needs still to be addressed. Unfortunately, in recent years trends in the share of the national recurrent budget for education have increasingly fallen short of ESP proposals and government commitments to improvement. This is particularly the case in HE, so heavily dependent on fee income, which falls far short of the needs for producing competent professionals.

References Ablin, D. (1991). Foreign Language Policy in the Cambodian Government: Questions of Sovereignty, Manpower Training and Development Assistance. Phnom Penh: UNICEF. Abu-Duhou, I. (2008). Overview of Education Policy and Trends in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region. PowerPoint presented in Cambodia on 30 March 2008. ADB (2011a). Higher Education Across Asia: An Overview of Issues and Strategies. Mandaluyong City: Asian Development Bank. —(2011b). Improving Instructional Quality: Focus on Faculty Development. Mandaluyong City: Asian Development Bank. Altbach, P. (2006). Higher Education in South-East Asia. Bangkok: UNESCO. —(2007a). Tradition and Transition: The International Imperative in Higher Education. Boston, MA: Center for International Higher Education, Boston College. —(2007b). Tradition and Transition: The International Imperative in Higher Education. Boston, MA: Center for International Higher Education, Boston College.

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—(2009). Chapter 2, p. 20, in P. Altbach, L. Reisberg and L. Rumbley (eds), Trends in Global Higher Education. Boston, MA: Center for International Higher Education, Boston College. —(2010). ‘Access means inequality’. The International Higher Education Journal, 61: 34. Altbach, P. and Peterson, P. (eds) (2007). ‘Comparative perspectives on access and equity’, in Higher Education in the New Century: Global Challenges and Innovative Ideas. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. Altbach, P. and Toru, U. (eds) (2004). Asian Universities: Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Challenges. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Brooks, A. and Ly, M. (2009). Academic Capacity and Sustainability at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh: RUPP. CAMFEBA (2008). Youth and Employment: Bridging the Gap. Phnom Penh: Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations (CAMFEBA). CDRI (2009). ‘Cambodia’s human resource development: building a skilled labour force’. Cambodia Outlook Brief 2009, No. 02. Phnom Penh: Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI). —(2010). ‘Scoping study: research capacities of Cambodia’s universities’. The Development Research Forum in Cambodia. Phnom Penh: Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI). Chealy, C. (2006). ‘Cambodia’, in Higher Education in South-East Asia. Bangkok: UNESCO. Chhun, K. (2011). ‘Quality lacking in Higher Education’. Economics Today, 5, 97: 22–3. Chhun, N. (2009). Higher Education and Unemployment of the Educated in Cambodia. Thesis, June 2009. Paris: IIEP. Dy, S. (2006). A Situational Analysis of Higher Education Management in Cambodia. Phnom Penh: Royal University of Phnom Penh. (Copies available on request to ASEAN University Network, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.) Hoem, S. (2011). ‘Higher education: Cambodia’s universities in need of reform’. Economics Today, 2: 10. Howes, D. and Ford, D. (2011). ‘Negotiating globalization: the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’, in S. Marginson, Higher Education in the Asia-Pacific, Strategic Responses to Globalization. New York: Springer-Verlag. Innes-Brown, M. (2006). ‘Higher Education Cambodia’. Report, Australian International Office of Overseas Skills Recognition. Canberra: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). Johnstone, D. (2010), in P. Altbach (ed.), Leadership for World-Class Universities: Challenges for Developing Countries. Boston, MA: Center for International Higher Education, Boston College. Ledgerwood, J. (2009). Understanding Cambodia: Social Hierarchy, Patron–Client Relationships and Power. Course Notes: patrons (accessed 18 October 2012).


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Lenn, M. P. (2003). Strengthening World Bank Support for Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Higher Education in East Asia and the Pacific. Washington, DC: World Bank, Education Sector Unit, East Asia and the Pacific. —(2008). Quality Assurance in Higher Education in the Broader Asia-Pacific Region. Canberra: Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Lezberg, A. K. (2005). Report on Fulbright Grant for Assistance to the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia. Phnom Penh: Royal University of Phnom Penh. Macpherson, J. (1996). A Cambodian Commission for Higher Education: Some Considerations, in RGOC (1997b). McNamara, V. (1999). ‘Some profiles of Cambodian higher education institutions: how policies are made’, in Sloper, D. (ed.), Higher Education in Cambodia. Bangkok: UNESCO. MoEYS (1995–2012). Higher Education Statistics. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Department of Higher Education, annual volumes. —(1999). Higher Education Statistics 1998–99. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport., Department of Higher Education. —(2010). Education Strategic Plan (ESP 2009–13). Phnom Penh: Department of Planning, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. Morris, P. (1996). ‘Asia’s Four Little Tigers: a comparison of the role of education in their development’. Comparative Education, 32, 1: 95–109. O’Brien, N. (2004). Challenges to Higher Education in Cambodia: Access, Equity of Access, and Quality and Relevance. Ireland: Thesis, April 2004. TU 874 MA Development Management Programme. Phnom Penh Post (2012). ‘For many it’s a matter of degrees’. 3 January 2012. RGOC (1997a). Analyse des métiers et des emplois agricoles au Cambodge (Analysis of Agricultural Professions and Jobs in Cambodia). Phnom Penh: Royal University of Agriculture (RUA). —(1997b). National Action Plan for Higher Education (NHEAP): Task Force Final Report. Phnom Penh: Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), Hun Sen Library, Education Resource Centre (ERC). —(2002). Royal Kret on State Universities. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS). —(2007a). Prakas 1434 – On the Establishment of Higher Education Institutions. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS). —(2007b). Education Law. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS). Salmi, Jamil (2009). The Challenge of Establishing World-Class Universities. Washington, DC: The World Bank. Sloper, D. (ed.) (1999). Higher Education in Cambodia. Bangkok: UNESCO. —(2004). Proposed Higher Education Project. Phnom Penh: Consultant’s Report to MoEYS.

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UNDP (2011). Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All: Human Development Report 2011. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. UNESCO (1990). Policy Paper for Change and Development in Higher Education. Paris: UNESCO. —(1992). Role of Higher Education in Promoting Education for All. Bangkok: UNESCO. —(2009). World Conference on Higher Education: The New Dynamics of Higher Education and Research for Societal Change and Development. Paris: UNESCO. —(2010). Gender Issues in Higher Education. Bangkok: UNESCO. Virak, Y. (2010). Quality Assurance in Higher Education in Southeast Asian Countries. Paper presented at a regional seminar in Bangkok on quality assurance. Phnom Penh: MoEYS, Department of Higher Education. —(2012). The Case of Cambodia: Higher Education System and Quality Improvement. Cambodia. Siem Reap: Paper Presented at the 2012 Asia-Pacific Quality Network Conference on Quality Assurance in Higher Education. WEF (World Economic Forum) (2008). ‘Country economic profile, Cambodia’, in The Global Competitiveness Report 2008–09. Geneva: World Economic Forum. Welch, A. and Altbach, P. (2011). ‘The perils of commercialization: Australia’s example’. International Higher Education, 62: 21–3. World Bank (2000). Higher Education in Developing Countries: Peril and Promise. Washington, DC: The World Bank. —(2003). Lifelong Learning in the Global Knowledge Economy. Washington, DC: The World Bank. —(2004). Symposium on Strategic Choices for Higher Education Reform and Quality Assurance. Bangkok: The World Bank. —(2010). Country Summary Cambodia: Conference on Governance and Financing of Higher Education – South and East Asia. Washington, DC: The World Bank. —(2011). Higher Education Quality and Capacity Improvement Project (HEQCIP, Project ID P106605). Washington, DC: The World Bank. —(2012). Putting Higher Education to Work: Skills and Research for Growth in East Asia. Washington, DC: The World Bank. World Bank and Asian Development Bank (2004a). Enhancing Service Delivery through Improved Resource Allocation and Institutional Reform. Phnom Penh: The World Bank with the Asian Development Bank. —(2004b). Cambodia at the Crossroads: Strengthening Accountability to Reduce Poverty. Phnom Penh: The World Bank with the Asian Development Bank. —(2006). Poverty Assessment. Phnom Penh: The World Bank with the Asian Development Bank. World Economic Forum (WEF) 2008. Global Competitiveness Report 2008–2009. Geneva: WEF.


Indonesia: The Challenges of Quality and Equity in Education Mark Heyward and Sopantini

Introduction With a population of 240 million, Indonesia is the fourth largest nation in the world. Along with significant minority Christian, Hindu and Buddhist communities, it has the largest Islamic population of any nation. Indonesia is a diverse country: an archipelago of 13,000 islands and home to over 300 ethnic groups. Although now regarded as a ‘lower middle income’ country (World Bank, 2011), poverty remains prevalent, with 13 per cent of the population living below the national poverty line and around half living on less than US$2.00 a day. Approximately 260,000 public and private schools and 3.4 million teachers provide an education to some 51 million children (Jalal, 2011). Indonesia’s massive and historically centralized education system has served well to unify the nation, providing its citizens with a single political ideology, a common language and a shared national identity. Moreover, the aim to provide access to primary education for all children has been largely achieved. According to the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 96 per cent of Indonesian children receive some primary schooling. Of these, 80 per cent complete primary school (United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2011b). Gross enrolment rates for secondary schooling are 72 per cent and for higher education 22 per cent (net enrolments are 57 per cent and 12 per cent respectively) (Jalal, 2011). Some 92 per cent of the population are literate (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2010; United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2011b). These are significant achievements for a young nation which at the time of independence provided schooling to less than 6 per cent of its citizens (Brojonegoro, 2001, cited in Kristiansen and Pratikno, 2006: 514).


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But this success has come at a cost. Education designed as an instrument for nation building has not worked as well for building the foundations of a democratic society. While the centralized top-down model worked well for Indonesia’s first 50 years of political and economic development, it is no longer appropriate. For the country to build an open, competitive and democratic society, changes are needed. Furthermore, the rapid expansion of education has resulted in broad access but serious concerns about quality in schooling. Recently, decentralization has exacerbated existing inequalities between provinces and districts and, within districts, between rural and urban schools. These are the challenges currently being addressed in the post-Suharto reform era. In this chapter, we provide a brief history of education in Indonesia, followed by an overview of the current status and a discussion of issues facing the sector today, particularly the challenge of increasing quality in schooling. The historical development of education in Indonesia is described below in three sections: the colonial years, the Sukarno–Suharto years, and the postSuharto years.

Indonesian Education Prior to Independence: The Colonial Years Prior to the colonial reforms of the Dutch in early nineteenth century, education in Indonesia was either informal or religious based. A tradition of Islamic schooling was focused largely on the island of Java. Students, known as santri, were given religious instruction by clerics, known as kiai. With no central coordination, teaching approaches varied between institutions, relying heavily on the personality and authority of the kiai. Generally the approach was ‘classic’, involving didactic instruction and rote learning. The curriculum followed Islamic traditions and covered the Qur’an (theology), syariah (law), ibadah (religious practice) and Arabic language. Religious boarding houses, or pesantren, and Islamic schools known as madrasah still exist throughout Indonesia today, although they were modernized in the 1970s. A small number of regular schools were also established by the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) in the early 1600s in Batavia (Jakarta) and Ambon (Nasution, 2008). In the nineteenth century the number of schools grew. Although established by Dutch Protestant and Catholic missionaries, they were generally aligned to the Dutch colonial administration. Some Indonesian Chinese communities also ran

Indonesia: The Challenges of Quality and Equity in Education


their own schools in this period. At this time the numbers were still too few to constitute an ‘education system’. Stemming from the Dutch ‘Ethical Policy’ (Ethische Politiek), in 1901 the colonial government began to introduce a centralized schooling system, based on the European model. Primary schools, middle schools and colleges were established. Access to these schools was limited both geographically and according to ‘race’ and social status. The Europeesche Lagere Scholen provided schooling for European children, and the Hollandsch Chineesche Scholen for Chinese. Indigenous Indonesians from the aristocracy were schooled in the Hollandsch Inlandsche Scholen and commoners attended Standaardschool. Most schools were private and run by missionaries, though subsidized by the government. In 1906 a new policy (Staatsblad, 1906, no. 241 and 242, cited in Aritanong, 2000: 38) promoted the establishment of village schools known as sekolah raakjat, mainly in Java. Under this policy, the village was responsible for constructing and furnishing the school building, while the government funded teacher salaries. In this way, from the beginning of a formal education system in Indonesia, a policy of community participation was adopted. However, the approach was criticized as unsustainable due to the poverty of villages, and inequitable, entrenching ethnic divisions and a traditional class system. The curriculum, funding and structure of schooling were differentiated between these various types of schools, with village schools aiming to provide only the basics of literacy and numeracy in a three-year programme, while, at the other end of the scale, the Hollandsch Inlandsche Scholen provided seven years of basic education in a full range of subjects. Instruction in the village schools was generally in Javanese, and in the higher standard schools in Dutch (Aritanong, 2000; Nasution, 2008). By the 1930s a limited education system had been established throughout the Dutch East Indies. No universities existed at this time, although six colleges were established to provide higher education in specific fields: arts, dentistry, engineering, law, medicine and agriculture. These colleges were essentially vocational training institutions rather than places for inquiry, research or liberal education. All were located in Java. Three Indonesians from this period deserve mention for their efforts to develop an indigenous approach to education. The first, Raden Ajeng Kartini, was a Javanese princess who founded a small school for village girls in 1903. Kartini is honoured each year as a pioneer of the women’s movement in Indonesia. The second, Ahmad Dahlan, in 1912 founded the Islamic reformist Muhammadiyah organization, which now runs over 7300 schools and 168


Education in South-East Asia

universities. The third, Ki Hajar Dewantara, founded the Taman Siswa school movement in 1922. Each of these movements represented a reaction against the Eurocentric and colonial flavour of the Dutch schools and arose due to the limited access available for indigenous Indonesians to attend the Dutch schools. In this way, they were aligned with the nationalist movement. Notwithstanding this, the form, pedagogical approach and system of education which survive to this day in Indonesia very much reflect European traditions. While the curriculum has adopted nationalist content in subjects such as language, social studies, civics and religion, most schools in Indonesia still look and operate much like Western schools from the early to mid-twentieth century.

Nation Building: The Japanese, Sukarno and Suharto Years (1942–98) The Dutch colonial period was followed by a brief period of Japanese occupation (1942–5). During the occupation, formal education in Indonesia came to a halt (Sulistiyono, 2007). Initially all higher education institutions were closed. Subsequently, the Medical Science School was reopened in 1943 and the former Dutch High School for Dentists was upgraded to become a college with a three-year study programme. In 1944, the Technical College of Bandung was reopened. However, the main impact of the Japanese occupation on education was part of a broader impact on administration, business and the cultural life of Indonesia. The Dutch language was rejected in favour of Malay and Japanese for education, and committees were convened to standardize Bahasa Indonesia as the new national language (Sulistiyono, 2007). At the time of Indonesia’s independence in 1945, the national constitution or founding law, Undang-Undang Dasar Negara Republik Indonesia 1945, set out a blueprint for education, explicitly rejecting the former differentiated system. Article 31 of the constitution makes basic education compulsory for all citizens and requires the state to fund it, allocating at least 20 per cent of national and regional budgets to the sector. The aim of education is stated as increasing faith, piety and noble character in the context of the intellectual life of the nation, as governed by law. Following the turmoil of war and the struggle for independence, the pressing challenge for Indonesia’s new government was to create a strong national identity. The education system played an important role in this, introducing a single

Indonesia: The Challenges of Quality and Equity in Education


national language, Bahasa Indonesia, and a single political ideology, known as Pancasila. In 1945 there were only five senior high schools throughout the country, all in Java, one junior high school in each karesidenan (a now defunct administrative area below the level of province) and one primary school in each sub-district (Buchori, 2001). In 1950, the first Basic Education Act specified six years of compulsory schooling, but it has taken until recently to come close to the goal of providing access to primary schooling for all Indonesian children. The first university, Universitas Gajah Mada, was established in 1949 and the second, Universitas Indonesia, in 1950. Also in 1950, the country’s first institute of Islamic higher education was established in Jakarta: the State Higher Education Islamic Institute (PTAIN), which is now the State Islamic University. The second Education Act (1961) established a national education system. The law also required higher education institutions to commit to three endeavours: the pursuit of learning, research, and community service. In 1966, the rule of Indonesia’s founding President Sukarno came to an end. President Suharto, a military general, came to power on the back of a failed communist coup. For the next 31 years, Indonesia was ruled under a quasidemocratic dictatorship known as the New Order. The focus of education shifted to supporting national development. At the same time education was used as a tool for the New Order Government to enforce conformity and allegiance. To suit these aims, an ambitious expansion programme was implemented. The government’s first Long-Term Development Plan (1969–74) prioritized increasing access, equity and six years’ primary schooling for all. In the 1970s an oil boom provided the government with a financial windfall which it used to increase access to education. More than 61,000 primary schools, called SD Inpres (an abbreviation of instruksi president), were built across Indonesia, from Sabang at the western tip of Aceh to Merauke in the east of Papua. Children from remote island and jungle communities could now attend school. A system of non-formal education was set up to provide basic education to adults and young people who had missed out previously. In 1975 the curriculum was reformed to suit the demands of economic development. In the same year the Islamic education sector was formally brought into the national education system, although still administered under the Ministry for Religious Affairs. Islamic schools – pesantren, madrasah and higher education institutes – were now required to teach the national curriculum alongside Islamic studies. Teacher training was fast-tracked to cope with the rapidly increasing demand by expanding the teacher-training secondary school system. Up until the early 1990s most primary school teachers were trained in special secondary schools.


Education in South-East Asia

The system was first established in 1947 with ‘Lower Teaching Schools’ (Sekolah Guru Bawah or SGB) and ‘Higher Teaching Schools’ (Sekolah Guru Atas or SGA), which provided a four year teacher training programme to primary school graduates. In 1960 these were superseded by senior-secondary Teacher Training Schools (Sekolah Pendidikan Guru or SPG). By 1995 the system was dismantled and all teachers were trained in state Teacher Training Institutes (Institut Ilum Keguruan dan Pendidikan or IKIP), which have now been upgraded to become universities. Levels of basic literacy increased dramatically in this period. Gross enrolment in primary schools increased from 62 per cent in 1973 to near universal enrolment in the mid-1980s (Behrman et al., 2002, cited in Kristiansen and Pratikno, 2006: 515). In 1984 the policy of six-year compulsory universal education was reaffirmed, with the aim of ensuring that all students attended elementary school. This was followed in 1994 by a policy of nine years’ compulsory education, covering the six years of primary schooling and three years of junior secondary school. The number of higher education institutions increased from ten in 1950 to 317 in 1974. At the same time the role of higher education was redefined in the national and regional development context; universities and higher education institutes were tasked to produce skilled workers and to respond to the labour market (Baunto, 2011). This expansion was impressive, but there was a down side. The rapid growth resulted in serious problems of quality at all levels of education, and the highly centralized system led to inefficiencies and problems of curriculum relevance locally. Teachers were underpaid and underqualified. The system operated on the basis of control and compliance. Under the New Order government, schools became tools of the state; principals and teachers began to see their role as instilling national discipline rather than opening the minds of the young (Bjork, 2005), and communities lost control of their schools. Parents and communities began to see the management and governance of schooling as something which did not concern them. And when one is no longer concerned about schooling, one ceases to notice if the quality is poor, if the curriculum is irrelevant or if the buildings are collapsing.

Reforming the National Education System: The Post-Suharto Years In 1998, following a monetary crisis and widespread riots, President Suharto was swept from power in Indonesia’s second major political transition since

Indonesia: The Challenges of Quality and Equity in Education


independence. A succession of democratically elected governments has since governed the country in what has become known as the reform era. Reforms in the education sector have occurred within the context of reformasi, a broad movement to create an open society, a democratic political system and clean, responsive and decentralized government. In addition to the official aims of producing educated and morally upright citizens, the wider aims of education are now to create a more democratic society and a more competitive nation. Over the decade since the reform period commenced, a raft of new policies has reshaped the regulatory framework for education: MM







Laws on regional autonomy (1999, 2004). Regulation on school committees and district school boards (2002). The National Education System Act (2003). National Education Standards, which include standards for curriculum process and outcomes, management, teacher qualifications and infrastructure (2005, 2006, 2007). School-based curriculum regulation (2006), based on a proposed national ‘competency-based curriculum’ (2004) which was piloted but never adopted in its entirety. Law on teachers and university lecturers (2005), which sets standards for teachers and academics. Minimum Service Standards, which include standards for district level management and school level delivery of education (2010)

Taken together, the various reform policies give greater autonomy to districts to manage education systems within a national policy framework, increase the autonomy of universities, and give far greater autonomy to schools to develop ‘school-based curricula’ within the context of ‘school-based management’. Communities are given greater authority in the governance of education through district education boards and school committees. In addition, the reforms mandate improved conditions and increased qualifications for teachers along with an active learning approach and a competency-based curriculum framework for schools at all levels in the system. Implementation of these policies is a work-in-progress as described in the final section of this chapter. To support school-based management and reduce the burden on families resulting from fuel price increases, in 2005 the government introduced School Operational Funding (Bantuan Operasional Sekolah, known as BOS). As a result, schools now receive per-capita grant funding from the central government,


Education in South-East Asia

giving them for the first time some financial independence. A typical rural elementary school prior to the introduction of BOS had an annual budget of less than Rp2 million (US$200), enough to buy a few stationary items. Textbooks and other requirements were supplied centrally. Since 2005 the same school has had a budget of over Rp25 million (US$2500) and, since 2009, Rp40 million (US$4000). Most teachers are still provided by the district. The grants were further increased in 2012. Parent and community contributions along with funding from other sources such as the district government can further increase this amount. The BOS policy, however, has caused some confusion. When it was first introduced some district heads were elected on the basis of ‘free schooling’ policies, promising to do away with fees previously levied by many state schools. In many areas this resulted in a decline in community participation in local schools. Moreover, the BOS funds were insufficient to enable schools to meet the newly mandated minimum service standards. Consequently, a number of provinces and districts have begun to top up the BOS funds with local per-capita grants. In an attempt to improve the quality of teaching in Indonesian schools, a national programme of teacher certification commenced in 2007. The aim is to upgrade teacher qualifications over a five–seven year period, to achieve a minimum standard for all school teachers at degree level and higher education lecturers at postgraduate level. Despite good intentions, the programme has not been without critics or problems. The upgrading of so many teachers in such a brief period has required a massive in-service programme using teacher training universities as providers. With resources stretched to the limit, serious questions have arisen about the quality of this training. Teacher certification is directly linked to salary increases and as a result a corrupt, informal paymentfor-results system has allegedly developed. Meanwhile the teachers’ union, representing senior teachers, lobbied the government to soften its policy, enabling experienced teachers to gain certification on the basis of portfolio assessment rather than academic achievement or professional competence. The result is that the aim of increasing quality in the teaching force has been seriously compromised in the short term while the cost of the programme remains high. Linked to certification, teacher salaries have increased dramatically, in many cases doubling, bringing Indonesia more in line with other countries in the region. Efforts are also underway to improve efficiency in the recruitment and deployment of teachers. Indonesia has a large number of small schools and a very low average student–teacher ratio. However, problems exist with

Indonesia: The Challenges of Quality and Equity in Education


an often chronic undersupply of teachers in rural and isolated areas mirrored by oversupply in urban areas. Mismatching is another serious problem, with teachers required to teach in subject areas for which they are unqualified, especially in madrasah. Higher education reforms have also been undertaken and include increasing autonomy for universities and encouraging the institutions to adopt more of a business model, generating fees and income to support quality improvements. Also during this period, political and professional groups lobbied government to honour the terms of the national constitution and allocate a minimum of 20 per cent of budgets at national, provincial and district level to education. Budget allocations to education in Indonesia are historically low in comparison with other countries. Amid a lively public debate, in 2006 a group of teachers, headed by the Chair of the Indonesian Teachers Union (PGRI), filed a suit against the Indonesian government for acting unconstitutionally in passing into law the proposed national budget for 2007 with an allocation for education of only 11.8 per cent. The Constitutional Court upheld the claim, ruling that the budget was unconstitutional and that governments must allocate at least 20 per cent to education (including teacher salaries) in line with the national constitution. While the policy framework for education is generally regarded as sound (World Bank, 2004; AusAID, 2010), the challenge is to implement these policies across Indonesia’s vast education system. Despite over 30 years of reform and substantial support from the international donor community, little has changed in the majority of Indonesia’s schools, classrooms and higher education institutions. Reformers face big challenges: the quality of teaching is low, the capacity of districts to manage education in a decentralized system is limited, the system at all levels is plagued by corruption, and student learning outcomes are weak. In the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, Indonesia ranked 57 out of 65 participating countries, scoring significantly lower than the Organization for Economic Development (OECD) average on every area assessed (reading, mathematics and science). More than half of the Indonesian students participating in the reading test and nearly 80 per cent of those participating in the mathematics test scored below the proficiency level (OECD, 2010). In the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Indonesia ranked 36 out of a total of 48 countries on mathematical literacy. Indonesia’s ranking dropped between 2003 and 2007 (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, 2008). The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) assessed reading skills of Grade 4 students in 40 countries in the world against four


Education in South-East Asia

international benchmarks in 2006. A majority of participating students in Indonesia had not acquired basic reading skills even after four years of primary schooling (UNESCO, 2011a). These relatively poor results cannot be attributed only to poverty. Standardized international exams demonstrate that Indonesia’s student outcomes are lower than those of students in other developing countries, even after taking family socio-economic status into account. This fact suggests that deficiencies in the education system, rather than the socio-economic backgrounds of students, are responsible for lower levels of performance (World Bank, 2010a: 2). Meanwhile, perennial differences between regions in national examination results highlight the challenge of inequity between the high-performing urban districts, concentrated on the island of Java, and remote and rural districts in the outer islands. Decentralization and associated reforms have not yet resulted in significant quality improvements and may have actually increased the disparities between districts and, moreover, between schools within districts. District autonomy, school-based management and similar reforms in higher education have generally favoured the urban schools and the more prestigious universities which serve the wealthy, political and bureaucratic elites, leaving rural and remote schools underserved. A lack of good data on which district policy makers can make informed decisions continues to exacerbate this problem. The national Ministry’s teacher training centres located in each province have been restructured as ‘Education Quality Assurance Bodies’ known as LPMP. However, the capacity of these institutions – and the system which supports them – to guarantee quality is very limited. Furthermore, the decentralization of authority to districts and schools leaves the provinces and LPMP without an effective mandate to implement or support a national reform agenda. After ten years of district autonomy, the capacity of districts to govern and manage education remains low. Although improving, the capacity of schools to effectively self-manage is also still low. The likelihood is that this reality will see provinces resume a greater authority in the future, which may help in addressing some of the inequity issues. On the positive side of the equation, Indonesia has made significant advances in improving access, with near universal access to primary schooling and increasing access to secondary schooling and higher education. Dropout rates have decreased, retention to secondary school and higher education is increasing, and teacher absenteeism has decreased, according to one study, from 20 per cent in 2003 to 14 per cent in 2008 (Toyamah, 2009). Adult literacy levels

Indonesia: The Challenges of Quality and Equity in Education


are impressive. Indonesia’s performance on gender indicators is also impressive, providing a model not only within the region but in the broader Islamic world.

The Schooling System Schooling in Indonesia is administered and delivered through two parallel systems: the National Ministry for Education administers regular state and private schools; the Ministry for Religious Affairs administers state and private Islamic schools, known as madrasah. The term ‘regular schools’ is used here in preference to the term ‘secular schools’, which is sometimes used, as these schools, administered under the Ministry for National Education, include private schools run by religious foundations. All schools in Indonesia, state and private, provide religious instruction within the national curriculum framework. Approximately 20 per cent of Indonesian children are educated in the Islamic system. To the casual observer there is little to differentiate state and private schools or regular and Islamic schools in Indonesia. Notwithstanding policies aimed at decentralizing curriculum, schools and madrasah teach a standardized national curriculum and all students are assessed in the same standardized national examination system. The government, through both ministries, funds the majority of teachers in all schools and madrasah, state and private – although this varies considerably with many private madrasah underserved. The formal schooling system in Indonesia is structured in three levels, spanning 12 years. In addition, early childhood centres and kindergartens provide pre-schooling. Although outside the formal system, education for many, particularly in the better served urban communities, commences at four years of age with kindergarten, known as taman kanak-kanak or TK (RA or BA in the Islamic system), or earlier still with playgroup. Over 99 per cent of Indonesia’s 49,000 kindergartens are private. The government has since 2011 begun to prioritize early childhood education with the establishment of a directorate within the National Ministry for Education responsible for what has become known as Pendidikan Anak Usia Dini or PAUD (Early Childhood Education) delivered by community-based playgroups, kindergartens and integrated health-education service centres known as posyandu. In 2003 the gross enrolment rates for five–six year olds in kindergarten were 45 per cent in urban and 24 per cent in rural areas. While gender disparities are negligible, the differences in access for children in rural and urban areas are significant.


Education in South-East Asia

Although expansion of access to all of these programmes has been significant during the last decade, participation remains relatively low at approximately 50 per cent (gross) overall. Only around 15 per cent of early childhood teachers have the required four-year qualification, and the range and quality of delivery varies (Education Sector Analytical and Capacity Development Partnership, 2011). Students progress through the formal education system on the basis of annual assessments. National examinations are held at the end of primary school (sekolah dasar or SD; madrasah ibtidaiyah or MI), junior-secondary school (sekolah menengah pertama or SMP; madrasah tsanawiyah or MTs), and senior-secondary school (sekolah menengah atas or SMA; madrasah aliyah or MA) respectively. The primary curriculum is structured along standard lines, divided into subjects: Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia), mathematics, science, social science, arts, physical education and religion. In addition, schools teach ‘local content’ subjects; frequently this includes English language although it may also encompass local languages and cultures. The secondary school curriculum becomes progressively more specialized, with science divided into the traditional fields of chemistry, physics and biology, for example. Madrasah at all levels also teach traditional Islamic subjects. While the curriculum reforms of the last decade suggest that schools should now be preparing and teaching a school-based curriculum, using a competency-based framework and active learning pedagogies, the reality is quite different. The high-stakes examination system means that students, teachers, schools and districts are all judged on the outcomes of nationally mandated annual tests. As a result, teachers ‘teach to the test’ and efforts to implement more progressive approaches to curriculum and pedagogy have met with limited success. Moreover, the examination system has in recent years come under criticism due to problems of quality in the examination papers and allegations of widespread cheating and corruption in administration. Over 90 per cent of regular primary schools and around 70 per cent of secondary school schools are state owned (Ministry of National Education, 2006). In the Islamic system the pattern is reversed: 90 per cent of madrasah are private (Ministry of Religious Affairs, 2006). Private schools in Indonesia fall into two categories: (a) private fee-paying schools generally regarded as high standard; and (b) private madrasah and regular schools serving poor communities, generally regarded as low standard. In all but a few cases, private schools and madrasah are run by religious foundations, the majority Catholic, Protestant or Islamic. In some areas such as the predominately Catholic island of Flores in

Indonesia: The Challenges of Quality and Equity in Education


Eastern Indonesia, private schools outnumber state schools. While state-run madrasah are generally better resourced and are regarded as higher standard than private, the reverse is true for most private fee-paying Catholic and Protestant schools which traditionally serve the elite and are better resourced than regular state schools. Over the last 15 years a small but influential group of bilingual schools has grown, teaching an integrated national and international curriculum to fee-paying students. Previously known as ‘national-plus’ schools and operating to some extent outside the regulations, these schools have now been absorbed into the national system. In 2005 the Ministry of Education established a National Education Standards Board, which set standards for national and international standard schools. Subsequent regulations require every district to establish at least one state school at each level designated as ‘international standard’ as defined by the government (Peraturan Pemerintah 19, 2005). The policy, however, has been heavily criticized due to its elitist implications, questions about quality and the reality of so-called ‘international standards’, and allegations of corruption in implementation. Technical or vocational senior high schools, known as sekolah menengah kejuruan (SMK) or madrasah aliyah kejuruan (MAK), provide a vocational education in a range of fields, generally aligned to the needs of local industry. The three-year programme aims to prepare students directly for the workplace and to produce skilled workers to serve the needs of Indonesian industry. The schools specialize in particular vocational areas such as economics, business, motor mechanics, engineering, agriculture, dress making, and construction. Technical training comprises about 25 per cent of the curriculum, the remainder being devoted to general education. In 1996 there were about 12,000 senior secondary technical/vocational schools, nearly half of which were madrasah. The majority of these schools (nearly 10,000) are private in both the Islamic and regular sectors. Approximately two million students attend technical schools (UNESCO, 2011b). However, according to a survey conducted in the mid-1990s, only 20 per cent of new graduates from these institutions find employment in the short term (Djojonegoro, 1994). Unsurprisingly, the schools are regarded as lower status than the academic senior secondary schools and demand is relatively low, a problem that the Ministry is attempting to address by improving quality and relevance and conducting promotional campaigns. Students with special needs or disabilities attend special schools, known as sekolah luar biasa (SLB), or regular schools offering an inclusive education programme. However, this does not meet the demand and many children with special needs, especially in rural and remote areas, are unable to access education.


Education in South-East Asia

The government’s current policy is to expand access through increasing the number of inclusive schools. Currently 1,664 regular schools provide special education to some 350,000 students through inclusive education (KOMPAS, 2011). However, it is too soon to judge the success of the programme. A system of non-formal education provides catch-up schooling for those who dropped out of formal schooling. Administered and funded by the Ministry of National Education, but mainly delivered through local community-based learning centres, the programme is structured in three packets, A, B and C, providing a remodelled primary, junior secondary and senior secondary programme for older learners out of school. Over 6,500 such community learning centres exist throughout the country (Ministry of National Education, 2011). This system has generally been very successful in providing opportunities for young people to gain basic qualifications and re-enter the education system.

The Higher Education System Indonesia’s higher education system is made up of state and private academies, polytechnics, colleges, institutes and universities. Academies are single-faculty institutions offering diploma programmes while polytechnics are multi-faculty institutions offering diploma programmes. Colleges often have only one faculty and offer diplomas and some basic degrees. Institutes have university-level status and offer diplomas and basic degrees. Universities offer diplomas and a full range of degrees including doctoral programmes. As in the schooling system, Indonesia also has a tradition of Islamic higher education governed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The Islamic higher education sector includes state and private institutions which teach a range of secular and Islamic subjects, the latter including Tarbiya (education), Adab (humanities), Usul al-Din (philosophy), Shari’a (law), Da’wa (communication) and Dirasat Islamiyah (Islamic and Arabic studies). There are three types of state institutions: Islamic universities (UIN), Islamic institutes (IAIN) and Islamic colleges (STAIN). Indonesia has over 130 state owned and over 3,000 private higher education institutions. Approximately four million students are enrolled in these, making a gross enrolment rate of 27 per cent. Although the state institutions represent just 4 per cent of the total, they account for 32 per cent of enrolments (World Bank, 2010b). While state institutions have existed for some years, the private

Indonesia: The Challenges of Quality and Equity in Education


institutions are relatively new and while the 30 or so state owned universities offer a broad range of subjects, most private institutions specialize in only one field or a limited number of subjects. The quality of state higher education is generally regarded as better than that in these private schools. Due to the limited space in state schools, over half of the students attend private institutions. The most highly regarded institutions in Indonesia are the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, and the University of Indonesia in Jakarta. Currently no university in Indonesia is ranked within the top 200 of the world’s institutions (Quacquarelli Symonds, 2011). Indonesian academic degrees include the Sarjana 1, or Bachelor Degree, which can be earned in four to six years; the Sarjana II, or Masters Degree, which can be earned in another two or more years; and Sarjana III, the Doctoral Degree, which varies in length. Diplomas can be earned in professional and vocational fields at four levels and take one to four years to complete. Challenges facing Indonesia’s higher education sector include the need to increase access for the poor, limited space in public institutions, poor quality, and a high level of government bureaucracy. During the 2000s, reforms which increased the autonomy for some state universities aimed to address the last two of these problems. The fees at state universities are historically low but vary by institution, while at private universities tuition fees can be quite substantial. Since Indonesia signed the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) agreement in 1992, the country has been moving towards a more open and competitive higher education sector. In this context, the government gave greater autonomy and encouraged state universities to generate income and adopt a more entrepreneurial approach. Consequently some instituted a ‘special admissions’ scheme, in which applicants willing and able to pay substantial fees can enrol without the need to compete on the basis of academic results. However, the policy framework around this practice is contentious and under review. A 2000 regulation enabled state universities to adopt a new governance structure as a state-owned education entity (Badan Hukum Milik Negara). The aim was to improve quality by making the universities more competitive and entrepreneurial. Seven universities adopted the new model. Subsequently, in 2009, a new law (Undang-Undang Republik Indonesia No. 9, 2009, tentang Badan Hukum Pendidikan) was introduced to provide broader opportunities for schools and higher education institutions to adopt a more business-oriented model of educational governance. However, protests forced the government to subsequently rescind this law, and the universities which adopted the model are currently transitioning back to a regular centrally controlled model of


Education in South-East Asia

governance. The complaint of the opposition was that, under the autonomy provided by the new law, universities were charging high fees and becoming businesslike in their approach against the spirit of the national constitution, which suggests that education is a responsibility of the state and should be freely available to all. In recent years a small number of ‘elite’ private universities has been established with the objective of providing international standard higher education. This includes Pelita Harapan University, Bina Nusantara University and Ciputra University. Under current laws, foreign universities are unable to establish campuses in Indonesia although the government is considering allowing this in the future. In the meantime, many Indonesian institutions have cooperative agreements with foreign institutions and recently a number of the higher quality universities have begun to offer dual degrees in cooperation with foreign universities.

The Challenge of Improving Quality As described in this chapter, Indonesia has achieved notable successes over a brief 60 years since independence. It is one of the few countries in South-East Asia to have achieved nearly universal basic education (Baunto, 2011). The government is now proposing to extend compulsory schooling through until the end of Year 12 to include senior secondary schooling. Notwithstanding this success, Indonesia faces major challenges as it moves forward into the twentyfirst century with a new democracy, a robust and growing economy and a regional free-trade agreement. Prominent among these challenges are the needs to improve the quality of teaching, streamline the administration system and improve the capacity of district governments to manage education, and to bring the benefits of improved access and quality in schooling to all citizens in the vast and widespread archipelago. Across the nation’s 263,000 schools and higher education institutions and among its 3.9 million teachers and lecturers there exists a wide range of teaching and management practices. However, with a few exceptions, a casual look in any one of these schools will reveal poor conditions, few books or teaching aids, and traditional ‘chalk-and-talk’ teaching methods. Primary school students, especially in rural schools, typically sit on cramped benches at rows of scarred wooden desks in scuffed and bare classrooms facing a blackboard where a stern teacher instructs them to copy down notes or complete dull standardized tasks.

Indonesia: The Challenges of Quality and Equity in Education


While we should acknowledge the examples of outstanding teachers conducting lively and engaging classes which give lie to this depressing picture, these are undoubtedly the exception. In more cases than not, classrooms and lecture halls today look little changed from the 1950s. In the final section of this chapter we take a look at the efforts to address this challenge and improve quality, particularly in primary schools. Since the beginning, international donors have played a key role in the effort to reform pedagogy and improve the quality and relevance of schooling in Indonesia. By the end of the 1970s the Indonesian government had achieved widespread coverage of primary education through the Inpres school building programme, but concern was growing about the quality of education being delivered. A study conducted by the Ministry of Education and Culture with support from the University of London highlighted the ‘chalk and talk’ teaching methodologies being used by most teachers resulting in students’ passivity (BP3K, 1979, cited in Tangyong et al., 1989: i). Supported by the UK Government, the Cianjur Project piloted the use of active learning methodologies in West Java. From 1985 the project was expanded to a further six districts in different provinces and became known as Active Learning through Professional Support (usually abbreviated to ‘CBSA’ in Indonesian). Besides training teachers to use active learning methodologies, the project also set up a school cluster system with teacher working groups (KKGs) and Teacher Activity Centres (PKGs). CBSA became very fashionable and elements were incorporated in the 1984 national curriculum. The government applied to the World Bank for a loan to expand the project to six new provinces. This new project was called the Primary Education Quality Improvement Project (PEQIP) and ran from 1992 to 1997. However, due to a combination of internal politics within the Ministry of Education and questions about the appropriateness of active learning to Indonesia at the time, CBSA was dropped. As a result, PEQIP focused mainly on spreading the cluster system, and active learning languished for several years. The approach was picked up again by a programme started by UNICEF and UNESCO in 1999, which also built on experience in other countries including India. The programme, known as Creating Learning Communities for Children (CLCC), focused not only on active learning but also on the need to improve school management and community support for schools. Since then this approach has become the main focus of the government’s effort to improve teaching quality in primary schools. The term PAKEM introduced by CLCC is an acronym for Pembelajaran yang Aktif, Kreatif, Efektif dan Menyenangkan, which translates as Active, Creative, Effective and Joyful Learning. A similar approach in secondary schools is known as Contextual Teaching and Learning (CTL).


Education in South-East Asia

Over the last decade a number of development projects have replicated and further developed the CLCC methodology, and supported the government in its efforts to introduce PAKEM across the nation. This includes projects funded and implemented in partnership with the government by international agencies such as the World Bank, the Asia Development Bank, the European Union, UNICEF and UNESCO; national aid agencies from Britain, Australia, the USA, New Zealand, Japan, the Netherlands and Germany; and international non-government organizations such as PLAN International and Save the Children. Improving teaching practices is no easy task, however, especially in a system so vast and so diverse, and facing such serious problems of management and governance. Reform efforts currently rely heavily on the school cluster system established by CBSA and PEQIP. Across the country, some 7,000 cluster-based teacher working groups, known at primary school level as Kelompok Kerja Guru (KKG), now provide a forum for in-service teacher training. Secondary school teachers come together in groups based on teaching subjects, known as Musyawarah Guru Mata Pelajaran (MGMP). While the KKG are based at sub-district level and generally comprise between five and ten schools, MGMP are usually at district level. Indonesia is currently divided into around 500 districts which, since the reforms of the early 2000s, have been given major responsibility for managing education. The early CBSA and PEQIP programmes attempted to disseminate reforms by training key teachers in core schools. The hope was that the changes would be spread to satellite schools in each cluster. However, this often did not occur and the reforms failed to be sustained beyond the life of the project. More recent projects tend to work with groups of schools in clusters and to involve all teachers in all schools. Linked to the sub-district and cluster system, some 24,000 school supervisors support primary school teachers nationwide. However, the ability of these supervisors to facilitate changes in classroom practice is generally rather limited. In parallel with the effort to implement active learning approaches in Indonesian classrooms, the government introduced the complementary policies of school-based management and school-based curriculum (KTSP). Many of the recent donor-funded projects have taken an integrated approach to school improvement as modelled first through the CLCC project, focusing on the three ‘pillars’ of school-based management, community participation, and active learning (PAKEM). School-based management policies, supported by BOS funding, are intended to improve management, increase transparency and enhance local community participation in school development planning.

Indonesia: The Challenges of Quality and Equity in Education


Meanwhile, in 2006, piloting of the 2004 national curriculum, known as the Competency Based Curriculum (Kurikulum Berbasis Kompetensi or KBK), was discontinued. In its place, the concept of school-based curriculum was introduced. The idea is that schools should develop their own curriculum within a framework of national standards. The reality is somewhat different. Schools at present do not typically have the capacity or motivation to develop curriculum. Most teachers continue to rely on standardized textbooks and focus primarily on covering the content which will be assessed through the national examination system. In this context, the concept of school-based curriculum has come to be understood by teachers as meaning something similar to PAKEM: an alternative approach to the traditional didactic approach taken in most classrooms. Notwithstanding all of this effort at reform, the gap between policy and practice remains wide. Most schools and classrooms remain little changed. The cause of this failure is varied. Reasons for the failure up to this point to implement Indonesia’s policy of active learning in a systemic way include the following: (a) Indonesia’s policy framework, while well directed, is fragmented, fluid and at times uncertain and contradictory; (b) The traditional social and bureaucratic cultures of Indonesia and Indonesia’s schools work against the adoption of active learning approaches, valuing instead traditional passive learning styles (Bjork, 2005); (c) The high-stakes national examination system rewards traditional chalk-and-talk approaches rather than active learning as it tests recall of facts more than other broader competencies (Canon and Arlianti, 2009); (d) The education system lacks technical capacity to properly support in-service training of its teachers, which typically results in one-off training events conducted by poorly prepared trainers; (e) A mix of poor funding and poor governance results in insufficient financial support for reforms. This blend of cultural, technical and political challenges, set against the sheer scale of the problem, creates a complex set of stumbling blocks for reform. Despite this, in among the clutter and vastness of Indonesia’s school system, more and more cases are emerging of successful reform, of good practice in schools and classrooms, of active learning. Groups of teachers across the country are changing their practice, taking risks, experimenting with active learning. Schools are engaging with their communities. Principals and school supervisors are learning to manage and encourage innovation. It may be a Grade 1 teacher in Papua using games with large seeds as a concrete aid to introduce number; a Grade 3 teacher strengthening literacy in Bali by having children ‘publish’ their own stories based on local folktales; or a Grade 6 teacher


Education in South-East Asia

in Aceh introducing geometric concepts and formulae by having children measure the circumference of a circular flower pot with a length of string. The seeds of change have clearly been sown. The challenge is how to disseminate these seeds and help them grow in such a large and diverse country.

Summary In summary, Indonesia’s education system has achieved remarkable successes in the brief period since independence in 1945. The challenge of providing access to basic schooling across this huge archipelago has largely been met. The Indonesian people are for the most part literate, numerate, speak a common national language, and share a common sense of national identity across their 13,000 islands. Indonesia is prospering economically and boasts one of the world’s largest emerging democracies. The big challenge now is to improve the quality of education and to increase equity in providing that quality across the country, especially between rural and urban communities. These challenges are well recognized by government and non-government partners, including the international donor community. Inspiring examples of good practice exist within Indonesia’s schooling system. Lasting systemic solutions remain elusive.

References Aritanong, J. S. (2000). The Encounter of the Batak People with Rheinische MissionsGesellschaft in the Field of Education (1861–1940); a Historical-Theological Inquiry. A doctoral thesis presented at the University of Utrecht on 15 June 2000. AusAID. (2010). Australia’s Education Partnership with Indonesia; a contribution to the Government of Indonesia’s Education Sector Support Program (Final). http://www. (accessed 24 January 2011). Baunto, A. L. (2011). ‘Education Reforms in Indonesia’, in C. Brock and L. P. Symaco (eds) (2011), Education in South-East Asia, Oxford Studies in Comparative Education, Oxford: Symposium Books. Bjork, C. (2005). Indonesian Education: Teachers, Schools, and Central Bureaucracy. New York: Taylor and Francis Group. Buchori, M. (2001). Notes on Education in Indonesia. Jakarta: Jakarta Post/Asia Foundation.

Indonesia: The Challenges of Quality and Equity in Education


Canon, R. and Arlianti, R. (2009). An exploratory study of the ujian nasional (SMP/MTs). Report prepared for Decentralized Basic Education, 3 November 2011. Jakarta: USAID. Djojonegoro, W. (1994). Education and Training for Business and Industry. Australia and Indonesia – Linking and Matching Education and Training for Industry Conference, Jakarta, 16 June 1994. Education Sector Analytical and Capacity Development Partnership (ACDP) (2011). Progress Report. Jakarta: ACDP Secretariat. International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) (2007). PIRLS 2006 Assessment. Boston, MA: TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College. html (accessed 3 October 2011). —(2008). TIMSS 2007 International Mathematics and Science Reports. Boston, MA: TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College. (accessed 3 October 2011). Jalal, F. (2011). Teacher Reforms in Indonesia. International Teachers Conference and Education Exhibition, Jakarta, 4 February 2011. KOMPAS (2011). Penghargaan Pendidikan Inklusif. 13 September: 12. Kristiansen, S. and Pratikno (2006). ‘Decentralising education in Indonesia’, International Journal of Educational Development, 26: 13–531. Ministry of National Education (2006). RSP_0405_files/sheet003.htm (accessed 15 September 2006). —(2011). Database NILEM PKBM (Pusat Kegiatan Belajar Masyarakat). http://www. (accessed 3 October 2011). Ministry of Religious Affairs (2006). Gambaran Umum Data Pendidikan pada Madrasah Tahun Pelajaran 2004–2005. (accessed 8 August 2006). Nasution, S. (2008). Sejarah Pendidikan Indonesia (3rd edn). Jakarta: PT Bumi Aksara. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2010). PISA 2009 Results: Executive Summary. pdf (accessed 3 October 3 2011). Peraturan Pemerintah Republik Indonesia, Nomor 19 Tahun 2005 tentang Standar Nasional Pendidikan. Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). (2011). World University Ranking 2011/2012. http://www. (accessed 3 October 2011). Sulistiyono, Singgih Tri (2007). Higher Education Reform in Indonesia at Crossroad. Paper presented at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan, 26 July 2007. (accessed 25 April 2012).


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Tangyong, A. F., Wahyudi, Gardner, R. and Hawes, H. (1989). Quality Through Support for Teachers, A Case Study from Indonesia. Jakarta: The Office of Educational and Cultural Research and Development, Ministry of Education and Culture and the Department of International and Comparative Education, Institute of Education, University of London. Toyamah, N. (2009). ‘Teacher Absentee Levels and Its Influencing Factors’. Buletin SMERU, 28 (Jan–April 2009): 11–17. pdf (accessed 3 October 2011). United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2011a). EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011: Regional Overview East Asia and the Pacific. (accessed 3 October 2011). —(2011b). World Data on Education: Indonesia (7th edn, 2010–11). Compiled by IB-UNESCO: (accessed 3 October 2011). World Bank (2004). Education in Indonesia, Managing the Transition to Decentralization. Indonesian Education Sector Review (Vol. 1). Jakarta: World Bank. —(2010a). Transforming Indonesia’s Teaching Force. From per-service training to retirement. Producing and maintaining a high-quality, efficient, and motivated workforce (Vol. 2), Report No. 53732-ID. Jakarta: World Bank. —(2010b). Indonesia: Higher Education Financing. EdStats/IDNbr10f.pdf (accessed 24 April 2012). —(2011). World Development Indicators. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Useful Websites Board of National Educational Standards: (In Bahasa Indonesia.) Directorate General of Higher Education: (In Bahasa Indonesia.) Education Sector Analytical and Capacity Development Partnership (ACDP): http:// (In English) Ministry of National Education: (In Bahasa Indonesia.) Ministry of Religious Affairs: (In Bahasa Indonesia.) Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection: (In Bahasa Indonesia and English.) National Agency for Professional Certification: (In Bahasa Indonesia.) National Standardization Agency of Indonesia: (In Bahasa Indonesia. Some information in English.)

Indonesia: The Challenges of Quality and Equity in Education


UNESCO, the Indonesian web page of The International Bureau of Education, UNESCO: (In English.) UNICEF Creating Learning Communities for Children (CLCC) project website: http:// (In English and Bahasa Indonesia) USAID Decentralized Basic Education (DBE) project website: http://www. (In English and Bahasa Indonesia.) World Bank funded Basic Education Capacity – Trust Fund (BEC-TF). Blog / Newsfeed featuring regularly updated clippings of articles on education from Indonesia’s national daily newspapers: (In English and Bahasa Indonesia.) World Bank and Education in Indonesia: EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/EASTASIAPACIFICEXT/INDONESIAEXTN/0,cont entMDK:21521167~pagePK:141137~piPK:141127~theSitePK:226309,00.html (In English and Bahasa Indonesia.)


Indonesia: Islamic Higher Education – Periphery within Periphery? Anthony Welch and Saefudin Syafi’i

Introduction The chapter examines the Islamic higher education system in Indonesia. Before doing so, it is necessary to both set out some of the principles of Islamic higher education, as well as its history, particularly within the region. (Indonesia as a state did not exist until 1945, whereas Islamic higher learning in the region is centuries old). In addition, given the distinctiveness of the setting, some consideration is given to the specific qualities of Islamic higher education in South-East Asia, before developing a case study of Islamic higher education in Indonesia, which, it is concluded, remains relatively peripheral, both in terms of overall contribution to world research and in terms of its relative position within the whole Indonesian higher education system – a large and layered system with more than five million enrolments.

Islam and Higher Education within South-East Asia. With a long-standing genealogy and substantial presence in contemporary higher education, Islam is the most important religious tradition influencing higher education across the diverse, multifaceted jewel of South-East Asia. Despite this significance, it has largely been ignored by scholars of higher education. Along with Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, Islam was imported to the region, arriving in the twelfth century, but unlike Buddhist higher education, which is largely confined to Thailand and Myanmar (Burma), and Hindu higher education institutions (HEIs), which are virtually non-existent in the region, Islamic higher education has a major presence in Indonesia and Malaysia (where


Education in South-East Asia

it is the state religion), and to a lesser extent in the southern parts of Thailand and the Philippines (Heidhues, 2001; Welch, 2012). Hinduism in Indonesia was associated with the mid-ninth century Prambanan temple of central Java (said to have marked the return to power of the Sanjaya dynasty after a century or so of Buddhist rule), and subsequently the extensive Majapahit kingdom centred on eastern Java in the fourteenth century (Heidhues, 2001: 56–7). Buddhism, exemplified in the Srivijaya kingdom of Sumatra and West Java during the seventh to fourteenth centuries, was an earlier arrival, but by the sixteenth century the latter had been supplanted by Islam. The extraordinary diversity within the region (even within one state such as Indonesia) makes it difficult to generalize. Nonetheless, a sense of Islamic identity and community is the basis for some significant institutional connections, regional and trans-regional, involving selected Islamic HEIs in South-East Asia. At the same time it is important to remind ourselves of the South-East Asian context, which gives Islam in South-East Asia a particular flavour – generally moderate and syncretic, and mostly from the Syafi’i school of the Sunni tradition, but with some Shia elements and some fundamentalist sects, particularly in Indonesia (Jones, 2003; Bubalo and Fealy, 2005; Bubalo et al., 2011; Sydney Morning Herald, 2012; Australian, 2012). It includes both the most populous Muslim majority country in the world – Indonesia, population approaching 250 million, of whom around 90 per cent are Muslims – as well as Malaysia, where Islam is the state religion. A largely syncretic and moderate Islamic context pertains in South-East Asia, with some evidence of rising extremism, including in Indonesia (Dhume, 2008; Australian, 2012; Sydney Morning Herald, 2012; Bubalo et al., 2011). Even in Muslim-majority states such as Indonesia, however, some Islamic scholars have advanced the notion of multiculturalism as the only pathway for the diverse nation to develop. Such scholars argue that Indonesian Muslims must advance this essential norm, whereby they should safeguard the rights of all those dwelling in the nation regardless of their religion, tribe or area of origin (Taher, 1997, 2003). Islam, it is argued, guarantees the self (nafs), property (mal), descendants (nasl), ratio (aql) and religion (din). Such principles occupy a pivotal place within the so-called maqasidu syariah, or the basic Islamic norm. This together with the flourishing of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society after the fall of the Suharto’s New Order (Orde Baru) has created a trajectory to propagate human rights and democratic discourses. In this sense, it has been argued that a renascent Islam coincides with the upswing of democracy in contemporary Indonesia: Islamic values regarding human rights and social development

Indonesia: Islamic Higher Education – Periphery within Periphery?


which demand that Indonesian Muslims take part in society is seen as the birth of new santri (the more orthodox Muslims in Indonesia) who strive to weld Islam and social development into a unified discourse (Hefner, 1993; see also Hefner and Zaman, 2007). Forms of Islamic higher learning within the region now known as South-East Asia are centuries old, dating back to at least the late fifteenth century, by which time, for example, Malacca had become a regional hub of Islamic learning, attracting students from the region, and the first Islamic kingdom in the archipelago had been established, in Pasai, northern Sumatra (Heidhues, 2001: 77; Hamid, 2010: 13). To this day, Aceh, in northern Sumatra, still likes to refer to itself as the verandah of Mecca. Regional Islamic centres of learning in what is now Indonesia and Malaysia have long included links to some of the most venerable Islamic institutions of higher learning in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and to China, from at least the Ming dynasty (Chang, 1988; Azra, 2004; Gelber, 2007). Of Islamic centres of learning, Mecca is listed by some scholars as the earliest prime destination for regional scholars, while in the twentieth century the most important scholarly centre became the mosque-cum-university Al-Azhar, founded by Shīites in Cairo in 970, and revived under the Sunni Mamluks in the mid-thirteenth century. It became a magnet for scholars and students from throughout the Islamic world, including a significant diaspora from the Indonesian–Malay world (Heidhues, 2001: 81; Welch, 2008, 2012a; Hamid, 2010: 15). Its core curriculum of Islamic theology, law and Arab language (later supplemented with history, rhetoric and literature, Islamic philosophy, astronomy, medicine and logic) was widely seen to provide a focus of higher learning for Islamic scholars. Mecca, too, however was still a popular destination for young Muslim scholars from the archipelago in the late nineteenth century, as pointed out by a major Dutch scholar of Islam: ‘Here lies the heart of the religious life of the East-Indian archipelago, and the numberless arteries thence pump fresh blood in ever-accelerating tempo to the entire body of the Muslim populace in Indonesia’ (Hurgronje, 1931: 291). While Mecca is now better known as the destination for the Haj, Al Azhar continues to be seen as attractive, with some young scholars from South-East Asia still travelling to Cairo’s venerable institution for further study, albeit in Arabic, which the students from countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia acknowledge as finding difficult (personal conversation, 2009). In addition, as seen below, some Indonesian students travel to Pakistan and Yemen for study. Now, however, traffic is genuinely two-way, with significant numbers of Islamic students from beyond the region, notably from Iran, India and Bangladesh,


Education in South-East Asia

travelling to Malaysia’s universities for study (Kaur, Sirat and Azman, 2008; Bernama, 2009; Welch, 2012, 2012a). It is important to remind ourselves that, while some HEIs in the region are explicitly Islamic, and others nominally secular, in practice differences are not as sharp as might appear at first glance. It is more accurate to think of the difference between Islamic and secular as a continuum, along which individual HEIs should be placed (Nakamura and Nishino, 1995). At least for Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia, this occurs within a Muslim-majority context, in which Islam forms a principal pillar of the broader culture, and an important ethical and cultural guide as to how one should live (nizham). Of the various higher education systems in the region, Indonesia is the only one to have a specific Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA), that is responsible for both madrasah level (primary and secondary) education, as well as higher education, which covers 574 HEIs across 33 provinces throughout Indonesia (MORA, 2010; DJPI, n.d.). Of this total, only 52 are public HEIs; 522 (90.1 per cent) are private, which, together with lower funding levels for Islamic HEIs and lower levels of staff qualifications, poses a significant challenge to the maintenance of quality (DJPI, n.d.; Asari, 2007; SESRTCIC, 2007; Hassan, 2008). A proposal by former President Abdurrahman Wahid to end this administrative dualism and merge Islamic education into an overall education system managed by the Ministry of National Education, now known as the Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC), was aired, but, after significant opposition based on the distinctive character and history of Islamic education, ultimately not implemented. Malaysia, too, however, has a Bahagian Pendidikan Islam (BPI), originally founded under another name in 1973, and renamed as BPI in 1983. It is responsible for Islamic schooling and the training of Islamic teachers, as well as Arabic language and curriculum, and dakwah (propagation of the Islamic faith). Students deemed to have potential for excellence in religious subjects may go on to Islamic faculties in Malaysian or international universities, via gaining a Higher Religious Certificate (available in either Arabic or Malay). At the same time, however, while the Islamic education option remains popular among Malaysian parents, there have been stringent critiques by some that Islamic studies at HEIs is an ‘easy option’, while even the Minister of Education pointed out some years ago that whereas 90 per cent of graduates of the regular state school qualified for university, only 25 per cent of graduates of Islamic schools did so (International Herald Tribune, 2001). While the world of Islam is no less sectarian than other world religions, all Islamic HEIs would broadly subscribe to basing their philosophy and

Indonesia: Islamic Higher Education – Periphery within Periphery?


epistemology upon the message and teaching of Islam, one of which consists of its view of knowledge or science (al’Ilm). In this regard, the first revelation recorded in the Qur’an, chapter 96, verses 1–5, commanding every Moslem to read (Iqro) is seen as an imperative to read the ‘verses’. The verses are divided into two separated realms: kauniya (anything available within the universe) and qauliya (all stated in the Qur’an). To read the former, means commanding Muslims to discover, develop and utilize science and technology. Indeed, as history shows, early Muslim thinkers and scientists achieved what was known as the golden era of Islamic civilisation, in which philosophy and various branches of sciences such as physics, mathematics, medicine and chemistry were greatly developed and appreciated. The traces could be found in the prominent scholars well known within Muslim tradition such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroës), Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen), ar Razy, al Faraby, Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, and the like. The trajectory undertaken by Indonesian Islamic HEIs, until recently, basically aimed at bringing back the Islamic scientific atmosphere exemplified by those classical scholars into the current, ongoing development of Islamic HEIs. Nevertheless, such expectation cannot be realized easily. It is in such a context that we should place and understand the current endeavour of HEIs in reforming the educational system within their institutions. Beyond this, the following expression representing the Muhammadiyah system in Indonesia is indicative of the qualities that one South-East Asian nation seeks to impart via a significant component of its Islamic education system: To realize the idea of an advanced society, KH Ahmad Dahlan developed the kind of education to include (a) moral education as an effort to encourage good human characters based on the Qur’an and Sunnah (b) individual education as an effort to develop awareness to be a comprehensive Moslem, integrating faith and intellect, reason and mind, and living in the world and the hereafter (c) community education attempting to promote harmony in life. (Arifin, 1987; Setinaji and Ulinuha, 2012)

Case Study: Islamic Higher Education in Contemporary Indonesia As a key component of the national system of higher education, designated Islamic HEIs have a major role to play in promoting Indonesian development, just as with those not under MORA administration. The MORA, established


Education in South-East Asia

in 1945, administers Islamic higher education in Indonesia, in particular the following institutional categories: State Islamic University (UIN), State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN), and State College for Islamic Studies or School of Higher Learning of Islamic Studies (STAIN) (MORA, 2010). There are also networks of universities that are based on the specific tenets of Islam, such as the Muhammadiyah and Nahdatul Ulama universities (Setiaji and Ulinuha, 2012). The former, founded in 1936 and with explicitly educational aims, including the integrating of modern secular and Islamic knowledge, took a significant step forward with the establishment of a Faculty of Law and Philosophy at Padang Panjang in 1955. In more recent years, efforts have been devoted to the incorporation of science and technology into the curriculum of the now 156 Muhammidiyah HEIs, with the aim of integrating Islam and science, although in practice this integration is more evident in fields such as education, economy, law and psychology. Muhammadiyah graduates are expected to have academic and intellectual capacity just like graduates of other universities, but in addition, to embody Islamic personality and character. Of Indonesian HEIs administered by MORA, all are covered by the principle of Tri Dharma Perguruan Tinggi, which expresses the three roles for higher education: learning, research and community service. While some HEIs restrict their curriculum to the traditional five Islamic faculties – Islamic philosophy (Usul al-Din), Islamic Law (Shari`a), Islamic community services (Da`wa), letters and Islamic civilization (Adab) and Islamic education (Tarbiya), many have embraced a wider curriculum, including mathematics, engineering, the natural and social sciences, medicine and economics. This is only likely to increase, as more Institut Agama Islam Negeri (State Institutes for Islamic Studies or IAINs) and Sekolah Tinggi Agama Islam Negeri (State Higher Education Institutes of Islamic Studies, or STAINs) are upgraded to universities in the coming years (MORA, 2010: 1). Such institutions, founded by some of the foremost Muslims of the era such as Muhammad Hatta, Mohammad Natsir, Dr Satiman, K. H. A. Wahid Hasyim, Kahar Muzakir and others with experience of both traditional Islamic and Dutch education system, and transformed into Universitas Islam Indonesia (UII) in 1948, are now experimenting with interdisciplinary approaches to ‘the study of Islam as knowledge and religion’ (MORA, 2010: 1). Within the context of national development, the Islamic system aims at achieving, among others, the following goals: a) increasing people’s access to Islamic higher learning; b) increasing quality, competitiveness and relevance to the needs of society, job market and science and technology development; and

Indonesia: Islamic Higher Education – Periphery within Periphery?


c) increasing the performance of Islamic HEIs through productivity, efficiency and accountability (DJPI, 2004). It is in these institutions particularly that is found the site for a meeting and at times clash between Islamic and Western academic traditions. To make it possible for the MORA-administered system of higher education to achieve the above objectives, endeavours have been made, notwithstanding a degree of constraint and tension within the context of national education regarding management and control of such institutions. A significant constraint is evident in the substantially lower per-student funding for MORA-administered HEIs, relative to their MoEC peers. As seen in Figure 5.1 below, over 550,000 students are studying in MORA-administered HEIs, comprising about 11 per cent of total student enrolments within the overall Indonesian system, where total enrolments now stand at 5,438,427. As indicated above, of the 574 HEIs under MORA control, over 90 per cent are private. But even the public sector of MORA-administered HEIs are effectively poor cousins of their Ministry of Education and Culture counterparts, since funds for Islamic HEIs are taken from the overall MORA budget, which must also finance several other components, such as Community Guidance for various recognized religions (Islamic, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist) and the Haj. While the amount of money for institutions is strikingly different between those under MORA administration and those under MOEC, no different pattern was found in one recent survey, in terms of funds needed by students. As indicated in Figure 5.2 below, no striking difference is shown between both in terms of living and institutional expenses. The table reveals no difference in living and institutional expenses between MORA and MOEC HEIs. The table divided HEIs only in terms of public and private sectors. No significant differences were found between costs needed by students of MOEC or MORA HEIs. What is striking is the substantial differences between low and high fee levels, in both public and private sector HEIs. The much greater average costs for students in the high-fee HEIs occurs both in MORA and MOEC HEIs, and constitutes a significant barrier to equity for key marginalized groups (rural dwellers, the poor and some ethnic groups and women) (ADB, 2012). A second inhibitor to a greater contribution to national development by MORA-administered HEIs is historical. Given that, traditionally, such HEIs were largely or wholly concerned with the preservation and teaching of Islamic knowledge (as with Pesantren at the secondary level), little if any attention was paid to pure and applied sciences, mathematics, and


Figure 5.1  Institutions, Enrolments and Staff, (MORA and MOEC), Indonesian Higher Education Under MOEC Public 135 54 20 34 0 27 2,006,102 1,749,397 132,235 67,874 0 56,596 79,203 60,044 8787 4264 0 6213

% 3.77



Private 3450 499 73 1723 1015 140 2,881,631 1,408,568 157,492 1,004,020 252,488 59,063 183,950 85,538 6973 64,033 21,681 5725

% 96.23



Total 3585 553 93 1757 1015 167 4,887,733 3,157,965 289,727 1,071,894 252,488 115,659 263,258 145,582 15,760 68,297 21,681 11,938

Public 52 6 14 32 0 0 201.341 69.027 66.128 66.186 0 0 13.557 4.996 4.766 3.795 0 0

% 9.06



Private 522 87 26 409 0 0 349,353 61.288 36.776 251.289 0 0 16.311 3.758 1.257 11.296 0 0

% 90.94



Total 574 93 40 441 0 0 550,694 130,315 1 02,904 317,475 0 0 29,868 8,754 6023 15,091 0 0

Source: Statistik Prguruan Tinggi tahun 2009–2010, Badan Penelitian dan Pengembangan, Kementerian Pendidikan Nasional (Higher Education Statistics 2009–2010, The Office of Research and Development, Ministry of National Education, 2010).

Education in South-East Asia

Institution  University  Institute   School of HL  Academy  Politech Students  University  Institute   School of HL  Academy  Politech Lecturers  University  Institute   School of HL  Academy  Politech

Under MORA

Living Expenses

Types of Fee/Cost Element

Public HE

Private HE

Low fee Public

High fee Public

Low fee Private

High fee Private









Up-Front Fee Tuition Books and Other Education Expense Sub-total

1,500,000 1,000,000 600,000

167 111 67

55,000,000 4,000,000 3,000,000

6,111 444 333

2,000,000 1,500,000 600,000

222 167 67

40,000,000 4,000,000 3,000,000

4444 444 333









Lodging Food Transportation Personal Expenses Sub Total Total Cost for Student

1,800,000 3,600.000 400,000 2,400,000 8,200,000 11,300,000

200 400 44 267 911 1256

2,500,000 6,000,000 400,000 2,400,000 11,300,000 73,300,000

278 667 44 267 1256 8144

1,800,000 3,600,000 400,000 2,400,000 8,200,000 12,300,000

200 400 44 267 911 1367

2,500,000 6,000,000 400,000 2,400,000 11,300,000 58,300,000

278 667 44 267 1256 6,478

Source: Survey conducted by Saefudin in various HEIs (Exchange Rate 1US$ = 9,000 Rupiah)

Indonesia: Islamic Higher Education – Periphery within Periphery?

Figure 5.2  Fees charged by MORA and MOEC HEIs, 2010



Education in South-East Asia

the like. Prior to the establishment of Universitas Islam Negeri (UINs), there was effectively no space accorded to such knowledge within the curriculum of Islamic HEIs (Jabali and Jamhari, 2002: 33). Indeed, until the late 1990s no MORA-administered HEI contained a faculty of science. Even today, while such HEIs allow students to major in Tadris (literally ‘lesson’), this is effectively more about science pedagogy than the basic sciences. Hence, almost half a century after the establishment of IAINs in the 1960s, scientific and technological knowledge remains relatively marginalized and isolated within Islamic HEIs, with a common separation of religious and non-religious faculty. In turn, this limits the employability of such graduates (already rendered somewhat problematic by the tendency of Indonesian HEIs to concentrate on theoretical, rather than applied knowledge and skills). Relative to their peers in Ministry of National Education (MOEC)administered HEIs, however, graduates of MORA HEIs, who are formally qualified only in religious fields, face more limited employment prospects. Responding to this limitation, Harun Nasution, a key innovator, proposed that IAINs needed to be transformed into Islamic universities, whereby Islamic students would become familiar with, and master, science and technology. The idea was advanced in the mid-1970s, at a time when the government strongly urged the spirit of tinggal landas (literally take-off).1 One result was the establishment of the state Islamic universities, with IAIN Jakarta, the pioneer, being inaugurated in 2002. Nonetheless, as pointed out by Amin Abdullah, then rector of UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, there is still something of a contradiction in societal expectations with respect to Islamic universities. On the one hand, it is expected that the Islamic university in Indonesia plays an important role as an academic institution that fosters knowledge, while on the other hand it is expected to be a religious institute that nurtures religious lives and propagates the faith (Amin, 1994: 68–9). This tension can at times pose a problem for graduates, who tend to favour public sector employment over private, but whose education within MORA-administered HEIs is not always seen as practical enough, or covering the modern curriculum areas, such as mathematics, science or engineering and technology, sufficiently well. Nonetheless, as with the madrasah at the secondary level, curriculum revisions aimed at reaching a synthesis of Islam and Western models, with their empirical and rational approaches, have gained momentum particularly from the 1990s (Muzani, 1994; Amirrachman et al., 2008). Social sciences in MORA HEIs have also flourished, employing various methodologies and approaches that are similar to those used in Western

Indonesia: Islamic Higher Education – Periphery within Periphery?


universities. The incorporation of Western traditions began with the inauguration of Mukti Ali as the Minister of Religious Affairs in the heyday of Soeharto’s Orde Baru regime in the early 1970s. Mukti Ali himself was a graduate of McGill University in Canada. Such cooperation was furthered with the legal endorsement of a MORA–McGill agreement in Islamic studies under the aegis of the Canadian International Development Agent (CIDA) and Indonesia–Netherlands Cooperation in Islamic Studies (INIS). Under this programme, a significant number of publications regarding Indonesian Islam have been published, some of which are now available online. Where specialist staff are lacking within MORA HEIs, the resources of non-MORA HEIs may be used, utilizing the same textbooks. The situation is rendered more complex, however, by the dual administrative arrangements whereby MORA is responsible for all UIN financial and bureaucratic processes, but the founding of science faculties and science-related programmes is under the control of the Ministry of National Education (MOEC). In addition, the fact that designated Islamic HEIs (as with madrasahs) fall under the control of MORA, rather than MOEC, means they suffer from underfunding, relative to their MOEC-administered peers. Legally, MORA-administered HEIs were not deemed to be part of the national education system prior to the ratification of National Education Act No. 2 of 1989. Notwithstanding this initiative, confrontation between the two ministries persists. A great chance for unity emerged when the National Education Act No. 20 of 2003 was ratified by the national legislature; according to this Act, MORA-administered HEIs became legally part of the national higher education system. In spite of this, however, competition can easily resurface, as with the most recent example of the politics surrounding the issue of the Higher Education Act final draft. In 2011, MOEC finalized the draft of the Higher Education Act, by which state HEIs were defined as those universities/institutes under MOEC coordination, whereas non-MOEC-coordinated universities were considered to be within the private sector (termed community-based higher learning). When the draft was released, leading figures from MORA-administered HEIs protested vigorously, contending that such a draft would revive the seemingly dichotomous policy in education. Most prominent rectors of UIN and IAIN strove to amend the draft and return to the spirit of a unified national education system, as clearly defined in the National Education Act, 2003. The protests were ultimately successful and the draft was eventually revised, although there were some lingering concerns that some senior officials within MORA had not stood out strongly enough (or at all) against the draft proposals.


Education in South-East Asia

The response of a medical student enrolled at UIN Jakarta shows how integration is working, but also shows its limits: ... each day I participate in classroom teaching. Many lecturers are there, some of whom teach us with very deep understanding of Islamic knowledge notwithstanding that they teach science ... I am attracted to these lectures and I believe that it is for this reason that I enrolled here. However, there are still those lecturing only the scientific topics, which makes me feel rather confused when you ask me, ‘Islamic or not’? ... it is just lecture ...

Since the issuing of Presidential Decree No. 031, in 2002, this integration of Islam and Western rationalism has been developed further. UIN Jakarta for example, now embraces ten faculties and postgraduate degree programmes. These faculties consist of Education (Tarbiyah), Humanities (Adab), Theology and Philosophy (Ushuluddin dan Filsafat), Law and Islamic Jurisprudence (Hukum dan Syari’ah), Propagation and Communication (Dakwah dan Ilmu Komunikasi), Islamic Studies (Dirasat Islamiyah), Psychology (Psikologi), Economics and Business (Ekonomi dan Bisnis), Science and Technology (Sains dan Teknologi), Medicine and Health (Kedokteran dan Ilmu Kesehatan), Social and Political Science (Ilmu Sosial dan Ilmu Politik), and Postgraduate Studies (Sekolah Pascasarjana). UIN Jogjakarta, Malang, Bandung and Alaudin Makasar are also proceeding with integrated forms of curricula.

Regional and Trans-national Islamic Higher Education Of several international elements within Indonesian higher education, both regionalism and trans-regional elements are important. Indonesia is a key member of the South-East Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), and an active participant in the SEAMEO Regional Institute of Higher Education (RIHED), as well as a member of the ASEAN universities network (AUN), although of the four Indonesian member universities, none are administered by MORA. Commencing in 2010, an important regional initiative aimed to boost student mobility. The Malaysia–Indonesia–Thailand (MIT) (2010) student mobility project, coordinated by the respective national higher education organs and SEAMEO RIHED, is part of a wider aim to promote a higher education common space in South-East Asia through a harmonization process (Aphijanyatham, 2010; SEAMEO RIHED, 2010). This began in 2008 with the Exploration of a Common Space conference, and

Indonesia: Islamic Higher Education – Periphery within Periphery?


was followed by recommendations from the Higher Education in South-East Asia Region meeting, held in Bangkok in January 2009. A total of 150 students, 50 from selected subject areas, in each of the three countries were to be involved. A total of 11 Indonesian HEIs were selected to be part of the programme (although, perhaps tellingly, none of these were MORA HEIs). As of August 2010, of the 50 students to have participated, six inbound students had completed their studies in Indonesia, while seven outbound students were studying in one of the other systems. Of the Indonesian component, nine inbound and outbound students were scheduled to take part in the programme, with up to another 18 from both categories (SEAMEO RIHED, 2010; Welch, 2012). Of Islamic HEIs, Universitas Muhammadiyah Surakarta (UMS) used funds from an ADB project to send 22 staff abroad to gain higher degrees, several within the region (Australia). Muhhamadiyah universities have now been accredited by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MoEC) to accept international students, under the Darmasiswa Scholarship scheme, while under another agreement, with the Southern Border Province Administrative Centre (covering a largely Islamic area of Thailand), some 50 international students per year have been accepted from Thailand each year. This is planned to rise to up to 200 full degree students in 2013 (Setiaji and Ulinuha, 2012). Contemporary Islamic higher education in Indonesia has specific regional dimensions. Almost 10,000 Indonesian students are enrolled at Malaysian universities, encouraged by higher education ‘expos’ in Indonesia, coordinated by the Malaysian Ministry of Education. Indeed, by 2007, Indonesia had replaced China as the largest source of international students from the region (Welch, 2011a: 71). A particular feature of this regional student flow is the dominance of the private sector, where an additional appeal is that students are able to study in English (Crystal, 1997). Figures from 2010 show 9888 Indonesian enrolments at Malaysian universities, of which 6119 are in private HEIs and 3769 in public HEIs (Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia, 2010a; Welch, 2012), and this likely includes diploma and certificate students, who are far more numerous in the private sector than the public. Only a small proportion of these students are studying at designated Islamic HEIs, of which the largest is the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM). Some Malaysian private HEIs have also developed branch campuses in Indonesia. Indonesian students were also the third most numerous among international enrolments in the Philippines HEIs in 2003–4, although it is not clear how many of these were engaged in Islamic studies, or enrolled at Islamic HEIs (Welch, 2011a: 125). Some Indonesian students are likely to be enrolled at the small


Education in South-East Asia

number of Islamic HEIs in the south of Thailand, but precise numbers are hard to discern (Welch, 2011a: 100–1). Just as in the past, trans-regional networks remain an important part of the Islamic system. Indonesia is a member of several pan-Islamic higher education networks. Among Indonesian HEIs that are members of the Federation of the Universities of the Islamic World are the Universitas Islam Indonesia, University of Indonesia, University Swadaya Gunung Jati, University of Ibnu Khaldun, Riau Islamic University, Muhammadiyah University of Magelang, Sharif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, State Institute for Islamic Studies Sunan Gunung Djati, Gadjah Mada University, Institute Agama Islam Negeri Mataram and Bandung Islamic University (Federation of Universities of the Islamic World (FUIW), n.d.). In addition to such networks, specific intellectual bridges persist to South Asia and Africa. Perhaps 300 Indonesian students are enrolled in Islamic HEIs in Pakistan, and another 2000 in Yemen (Bubalo et al., 2011).

Quality of Islamic Higher Education Indonesia is also a member country of the pan-Islamic network Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), on quality assurance and accreditation in higher education, that aims to boost the quality of Islamic HEIs. This is a long-standing problem that sees only one institution (Istanbul University) listed among the Shanghai Jiaotong top 500 research universities worldwide; and in a relatively lowly position (SESRTCIC, 2007; University World News, 2009). Islamic HEIs in Indonesian higher education illustrate what is a wider phenomenon: a quality problem among universities in OIC member countries: The entire Muslim world comprised one-fifth of humanity but had less than 1% of its scientists, who generated less than 5% of its science and made barely 0.1% of the world’s original research discoveries each year ... Islamic countries had a negligible percentage of patent registrations in the US, Europe and Japan. Even more serious was the fact that the R&D manpower of Muslim countries was only 1.18% of the total science and technology manpower. (University World News, 2009; see also OIC, 2010; Royal Society et al., 2011)

A recent OIC study of academic outputs (articles and citations) for 2004–6 underlined Indonesia’s position among OIC countries. Data showed 49.5 articles per university, a total of 841 citations, and 1.7 citations per article, a ranking just

Indonesia: Islamic Higher Education – Periphery within Periphery?


below Brunei, and much below neighbouring Malaysia (SESRTCIC, 2007; see also Welch, 2007, 2011). While the data did not distinguish MORA HEIs, it is likely that they did not feature strongly in the overall Indonesian totals, thereby underlining their relatively peripheral status (Altbach, 1994; Altbach, 2002). Indeed, the OIC data showed that on a composite index of Islamic HEIs in the Islamic world, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and University Malaya were the only South-East Asian institutions to be ranked among the top 20. Universiti Sains Malaysia was among the top 50 (OIC, SESRTCIC, 2007: 27). In sum, then, Islamic higher education in Indonesia reveals both regional and trans-regional dimensions. Its origins were clearly from the Middle East, and a long-standing tradition persists among some of the more serious scholars of Islamic higher learning, to pursue their studies at major HEIs in the Middle East, notably Al Azhar. At the same time, a strongly regional dimension is evident, with many Indonesian students studying in Malaysia, as well as much smaller numbers in Thailand and the Philippines. But quality remains problematic within the Islamic higher system in Indonesia, something that is symptomatic of Islamic higher education more generally throughout the world.

Conclusion Islamic higher education has a strong presence within South-East Asia, most notably in Indonesia and Malaysia. It also has a long history, building upon a strong regional tradition of Islamic higher learning that is centuries old, and with connections not merely within the region, but also to other nations and regions where Islam has a strong scholarly tradition. It is important to remind ourselves here, as indicated above, that Islamic higher education is best considered a continuum, whereby even those HEIs that are not administered by MORA in Indonesia, for example, still generally reflect Muslim values and culture. At the same time, however, quality remains a problem, as with Islamic higher education elsewhere. A particular barrier to improving the strength of MORA HEIs in Indonesia is their lower rates of per-student funding, relative to their MOEC peers, which means that it is harder to attract high-quality staff, and to establish and sustain the libraries and laboratories that underpin a substantial university, and provide a high-quality learning environment, and a wide range of subject offerings, to students. Curriculum tensions between religious subjects and a wider, modern set of offerings have lessened in recent years, but graduates


Education in South-East Asia

of such HEIs are often seen as more limited and may have greater difficulties in gaining employment outside of religious vocations. Greater cooperation between Islamic states in higher education and research could strengthen their collective contribution (University World News, 2010; ScienceDev, n.d.). Efforts thus far have not been encouraging, however. A Pan-Islamic Research and Development Fund proposed by the OIC in 2003 under the leadership of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, which called on OIC member countries to contribute 0.1 per cent of their GDP, was struck down by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Since then, a US$500 million Technology Fund, approved by the OIC as a part of Science Vision 1441, has failed to materialise for lack of enthusiasm by national governments (University World News, 2011). While reasons for the lack of greater cooperation vary, a ‘trust deficit’ among OIC members is among the more prominent explanations (something that the relative failure of Muslim nations from the Middle East to offer aid and support in the aftermath of the tsunami that ravaged Aceh in 2004, for example, did little to change). Time will tell the extent to which the undoubted determination to build upon the existing foundations of Islamic higher education in South-East Asia generally, and Indonesia in particular, results in the improved quality and reach of its institutions (Lysaght, 2007). To the extent it can, its goal will be to overcome a peripheral status at national, regional and global levels, and regain the proud place Islamic higher learning once occupied at the centre of the world’s knowledge system.

References Altbach, A. (2002). ‘Centres and Peripheries in the Academic Profession: the Special Challenges of Developing Countries’, in P. Altbach. The Decline of the Guru. The Decline of the Profession in Middle and Lower Income Countries. New York: Palgrave. Altbach, P. (1994). ‘International knowledge networks’, in T. Husen and T. N. Postlethwaite (eds), The International Encyclopaedia of Education. Oxford: Pergamon. Amin A. (1994). ‘Studi-Studi Islam: Sudut Pandang Filsafat’. Islamika Jurnal Dialog Pemikiran Islam, 5: 68–9. Amirrachman, A., Syafi’i, S. and Welch, A. (2008). ‘Decentralising Indonesian education. The promise and the price’. World Studies in Education, 9 (1): 31–54. Aphijanyatham, R. (2010). East Asian internationalisation of higher education. A key to regional integration. SEAMEO RIHED Programme Report No. 25. Bangkok: SEAMEO.

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Arifin, T. (1987) ‘Pendekatan Islam dan Pendidikan’. Jurnal Pendidikan Islam. Kuala Lumpur: Biro Pendidikan ABIM. Asari, H. (2007). ‘Islamic Higher Education in Indonesia’. Analytica Islamica, 9 (1): 1–16. Asia Sentinel (2010). ‘Malaysia’s Brain Drain’: php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2308&Itemid=199 (accessed 10 March 2011). Asian Development Bank (ADB) (2012). Counting the Cost. Financing Higher Education for Inclusive Growth in Asia. Manila: ADB. Australian (19 May 2012). ‘Jakarta’s Dragon Beginning to Roar’. Azra, G. (2004). The Origins of Islamic Reformism in South East Asia. Networks of Malay, Indonesian and Middle Eastern ‘Ulaama’ in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Sydney: Allen and Unwin. BERNAMA (2009). Malaysia to boost Muslim Progress Through Education. http://www. (accessed 18 May 2011). Bubalo, A. and Fealy, G. (2005). Joining the Caravan. The Middle East, Islamism and Indonesia. Lowy Institute Paper No. 5. Sydney: Lowy Institute. Bubalo, A., Phillips, S. and Yasmee, S. (2011). Talib or Taliban? Indonesian Students in Pakistan and Yemen. Lowy Institute Paper No. 32. Sydney: Lowy Institute. Buchori, M. and Malik, A. (2004). ‘Higher education in Indonesia’, in P. Altbach and T. Umakoshi (eds). Asian Universities. Historical perspectives and Contemporary Challenges. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, pp. 249–78. Chang, Y. (1988). ‘The Ming Empire: patron of Islam in China and Southeast and West Asia’. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. LXI (2): 1–44. Crystal, D. (1997). English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Dhume, S. (2008). My Friend the Fanatic. Travels with an Indonesian Islamist. Melbourne: Text Publishing Company. Direktorat Jenderal Pendidikan Islam (DJPI) (2004). Rencana Stretegis pendidikan Islam 2004–2009 (Strategic Plan of Islamic Education 2004–2009). Jakarta: DJPI Kementerian Agama RI. —(n.d.). Islamic Higher Education in Indonesia at a Glance. Jakarta: DJPI. Federation of Universities of the Islamic World (FUIW). Member Universities (Indonesia). Gelber, H. (2007). The Dragon and the Foreign Devils. China and the World 1100 BC to the Present. London: Bloomsbury. The Guardian (2010) (accessed 10 May 2011). Hamid, A. (2010). Islamic Education in Malaysia. RSIS Monograph 18, Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. Singapore: NTU. Hassan, R. (2008). Inside Muslim Minds. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. Heidhues, M. (2001). Southeast Asia. A Concise History. London: Thames and Hudson.


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Hefner, R. (1993). ‘Islam, State, and Civil Society; ICMI and the struggle for the Indonesian middle class’. Indonesia, 56: 1–35. Hefner, R. and Zaman, M. (eds) (2007). Schooling Islam. The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim Education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Hurgronjue, S. (trans. T. Monahan) (1931). Mecca in the Latter Part of the Nineteenth Century. Daily Life, Customs and Learning of the Muslims of the East-Indian Archipelago. Leyden: E.J. Brill. International Herald Tribune (2001). ‘MEANWHILE: Religious Schools Hinder Progress in Malaysia’. ed2_.html (accessed 10 May 2012). Jabali, F. and Jamhari (2002). IAIN dan Modernasi Islam di Indonesia (State Islamic Institutes and the Modernisation of Islam in Indonesia). Jakarta: UIN Jakarta Press.  Jones, S. (2003). Jemaah Islamiah in Southeast Asia: Damaged but Still Dangerous. International Crisis Group Report No. 63. islam/ICG-JI%20Damaged%20but%20Dangerous.pdf (accessed 10 May 2012). Kaur, S., Sirat, M. and Azman, N. (2008). Globalisation and Internationalisation of Higher Education in Malaysia. Penang: Universiti Sains Malaysia Press. Lysaght, G. (2007). ‘The Need for Higher Education in the Developmental State: Indonesia and Malaysia’, in M. Shuib, S. Kaur, S. and R. Jamaludin (eds), Governance and Leadership in Higher Education. Penang: Universiti Sains Malaysia Press. Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) (2006). Report by the Committee to Study, Review and Make Recommendations Concerning the Development and Direction of Higher Education in Malaysia. Malaysia: Ministry of Higher Education. —(2010a). Institusi Pengajian Tinggi Swasta (IPTS) (Private Higher Education Institution (Private HEI)). Malaysia: Ministry of Higher Education. —(2010b). Institusi Pengajian Tinggi Awam (IPTA). (Public Higher Education Institution (Public HEI)). Malaysia: Ministry of Higher Education. Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) (2010). Islamic Higher Education in Indonesia at a Glance. Jakarta: Direktorat Jenderal Pendidikan Islam, MORA. Muzani, S. (1994). ‘Mu’tazilah and the modernization of the Indonesian Muslim community: intellectual portrait of Harus Nasution’. Studi Islamika, 1 (1): 91–131. Nakamura, M. and Nishino, S. (1995). ‘Development of Islamic Higher Education in Indonesia’, in A. Yee (ed.), East Asian Higher Education: Traditions and Transformations. Oxford: Pergamon Organization of Islamic Conference (2010). Academic Ranking of Universities in the OIC Countries. A Preliminary Report. Ankara: Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRTCIC). Royal Society et al. (2011). Malaysia. The Atlas of Islamic-World Science and Innovation. Country Case Study No. 1. San Francisco: Creative Commons. ScienceDev (n.d.) Towards the Islamic Higher Education Area. ISESCO_document_2.doc.

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Setiaji, B. and Ulinuha, A. (2012). The Muhhamdiyah Universities in Indonesia. What is Distinctive about Islamic Higher Education. Jakarta: Regional Forum, Higher Education in South East Asia. Achievements, Challenges and Building Links with Australia. South East Asian Ministers of Education (SEAMEO) Regional Institute for Higher Education Development (RIHED) SEAMEO RIHED and the M-I-T (Malaysia– Indonesia–Thailand) Student Mobility Pilot Program (2010). Towards the Harmonisation of Higher Education. Available at: files/harmonizMIT2.pdf (accessed 10 May 2012). Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRTCIC) (2007). Academic Rankings of Universities in the OIC Countries. Available at: (accessed 10 May 2012). Statistik Prguruan Tinggi tahun (2009–10), Badan Penelitian dan Pengembangan, Kementerian Pendidikan Nasional (Higher Education Statistics 2009–2010, The Office of Research and Development, Ministry of National Education 2010). Sydney Morning Herald (22 May 2012). ‘Indonesia’s Moral Police threat to Democracy’. Taher, T. (1997). Aspiring for the Middle Path. Religious Harmony in Indonesia. Jakarta: Centre for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM-Censis). —(2003). Islam Across Boundaries. Prospects and Problems of Islam in the Future of Indonesia. Jakarta: Penerbit Republika. University World News (28 June 2009). ‘Islamic States: Network to improve quality assurance’. Available at: (accessed 12 May 2011). —(31 October 2010). ‘Islamic States. Boosting Scientific Cooperation’. Available at: (accessed 10 May 2012). —(11 May 2011). ‘Islamic World. Connecting Capital and Talent’. Available at: http:// (accessed 10 May 2012). Welch, A. (2007). ‘Blurred Vision. Public and Private Higher Education in Indonesia’. Higher Education, 54: 665–87. —(2008). ‘Myths and Modes of Mobility: the Changing Face of Academic Mobility in the Global Era’, in M. Byram and F. Dervin (eds), Students, Staff and Mobility in Higher Education. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 292–311 —(2011). Higher Education in SE Asia. Blurring Borders, Changing Balance. London: Routledge. —(2011a). ‘The Dragon, the Tiger Cubs and Higher Education. University Relations between China and SE Asia in the GATS Era’, in D. Jarvis and A. Welch (eds), ASEAN Industries and the Challenge from China. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 39–122. —(2012). ‘Regionalism and the Limits of Regionalism in Indonesian Higher Education’. Asian Education and Development Studies. 1: 24–42.


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—(2012a) ‘Seek Knowledge Throughout The World? Mobility in Islamic Higher Education’. Research in Comparative and International Education (in press).

Notes 1 ‘Tinggal landas’ was a term coined by the Orde Baru (New Order) Soeharto government to refer to the era of 1995 onwards. The New Order classified the national development into five-year phases starting in 1966, with each five-year phase called pelita (pembangunan lima tahun/five-year development). It declared that pelita VI (1995 onwards) was the era of ‘tinggal landas’ (take-off), just as an aircraft that takes off after substantial preparations on the ground.


Lao PDR: The Great Transformation Richard Noonan, Phouvanh Phommalangsy and Inthasone Phetsiriseng

A New Beginning for Education in Laos After nearly 60 years of colonial rule, eight years of independence struggle, and 21 years of revolutionary struggle, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR, short form ‘Laos’) was established on 2 December, 1975.1 Development of public education had high priority, but the starting point was very low. This chapter focuses on the period 2000 to the present, a period of dramatic development of the education system. Beginning in the mid-1980s there has been heavy external investment in the education sector, but the external development partners (DPs) wielded considerable influence on development policy. This external influence began to change with the entry into the twenty-first century. Although the change in the relations between the government of Lao PDR (GOL) and the DPs began in the early years of the first decade of the twenty-first century, if any single year could be considered the turning point, it would be 2006, with the signing of the Vientiane Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. This led to a fury of creative activity set to transform and modernize the education system. Today the Ministry of Education and Sports2 is ‘in the driver’s seat’, heading for the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) economic community (AEC) in 2015 and exiting the status of ‘least developed country’ by 2020.

Education in South-East Asia


The National Context Laos in numbers Laos is the only landlocked country in South-East Asia. It has been both protected and isolated by mountain ranges in the north and east and by the Mekong River to the west and south. It is the most sparsely populated country in South-East Asia. Some recent basic statistics are given in Figures 6.1 and 6.2. Figure 6.1  Some Basic Statistics on Laos Population (2010), 6.3 million; aAnnual growth rate, 2.2%; aDensity, 26.4 persons/Km2


Life Expectancy at Birth (2009), 63.9 years


Labour Force in Agricultural (2005), 78.5%; aGDP Value Added by Agricultural (2010), 28.4%


Sources: a. GOL, 2011. b. GOL, 2006, 94.

Figure 6.2  GDP per Capita – Some Comparative Figures for Southeast Asia, 2010 Country


Cambodia Lao PDR Thailand Vietnam

2194 2551 8554 3205

Note: PPP (current international $)* Source: World Bank, 2012.

Declining fertility rates One of the most profound but quiet changes over the past two decades has been the decline in fertility rates. The decline has not been uniform across the country. In urban areas, the fertility rate seems to have stabilized at just over 2.04. In rural ‘on road’ areas, the fertility rate is moderate at 3.70, but in rural ‘off road’ areas (i.e. in remote and often non-Lao ethnic communities), the fertility remains high at 4.74 (GOL, 2007: 32).

Ethnicity Laos is a multi-ethnic, multilinguistic country. The 2005 national census distinguished four ethno-linguistic groups and 49 sub-groups. Traditionally, ethnic Lao tend to live in the lowlands of the Mekong basin, and ethnic non-Lao tend to live in the upland and mountainous areas, although this traditional pattern

Lao PDR: The Great Transformation


is gradually breaking down with the penetration of the transportation and communication infrastructure and economic integration. Because the decline in fertility tends to correlate with the geographic distribution of ethnicity, the ethnic composition of the population is gradually changing, and the change is most pronounced in the school-age cohorts.

Managing Sector Development: Toward Education for All, From Jomtien to Dakar Leaving the twentieth century Laos signed the Jomtien Declaration on Education for All (EFA) in 1990, participated in the World Education Forum held in Dakar in 2000, and signed the United Nations Millennium Declaration of 2000, pledging a commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The turn of the century was also a turning point for the education system. GOL promulgated the Education Law of 2000, which mandated free and compulsory primary education. The Ministry of Education published the sector planning documents Education Strategic Vision 2020 (MOE, 2000) and Educational Strategic Planning, 20 Years, 10 Years, and 5 Years (MOE, 2001). These documents set the general course of development in the education sector for years to come. In 2004, the EFA National Plan of Action (EFA NPA) extended the concept of ‘basic education’ to include lower secondary schooling and also focused on non-formal and adult education, although achievement of universal primary education remained the most important goal, with Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) targets at 96.8 per cent in 2010 and 100 per cent in 2015 (GOL, 2004a: 5). This required expansion into remote, isolated and mountainous areas. Although improve­ment of the quality of education to international standards was one of the aims, most investment was on quantitative expansion. With the goal of universal primary education now seemingly within grasp, this focus on quantity rather than quality would shift by the end of the decade. One outcome of the World Education Forum in Dakar was a commitment by the high-income countries that no country with a credible plan would be unable to implement it due to lack of resources. The Fast Track Initiative (FTI) was launched in 2002, designed to help developing countries achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of Universal Primary Education (UPE) by 2015.3 Two major conditions were necessary in order to access FTI funding. There had to be an education sector development plan, and that plan had to be


Education in South-East Asia

assessed and endorsed by the local donor group. Costed sector development plans did exist before, but these were strongly influenced by interests of the donor agencies rather than the development needs of the Lao education system. Meetings were held between the donors and the Ministry, but the ‘Donor meetings’ were typically called and chaired by the donor agencies rather than the Ministry. The Ministry did not play the leading role in steering the large and growing volume of external financing. It should be understood that Laos was not alone in this ‘donor steered’ situation. In developing countries around the world, where education sector development was heavily dependent on external financing, donors wielded significant influence on policy through the provision of financial resources. There was a growing understanding, however, that this was hindering aid effectiveness.

From ‘Donorship’ to Partnership, From Paris to Vientiane Around the turn of the century there was a growing consensus that aid effectiveness was limited by the way aid was provided and used. The sector-wide approach (SWAp) emerged as donor agencies tried to make their official development assistance (ODA) more effective. This required improved harmonization of ODA, alignment with government policies, and accountability. Capacity development support was provided from 2002 to 2005 to assist the Ministry in moving toward a SWAp. Meetings between donor agencies and the Ministry were then called and chaired by the Ministry. Laos was one of the signatories of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in February 2005, which emphasized ownership, harmonization, alignment, managing for results, and mutual accountability. In November, 2006, at the Ninth Round Table Meeting, 22 DPs signed the Vientiane Declaration (VD), the Lao adaptation or ‘localization’ of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.4

The Road to Reform From eighth party congress to sector development framework In 2006, the Eighth Party Congress determined that improved educational quality and standards were urgently required. In 2006 the Teacher Education

Lao PDR: The Great Transformation


Strategy 2006–2015 and Action Plan 2006–2010 was approved. The National Education System Reform Committee (NESRC) was established to prepare a reform to: (a) meet the national goal of graduating from the ranks of the least developed countries by 2020; (b) build the basic human resource infrastructure for the shift to industrialization and modernity; and (c) meet the Millennium Development Goals. The result was the National Education System Reform Strategy (NESRS), 2006–2015, approved in 2007 (MOE, 2008a). Two phases were envisaged, the most significant features being: (a) in 2006–10, the addition of one year to lower secondary schooling; and (b) in 2011–15, the reform of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and higher education (HE) to be relevant to the needs of socio-economic development. Private sector investment was encouraged in both TVET and HE. In June 2007 the Strategic Plan for the Development of TVET from 2006 to 2020 was approved. It was determined that a master plan was needed to prepare the budget requirements to carry out various initiatives. GOL and the DPs prepared the Country Action Plan (CAP) to accompany the VD. A revised education law was also under consideration in the National Assembly. In 2008 the Master Plan for the development of TVET (MOE, 2008b) and the Revised Education Law (MOE, 2008c)5 were published. The most significant aspects of the Law were: (a) Articles 16–18, extending the duration of schooling from 11 years (5+3+3) to 12 years (5+4+3); and (b) Article 57, which stated that ‘Government must prioritize and increase the expenditure budget for education to 18% or more of the national expenditure budget.’ In 2009 the NESRS was operationalized in the Education Sector Development Framework, 2009–2015 (ESDF), which covers a comprehensive transformation leading to a modern education system to meet ASEAN and international standards. One of the most significant new features of the ESDF is the phased introduction of block grants for schools.6 With the NESRS and ESDF, there was a slight but significant shift in emphasis, from quantitative development toward more qualitative development. The targeted date of 2015 for the creation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) added urgency to the need for improvement of the quality of education in Laos.

From ESDF to FTI These developments were important keys in opening the way to FTI funding. The donor community endorsed the ESDF, and in 2010 the application for FTI funding was submitted to the FTI secretariat in Washington, DC. FTI granted


Education in South-East Asia

US$30 million, AusAID committed US$20 million, and the World Bank committed US$15.5 million. The FTI funds in Laos, with a total amount of US$65.5 million, will be spent over the period 2011–13 only on basic education (now defined in Laos as including lower secondary), with a major focus on primary education (World Bank, 2010). The programme is also supported by technical assistance from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme. The FTI programme represents a significant step forward on the aid-effectiveness agenda by using government systems for all aspects of programme implementation (GOL, 2010a). Several multilateral and bilateral agencies, expert agencies and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) provide support outside this financial framework but within the ESDF. The donor group was formalized as the Education Sector Working Group (ESWG), which is chaired by the Ministry and co-chaired by AusAID and UNICEF. The main purpose of the ESWG is: (a) to enhance the capacity of the government to implement the policies and strategies in the ESDF; and (b) to enhance the effectiveness of donors’ and government’s coordination and intervention at the central and provincial levels. Today GOL is the ‘owner’ of the ESWG, and the DPs conduct joint reviews, track joint monitoring indicators and prepare joint annual sector plans. The ESWG meets twice a year at executive level to provide strategic direction and endorsement of decisions, and quarterly at technical level as a forum for building consensus on technical issues relating to the entire sector. Four thematic focal groups have been established to facilitate technical and policy discussions between MOES and the DPs: (a) Basic Education; (b) Post-Basic Education; (c) Financial and Performance Monitoring; and more recently (d) Disaster Risk Reduction. The focal groups are supported by a research committee as needed.

Financing Sector Development The burden of poverty Government’s strategy for poverty eradication began in 1996 when the Sixth Party Congress defined the long-term development objective of freeing Laos from the status of ‘least developed country’ by 2020. By the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, Laos had achieved a sustained period

Lao PDR: The Great Transformation


of strong growth, but poverty persisted, especially in remote, isolated and mountainous areas. Participatory poverty assessments had found that many poor villagers viewed education as ‘unavailable, unaffordable and/or secondary to securing their livelihood’ (GOL, 2004b: 68). In 2004 the National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy (NGPES) was published as the strategic framework for all growth and poverty eradication programmes (GOL, 2004b). Education was identified as a priority sector for poverty eradication. ‘Povertyfocused education’ required that all Lao people be literate and knowledgeable about modern agricultural methods and other skills to be able to meet international competition and standards. The NGPES goals for the education sector include: MM




universalization of quality basic education; eradication of illiteracy; expansion of vocational, technical and higher education to meet the demands of ‘the new labour market’ and to improve economic rates of return on human capital investment; and raising the quality of education to international standards.

These grand aims, guided by the Education Strategic Vision, Education Strategic Planning, the EFA National Plan of Action, NGPES, NESRS and finally ESDF, would require investment far beyond the combined domestic and ODA financial resources available up to the middle of the decade. Now under the Vientiane Declaration, with the Ministry-led donor group, FTI, and other external financing, education sector development should not be hindered by lack of resources. Public expenditure on education over the past half-decade is shown in Figure 6.3 below. It should be noted that the apparent decline in external financing in the last few years is prior to access to FTI financing.

Figure 6.3  Public Expenditure on Education 2005/06 to 2009/10 Indicator

2006/07 2007/08 2008/09 2009/10 2010/11

Education as % of GDP 3.2 Education as % of total government 15.8 % External financing 59.2

2.5 14.7 43.6

2.5 15.0 31.8

3.0 15.5 34.5

3.1 14.6 n.a.

Source: Data provided by MOES, Department of Finance, August 27, 2012.

Note: For the fiscal year 2010/2011, the National Assembly approved the allocation of 17% of public expenditure to education. The actual expenditure remains to be seen.


Education in South-East Asia

The Burden of External Investment During the 1990s there was substantial growth in external investment in the education sector. By the latter half of the decade of the 1990s, over 30 per cent of total public education sector expenditure came from external sources (Noonan, 2001). Virtually all external investment was in the form of project support, and external investment took on a life of its own. External support in education sector development goes entirely to investment; DPs never pay government salaries. Given the combination of high external investment and low total domestic expenditure, there was a serious imbalance between recurrent and investment expenditure. International patterns of public expenditure on education are not closely related to levels of economic development; they reflect both constraints and choices.7 Over the past decade (2001–10), Laos has had relatively low levels of public expenditure on education as a proportion of GDP (2.5 per cent), compared with selected other South-East Asian countries. Similarly, public expenditure on education as a proportion of total public expenditure has also been relatively low (12.0 per cent). Over the past two decades, the ‘financing gap’ between what is ‘needed’ and what is ‘available’ from domestic resources has been covered by substantial volumes of external resources from the DPs. Of the total domestic funds, 91 per cent went to recurrent expenditure and 9 per cent to investment. ODA accounted for 37 per cent of the total public expenditure on education; 42 per cent of the total was spent on investment, and 58 per cent on recurrent expenditure (MOE, 2010a). The serious imbalance between recurrent and investment expenditure in the decade of the 1990s persisted into the following decade, recurrent amounting on average to only 48 per cent (UIS, 2011). As a consequence of this imbalance, schools often lack sufficient operating funds. Many schools, even primary schools, charge fees (or ‘parental contributions’) to cover non-salary expenses such as instructional materials, utilities and repair and maintenance. Poor families find such fees a burden.

The Promise of External Investment Bilateral aid represents the largest contribution to external financing, followed by multilateral aid and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), as illustrated in Figure 6.4 below. Since the DPs have made such major

Lao PDR: The Great Transformation


contributions to the development of the education system in recent decades it could be expected that through their financial and technical support, they have had a significant influence on national policy, even with the signing of the Vientiane Declaration. Major DPs are willing to provide resources for education programmes in relation to global agendas such as EFA and MDGs, but it has been more difficult to attract external financing to subsectors other than basic education.8 Figure 6.4  ODA Education Investment, 2005/06 and 2009/10 (US$ million) 2005/06



$Million %

$Million %

ODA disbursements to education sector   Bilateral (e.g., AusAID)   Multilateral (e.g., World Bank)   INGOs (e.g., Save the Children)

53.21 34.08 17.26 1.87

56.26 26.98 20.66 8.62

100.0 64.0 32.4 3.5

100.0 48.0 36.7 15.3

Sources: Figures for 2005/06 are from MOPI (2007). Figures for 2006/07–2008/09 are from MOPI (2010: 32) and author calculation based on data of MOE, Department of Finance. Figures for 2009/10 are from World Bank (2009: 22) and calculation from data of MOE, Department of Finance.

EFA and MDGs top the aid policy agendas for most of the major DPs (UNICEF, 2007). Today FTI is a huge financial package from the DPs to support Laos in achieving EFA and MDGs by 2015, and all money is to be spent on basic education, with a specific focus on primary education. In the past, external funds have covered almost exclusively investment expenditure, but with the introduction of FTI and in accordance with the ESDF, school block grants can be provided to cover recurrent costs at all levels within the MOE system. Some INGOs also provide small block grants to cover recurrent costs. The Village Education Development Committees (VEDCs) play an important role in assuring proper use of the block grant. School fees are to be phased out as block grants are introduced. Piloting the use of the block grants began in school year 2011–12.

The Education System Today System structure Following on the NESRS and the ESDF, as of the 2009–10 school year, the structure of the school system was transformed from an 11-year 5+3+3 system to a 12-year 5+4+3 system, as shown in Figure 6.5 below. This chart displays

Education in South-East Asia


the structure of the system, the nominal ages for each level and the UNESCO International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) (UNESCO, 2011).

1 2 Isced Code 0

3 1




Year 2 3



Nominal Age Cohort 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Pre-primary Grade 3 4



Lower Secondary Grade 2 6 7 8 General Upper Secondary


“0” 1 0




Secondary Vocational School


Grade 10 11 12


Grade 10 11 12

Year 1 2 3 3 Post-secondary Vocational and Technical Training, Certifcate Level 4 Post-secondary Technical Education and Training, Diploma Level Pre-school, Primary, Lower Secondary, Teacher Education (12+2) Short-cycle Tertiary, College, Diploma Level Lower Secondary, Upper Secondary, Teacher Education (12+4) University Bachelor Degree Program (12+4) Health Sciences (12+6)

Year 1 2 Year 2 3




Year 1 2



Year 2 3



Year 2 3


Working Life And Continuing Education

Pre-school And Primary Teacher Eduaction (9+3)





Year 3 4

University Master Degree Program




Year 1 2

University Doctoral Degree Program



Year 2 3


Figure 6.5  Structure of the Formal Education System

System output General education The development of general schooling from 2006–7 to 2010–11 is shown in Figure 6.6 below. For pre-school and primary level, the Net Enrolment Ratio (NER) is given, and for lower and upper secondary level, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is given. For both NER and GER, the Gender Parity Index (GPI) is given.9 For pre-school and primary, enrolment rates progressed steadily, but at lower and upper secondary level the enrolment remained relatively stable over the period. Changes at secondary level are due partly to the extension of lower secondary schooling, as Grade 9 was moved into lower secondary. The GPI has moved steadily toward greater parity (i.e. GPI = 1.0) at all levels.

Lao PDR: The Great Transformation


Figure 6.6  Enrolment Ratios and Gender Parity Index, 2006/07–2010/11 Pre-school (age 3–5 years)   NER (%)   Gender Parity Index (GPI) Primary (age 6–10 years)   NER (%)   Gender Parity Index (GPI) Lower Secondary   GER (%)   Gender Parity Index (GPI) Upper Secondary   GER (%)   Gender Parity Index (GPI)






12.3 1.03

15.4 1.04

19.7 1.02

22.1 1.01

24.5 1.02

86.4 0.96

89.2 0.95

91.6 0.98

92.7 0.98

94.1 0.98

53.3 0.81

59.2 0.84

62.7 0.86

60.2 0.86

62.9 0.87

34.6 0.75

37.2 0.78

36.8 0.79

33.9 0.82

33.4 0.82

Source: MOES, Educational Statistics and Information Technology Centre. Custom tabulation, 22 May 2012.

Teacher education The emphasis given by the NESRS to quality led to a sharper focus on teacher professional development. There are eight Teacher Education Institutes (TEIs), three specialized colleges (fine arts, physical education and monk education), three university faculties of education, the Teacher and Education Administrator Development Centre (TEADC), the Vocational Education Development Centre (VEDC) and the Polytechnic College, all of which are directly involved in the professional development of teachers. Enrolments in the various teacher education programmes are shown below in Figure 6.7. In almost all programmes the GPI is greater than 1.00, that is, women outnumber men. The exception is students in the bachelor degree programme for teaching in upper secondary school. Note that these figures do not include university faculties of education. Figure 6.7  Enrolment in Teacher Education Institutes, 2010/2011 Level and Programme




Pre-School Primary Lower Secondary Upper Secondary Lower Secondary, Bachelor Upper Secondary, Bachelor Total

1209 1968 3744 7731 1022 39 15,713

7.7 12.5 23.8 49.2 6.5 0.2 100.0

1.09 1.33 1.20 1.04 0.77 1.38

Source: MOES/Department of Teacher Education /Teacher Education Evaluation Division. Custom tabulation, 11 September 2011.


Education in South-East Asia

Teacher education programmes are being lengthened. All pre-service programmes for lower secondary school graduates are being phased out, and completion of 12 years of schooling followed by four years of higher education will become the minimum standard for all new teachers. For the existing stock of teachers who completed the previous 11-year schooling, upgrading in-service programmes will be available. The reform of teacher education is guided by the Teacher Education Strategy and Action Plan 2011–2015 (MOES, 2011b).

Technical and vocational education and training Post-secondary education shows considerable variation. A growing number of private post-secondary, non-tertiary education and training institutions (ISCED level 4) offer individual courses as well as one-, two- or three-year certifi­cate and diploma programmes. The most popular programmes are English, business administration, computer applications and, more recently, hospitality and tourism. Formal TVET programmes are provided by several ministries and private sector institutions. The main government provider is MOES, which is responsible for some 20 TVET institutions. Lower secondary graduates can take two- or three-year programmes for skilled worker or technician level qualifications, but almost all students first complete upper secondary school. MOES also provides non-formal programmes in basic education, literacy and life-skills for adults and out-of-school youth. The Department of Technical and Vocational Education in MOES has overall responsibility for TVET, including policy development, regulation of TVET providers and inspection and evaluation of the implementation of the curriculum in TVET institutions. The National Council for TVET and Skill Development (NCTS) is a public–private coordinating body to provide strategic advice on TVET issues, develop TVET standards and monitor training performance and examination standards. The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare (MOLSW) is responsible for short-term skill development training and manages a skill development centre. Other ministries also provide sectorspecific education and training. An estimate of the dimensions of institutional TVET provision can be seen in the TVET Enrolments and Gender Parity Index (see Figure 6.8 below). Over the period 2006–7 to 2010–11 there was no clear trend in enrolment or in the GPI.

Lao PDR: The Great Transformation


Figure 6.8  TVET Enrolments and Gender Parity Index, 2006/07–2010/11 2006/07 2007/08 2008/09 2009/10 2010/11 Total Number of Students Gender Parity Index (GPI)

22,123 0.62

16,246 0.65

12,948 0.61

14,009 0.52

18,859 0.56

Source: MOES, Educational Statistics and Information Technology Centre. Custom tabulation, 22 May 2012.

Tertiary education Tertiary education typically comprises a three- or four-year higher diploma programme or a degree programme of four or more years. Before the implementation of the reform of the school system from 11 years to 12 years, students would typically undertake a one- or two-year Foundation Programme (ISCED level 4) prior to entering a degree programme, but that programme has now been dropped. Secular higher education in Laos began in 1958 with the establishment of the School of Medicine and the Institute of Law and Administration. Other institutions were gradually added and were merged in 1996 with the newly established National University of Laos (NUOL). Today there are five universities, three of which have been established within the past decade. The dimensioning of higher education can be seen in Figure 6.9. Most noticeable is the dramatic expansion of enrolments between 2006–7 and 2010–11 Figure 6.9  Tertiary Enrolments and Gender Parity Index, 2006/07–2010/11 2006/07 2007/08 2008/09 2009/10 2010/11 Ratio of Students/100,000 population 1319 Gender Parity Index (GPI) 0.66

1533 0.72

1844 0.74

1898 0.70

2009 0.69

Source: MOES, Educational Statistics and Information Technology Centre. Custom tabulation, 22 May 2012.

Education Tomorrow: Challenges and Issues Financing Supply-side problems and demand-side problems Although substantial progress has been made in the past decade, especially over the past half-decade, considerable challenges remain. There are both supplyside and demand-side problems. Pedagogical, economic and social issues are


Education in South-East Asia

intertwined. A funda­mental problem on the supply side is the level of public financing of the education sector (note the discussion on public expenditure above). The ESDF targets 18 per cent of the total GOL budget for the education sector by 2015. This is higher than ever before, but there is at present no stable trend suggesting that this goal will be achieved. Moreover, the budget allocations approved by the National Assembly are provincial, not sectoral. Inter-sectoral allocations of discretionary funds (not including salaries of civil servants, which makes up the bulk of non-discretionary funds) are decided at the provincial level. This relatively low level of public sector financing of education has widespread supply-side ramifications, which in turn have demand-side ramifications. First and foremost, the low recurrent budget results in low teacher salaries, low budgets for instructional materials, and low school operating budgets. With the low level of teacher salaries, a teaching career, especially at primary level, is not attractive to many who have post-secondary or tertiary education. Many primary school teachers are compelled to have other sources of income, which can result in reduced classroom time. This in turn impacts on the quality of schooling, which impacts on the demand side. If the learning outcomes of schooling are too low, children and their parents see little point in schooling.

External financing The heavy influence of donor policy can be illustrated with development aid policy of the World Bank. Support for basic education has been a major focus for the World Bank in its general support for Laos since the early 1990s (World Bank 2001, 2004, 2005).10 Globally, basic education is seen as one of the most developmentally cost-effective investments. The Bank position is that a dollar put into basic education has high returns compared to dollars put into other activities (Bermingham, 2010). In countries as aid-dependent as Laos, the national ownership and independence of the education development policy is at risk when external financing agencies provide substantial support in accordance with their own explicit aid agendas. The DPs are currently looking for a steady increase in education expenditure as a percentage of total government expenditure. This would ameliorate the problem of imbalance between recurrent and investment expenditure. To its credit, AusAID, one of the major DPs, states that allocation of additional aid will depend on the performance of the Lao government in

Lao PDR: The Great Transformation


this area, that is, increased domestic financing (AusAID, 2010: 20). The aim of such a position is clear – to achieve and maintain an efficient balance between recurrent and investment expenditure.

Quality Student Flows Some years will be needed before the new emphasis on quality will be visible in the schools, classrooms, teaching practices, and student performance. The most visible indicators of quality are those involving student flows – quantitative measures which reflect quality, namely repetition and survival rates. Over the period 2000–1 to 2006–7, nearly one-third of all primary school students repeated Grade 1, and nearly one-fifth repeated Grade 2. Boys were more likely than girls to repeat a grade, and the difference between boys and girls increased from grade to grade. Repetition rates have fallen slightly in recent years, as the ESDF intro­ duced ‘phased introduction of pro­ gres­ sive pro­motion’, together with improved access to instructional materials and better quality school­ing. The mean survival to Grade 5 rate over the same period was approximately 62 per cent for both girls and boys and has increased by some 4 percentage points over the period. Repetition rates were approximately 3 per cent at lower secondary level and 2 per cent at upper secondary level.

Learning outcomes In 2007 a national assessment of student learning outcomes (ASLO) of Grade 5 students conducted by the Research Institute for the Educational Sciences (RIES) (MOE, 2007) found that most Grade 5 students were performing at Grade 3 level in mathematics, and 65 per cent were found to be at pre-functional level. In remote areas, student learning outcomes are likely to be significantly lower than in lowland and urban areas. In a recent study of student learning outcomes at Grade 3 level in northern Laos, it was found that although the tests were designed to reflect the curriculum for Grades 1–3, the average score was only 42 (out of 100). For Lao language, 64 per cent of students had scores of 50 points or lower. In mathematics over 78 per cent of the students tested had scores of 50 points or lower (MOES, 2011a). No ASLO study has yet been conducted at secondary level. One measure taken to support quality improvement is the preparation of guidelines for the School of Quality (SOQ). Implementation of SOQ is the

Education in South-East Asia


ESDF’s strategy to increase children’s participation and reduce repetition and dropout to ensure complete quality primary education in terms of comprehensive learning and teaching, including intellectual stimulation, physical training, skills development and artistic education and morals development (MOE, 2010b).

Reaching the remote Grade 5 completion From the national census data (2005) it was found that some 10 per cent of an age cohort of children by the age of 16 had never attended school. This evidence, combined with what is known about dropout rates, rate of survival to Grade 5, the proportion of Grade 5 students sitting the exams and the Grade 5 pass rate, led to an estimation that approximately 50 per cent of each age cohort complete primary schooling.11 The problem is greatest in the poorer and more remote areas (see Figure 6.10 below). Figure 6.10  Children Aged 11–16 Who Have Never Attended School

47 Poorest Districts Other Districts Total, All Districts

Total Population

Never Attended School Number



219,366 663,478 882,844

42,099 50,211 92,310

19.2 7.6 10.5

2.54 1.00 1.38

Source: GOL, 2006. Author tabulation by category of district.

Teacher deployment Provision of qualified teachers in remote communities is a major and complex problem related to: (a) allocation of teacher training positions and scholarships; (b) the mismatch between teacher training and career intentions; (c) employment of teacher training graduates; and (d) deploy­ment of teachers. Few young, sophisticated urbanites want to become primary school teachers, mainly because of the low social status, but a TEI with a stipend is often a good alternative. When such students complete their education, teaching often has a low priority, especially teaching in a remote non-Lao ethnic community (Noonan and Visiene, 2007). There is thus an imbalance between urban and rural and remote communities, both in terms of numbers of teachers and levels of

Lao PDR: The Great Transformation


qualifications. Although there are significant pay incentives for teaching in rural and remote schools and for multi-grade teaching (i.e., one teacher teaching several primary grades in the same classroom), shortages of qualified teachers in rural and remote areas remain and are matched by surpluses in urban areas.

Next steps Achievement of universal basic education is a time-honoured goal, especially in a socialist society – it is a goal that long pre-dates Karl Marx and has an honourable history in Laos (Oudom, 1966; Noonan, 2011). Achievement of this goal is not only a supply-side problem but also a demand-side problem. For some youth who lack a complete basic education, the standard school curriculum – ‘supply-driven learning’ – might be exactly what they want, but for some others, it may be too abstract and have little use in their own situation. They may have other learning goals, related to work they are doing or preparing for. For such youth and their families, another approach would be more suitable: ‘demand-driven learning’. With this approach, non-formal Life Skills Training Centres provide adolescent youth with an opportunity to gain a non-formal Primary Education Certificate that includes some life-skills training (Walsh and Visiene, 2007). MOES has adopted this demand-driven approach, under the guidance of the Village Education Development Committee, as one way of complementing the formal education system. Based on earlier discussion, the reader may suspect a connection between the decline in TVET enrolment and the increase in enrolment in higher education. Neither the NESRS nor the ESDF referenced labour market demand as an objective of the reform of higher education. For the 2011–12 academic year, however, a new policy for university admissions was applied. In an attempt to improve the quality of university programmes, new intake was reduced from 10,000 to 7300. ‘Special courses’ (fee-paying, ‘open university’-type courses) were closed ‘so that lecturers could devote themselves more fully to their regular classes’. Many graduates have been unable to find employment in their field of study, while labour shortages persist in areas critical for socio-economic development. Higher education policy is now to produce a broad range of graduates based on labour market demand. Applicants ‘not qualified’ on the basis of exams are encouraged to study at vocational schools (Vientiane Times, 30 November 2011). This is only the beginning of the reform of TVET and higher education.


Education in South-East Asia

Beyond the education sector Finally, to understand the demand-side problem, it is necessary to understand that many communities are still relatively remote and isolated, in terms of roads, electricity, telecommunications, health clinics, schools and markets. It cannot be expected that families which have worked the rice fields and forests for generations will easily understand and appreciate the changes they are facing now and will continue to face for decades to come. The development of this ‘isolationbreaking’ infrastructure is proceeding rapidly. In Marxian terms, the ‘subjective and objective conditions’ of the many small communities in the remote, isolated and mountainous areas vary considerably, and they are changing rapidly. Given the complexity of the Lao multi-ethnic society, with a large proportion of the population distributed over many small communities – some more remote and some less remote – no single approach will fit all communities or all families. Instead, local conditions must be understood and communities need to be involved in informed decision-making about their own learning needs.

References AusAID (2010). Australia Laos development cooperation strategy 2009–2015. Available at: &Type= (accessed 26 September 2011). Bermingham, D. (2010). ‘The politics of global education policy: the formation of the Education for All – Fast Track Initiative (FTI)’. Journal of Education Policy, 26 (4): 557–69. GOL (2004a). National Education for All (EFA) Action Plan 2003–2015. Vientiane: Ministry of Education. —(2004b). ‘Poverty-focused education development action plan: Policy and investment priorities’. Part IV, Chapter 2 in National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy (NGPES). Vientiane: Poverty Reduction Fund, pp. 68–79. —(2006). Results from the Population and Housing Census 2005. Vientiane: Steering Committee for Census of Population and Housing. —(2007). Lao Reproductive Health Survey 2005. Vientiane: Committee for Planning and Investment and National Statistical Centre. —(2010a). Statistical Yearbook 2009. Vientiane: Lao Department of Statistics. —(2010b). Sector Working Groups: Education. Background paper for the high level Round Table Meeting in Vientiane, 20–21 October 2010, pp. 7–18. —(2011). Vientiane: GOL, Lao Statistics Bureau. Available at: (accessed 15 September 2011).

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MOE (2000). The Education Strategic Vision up to the Year 2020. Vientiane: MOE. —(2001). Education Strategic Planning 20 Years (2001–2020), 10 Years (2001–2010), and 5 Years Development Plan for Education at the Fifth Plenary Session (2001– 2005). Vientiane: MOE. —(2007). Grade 5 National Assessment Survey. Vientiane: Ministry of Education, Research Institute for the Educational Sciences. —(2008a). National Education System Reform Strategy (NESRS) 2006–2015. Vientiane. Ministry of Education and Sport. —(2008b). Master Plan: Development of TVET from 2008 until 2015. Vientiane: Ministry of Education. —(2008c). Education Law: Revised. Vientiane: Ministry of Education. —(2008d). Education for All – Mid-Decade Assessment. Vientiane: Ministry of Education. —(2009). Education Sector Development Framework (ESDF) 2009–2015. Vientiane. Ministry of Education. —(2010a). Department of Finance, Internal Report. Vientiane: Ministry of Education / Department of Finance. —(2010b). Schools of Quality Implementation Guidelines for Primary Schools. Vientiane: Ministry of Education, Department of Primary and Preschool Education. MOES (2011a). Research Report: Teaching Practices and Learning Outcomes, Grade 3, Two Remote Districts in Bokeo Province. Vientiane: MOES/Educational Standards and Quality Assurance Centre. —(2011b). Teacher Education Strategy and Action Plan 2011–2015. Vientiane: Ministry of Education and Sports, Department of Teacher Education. MOPI (2007). Foreign Aid Implementation Report, FY 2005/06. Vientiane. Ministry of Planning and Investment. —(2010). Foreign Aid Implementation Report, FY 2008/09. Vientiane. Ministry of Planning and Investment. Noonan, R. (2001). Education Financing in Lao PDR, 1990–2000: A turbulent decade of transition. Vientiane: Sida/World Bank. —(2011). ‘Education in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic: Confluence of history and vision’, in C. Brock and L. P. Symaco (eds), Education in Southeast Asia, chapter 2. Oxford: Symposium Books. Noonan, R. and Visiene, X. (2007). Alternative Models of Teacher Training for Remote Areas. Final Report. Vientiane: MOE/Sida. Noonan, R. and Vithanya (2012). ‘Some research notes on cross-national patterns of aggregate public expenditure on education: Constraints and choices’. Working Paper Series, No. 3. Work in progress. Oudom Chaleunsin (1996). ‘Education in the Liberated Zone’, Part III in Somlit Bouasivath, KP Phonekeo, Oudom Chaleunsin, Khamy Bouasengthong (1996). History of Lao Education. Vientiane: Toyota Foundation, pp. 90–113. Vientiane Times, 30 November 2011. ‘First-year students boycott NUOL course assignment’.


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UIS (2011). UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Custom Tables. Available at: http:// Language=eng&BR_Topic=0 (accessed 15 November 2011). UNESCO (2011). Revision of the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED). 36 C/19. Paris: UNESCO. UNICEF (2007). Country programme action for Laos, 2007–2011. Basic Education and Gender Equality Programme. Vientiane. United Nations Children’s Fund. Walsh, M. and Visiene X. (2007). Final Evaluation Report of the Demand Driven Approach to Education for All Pilot Project, Phase II, 2005–2007. Vientiane: Ministry of Education/Sida. World Bank (2001). Implementation Completion Report. Education Development Project. Report No. 22309. Washington, DC: World Bank. —(2004). Project appraisal document on proposed credit. Second Education Development Project (EDP II): Report No. 25477-LA. Washington, DC: World Bank. —(2005). Country Assistance Strategy for Laos. Report No. 31758-LA. Washington, DC: World Bank. —(2009). Second Education Development Project (EDP II). Project paper on a proposed additional grant. Report No. 5188-LA. Washington, DC: World Bank. —(2010). Project Appraisal Document on a Proposed Grant in the Amount of USD30 Million to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic for a Catalytic Fund EFA/FTI Programme. Report No. 52414-LA. Washington, DC: World Bank. —(2012) World Data Bank: World Development Indicators (WDI) and Global Development Finance (GDF). Available at: (accessed 25 April 2012).

Abbreviations AUSAID: Australian Agency for International Development GOL: Government of Lao People’s Democratic Republic MOE: Ministry of Education MOES: Ministry of Education and Sports MOPI: Ministry of Planning and Investment SIDA: Swedish International Cooperation Agency UIS:

UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Lao PDR: The Great Transformation


UNESCO: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNICEF: United Nations Children’s Fund

Useful Websites Lao Statistics Bureau: Ministry of Education and Sports: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), Custom Data Tables: aspx?ReportId=136&IF_Language=eng&BR_Topic=0 World Bank:

Notes * The international dollar is a hypothetical unit of currency that has the same purchasing power that the US dollar has in the United States at a given point in time. It is widely used by economists to make comparisons between countries and over time. It is based on ‘purchasing power parity’ (PPP), which is an estimate of the amount of money that would be needed to purchase the same goods and services in two countries, and uses that information to calculate implicit exchange rates. 1 An historical overview of the development of the education system in Laos can be found elsewhere (Noonan, 2011). 2 In late 2010 the Ministry of Education (MOE) was renamed the Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES). In the text we will use the name or abbreviation corresponding to the period of time under discussion; more generally, we will simply use the term ‘Ministry’ to refer to either, depending on the context. 3 The Fast Track Initiative was renamed the Global Partnership for Education as of 22 September 2011. For the sake of historical correctness, the earlier name is used here for all references to events prior to that date. 4 A further three countries signed later, for a total of 25 signatories, including the Asian Development Bank, the European Commission, the United Nations, the World Bank and Lao PDR.


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5 The ‘Revised Education Law’ is sometimes referred to as the Education Law of 2007 (as it was adopted by the National Assembly on 3 July 2007) but is also referred to as the Education Law of 2008 (as it was published by MOE in March 2008). 6 The ‘school block grant’ is a fixed lump sum of money per student that can cover a wide range of costs at school level to enable the school to operate without fees or ‘parental contributions’. 7 From UIS data for 158 countries, it was found that the R2 between GDP/c and public expenditure on education as a proportion of GDP (mean over the period 2001–10) was only 0.002, and the slope was negative. Some high-income countries spend a high proportion on education, others a low proportion. Similarly, some low-income countries spend a low proportion on education, others high. Variance was highest among low-income countries. This suggests that the factors determining national patterns of public expenditure on education are very complex and related to both constraints and choices (Noonan and Noonan, 2012). 8 The Asian Development Bank is now financing projects in higher education and technical and vocational education and training, both beginning in 2011. 9 The following UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) definitions are used. The Net Enrolment Ratio is the enrolment of the official age group for a given level of education expressed as a percentage of the corresponding population. The Gross Enrolment Ratio is the total enrolment in a specific level of education, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the eligible official school-age population corresponding to the same level of education in a given school year. Where enrolments tend to correspond relatively closely to the nominal age cohorts (as at pre-school and primary level), the NER can be a more useful indicator than the GER, but where there tends to be variance between the nominal age and the actual ages of the students, the GER can be more useful. The GER for primary schooling in Laos has long been greater than 100 per cent. The Gender Parity Index is the ratio of female to male values of a given indicator (ratio of females/­males for a given statistic (e.g., for GER, GPI = GERfemale/GERmale, and GERfemale = GPI × GERmale). Note that by long tradition, demographers define GPI as the ratio of males/­females for a given population statistic, whereas educators generally use the inverse. The GPI figures are taken from the indicated source, but all other GPI figures are author estimates based on 2009 demographic estimates provided by the Lao Statistics Bureau. 10 An exception is the National Polytechnic Institute Project, which contributed to the development of the National University of Laos in 1996. 11 Author estimate based on the 2005 census and the 2004/05 and 2005/06 annual school survey provided by MOE/ESITC. This estimate is consistent with the survival to Grade 5 evidence presented above in the section on student flows.


Malaysia: Ethnocracy and Education Moses Samuel and Meng Yew Tee

Introduction Malaysia has been characterized as an ethnocratic state (Haque, 2003), where the state itself is founded on the basis of ethnic politics. In this context, this paper will examine how the politics and practice of education in Malaysia is played out against the backdrop of ethnic politics in recent years. One reason for the predominance of ethnicity in Malaysian politics lies in the demographics of the country. Sixty-seven per cent Malays and other Bumiputeras, 25 per cent Chinese and 7 per cent Indians represent the biggest ethnic groups in a population of 28 million people (Department of Statistics, Malaysia, 2011). Bumiputeras can be literally translated as ‘princes of the soil’ and the Malays form the largest Bumiputera group with almost 55 per cent of the population. Other Bumiputeras include indigenous groups such as Dayak, Iban, Kadazan, Penan and Senoi who make up about 12 per cent of the overall population (Department of Statistics, Malaysia, 2011). On any given day on the streets of Malaysia, multiple languages and dialects may be spoken – sometimes within the same conversation. Given this diverse backdrop, education in Malaysia is often characterized as a nation-building tool to foster a sense of Malaysian-ness and nationalism. At the same time, education is also used as a tool to promote the interests of specific ethnic groups. This can obviously create tensions, as politics, education and ethnicity become locked into a complex negotiation between inclusivity and exclusivity along ethically-based lines. The politics of education in Malaysia may thus be read historically as involving attempts by various communal groups to shape the national educational agenda and hence to construct a sense of ‘the national’. In Malaysia, as in other multi-ethnic, multilingual, multi-religious societies, these constructions of the national – that is, of the nation and of national identity – involve an inherent tension between a converging impulse


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(aiming at national unity) and a diverging impulse (aiming at preserving cultural diversity). The tensions in the quest for national unity, critical as it may be in nation-building, can also be potentially hegemonic if the various constituencies within the society are not accorded space for expression and representation. These tensions are described in Brown (2007) which provides a brief but incisive tour of education in Malaysia from her independence in 1957 to early 2000. For an expanded overview of the Malaysian education structure, see Siow and Chang (2011) and Bajunid (2008) for a more extensive perspective on contemporary challenges and issues. In the following section, a broad overview of the Malaysian education structure is presented so that the reader can better understand the background of the subsequent discussion.

Overview: Malaysian Education Structure In 2010, some 5.14 million out of 5.8 million school-age-going children in Malaysia were enrolled in government and government-aided primary and secondary schools (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2010). In other words, close to 90 per cent of children aged 6+ to 16+ in Malaysia attend these schools that are partially or fully government-funded. The pre-tertiary system – from pre-school, secondary to post-secondary education – is governed by the Ministry of Education (MOE), while the tertiary system is governed by the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia (MOHE). The MOE’s Curriculum Development Centre is largely responsible for the development of the national curriculum that is eventually implemented in government and government-aided primary and secondary schools. The MOE states that their objectives are to produce loyal and united Malaysians; to produce individuals who are devout, honourable, knowledgeable, competent and contented; to provide manpower for the development needs of the nation; and to provide educational opportunities to all Malaysians (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2012). Pre-school is still optional although there are plans underway to ensure that students will have access to pre-primary education. The core education system involves six years of compulsory primary education and five years of secondary education. Primary education is for children aged 6+ to 11+. Public primary schools are divided into two categories based on the medium of instruction – Malay-medium national schools and national-type schools, which are either Mandarin- or Tamil-medium. National-type schools are also known as vernacular schools.

Malaysia: Ethnocracy and Education


In 2010, for example, there were 5826 Malay-medium schools (75.4 per cent of total enrolees), 1291 Mandarin-medium schools (21 per cent of total enrolees) and 523 Tamil-medium schools (3.6 per cent of total enrolees) (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2010). These schools admit students regardless of racial and language background. In terms of government funding, national schools are entirely government-owned and operated, while most vernacular schools are government-aided. Government-aided schools receive government funding for general operations and teachers’ training and salary, while the school buildings and other assets are derived from private contributions. There continues to be debate about fairer and more transparent funding allocations between national and vernacular schools (Boo, 2010). In terms of the primary school curriculum, Malay and English languages are compulsory subjects in all schools. Science and mathematics are also part of the core curriculum. While the medium of instruction may differ in national and vernacular schools, the schools use the same national curriculum. In 2003, however, the policy to teach science and mathematics in English was introduced in all national schools at the primary as well as the secondary level. However, the policy has since been reversed (this case will be discussed in more detail later in the chapter). In other words, students in the national schools will be taught science and mathematics in Malay again, and the students in the vernacular schools will revert back to being taught science and mathematics in Mandarin and Tamil respectively. Students completing primary education are automatically eligible to go on to secondary education. About 87 per cent of the eligible population go on to enrol in lower secondary schools (aged 12+ to 14+), 77 per cent go on to upper secondary (aged 15+ to 16+) (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2010). Unlike the national primary school system, the national secondary system uses only Malay as the medium of instruction. English is a core part of the secondary school curriculum, as are science, mathematics and history. Muslim students are required to take Islamic studies, while moral studies is required for non-Muslim students. Mother-tongue education, including Mandarin and Tamil, is an option. A host of other electives are available depending on the stream (e.g., arts and sciences) the student is in. Towards the end of secondary schooling, students sit for a high-stakes national examination (also known as the SPM examination, an acronym in Malay for the Malaysian Certificate of Education examination). The SPM examination is high stakes because performance here determines access to pre-university studies and hence entrance to university education.


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After the secondary level, further education is subject to the individual’s academic merit and financial capability. However, access has increased significantly in the last 25 years. For the higher education sector, there are about 20 public higher education institutions, 476 private institutions and five transnational campuses in the country (MOHE, 2010a). Transnational/off-shore campuses signify the growing internationalization of higher education in Malaysia. In 2010, there were about one million students enrolled in public and private higher education institutions (for undergraduate and postgraduate levels), with some 87,000 foreign students (MOHE, 2010b). Under the governance of the Ministry of Higher Education, the more recent national higher education strategic plans have been much more focused on human capital development and creating a knowledge society that will pave the way for Malaysia to be a developed nation by 2020. Students can now choose to go into an academic, vocational or a technical track, either in a public or private institution. In 2010, for example, 15 per cent of the 1.04 million individuals in the 17–18 age group were enrolled in some kind of post-secondary or tertiary education programme (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2010). It is worth noting that many public institutions use Malay as the main medium of instruction, while most private institutions use English as the primary medium for instruction. An exception is the MARA University of Technology or UiTM which has English as a medium of instruction even though it is a public institution. Interestingly, UiTM, the largest university in the country with more than 170,000 students, only admits Bumiputera and international students.

Emerging Issues Essentially, at the curricular level, the history of education in Malaysia has been driven by the need to have a national curriculum that will contribute to nationbuilding and define the common ground for this ethnically and culturally diverse nation. It is in this context that certain subjects like moral education or history, and medium of instruction issues have always taken centre stage in educational policy debates because they involve inherently contentious issues of identity construction. A key report on Malaysian education in the 1960s, The Razak Report, recommended that while students in the vernacular schools may study through the medium of Chinese or Tamil, a common national curriculum would help forge a sense of national unity among the diverse population. The

Malaysia: Ethnocracy and Education


Razak Report also advocated that the national language, Malay, should be the language of instruction in national schools. Thus English-medium schools, which were part of the country’s colonial legacy, were phased out from the 1970s onwards and Malay became the dominant language of instruction in national schools. Since then, medium of instruction and curricular issues have been key areas for debate. Within a federally-centred education system, it is often national interests rather than local interests that primarily drive the formulation and contestation of educational policies. Moreover, in policy formation in a centralized education system, in what is characterized as an ethnocratic state, ‘an ethnicized political approach’ (Haque, 2003: 242) is often adopted or perceived to be adopted in the resolution of problems in education. This is evident in several ongoing debates in Malaysian education, involving, for instance, debates on the place of vernacular schools in the country; why national schools are not perceived to be schools of choice among segments of the population; whether English or Malay should be the medium of instruction for mathematics and science subjects; what should constitute the content of the history curriculum; and whether a literature text that deals with responses of different races to issues of national identity should be made compulsory reading. These debates are no doubt interrelated and complex. We focus here on two ongoing, contemporary controversies – concerning first, the choice of medium of instruction for teaching mathematics and science in schools, and, second, the selection of the content of the history curriculum – and present these as case studies in order to capture the various threads and nuances that have shaped the controversies. These two case studies were selected because they have been highly contentious and have been hotly debated (Tan, 2005; Brown, 2007; Lim, 2010; Tan and Santhiram, 2010) within the first decade of the twenty-first century. Significantly also, they are closely connected to ethnicity, constructions of ‘the nation’ and the ethnically-driven politics within the ethnocratic state.

Case Study 1: Language of Instruction Politics, 2002–11 In newspaper reports on 7 May 2002, Mahathir Mohamad – then the Malaysian Prime Minister – announced that the government was open to reintroducing English-medium schools if that was the desire of the people (The Star, 7 May 2002). A few days later, on 11 May 2002, The Star – the most widely read English


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daily – reported that the UMNO (United Malays National Organization) Supreme council chaired by Mahathir had agreed that instead of the entire school system going with English-medium, only mathematics and science subjects were to be taught in English, beginning from primary school (The Star, 11 May 2002). UMNO is the dominant political party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition government. Just before he announced his retirement during an emotional closing speech at the UMNO General Assembly in 2002, Mahathir assured and pleaded with his party members: UMNO will never harm the Malays and our very own people with respect to the use of English. I am aware that there will be many problems ... [but] we cannot delay. And at this time we want to introduce ... the use of English to teach Science and Mathematics. So we use English as a bridge to cross, to forge forward to advance and develop our country. (Mahathir, 2002: paras 70, 71, 80, 88, 90, translated)

By July of the same year, the teaching and learning of mathematics and science in English (or PPSMI, Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik Dalam Bahasa Inggeris, as the policy was known) was approved by the cabinet of federal ministers. It was implemented at the beginning of the following academic calendar, barely six months from its announcement. The official rationale revolved around remaining competitive in the global economy, in ‘view of the fact that most of the sources [of mathematics and science information] are in the English language’ (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2002). In a 2009 independent, randomized poll of 1060 people, 58 per cent said that they wanted the policy to be maintained, 32 per cent rejected the policy, and 9 per cent were undecided (Zalkapli, 2009). The loudest resistance came from largely parochial language activist and nationalist groups. Groups such as Dong Jiao Zhong (an umbrella group representing the interests of Chinese independent schools), GAPENA (Federation of Malay Writers Associations) and largely Malay-based GMP (Movement Opposing the Teaching of Science and Mathematics in English) argued that the policy was eroding their respective languages and cultures (Siew, 2009; Teo and Looi, 2009). On 8 July 2009, merely six years after the implementation of the policy, the Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, announced that the policy would be phased out for primary and secondary schools, while pre-university science and mathematics instruction would continue in English. Some of the key reasons he gave for this decision included that:

Malaysia: Ethnocracy and Education


PPSMI did not achieve its goals as English proficiency improvements among teachers and students are very low ... But with this newly introduced educational system, it gives room for solidifying (mengukuhkan) the English language but at the same time elevating (mendaulatkan) Bahasa Malaysia. (Pid, 2009: paras 13, 15, translated)

The impact of this policy shift on students, one way or another, was difficult for many. One parent’s letter to a national daily captures the sense of trepidation: I have enrolled my 5-year-old son in a Chinese [vernacular] school for Year One in 2011. He will learn Mathematics and Science in Year One in English. By the time he reaches Year 4 in 2014, he will have to switch to Mandarin. When he enters Form One in 2017, he will have to switch to Bahasa Malaysia. When he enters the pre-university level in 2022, he will have to switch to English. He has to switch not one, not two but four times. My son is not a robot. He cannot be programmed and reprogrammed with different software as often as we like. (L. M., 2009: para. 1)

Since then, numerous modifications have been made to provide what the Ministry of Education has called a ‘softer landing’ for the students in the transition process. Others heaved a sigh of relief, especially for children in the rural areas who may not have had the necessary English proficiency. And yet others touted it as a significant victory that also exposed the ‘true face’ of the Malays: This crisis has shown that nationalism and patriotism are just skin deep and not on the conscience of some Malays ... I still hope that the government find ways for just one language [i.e., the Malay language] in all affairs because it is for national unity and it will ensure national security in the future ... (Aini, 2009: paras 3, 10, translated)

Case Study 2: Whose History? The Politics of Representation in the History Syllabus On 23 October 2010, the Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that history would be made a ‘must-pass’ subject for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination beginning in 2013 (Ahmad, 2010). The SPM examination, equivalent to the O-level examination in the United Kingdom, is the exit


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examination after 11 years of schooling. An implication of this announcement is that by making history a compulsory subject, students who do not pass in this subject would not obtain the SPM certificate. The announcement on the changes to the history syllabus was made at the winding-up speech at the 61st UMNO General Assembly by Muhiyiddin Yassin, the Minister of Education who was also the Deputy President of UMNO. The fact that a policy decision was made at an UMNO assembly did not go unnoticed. Immediately after the minister’s announcement, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the Chinese-based component party in the Barisan National coalition government, declared that it would set up a committee to monitor the content of the history syllabus. The MCA president stated: ‘We want to see how History books are presented and later give our feedback to the Education Ministry’ (‘Chua’, 2010). The MCA announcement was made by its president at the opening of the 83rd anniversary celebrations of the Perak Chinese Assembly Hall, and the choice of the occasion and site of the announcement, like the minister’s announcement, highlights the political underpinnings of the issue. The announcement sparked off a heated debate in the press. The following Letter to the Editor by a parent which appeared in The Star is one such example: The recent focus given to History as a compulsory subject in the school curriculum has driven me as a parent of school-going children to gain an insight into what they are learning in school. Form One students are taught predominantly about the Malacca Sultanate with sporadic anecdotes of the other states. Penang is not mentioned at all. That is until Form Two where they learn about the Straits Settlements, tin mining, rubber plantations and exploitation by the British ... I am completely perplexed. Learning history is much more than learning about Malaysia. One needs to know world history. I talked to my children about the Hundred Year Wars, the Renaissance period, the Mogul empire, the Spanish Inquisition, the Boston Tea Party, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, slavery and the American Civil War, the Long March, etc., and they had no inkling of what I was talking about. (‘The Star, 3 January 2010: paras 1, 2, 8, 9)

Another mother (writing in the ‘Letters’ section of the blog ‘Malaysia Today’) noted: I write as a concerned mother who cares about what my children are being fed in school. I write as a troubled citizen who cares about the younger generation that will one day helm the nation. I write based on my own personal review

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of the Form 4 History textbook ... The first fact to note is the overwhelming proportion of the Form 4 History textbook being devoted to Islamic civilization (100 pages) while the other religious civilizations are barely given a passing mention (460 words). Out of 10 chapters, 5 bulky chapters are devoted to Islamic history and civilization, which constitutes at least half a year’s study. This certainly is a disproportionate emphasis on one religion, to the exclusion of all other religious civilizations. (Malaysia Today, 16 December 2010: paras 5, 6)

The Malaysian history curriculum, which is now a core subject, is a site of contestation for what would constitute the national narrative and how the county’s various ethnic and religious groups will be represented in that narrative. Of concern was not just the issue of high-stakes testing for history, but crucially what would constitute history in the high-stakes tests. Not only was there a strong emphasis on Malaysian history, but even in the construction of Malaysian history the emphasis on Malay and Islamic history far outweighed the emphasis given to other communities in Malaysia. The focus on ‘patriotism’, ‘citizenship’ and ‘the constitution’ have led some social commentators like Lim (2010) to suggest that this would, by implication, allude to the so-called ‘social contract’ between Malaysia’s main ethnic groups. The social contract is a hotly debated and contentious notion in Malaysian political discourse and refers to an agreement said to be made by the country’s founding fathers at independence. This involved a trade-off pertaining to the granting of citizenship to the non-Bumiputera of Malaysia (particularly Malaysian Chinese and Indians), in return for the accordance of special rights and privileges to the Malays. Essentially the social contract was at best a social rather than a legal contract which related to the management of race relations within the country. Some Malay-based organizations have used the argument for a social contract to defend the principle of Ketuanan Melayu (or Malay Supremacy) which is contentious to others because it is said to alienate the non-Malays from equal participation in national political life (Centre for Policy Initiatives, 2010). As we write this chapter, a committee had been set up to review the content of the history syllabus and to make recommendations to the Ministry of Education. Because the committee has yet to publicly present its findings, the heated debates on the history curriculum have abated at this point of time. It is possible that the impassioned debates which preceded the appointment of the committee may pick up once the committee’s findings are made known and recommendations to reform the history syllabus are made, depending on the constituents who perceive they have been marginalized.


Education in South-East Asia

Discussion The education system in Malaysia has been used as a tool for the inculcation of national identity, not only through the national language but also through the content of the school curriculum. The two case studies above provide a glimpse into the complexities involved in the formulation of language policies, in the case of Case Study 1, and the content of education (in this case the history curriculum), in Case Study 2. In presenting these case studies, we have drawn on accounts in online news portals and blogs in the alternative media, as well as ‘letters to the editor’ in mainstream newspapers to capture the sense of the competing tensions and issues. The above case studies should be seen against a backdrop of historical and political developments in the country. In the politics of national identity in contemporary Malaysia, the ethnically-charged riots of 13 May 1969 are seen as a turning point, as they brought to the fore issues of ethnic conflict and national identity. Immediately after the 1969 riots a state of emergency was proclaimed in the country, and a series of drastic measures was introduced, including the New Economic Policy which saw affirmative action policies introduced in favour of the ethnic Malays. In education, beginning in 1971, the medium of instruction in the national school system and eventually at university level was changed from English to Malay. The English language as a medium of instruction is a legacy of Malaysia’s colonial past. The official rationale for this shift is captured by the slogan Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa (translated, ‘Language is the Spirit of the People’), which is an affirmation that national identity could be forged through a common language, Malay. Tham (1979) argued that this shift in medium of instruction marked the culmination of mounting pressure by Malay nationalists to accelerate the redefinition of the educational system to be more in line with Malay aspirations. Some 40 years later, as seen in the first case study, Prime Minister Mahathir pushed for the change in the language for instruction for science and mathematics from Malay back to English. One can argue that he was in many ways the only politician who could pull this off. On one hand, he had a reputation as a champion for Malay rights and nationalism. On the other, he was also known as Malaysia’s Father of Modernization. So on the cusp of his retirement, his push for the language policy change had the kind of emotional and political drive that was difficult to deny. The basic premise was that the Malay language would be used as the language of social integration between the different ethnic groups,

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while English would be used as the instrument of economic and technological development (Tan and Santhiram, 2010). This way, it was argued, the Malay language would still remain a key part of the fabric that makes Malaysia. In articulating the language policy shift in these terms, Mahathir Mohamed was able, initially at least, to appease Malay linguistic nationalists by appearing to strike a balance between the two seemingly contradictory impulses in the discourse of nation-building, namely the need to serve Malay community aspirations while at the same time dealing with the long-term needs of the nation as it addressed the challenges of globalization. However, this argument did not last long. When Mahathir stepped down in 2003, it became politically difficult for the subsequent administrations to address the vocal advocates of various ethnic languages. In March 2009, for example, thousands of mostly Malay demonstrators marched together in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur to show their disdain for PPSMI, the Malay acronym for the policy to teach mathematics and science subjects in English. Some of the demonstrators marched with a coffin with ‘152’ painted on it, symbolizing the death of the Malay language. Article 152 in the Federal Constitution guarantees the status of Malay as the national and official language (Federal Constitution of Malaysia, 2009: 122–3). Ironically, the Chinese educationalists also saw PPSMI as a threat to their basic right to learn their mother tongue, which is also protected under Article 152. They argued that science and mathematics were best learned in the mother tongue, and any switch would disadvantage the students further. A number of Indian educationalists also made similar arguments. In an ironic turn of events, these Malay, Chinese and Indian groups actually found themselves in a rare situation where they were united in their chorus against PPSMI. Ethnic-based arguments still provide the basis for many policy deliberations in public discourse. For example, when Muhyiddin, the Minister of Education and also the Deputy Prime Minister, introduced the new policy to replace PPSMI, he said that it was to mendaulatkan the Malay language. The root word daulat is often used in the context of royalty, to represent the acknowledgement of one’s ‘rightful power, place and authority’. Thus – in Malay culture and in Malaysia where the King is held in the highest regard – the verb mendaulatkan is used to stress the rightfully highest position that the language should occupy. This reflects the strength of the emotions and regard that the Deputy Prime Minister cum Education Minister has towards the Malay language. Daulat has strong emotive connotations and, when applied to the Malay language, implies that it needs to be accorded its ‘rightful’ place in the country. The word daulat


Education in South-East Asia

was later changed to martabat, a less emotive term that can be translated as ‘upholding’. Herein is also a reflection of the complexity of the issue. The language is seen as intimately intertwined with the notion of Malay identity from which it cannot be separated. In fact, Article 160 of the Federal Constitution defines a Malay as ‘a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom’ (Federal Constitution of Malaysia, 2009: 128–33). Hence, a Malay who does not ‘habitually speak in Malay’ may not even be regarded as Malay in the eyes of the law. In many ways, though not stated in legal terms, a significant part of the Chinese community also views their own identity in very similar ways – that is, that the Chinese language, cultural practices and Chinese ethnicity are one. The MCA-backed Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research director and chief executive officer, Fui K Soong, once said: ‘Taking away Chinese schools is like taking Islam away as a pillar of the Malay [Malaysian] community’ (Loh, 2009). Likewise, the second case study on debates concerning issues of representation in the new history syllabus also reflects the fervency and complexity of ethnic dynamics within an ethnocratic system (Haque, 2003). Among the different subjects in the school curriculum, the history curriculum stands out for the central role it plays in identity construction, insofar as it helps define the national narrative and socializes the young into that narrative. Prescribed textbooks for history, which are closely vetted and edited by a panel in the Textbook Bureau of the Ministry of Education, serve as authoritative sources in defining what should constitute ‘history’ in Malaysia. Instruction in Malaysian schools is still driven by official textbooks, and even supplementary materials produced by the private publishing houses closely mirror the content and approach suggested by the official textbooks. The hegemonic control exercised by the official version of history is further consolidated by the examination system. Because the new proposals aim to make history a compulsory subject for the SPM examination, passing history – or doing well in the subject – would determine whether students would be able to gain access to tertiary education. Furthermore, the content of history curriculum, specifically, the perceived over-representation of Malay–Muslim aspects of history and the under-representation of Chinese, Indian and other bumiputeras from Sabah and Sarawak, should be seen against the backdrop of the demographics of the teachers who will be teaching the history syllabus. The dominance of ethnic Malays in the

Malaysia: Ethnocracy and Education


teaching force has raised concerns about how these teachers would interpret the curriculum and translate it into the teaching and learning processes and practices through their own cultural lenses. This raises other questions about how notions of inclusivity and multiculturalism are promoted in the experiences of schooling, if a subject like history tends to emphasize how one ethnic group contributed to the making of the nation. Basil Bernstein (1971) refers to curriculum, pedagogy and assessment as three ‘message systems’ that work together to shape the sociology of knowledge in schools. These message systems signal what kind of knowledge is valued, or in an interpretive subject like history, what version of history will be legitimized or privileged. In the case of the new history syllabus, the curriculum (that foregrounds Malay–Muslim aspects of history), the pedagogy (that is mediated by a teaching force that is largely Malay and hence may reinforce the Malay– Muslim emphasis if they view history through their own cultural lenses), and an assessment system (which rewards a particular construction of history through a high stakes exit examination), converge to reinforce what Althusser (2008) terms the ideological state apparatus. Both the case studies, taken together, highlight the persistent politicization of educational decisions, and the articulation of the rationale for the educational policy decisions in ethnic terms. Thus Case Study 1 cited Prime Minister Mahathir making the case for English to teach mathematics and science in ethnic terms (‘UMNO will never harm the Malays and our very own people with respect to the use of English’). Likewise, it is pertinent to note that the ministerial announcements about the new history syllabus were made at a political event, the Vice-President of UMNO’s winding up speech at the party’s annual conference, thus underscoring the political undertones of the curricular initiative. The winding-up speech was a response to various speeches by the delegates in response to other prevailing views articulated by non-Malays in the media and other forums. Ethnic-based arguments at the UMNO gathering in favour of ketuanan Melayu, loosely translated as Malay supremacy, point to the pro-assimilationist tenor of the political discourses which provided the context for the ministerial announcement about new history syllabus. In appealing to notions like ‘patriotism’, which is one of the underlying values in the history syllabus, the syllabus may invariably aim at overtly constructing a ‘homogenous nation’ through a common national identity, a view that is now being contested by others including Chinese-based political parties within the governing National Front coalition government.


Education in South-East Asia

Concluding Remarks The role of education in the project of nation-building in post-colonial, multiethnic, multilingual societies is fraught with tensions between a converging impulse to construct a sense of ‘the national’ and a diverging impulse that affirms the heterogeneity of the citizens within the state. Striking a balance between these converging and diverging impulses poses several challenges, especially so within the context of an ethnocratic state. As Haque (2003: 241) argues: [While the state] can still maintain some degree of neutrality, [and] play the role of neutral arbiter among contending interests of various ethnic groups ... unfortunately in many instances, the state itself is involved in serving the interests of dominant ethnic group(s), undertaking policies that exacerbate rather than mitigate racial tensions.

Indeed, the question of whose interests the ethnocratic state serves is inherently complex, given the prevalence of ethnicity within the polity. The case studies above illustrate how the discursive construction of policy debates is perceived to be partisan when state actors (i.e., politicians themselves or bureaucrats who act on behalf of the state) overtly articulate the positions of dominant ethnic groups. Given the political landscape of Malaysia, where the major political parties are also delineated along ethnic lines, it is easy to see why this may be so. But the antagonisms are further compounded within a centralized, national education system ‘where a single policy formulation’ is uniformly applied to the country. This is especially evident in Case Study 1 where the application of Malay as medium of instruction across the urban–rural divide exacerbated the tensions, given that English is more widely used in urban than in rural settings; and that English may even be the home language of many in the urban middle classes, while Malay would be dominant in rural areas. In Case Study 2, however, the construction of ‘national history’, at least in its current formulation, with an overemphasis on Malay–Islamic aspects, has generated a bipolar ‘us versus them’ tension which has been read in ‘Malay versus non-Malay’ terms. The case studies we have considered illustrate how the exacerbation of tensions between the contending factions is driven in part by the ethnic cleavages within Malaysian society. Educational discourses in Malaysia tend to foreground ethnicity, thus highlighting the fragmented, ethnic or sectarian fissures of the Malaysian social fabric. But herein lies a fundamental paradox: despite the strongly ethnicized nature of discourses on education, Malaysian

Malaysia: Ethnocracy and Education


educational discourse ostensibly also espouses promotion of a sense of national unity. Ibrahim Bajunid, who is now an academic but who was formerly a trade unionist, a senior officer in the Malaysian Ministry of Education for over 30 years, and recipient of ‘Educational Leader of the Year’ award in 2010, addresses this paradox in what he calls, ‘the grand narrative of Malaysian education’ (Bajunid, 2008: 1). In discussing public policy discourses on education, Bajunid (2008: 19, 324–5) has referred to the paradox between policy rhetoric and actual practice in the field. Using strong language, he argues that while the rhetoric of ‘going global’ is promoted in Malaysia, the ‘subculture of schools seems to foster xenophobia, antagonism and even hatred’ towards ‘the other’, shaped in part by an ethnocratic polity which constructs discourses from a particular ethnic vantage point. Likewise, he posits that while national unity and harmony ‘seem to be the rhetoric, various measures are taken to divide students from different backgrounds institutionally’. In the same vein, Bajunid argues that while critical thinking and rational problem solving is considered desirable, the practice of egocentrism and ethnocentrism continues to prevail in the process of decision making. Despite these contradictions, within the context of the ethnocratic state, we note that in recent years that the case has been increasingly made – especially in the social media, through news and analysis sites like Malaysiakini and The Nutgraph – to rise above parochial ethnocracy. One way in which this can be achieved is by the introduction of policy initiatives that serve to dismantle, reduce the effects of, or at least address some of the institutional paradoxes associated with the issue, which Bajunid (2008) pointedly referred to. At the discursive level, we argue that the inherent antagonisms in ethnicized policy debates may be reduced if the focus shifts from ethnic perspectives per se to ‘the roots’ of the tensions. For instance, the framing of policy discourses can change radically if issues in education are discussed at the ‘root level,’ focusing not on ethnicity per se but on substantive issues such as educational access and development of twentyfirst century skills, which lie at the heart of policy debates but which tend to get blurred when the focus of public policy discourses is reduced to ‘us versus them’ terms, seen through ethnic lenses. As Brubaker (2009) argues, policy analysis is often limited when ethnic groups become substantial units of analysis in themselves, and when ethnicity is reduced to a proxy for more complex underlying economic or social phenomenon. When policy debates are reduced to ethnic or ethnicized terms, one does not recognize the blurring of ethnic boundaries in explaining political life.


Education in South-East Asia

Thus, as the debates on the PPSMI policy on the use of English as medium of instruction for mathematics and science suggests, the different factions and positions taken are not always driven by ethnicity, reducing it to simple Malay versus non-Malay tension. The rebuttal of the PPSMI policy was supported by ‘an alliance of convenience’ between the Malay organization GAPENA and the Chinese organization Dong Jiao Zhong. GAPENA is a Malay literary association while Dong Jiao Zhong is a Chinese educational association. Both of these organizations have played an active oppositional role in Malaysian cultural politics in the past, but on the issue of PPSMI they formed an alliance in support of mother tongue education, which was Malay for GAPENA and Chinese for Dong Jiao Zhong. Likewise, some organizations, such as PAGE, the acronym for the Parents Action Group on Education, an NGO which continues to support the PPSMI policy and has mounted a robust challenge to the abolition of PPSMI, is supported by both Malays and non-Malays, though the top leadership is largely Malay. Although it cuts across ethnic lines, members of PAGE tend to be middle class and largely urban based. However, in view of the larger political discourses within Malaysian society, PAGE continues to articulate its public case for PPSMI in ethnic terms, arguing that their position also serves the interests of the ethnic groups they represent. In the case of PAGE, some of their media statements in support of their stance towards PPSMI draw on Islamic precepts and discourses, to show that it is consistent with the larger religio-political discourses. At the same time it also frames its case in terms of economic arguments that favour globalization. Thus, despite the occasional blurring of discourses, the dynamics of the ethnocratic state continues to hold and is acknowledged by the various stakeholders. While it may be argued that the occasional blurring of ethnic positions is to some extent indicative of the maturation of the political process within the country, Malaysia continues to grapple with the pervasive dynamics of an ethnocracy as it moves into the second decade of the twenty-first century.

References Ahmad, Z. (2010). ‘Nothing political about History decision: Muhyiddin’. The Star (23 October). Available at: /20101102184005&sec=nation (accessed 25 April 2012). Aini, S. (2009). ‘PPSMI: Papar wajah sebenar Melayu’ (‘PPSMI: Showing the true face of the Malays’). Berita Harian (16 July). Available at: newscut_details.asp?cutid=393 (accessed 25 April 2012).

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Althusser, L. (2008). Ideology. London: Verso. Bajunid, I. A. (ed.) (2008). Malaysia: From traditional to smart schools. Shah Alam: Oxford Fajar. Bernstein, B. (1971/2008). Class, codes and control, Volume III: Towards a theory of educational transmission. London: Routledge. Boo, C. H. (2010). How the govt victimises vernacular schools. Available at: http:// (accessed 31 May 2012). Brown, G. K. (2007). ‘Making ethnic citizens: The politics and practice of education in Malaysia’. International Journal of Educational Development, 27: 318–30. Brubaker, R. (2009). ‘Ethnicity, race and nationalism’. American Review of Sociology. 25: 21–42. Centre for Policy Initiatives (2010). Softening up students to Islam with History syllabus (29 December). Available at: php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2107:softening-up-students-to-islamwith-history-syllabus&catid=228:commentary (accessed 25 April 2012). Chua (2010). ‘We’ll keep tabs on History’. The Star (1 November). Available at: http:// (accessed 25 April 2012). Department of Statistics, Malaysia. (2011). Statistics handbook Malaysia 2011 (September). Available at: files/BKKP/Buku_Maklumat_Perangkaan_2011.pdf (accessed 25 April 2012). Federal Constitution of Malaysia, incorporating all amendments up to P.U.(A) 164/2009 (2009). Available at: federalconstitution.pdf (accessed 25 April 2012). Haque, M. S. (2003). ‘The role of the state in managing ethnic tensions in Malaysia: A critical discourse’. American Behavioural Scientist, 47 (3): 240–66. L. M. (2009). Letter: ‘Rethink post-PPSMI plan’. News Straits Times (17 July). Available at: html/2009/07/17 (accessed 22 July 2009). Lim, H. G. (2010). ‘The limits of Malay educational and language hegemony’. Southeast Asian Affairs, Volume 2010: 180–97. Lim, T. G. (2011). ‘History education: Deep roots of disgruntlement’. Malaysiakini Newsportal. Available at: (accessed 7 January 2012). Loh, D. (2009). ‘Tackling the Chinese vote’. The Nutgraph (21 May). Available at: http:// (accessed 25 April 2012). Mahathir, Mohamad (2002). ‘Perhimpunan Agung UMNO 2002’. Utusan Malaysia (22 June). Available at: UMNO2002/index.asp?pg=ucapan_gulung_pm.htm (accessed 25 April 2012). Malaysia Today (16 December 2010) ‘School history textbooks: Historical facts or political and religious propaganda?’ Available at:


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mtcolumns/letterssurat/36721-school-history-textbooks-historical-facts-or-politicaland-religious-propaganda (accessed 25 April 2012). Ministry of Education Malaysia (2002). PPSMI: Introduction. Available at: http://www. (accessed 25 April 2012). —(2010). Malaysia educational statistics 2010. Available at: my/mainpage.php?module=Maklumat&kategori=47&id=197&papar=1 (accessed 31May 2012). —(2012). Vision and mission. Available at: php?id=292&lang=en (accessed 31 May 2012). Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) Malaysia (2010a). The statistics of higher education in Malaysia. Available at: statistik2010/BAB3_IPTS.pdf (accessed 7 June 2012). —Malaysia (2010b). The statistics of higher education in Malaysia. Available at: http://www. pdf (accessed 7 June 2012). Pid, K. (2009). ‘Soal jawab dalam siding media dengan Muhyiddin’ (‘Question and answer at press conference with Muhyiddin’). Harian Metro (9 July). Available at: html (accessed 25 April 2012). Siew, Z. (2009). ‘Parties join forces to fight PPSMI’. The Nutgraph (1 February). Available at: (accessed 25 April 2012) Siow, H. L. and Chang, L. H. (2011). ‘Education in Malaysia: Development and transformations’, in C. Brock and L. P. Symaco (eds), Education in South-East Asia. Oxford: Symposium Books. The Star (7 May 2002). ‘English anyone?’ Available at: beritamalaysia/message/48272 (accessed 25 April 2012). —(11 May 2002). ‘Umno says no to English-medium schools, yes to Science and Maths’. Available at: message/48413?var=1 (accessed 25 April 2012). —(3 January 2010). ‘Teach history fairly’. Available at: asp?sec=focus&file=/2011/1/3/focus/7724817 (accessed 25 April 2012). Tan, P. K. W. (2005). ‘The medium-of-instruction debate in Malaysia: English as a Malaysian language?’ Language problems and language planning, 29 (1): 47–66. Tan, Y. S. and Santhiram, R. (2010). The education of ethnic minorities: The case of the Malaysian Chinese. Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information Research and Development. Teo, C. W. and Looi, E. (2009). ‘Six years later, language debate rages on’. Asia One (17 January). Available at: A1Story20090116-115182.html (accessed 25 April 2012). Tham, S. C. (1979). ‘Issues in Malaysian education: Past, present, and future’. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 10 (2): 321–50.

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Zalkapli, A. (2009). ‘Polls show majority support for English policies’. The Malaysian Insider (8 July). Available at: article/Polls-show-majority-support-for-English-policies/ (accessed 25 April 2012)

Useful Websites Centre for Policy Initiatives. A watchdog organization on key public issues, including education: Curriculum Development Centre, Ministry of Education, Malaysia (Bahagian Pembangunan Kurikulum): Department of Statistics, Malaysia: Malaysiakini. Independent news website published in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil: The Malaysian Insider. One of the more popular subscription-free, bilingual news websites: Ministry of Education, Malaysia, English version: http://www. Ministry of Higher Education, Malaysia, English version: New Straits Times (Education section). A major English-language daily newspaper: The Nut Graph. An independent news website focussed on analyses and commentaries.: Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) news.php The Star (Education section). Malaysia’s most widely read English-language daily read newspapers: Study Malaysia. An information and marketing site to promote Malaysian education to foreign students: Utusan Malaysia (Education section). One of Malaysia’s most widely read Malay-language daily newspapers: asp?sec=iPendidikan


Malaysia: The Education of Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children Hema Letchamanan ‘Education is a human right. The education of refugees, as any other need, is the responsibility of the government in their country of asylum.’ Guidelines for Educational Assistance United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Refugees and Asylum Seekers The UNHCR estimates that the number of people forcibly uprooted by conflict and natural disaster worldwide to be more than 43.7 million at the end of 2010 (UNHCR, 2011), making it the highest number of people uprooted since the mid-1990s. More than half of the total population are children (Malik, 2011). They include children who are refugees, asylum seekers, stateless, as well as internally displaced persons. At the time of writing, the everyday conflict and disaster in countries like Somalia, Syria, South Sudan and Mali, to name but a few, are causing these children to cross international borders in the hope of protection. Besides geographical and numerical differences, the subject matter immediately raises definitional issues. Refugees are defined in Article 1 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 (the Geneva Convention) and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees 1967. A refugee is a person who, ... owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of the country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his formal habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. (ibid.)


Education in South-East Asia

An asylum seeker is a person who has crossed an international border in search of safety, and refugee status, in another country (Rutter, 1994). In Malaysia, asylum seekers are people who are awaiting registration with the UNHCR. A child means every human being under the age of 18 (UNHCR, 2001). Refugee children fall into two categories: accompanied and unaccompanied children. Accompanied children are those living within a family unit. Unaccompanied children are those who are separated from their parents and are not being cared for by any adults. Most of the refugee children in Malaysia are accompanied by their parents or relatives. Refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia mostly live in urban areas in rented shop-houses and flats. Education is increasingly viewed as the ‘fourth pillar’ of the humanitarian response, alongside food, shelter and health (Norwegian Refugee Council et al., 1999; Midttun, 2000; ICWAC, 2000; UNHCR, 2000). Children are especially vulnerable as they are developing physically, cognitively and emotionally. ‘The sudden and violent onset of emergencies, the disruption of families and community structures deeply affect the physical and psychological well-being of refugee children’ (UNHCR, 1994: 5). Education provides a place of healing and plays a critical role in helping children return to a normal life. Schooling provides a sense of security, and Bird (2003: 33) argues that children should not have to wait for their much needed reassurance of security. Sommers (1999: 3) believes that boredom and absence of education for refugee children is a dangerous combination, whereby it produces unstructured days where traumatizing memories linger and fears thrive. UNHCR in its guidelines asserts that, ‘UNHCR should ensure that the ladder of educational opportunity is open to refugee children, in some form, from entry to Class 1 to the level of at least first secondary school leaving examination’ (UNHCR, 1995b: v). Although the ideal of ensuring access to education is promoted, the reality is often not matched on the ground. This is the scenario in the case of Malaysia.

History of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Malaysia In order to better understand the condition and needs of refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, it is best to begin by looking at the history of how they first started entering this country. Malaysia’s strategic geographical location, political stability, robust economic growth, virtually full employment, and concomitant dependence on cheap labour, make it an attractive destination for migrants who seek refuge from political turmoil and natural disaster across Asia. Peninsular

Malaysia: The Education of Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children


Malaysia is separated from Sabah and Sarawak by the South China Sea. To the north of peninsular Malaysia is Thailand, while its southern neighbour is Singapore. Malaysia is accessible from both Thailand and Singapore by road and rail. Sabah and Sarawak are bounded by Indonesia, while Sarawak also shares a border with Brunei. All these make for easy access to Malaysia, both legally and illegally. The first Vietnamese boat people landed on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia in May 1975. The history of Malaysia’s dealing with refugees and asylum seekers began then. In the same year, the Malaysian government sought the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) help to deal with these potential refugees. According to the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Malaysia was ‘perhaps the most resolute of the Southeast Asian first-asylum countries in pursuing the repatriation of Vietnamese boat people’ (Viviani, 1984; USCRI Country Report Malaysia, 1997: 1; UNHCR, 2000: 4). Of the nearly 255,000 Vietnamese boat people who were given temporary asylum in Malaysia in eight camps, a total of 248,410 were resettled in Western countries, while over 9000 returned to Vietnam. The last camp was closed in 2001, five days before the end of the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) (UNHCR Press Releases, 25 June 2001). The last Vietnamese boat refugee left Malaysia on 30 August 2005 (UNHCR Press Releases, 30 August 2005), signalling the end to an era of ‘voluntary’ Malaysian cooperation with the UNHCR. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Filipino Muslim refugees who fled to Sabah were given protection by the Sabah government. UNHCR assisted with the Filipino refugees from 1977 to 1987, and phased out its programme in Sabah in 1987. The Sabah state government subsequently assumed responsibility for the refugees (USCRI Country Report Malaysia, 1997: 3). Acehnese comprise the largest caseload of asylum seekers and refugees from Indonesia in Malaysia. An understanding of the ethnic and religious insurgency confronted by the Indonesian government since the founding of the independent state of Indonesia, particularly Aceh, is crucial in reviewing the plight of the Acehnese. Aceh lies on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, just west of Malaysia across the Malacca Strait. In 1959, Aceh was given the status of a special territory, but this did not satisfy the Acehnese (Kaur, 2007). For them, the Javanese-dominated central government had replaced the Dutch as colonial rulers and had to be resisted. The war with Jakarta began in 1976 when Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM – the Free Aceh Movement) was established as an armed resistance group (ibid.). Building on a history of trade and travel across the Malacca Strait, many Acehnese fled to Malaysia and GAM


Education in South-East Asia

maintained an operational headquarters for a number of years beginning in the 1980s. Many more fled to Malaysia during the height of counter-insurgency operations in 1990–3. Although Malaysia regarded all undocumented migrants from Indonesia as economic migrants, the government allowed them to stay, acknowledging that they could be persecuted if they were returned. Many also fled the Indonesia’s Acheh province after the 2004 Asian tsunami. About 40,000 people came to Malaysia after the Tsunami that killed more than 130,000 people in Indonesia alone (Jakarta Post, 18 May 2008). Some of these refugees returned home at the beginning of 2006, but in 2008 the Malaysian government announced that more than 25,000 Acheh tsunami refugees were still in the country and ordered them to leave. The refugee children who came to Malaysia stayed in the country for a period of four to five years without attending any formal or non-formal education. Besides protection problems, their illegal status in Malaysia restricts Acehnese from accessing social services. Medical care is vital because, according to UNHCR, they arrived with broken bones, scars and emotional trauma. But because many of the Acehnese in Malaysia work as construction labourers, porters and palm oil plantation workers, they were unable to earn enough to pay for much-needed medical care, or for their children’s education. As few international NGOs are present in Malaysia, little humanitarian assistance reaches the Acehnese (Human Rights Watch, 2004). The economic and financial crisis of 1997–8 and Malaysia’s worsening economic situation led to a reversal of this policy, and the government’s subsequent campaign to deport illegal migrants in 1998 included the Acehnese. The forcible removal of the Acehnese led to rioting in detention camps (where some Acehnese had been confined); there were at least 39 deaths, and some Acehnese, who had escaped the dragnet, broke into four diplomatic compounds. Some were subsequently resettled but the rest were deported (Human Rights Watch, 2004). In 2002, Malaysia implemented a massive crackdown on illegal migrants, and among those deported were Acehnese who were UNHCR-recognized refugees. In 2003 the Indonesian government began military operations in Aceh and thousands more Acehnese fled to Malaysia. Indonesia also worked through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to obtain declarations of support for Indonesia’s national sovereignty. ASEAN Foreign Ministers reaffirmed their support for Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and backed its efforts to restore peace and order. ASEAN Foreign Ministers also pledged to deny Gerakan Acheh Merdeka (GAM – Free Acheh Movement) access to weaponry to prevent arms smuggling into Indonesia, fearing that Indonesia’s destabilization could encourage other separatist movements in

Malaysia: The Education of Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children


the region. Following the termination of hostilities in Aceh, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between GAM and the Indonesian government in 2005, and conditions improved in Aceh. Some Acehnese returned home of their own accord. In 2005, the Malaysian government issued between 32,000 and 35,000 work permits to Acehnese migrants. These work permits were for two years and allowed the Acehnese to reside and work in Malaysia (SUARAM, 2008: 124; USCRI World Refugee Survey Malaysia, 2006: 3). Although many Acehnese would prefer to return to Aceh, most do not have travel documents, nor do they have the funds for the journey. UNHCR has also been considering initiating a voluntary repatriation programme, but this has not yet been implemented. Refugees from Myanmar comprise mainly the Chins, Rohingyas, Myanmar Muslims, Mon, Arakanese and other ethnicities. The UNHCR conducts individual refugee status determination procedures for the Chins, leading to mandate refugee status. According to Suara Rakyat Malaysia – Malay for ‘Voice of the Malaysian People’ – a human rights organization in Malaysia (SUARAM), Chins ‘constitute the largest asylum seeker and refugee population held in detention’ in Malaysia. UNHCR reported processing about ‘1500 cases a month and had a backlog of 13,000 Chins in 2006’ (SUHAKAM, 2008). Chins asylum seekers also reported waiting for interviews for more than two years. The Chins are also not given the right to work (USCRI, 2006: 1). They thus fall in the category of being warehoused and reliant on humanitarian assistance. The Rohingyas, who were made stateless by the Myanmar government in the 1970s, initially fled to Bangladesh. In the 1980s they began to arrive in Malaysia and were given temporary protection. After fleeing systematic discrimination, forced labour and other abuses in Myanmar, Rohingyas faced a whole new set of abuses in Malaysia. These included beatings, extortion and arbitrary detention. The refugees were forced to live in poverty and constant fear of expulsion from the country. Human Rights Watch’s Report, Living in Limbo: Burmese Rohingyas in Malaysia (2000), detailed the treatment of Rohingyas in Malaysia. Denied legal recognition as refugees, Rohingya children are often not permitted to attend school, and many are denied health care. They are also at constant risk of arrest. Malaysian government officials detain and deport even those persons the UNHCR has recognized as refugees. Malaysia does not generally return refugees to Myanmar, but it continues to expel them to Thailand. It does this because Myanmar will not accept them back and because they generally enter Malaysia by way of the Thai border. However, Thailand has also not ratified the Refugee Convention and its Protocol, and people expelled to Thailand risk


Education in South-East Asia

detention and deportation to Myanmar. Rohingya numbers were estimated at 22,840 in 2012 (UNHCR, April 2012), and as stated above, the government has initiated the process of issuing them work permits. Other refugee and asylum seekers in Malaysia come from countries like Sri Lanka, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. These were in more recent years. Their total population is some 8200 (UNHCR, April 2012).

Malaysia Immigration and Asylum Policies To understand the education of refugee and asylum-seeking children in Malaysia, it is pertinent to look at the Malaysian immigration and asylum policies as the responses to education of these children are shaped by these policies. Malaysia is not a party to many of the key international human rights instruments. For example, Malaysia is not a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees nor to the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, the key international instruments relating to the protection of refugees. Apart from the Philippines and Cambodia, Malaysia and the other South-East Asian states do not have legislation that provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol; nor have they established a system for providing protection to refugees (Kaur, 2007). As a result, Malaysia does not provide any specific formal protection to people who have fled their own country due to a fear of persecution on Convention grounds. In addition, Malaysia is party to only two international human rights instruments: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), acceded to on 5 July 1995, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), acceded to on 17 February 1995 (UNHCR, 2007). Regarding the latter, Malaysia maintains reservations concerning the principle of non-discrimination (Article 2); the obligation to make primary education compulsory and available without cost to all (Article 28(1)(a)); and the prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as arbitrary detention (Article 37) (SUARAM, 2008). The paucity of Malaysia’s international obligations is a significant contributor to the poor situation of refugees and asylum seekers in this country. It is notable also that Malaysia has not ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, nor the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.

Malaysia: The Education of Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children


As a founding member of ASEAN, Malaysia attended the ASEAN Summit on 13 January 2007 in the Philippines at which the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers was adopted (Kaur, 2006). As stated in the general principles of the Declaration, ASEAN countries pledge to strengthen their cooperation with regard to the respect of fundamental rights and dignity of migrant workers and members of their families. This interest of ASEAN countries in working out regional solutions to deal with the movement of people had been expressed previously in the ASEAN Declaration Against Trafficking in Persons Particularly Women and Children. This Declaration was adopted on 29 November 2004 and sets up measures to address transnational crimes of trafficking, for example by the establishment of a regional focal network, the reinforcement of the protection of the integrity of the respective official documents, the establishment of regular exchanges of view on migratory flows and the establishment of better cooperation between the respective immigration and other law and enforcement authorities (ibid.). The UNHCR reported that there are some 98,100 refugees and asylum seekers registered with them by end of April 2012. There are about 89,900 from Myanmar, comprising some 34,430 Chins, 22,840 Rohingyas, 10,510 Rakhines, 10,480 Myanmar Muslims and 3780 Mons, with the remainder being other ethnic minorities from Myanmar. There are also some 4480 Sri Lankans, 1090 Somalis, 790 Iraqis and 440 Afghans. It is also reported that there are 20,000 children below the age of 18 (UNHCR, April 2012). However, there are also a large number of refugees who remain unregistered, and the refugee communities themselves estimate this population to be more than 11,000 people. Child refugees and asylum seekers are in need of special protection and assistance in the process of immigration and enforcement of immigration law. Refugee and asylum-seeking children are particularly vulnerable to agents, human traffickers and other criminal groups and are particularly at risk when held in detention, whether accompanied or unaccompanied (SUARAM, 2008). However, as with adults, no special provision is made in Malaysian law to protect child refugees and asylum seekers. Women refugees and asylum seekers are also particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation, and no particular provision is made with regard to their vulnerabilities. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) provides some limited protection to child refugees and asylum seekers. In particular, all state parties are bound by Article 3(1), which states that in all actions concerning children, ‘the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration’ (UNHCR, 2007). As a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Malaysia is also required by Article 22(1)


Education in South-East Asia

to ‘take appropriate measures’ to ensure that child refugees of asylum seekers receive ‘appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance’ (UNHCR, 2007). In addition, Malaysia is required to cooperate with appropriate international, governmental and non-governmental organizations in providing such assistance to children and to ensure that refugee and asylum seeking-children enjoy their rights under the CRC. Malaysia’s domestic legislation in this field is the Child Act 2001 (Act 611), which makes certain provisions for the protection of children and their prosecution (Part X) and detention. It defines children to be those under 18 years of age (section 2). Sections 42–3 criminalize the procurement of children for the purposes of prostitution, and Part VIII criminalizes trafficking in, and abduction of, children (SUARAM, 2008). Refugee and asylum-seeking children in Malaysia are barred from government schools, which is of particular concern considering the length of time some refugee groups have spent in the country. Such children often attend ‘informal’ or charitable schools that broadly follow the school curriculum, but are not recognized by the authorities and are generally considered to be of lesser quality. The CRC previously recommended that Malaysia ‘take urgent measures to ensure that asylum-seeking and refugee children have access to free and formal primary, secondary and other forms of education, and that in particular refugee and asylum-seeking children who are engaged in informal education have access to official exams’ (CRC Report, 2007). Treatment of detainees and conditions in prisons are regulated by the Prison Act 1995 and, in greater detail, by the Prison Regulations 2000. This legal framework includes special provisions for vulnerable detainees such as women, children under 21, and young babies held in prison. In January 2007, the detention figures transmitted by the Malaysian government delegation to the Committee on the Rights of the Child mentioned that at that time, a total of 360 children were living in deportation centres with their mothers (CRC Report, 2007). The food provided could reportedly not be considered to meet the dietary requirements of these women and their children. The conditions of detention of children reportedly vary, according to the management enforced by the officer-in-charge of the depot and its structural arrangements. The Immigration Regulation (2003) leaves the segregation of detainees according to age and sex or any other reason to the discretion of the officer-in-charge. Some depots are provided with a special recreation place for the children and their mothers and with special facilities for them too. In some depots, children remain with adults, but in others they are separated from the age of seven, which may potentially expose them to abuses. In its

Malaysia: The Education of Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children


most recent Concluding Observations regarding Malaysia, the Committee on the Rights of the Child in its 44th Session on 2 February 2007 noted a number of areas in which Malaysia urgently needs to improve its treatment of child refugees and asylum seekers and the children of refugees and asylum seekers (CRC Report, 2007).

Refugee Children and Education Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly outlines that everyone has the right to education. Access to primary level schooling is one of the key provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CRC does not make a distinction between a refugee child and a national. Malaysia should lift its reservation made to Article 28 (1) (a) Right to free and compulsory primary education for all (SUHAKAM, 2005). About 13,800 out of 18,500 refugee children in Malaysia are of school-going age (UNHCR, 2012). The school-going age in Malaysia is from six to 17 years old. Refugee children are not allowed to attend the free, public schools in Malaysia. Unable to attend formal education, the refugee communities have established community-based schooling for their children. UNCHR Malaysia estimates that there are some 70 such learning centres in Kuala Lumpur and the state of Selangor (UNHCR, 2012). However, not all children attend these community-based schools or learning centres. It is estimated that only about 40 per cent of these children have access to any form of education (UNHCR, April 2012). This means that over 60 per cent or 8280 refugee children in Malaysia are not in school. The fear of being arrested while going to the learning centres and distance to be travelled prevent many children from attending those centres at all. Most community-based learning centres operate in rented houses or apartments. As such, there is no space for play areas. Some schools are also overcrowded, with fewer facilities. Some children attend school in the morning and go to work in the evening. Such children and others work illegally, and in most cases the workplace is not safe for a child. The poorer standard of education in these schools does not equip the children for a successful future. These community-based schools are run by the refugee community themselves with the help of faith-based groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals. UNHCR assist in running education projects and providing resources and compensation to teachers. Teachers in these schools are mostly refugees themselves who volunteer to teach. They are usually graduates or

Education in South-East Asia


university students from their home country, but have not undergone any formal teacher training. Some local Malaysians also volunteer to teach in these schools. The refugee communities in Malaysia face obstacles in ensuring their children receive quality education during their stay in this country.

Challenges MM

Refugee children have no access to public education.


Teachers are untrained volunteers within the refugee communities.


Community learning centres struggle to attract and retain experienced teachers due to lack of remuneration.


Dropout rates increase as children reach secondary level, in part due to early marriage and/or due to children needing to find employment to contribute to the family’s income and also due to lack of education programmes catering to this age group.


Security concerns impede free movement affecting attendance in the community learning centres.


There is extremely limited access to secondary education and opportunities for training in marketable skills and other life skills for adolescents.


Lack of documentation and accreditation means that even students who have managed to complete their secondary education are unable to access any form of tertiary education.


The amount of non-UNHCR funding and project assistance available for refugees is relatively small. (UNHCR 2011 Fact Sheet Education)

The Future of Education of Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children Signatories to the Geneva Convention and Protocol – if they do not reserve clause 22 – are agreeing to the provision of primary schooling for ‘convention refugees’, such as is made available to the citizen population. They are also agreeing that secondary schooling should be made available to the extent that it is for other non-citizen groups. Demand for education among the internationally displaced in temporary settlements appears to relate to a combination of previous educational experiences and to long-term settlement expectations. The strongest demand is,

Malaysia: The Education of Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children


with important exceptions, for modern primary and secondary schooling which will, other things being equal, orient young people towards future roles in differentiated market economies. Pre-primary schooling occurs among refugee groups who were accustomed to this before flight (Preston, 1988). It is also provided for those whose parents are attending other courses or participating in project activities and needing child care facilities (Reynell, 1988). Primary school provision is the most extensive of the educational programmes established. Frequently, it is initiated by refuge seekers themselves, before host governments or agencies have come to think about its delivery (Dodds and Inquai, 1983). In most cases, there is no obligation to provide academic secondary schooling and host governments do what they can to discourage it. Nevertheless, while extended primary schooling is provided in some places of temporary settlement, there are a few secondary schools provided for refugee children, such as those at Kassala in Sudan (Mebrahtu, 1989). However, most commonly it is vocational education which constitutes the principal form of post-primary instruction. Whether its orientation is towards the rehabilitation of the handicapped or the teaching of skills thought appropriate to subsequent income-generation activities, the emphasis is on trade and craft skills. Literacy and numeracy may also be taught at vocational centres to those who have not been to school or who wish to maintain skills acquired at primary levels. Non-formal educational programmes for both men and women include basic education, craft and trade skills. Language teaching should be provided in learning centres where refugees are given resettlement orientation by representatives of the receiving country. This is especially important in places where the language of the country of asylum differs from that of those seeking refuge. The Malaysian government fears that there would be an influx of refugees if their status was to be recognized and free education was provided (Letchamanan, 2010). And this would lead to other problems such as security. Although this is true in one sense, the government should not neglect those refugees and asylum seekers, especially the children, who are already in the country. Formal education must be provided for them, and at the same time stringent border controls should be implemented to manage the number of people entering the country. These children should also be allowed to sit for public examinations, and given formal certification if successful. As Kirk (2009) states, the certification is to ensure validation and a smooth transition when the children resettle in a third country or return to their home country. Community-based schools are found in urban areas and where there is large number of refugee communities in Malaysia. UNHCR estimates the


Education in South-East Asia

number of community-based schools to be around 70 (UNHCR, April 2012). These schools should act as a transition point where the children, upon arrival from their home country, learn to adapt local culture, learn the language and basic literacy and numeracy, and undergo counselling if their mental health is affected. Since Malaysia is also a developing country, it would be difficult for the government to provide funding to these community-based schools. As such, companies through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) scheme and other non-governmental organizations could provide funding for these schools to operate. UNHCR has to oversee these schools and their teachers so that the quality of education provided is not compromised. The public should be more aware of the present situation of refugees and asylum seekers in the country. For this, the media should play its role. The media should be open and transparent in reporting. Documentaries on the lives of refugees and migrants could be produced and broadcast so that the society understands the problems that this group of people face. As Mohamedou (2009) suggests, media should explain an issue rather than tell a story. It should avoid politicization and bias. Most importantly, the government should not interfere with journalists’ freedom of movement, and should ensure that journalists have access to information on refugees and migrants. Only then can the society put pressure on the government to address the situation, and provide free formal education to these children. Students in higher education institutions should be involved more in the community work. At the moment this is lacking in Malaysia. Institutions could even have compulsory community work to be undertaken for a certain number of hours each term. These college and university students could teach or help out in the community-based schools, to prepare materials, teach or play games with the refugee and migrant children. This would give the children a chance to communicate with the local community, increase their confidence level and help build their sense of identity and belonging. As for schoolchildren, education on citizenship should be provided. Peace-building and peace-education activities should be conducted in both the public and community-based schools. The present civics and citizenship subject taught at primary level in public schools could be adapted to fit these activities. The issue of refugees and migrants should not be considered as a taboo, and be discussed in the classroom. In that way, children from a young age would have the sense of awareness that there are other children in their society who are not like them. Refugee and migrant children have the potential to bring positive elements into the classroom, and

Malaysia: The Education of Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children


should they be accepted into public schools, the teachers should encourage this potential to be revealed and utilized (Rutter, 1999). UNHCR and NGOs should coordinate their advocacy activities to counterbalance political interests and other barriers to the right to education of refugee and migrant children. All community-based schools should be governed by UNHCR. Materials, textbooks, stationery and other items should be distributed proportionately to all schools. UNHCR is already involved in training the teachers in some of the community-based schools; however, it should extend to all schools. Malaysia cannot claim education for all by 2015 if these children are still not given the opportunity to access public schools. Finally, more research should be done as little is known about the global state of education for refugees, especially in the South-East Asia region. No systematic documentation is available because sparse research has been done on this subject. More research would help the international community to be aware of the situation of the refugee and asylum-seeking children in the country, and therefore could facilitate support or put pressure on the government to provide formal schooling to the children concerned. The educational needs of the refugee and asylum-seeking children in Malaysia should be addressed immediately to ensure these children can have a sense of normalcy. The community-based schools should cater to these needs, apart from providing lessons. One important educational need that has to be addressed is psychological well-being. Refugee children who flee from their home country may face the trauma of displacement, some have lost their parents and family in a war or natural disaster, and some have been ill-treated by the soldiers in their home country. As such, education in their host country should help them in reducing the trauma, and address their mental health in general. Another equally important educational need is character building. Education in the host country, in this case Malaysia, should help in building a child’s character. Attention should be given to positive values, self-discipline, confidence and motivation. These aspects form the character of the refugee or asylum-seeking child. Due to the home environment in which the children have previously lived and grown up, they need greater confidence to communicate with others and motivation to learn new things. The other educational need for these children is raising their knowledge base. Children should learn subjects like English, mathematics, science, geography, music and art in a formal setting. Effective and quality primary education


Education in South-East Asia

should be made available to all children. For adolescents, technical and vocational training should be provided. Such technical and vocational training could be of paramount help when the adolescents begin working in a third country, or even if they return to their home country. Most NGOs also do not have direct involvement in meeting the children’s educational needs. They are mostly involved in advocating for their rights In most cases, refugees and migrants tend to be grouped together and seen as one. However, they are two separate communities with different reasons for being in Malaysia, and they have different sets of problems. The society has to be aware of this situation. The government has to use separate measures when dealing with these groups of people.

References Amnesty International (2004). Malaysia Human Rights At Risk in Mass Deportation of Undocumented Migrants. Available at: engasa280082004 (accessed 23 May 2010). Bird, L. (2003). Surviving School – education for refugee children from Rwanda. Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning. CRC (2007). Consideration of Reports Submitted by State Parties Under Article 44 of the Convention. Available at: CRC.C.OPAC.QAT.CO.1_en.pdf (accessed 15 March 2010). Dodds, A. and Inquai, S. (1983). Education in Exile: the educational needs of refugees. Cambridge: IEC. Global Monitoring Report (2010). Reaching the Marginalized. Available at: http:// (accessed 13 March 2010). Human Rights Watch (2000). Malaysia/Burma: Living in limbo – Burmese Rohingyas in Malaysia. Available at: (accessed 10 May 2010). —(2004). Acheh Under Martial Law: Problems faced by Achehnese refugees in Malaysia. Available at: (accessed 22 April 2010). ICWAC (2000). Caught in the Crossfire No More: a framework for commitment to war-affected children – Summary by the Chairs of the Experts’ Meeting, 13–15 September 2000. Winnipeg: The International Conference on War-Affected children. Jakarta Post (18 May 2008). Achehnese in Malaysia after Tsunami. Available at: http:// www.thejakartapost/malaysia/tsunami.html (accessed 17 June 2010). Jomtien Report (1990). World Conference on EFA [online]. UNESCO. Available at: (accessed 15 March 2010).

Malaysia: The Education of Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children


Kaur, A. (2006). ‘Order (and disorder) at the Border: Mobility, international labour migration and border controls in Southeast Asia’, in A. Kaur and I. Metcalfe (eds), Mobility, Labour Migration and Border Controls in Asia. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 23–51. —(2007). International Labour Migration in Southeast Asia: Governance of migration and women domestic workers. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Kirk, J. (ed.) (2009). Certification counts – recognising the learning attainments of displaced and refugee students. Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning. Letchamanan, H. (2010). Needs and responses: a study of education for refugee and migrant children in Malaysia. MSc dissertation, University of Oxford. Malaysiakini (17 April 2007) Malaysia Does Not Want to be a Refugee Magnet. Available at: (accessed 23 April 2011). Malik, S. (2011). UNHCR report says refugee numbers at 15-year high. Available at: (accessed 2 June 2012). Mebrahtu, T. (1989). ‘Education for Eritrean refugees in the Sudan’. Refugee Participation Network, 4: 10–13. Midttun, E. (2000). Education in Emergencies and Transition Phases: still a right and more of a need. Oslo: Norwegian Refugee Council. Mohamedou, M. (2009). ‘Human Rights and the Media: Role, responsibility and issues’. Malaysian Journal on Human Rights, 3 (1), 51–68. Norwegian Refugee Council, Redd Barna and UNHCR (1999). Protection of Children and Adolescents in Complex Emergencies: conference report. Oslo: Norwegian Refugee Council. Preston, R. (1988). Educational Needs of West Irian Refugees in the East Awin Relocation Site in Papua New Guinea, Final Report. UPNG: ERU. Reynell, J. (1988). Political Pawns in South East Asia, Refugee Studies Programme. Oxford: Queen Elizabeth House. Rutter, J. (1994). Refugee children in the Classroom. Staffordshire: Trentham Books Limited. —(1999). Refugee Children in the UK. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education. Sommers, M. (1999). Emergency Education for children. Cambridge: Mellon Foundation. SUARAM (2008). Undocumented Migrants and Refugees in Malaysia: Raids, detention and discrimination. Paris: International Federation for Human Rights. SUHAKAM (2005). Convention on the Rights of the Child – Report of the roundtable discussion. Shah Alam: OMR Press. —(2008). History. Available at: (accessed 14 March 2010). UNHCR (1994). Refugee Children: Guidelines on protection and care. Geneva: UNHCR. —(1995a). The State of the World’s Refugees: In search of solutions. Geneva: UNHCR.


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—(1995b). Revised (1995) guidelines for educational assistance to refugees. Geneva: UNHCR. —(1997). The state of the World’s Refugees: A humanitarian agenda. Geneva: UNHCR. —(2000). Global Appeal 2000: Strategies and programmes. Geneva: UNHCR. —(2001). Learning for a Future: refugee education in developing countries. Geneva: Presses Centrales Lausanne. —(2006). Global Appeal 2006 – Strategies and programmes. Geneva: UNHCR. —(2007). UNHCR Guidelines on Determining the Best Interest of the Child. Geneva: UNHCR. —(2010). Refugees in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur: UNHCR. —(2011). Refugee Figures. Available at: (accessed 2 June 2012). —(June 2011). World Refugee Day. Available at: (accessed 10 September 2011). —(April 2012). UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency Malaysia. Available at: http://www.[email protected] (accessed 15 May 2012). UNHCR Press Releases (25 June 2001). UNHCR and Malaysia Close Camp for Vietnamese Boat People. Available at: NEWS/3ae6b81838.html (accessed 23 April 2011). —(30 August 2005). Last Vietnamese boat refugee leaves Malaysia. Available at: http;// (accessed 23 April 2011). United Nations (1985). United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice. Available at: htm (accessed 15 March 2010). USCRI (1997). World Refugee Survey – Country report Malaysia. Available at: (accessed 22 April 2010). —(2005). World Refugee Survey – Country report Malaysia. Available at: (accessed 22 April 2010). —(2006). World Refugee Survey – Country report Malaysia. Available at: (accessed 22 April 2010). Viviani, N. (1984). The Long Journey: Vietnamese migration and settlement in Australia. Victoria: Melbourne University Press. Watters, C. (2008). Refugee Children: Towards the next horizon. Oxon: Routledge. World Education Forum (2000). Education For All 2000 Assessment: Framework for action. Paris: UNESCO.


Myanmar: Governance, Civil Society and the Developments in Education Richard Martin

Introduction This chapter is an analysis of Myanmar’s education system from a current and recent historical perspective. It includes the increasing volume of information being collected about the education system in Myanmar by international agencies including the European Commission and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). While concentrating on education, it is essential that issues relating to the education system should be seen within the broader context of Myanmar’s society and history. Education links with all other aspects of any society but it is intended in this chapter to concentrate on what we know about the education system in Myanmar and its shortcomings resulting from over 60 years of misrule.

Relevance of the Past Despite some opinions to the contrary, the past has direct relevance on the present and the future. British colonial rule lasted a relatively short time, from 1885 to 1948. In the early 1940s, Myanmar was occupied by the Japanese to an extent that it threatened the British Raj in India. The British occupation was mainly conducted by foreign mercenary troops such as the Indians and the Ghurkhas and politics was controlled by the Indian Civil Service (Steinberg, 2010) until 1937 and then the British established the Myanmar Civil Service (BCS) until independence. As a result of the British not trusting the Myanmar, the army was organized in ethnic units such as the ‘Karen Rifles’ who antagonized Myanmar and this policy led to disquiet until the present day. Other


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ethnic groups such as the Chin and Kachin also contributed to the army, leaving only a small minority of the Myanmar in the army. Indians played (ibid., 36) a significant role in the bureaucracy and professions and during the 1930s, and Rangoon was predominantly an Indian city. During the Japanese occupation of Myanmar from 1941 to 1946 the British reluctantly came up with a White Paper in May 1945 which envisaged a period of direct rule for three years until 1948. This time frame did not suit Myanmar and Aung San, revolutionary and nationalist, who later formed with other nationalist leaders a group called the Anti-fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) to rid Myanmar of both the Japanese and the British. Aung San toyed with both the Japanese and the British, but when it looked like the Japanese were going to be defeated, he threw his whole support to the British. At the same time, Aung San was spreading the influence of the renamed Anti-fascist organization (AFO), who took advantage of the Japanese defeat throughout Myanmar, even massacring the Karens in the delta area in 1942. Relations between the British and AFO deteriorated quickly after the return of the British in 1945, with civil unrest led by Aung San. Excluded from the government, Aung San went campaigning for immediate independence from the British. Sir Hubert Rance was faced by a strike in Rangoon by the police over pay. The strike spread and Rance announced in January 1947 that Myanmar should have complete independence within a year, which was finally agreed by the British. A general election was held in April 1947, with the AFO winning 204 out of the 210 seats. A sour note was that the Karens boycotted the elections leading to trouble in the future (Ricklefs, 2010). Aung San‘s future was cut short when he was assassinated by a disaffected Myanmar politician. Despite this, in 1947 the new constitution was supposed to develop a parliamentary democracy in a multi-ethnic, multi-ideological nation, but Myanmar was in fact left in a transitory state (Ricklefs, 2010). This period can be seen in either a positive or negative light, particularly as the dynamic Aung San is disrespected by the majority of the people and his vision for the future of his country in fact lacked direction. Behind the scenes there were many political groups, including the military who sought to dominate Myanmar. The Communist party despite being defeated in 1946, still remained in the background. There were plenty of other disparate organizations such as the Peoples’ Voluntary organizations (PVO) and gangs of interest groups who sought to gain power. Remnants of the Kuomintang wanted to exploit the production of opium and other narcotics, a past that echoed in the Golden triangle between Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. The military, although

Myanmar: Governance, Civil Society and the Developments in Education


not strong in those early years, brought forth potential leaders such as General Ne Win who slowly emerged from the background to take over Myanmar in 1962. With defeat of the Kuomintang and its retreat to Taiwan, the situation changed again. However, a small number remained in northern Myanmar with the help of the American intelligence agency and with the unrealistic hope of toppling the Chinese Communists. In the early 1950s Myanmar was in a parlous state, with the French being defeated in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu and also retreating from Myanmar. The USSR and Communist China posed a potential threat to Myanmar and with the building of the Chinese army, the country could only manage a holding operation until the USA came to their support, as had happened in Korea. Vietnam was in no position to help, although it strongly opposed the Chinese after its 1000 years of occupation. Myanmar, despite officially being ‘socialist’, tried to maintain a stance of neutrality. Ne Win was conscious of the need to keep the Buddhists at bay, as they were aligned with the communists. The Myanmar constitution referred to previously was a compromise to keep the Myanmar and minority groups relatively peaceful and though ‘federal in theory was unitary in practice’ (Steinberg, 2010: 53).

Aung San Suu Kyi and the Road to Democracy Despite there being a tight military regime under the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), informal democratic institutions remained alive but dormant. After the coup, repression of incorrect ideological thinking remained firm. Despite this, demonstrations occurred on a regular basis and thousands of people; especially the Karen, slipped across the border and formed groups in Chiang Mai, despite opposition from the Thai government. In fact the Thai government proved ambivalent towards this exodus, sometimes pushing the refugees across the border and sometimes using them in poorly paid jobs such as domestic servants or labourers – occupations that the Thais shunned. The National League for Democracy (NLD) was created in early 1990 and surprisingly some army generals joined as well. Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the assassinated Aung San, became the secretary of the NLD, but the movement split, some forming the Union National democracy party because of the military influence in the NLD. In 1990 the military government was satisfied that it had effectively neutralized the opposition and allowed the first free


Education in South-East Asia

elections; the result was an overwhelming victory for NLD. The rest is history and is not subject to discussion in this chapter. Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest and a few political other prisoners have also been released. Democratic elections have been mooted for 2013 or 2014, and Aung San Suu Kyi may be allowed to form a political party. There is general hope that more political prisoners may be released shortly Democracy is very much linked with progress, especially in the Western world, and even in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Vietnam and Laos have quasi forms of democracies, where people are allowed to vote, even though it is a one-party system, and these countries have been able to obtain Official Development Assistance from the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Recent events, such as the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and the recognition of the National League for Democracy party by the military junta, bodes well for Myanmar. The USA, being the major stakeholder in the WB, had cut off all aid – it is still owed much by the Myanmar government, to be fair – and has imposed sanctions and bans on trade in the past. The last real contact the ADB had with Myanmar was in 2008 when it presented a draft paper to the Myanmar government on education reform. This initiative went nowhere, although the paper contained many good ideas and recommendations. In line with the large international donors, Western assistance was cut off from Myanmar, although the Chinese, the Russian and Indians still provide aid in the form of military assistance, logging, petroleum exploration and mining. Mandalay is virtually a Chinese city and there is a road linking this city to the Chinese border. Indeed, there has just been published a Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, Ministry of Health and UNICEF 2000–2010, Oct 2011. Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar). UNICEF and JICA are allowed to operate in Myanmar under more relaxed conditions than in the past and have made slow but good progress. Unfortunately, much of the data focuses on health and poverty, with only a small part concerned with education. However, things have begun to change with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, which coincided with the Myanmar government preventing the building of the large dam funded by the Chinese in northern Myanmar. This has strained relations considerably. While not within the ambit of this chapter UNICEF, DFID, AusAID and other donor agencies or countries are concentrating their resources on this area. The environment, health and the effects of natural disasters are inextricably linked with education and with the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Thailand.

Myanmar: Governance, Civil Society and the Developments in Education


The Civil Education System The near-complete absence of any reliable quantitative research on the education system in Myanmar presents an enormous challenge. Data on matters that include teacher numbers and quality, student enrolments, curriculum, completion and retention rates, and the quality of educational infrastructure are either completely missing or are of uncertain reliability. To begin, though, what is known about the education system can be addressed. As is common across the region, educational institutions are owned and managed by different ministries. In Myanmar, there are 13 ministries concerned. Of these, the Ministry of Education (MOE) is the most significant. The Minister, Mya Ayeye, who, unusually for a member of the cabinet, does not have a strong military background, has two deputies, one responsible for higher education and the other responsible for basic education up to the end of secondary school. His reputation across a spectrum of informed international observers is reasonably sound. He is generally regarded as making progress as a result of discussions with the European Commission in Bangkok in 2011. Fortunately, aid has been increasing to Myanmar and the donors seem to be working together, with Australia being one of the biggest contributors. Figure 9.1 below presents data about educational participation in Myanmar as compared with other countries in South-East Asia. Figure 9.1  Enrolment in Pre-primary, Primary and Secondary Schools, and Tertiary Institutions Pre-Primary Primary

Secondary Tertiary


Brunei Darussalam 11,984













25,997,445 13,119,769 2,790,391






















13,049,134 6,440,312





















Timor Leste






Source: SEAMEO, 18 January 2009.


Education in South-East Asia

If the figures on Myanmar are to be believed (they are produced in collaboration with the Myanmar government) then they appear quite reasonable at the basic education level, but not in relation to a population estimated at between 55 and 65 million people (according to sources such as the government of Myanmar, the CIA handbook and various United Nations agencies). The government committed Myanmar to UNICEF’s Education for All (EFA) programme in August 2007 (MOE, 2007). In practice, however, it has done little more than pay lip service to the programme. Without the backing of a significant input of resources, Myanmar’s commitment to EFA appears to be little more than an empty gesture (European Commission, 2007: 4). The same state of fragility exists in relation to EFA-inspired aspirations for improving the provision of national health initiatives. The Ministry of Education’s structure is complicated; it consists of various departments such as: (a) Department of Education 1, 2, 3; (b) Department of Education and Planning; (c) Department of Higher Education (for Lower and Upper Myanmar); (d) Myanmar Board of Examinations; (e) Myanmar Research Bureau; (f) Department of Myanmar Language Commission; and (g) Universities Historical Centre (Myanmar Gateway, 2011). These departments are disputed and changed from time to time and reflect changing priorities of the government.

Government Education Figure 9.2 overleaf, sourced from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), sets out diagrammatically the structure of the education system in Myanmar. Some relevant details are now discussed. Some caution must be applied in relation to these figures as they are presented raw by the Myanmar government.

Basic education Universal access to basic education is one of the most important goals of the EFA’s mid-development goals, and it is linked inextricably with the other targets such as clean water, improved sanitation, better nutrition and the control of HIV Aids. In Myanmar, what is most striking is the gap in school attendance rates between urban and rural areas, and between rich and poor. For example, in the Multiple Indicator Cluster level survey, primary school children in

Figure 9.2  Structure of Myanmar Education System

Age Grade

5+ 6+ KG 1

7+ 2

8+ 3

Primary 5

9+ 4

10+ 11+ 12+ 13+ 14+ 15+ 5 6 7 8 9 10 Middle 4


HIgher education (Corresp. 2 years) Economics Agriculture (Forestry 6 yrs.) 6 Computer Science Vetrinary, Technology Dental (under Health) Medicine (under Health)

Professional institutes

High 2

Worker’s College University (arts and sciences) Degree Colleges, University of Dist. 2 yr colleges (arts and sciences) Universities and colleges

Technical Agricultural and Vocational Education

“B” Agri. High Schools

Handicraft Schools Schools of Fishery Machniery Repair and Maintenace Schools Schools of Home Science

Techniocal Teacher Training Institute Govt. Tech. Inst., State Agri. Inst. Comercial Schools

Technical High Schools Engineering Technology Evening Classes


Reference from UNESCO’s National Profiles in Technical and Vocational Education in Asia and the Pacific,1995.

Myanmar: Governance, Civil Society and the Developments in Education


Basic education


Education in South-East Asia

Tanintharyi – a quite well-off district – are more likely to attend school than children in Rakhine, which is relatively poor (Multiple indicator Cluster level Survey 2009–2010 Myanmar, 44, Union of Myanmar and UNICEF). Basic education follows the structure of five years of primary school (lower primary and upper primary), then four years of middle school, and then two years of high school. Basic education up to Year 5 is compulsory, years 6 to 7 are semi-compulsory, high school is a matter of choice. Having successfully completed the final year of high school, a student could then proceed to study at either a vocational college or a university, though various examinations depend on the field of study. The academic standard attained by students upon completion of the final year of high school is of unknown quality, but it can be safely assumed that the standard would not be acceptable for admission to a university or technical college in a country such as Australia: this is based upon acceptance rates for students from Myanmar applying to Australian education institutions. First, the level of attainment in English would be below average, and, second, the overall academic standard at the end of Year 12 would not compare with that required by a country such as Australia. All the same, some graduates from the final year of high school in Myanmar do commence at higher education institutions in countries such as Australia – a matter that will be discussed further below. Before discussing basic education it must be said that less than 10 per cent of the population attend pre-school (ADB, 2003: 74), which is considerably lower than in other Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) countries. Pre-schools are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Social Welfare. Pre-school is not generally affordable, except for the rich in Myanmar or for expatriates, and its availability is limited to the two major cities of Rangoon and Mandalay. Regarding basic education, it was estimated by the Asian Development Bank (2003: 7) that in 2003 the enrolment rate was 63 per cent. Since then, the enrolment rate has increased, but the estimates are unreliable. UNESCO, for example, estimated an enrolment rate of 89 per cent in 2002 and 100 per cent in 2005 (UNESCO). While these figures seem scarcely credible, it is still the case that education has been traditionally given great prominence in Myanmar culture. Teachers are accorded one of the five so called gems and are highly regarded (James, 2005). Even given that initial enrolment in basic education is quite high, retention rates are low due to many factors such as access, lack of qualified teachers, poor infrastructure, economic pressures from families on children to assist

Myanmar: Governance, Civil Society and the Developments in Education


them in subsistence farming, or other economic pressures, just to name a few. Progression though the system leaves many behind, especially in rural and remote areas. And most recently, environmental disasters have had a negative impact, such as Cyclone Nargis, the most devastating natural disaster to hit Myanmar in 2008. Figures quoted on Cyclone Nargis listed 138,000 killed (a conservative estimate) and US$2.4 million worth of damage done – or 27 per cent of GDP (Steinberg, 2010: 140). Despite the above, enrolment rates in basic education appear to be expanding, but the quality of educational provision has declined, mainly due to poor teacher training, low wages and other factors mentioned above. To give the impression of a cohesive and workable society, official education is encouraged in Myanmar, although minority groups are taught after hours by Buddhist monks and teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds. This practice is officially frowned upon by the authorities, but tolerated if undertaken discreetly. Anecdotal evidence from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and embassies indicates that as long as enrolment at the beginning of term is 100 per cent then the MOE is satisfied that aims are met (Martin, 2011). Dropout rates are high, even up to 50 per cent (ADB, 2003: ix), due to the reasons given above. Despite the fact that teaching is in Myanmar, children are not discouraged in using their native tongue. Despite other difficulties, it is surprising that the gender balance for this secondary level of education is reasonable. Some NGOs contribute to primary schools but are not encouraged by the government. In May of 1988 a nationwide seminar was convened in Rangoon. It included discussion of some reforms, of which the most radical were the effective use of multi-media in classrooms and the implementation of a school calendar (MOE, 1988). The step of introducing e-learning was one of the most progressive reforms, despite the obstacle of the lack of equipment. The internet in Myanmar is so slow as to be virtually useless. The mechanism for spreading the technology was by the use of 100 technology centres which beamed information to the schools. The aim was for each school to have one terminal to 40 students. However, on personally inspecting some 20 schools outside of Rangoon in late 2011, this is only 50 per cent implemented. The major problems are lack of funds and teachers being unable to use the technology effectively. ASEAN is alleged to have contributed around US$4.5 million to this new methodology. It is not the intention of this chapter to discuss the Myanmar Board of Examinations, the Myanmar Education Research Bureau, the Myanmar Language Commission or the Universities Historical Research Bureau, as they all play a small role in the delivery of education. Some experts (James,


Education in South-East Asia

2005: 108) on the Myanmar education system report that Myanmar places a high priority on education. It is hard to agree with this reasoning, especially when and Myanmar is compared with other South-East Asian nations, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos, who have made significant progress with the help of the Asian Development Bank and World Bank. It is true that Myanmar joined ASEAN in 1997 and became a member also of SEAMEO in 1998, but these organizations are not in a position to provide significant funding to Myanmar.

Secondary education As stated previously, secondary education consists of four years of lower secondary and two years of high school (ADB, 2003: 13). Given the high dropout rates from the beginning of basic education, those number of students who reach the end of high school with good enough results to go to university or technological college is remarkable. Grade 11 is supposed to be the equivalent of the English GCE O level and requires the student to do some extra private learning in Myanmar or do some foundation course in their host country such as the USA, the United Kingdom (UK), Australia or New Zealand. It has been reported by the European Commission in Bangkok that the French, German and Dutch governments have established bridging courses at colleges in Rangoon with assistance for bright students to study at Western universities (discussion with European Commission, Bangkok, November 2011) There are some private schools in Myanmar where the International Baccalaureate is obtained; these are open to students whose parents can afford the expense, but they are few in number. As for the regular basic education, there is usually a general lack of adequate building and equipment and an outdated curriculum. Teachers’ wages are also miserably low and most teachers have to take a second job.

Vocational and technical education Germany is a shining example of a nation which has become one of the most prosperous nations in the world based mainly on its apprenticeship system. In Asian nations such as Myanmar, a tradesperson is thought to be of low status and, consequently, the general pay is low. One can always get a job, but this will not be enough to sustain a family unless one gets into the area of tourism, especially in the few five-star hotels built recently in the country. Tourist

Myanmar: Governance, Civil Society and the Developments in Education


operators who speak a foreign language can also earn a good enough salary. Tourism is improving in Mynamar despite constraints such as a slow internet system and the absence of debit machines/automated teller machines (ATM) – one can get a one-month visa relatively easily and, apart from a few sensitive areas, can go virtually anywhere if one is prepared to suffer the bad roads. Additionally, in traditional work such as plumbing, building and electrics, there is little or no formal training in the country and buildings usually show deterioration after a few years. If the government invested resources in foreign teachers and better equipment this sector could provide significant input to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Martin, 2011).

Tertiary education For years, the military government, fearing radical undergraduate students, have deliberately neglected this sector or fragmented it so that students find it difficult to organize and demonstrate. This was reflected in the temporary closure of Rangoon University and others in major areas where students could congregate. The government also suppresses ethnic minorities and pro-democracy organizations that allow the nation to think independently. Universities are mainly under the control of the MOE, though other ministries such as Science operate their own universities. One positive is that teaching is free. Rangoon University has been split in half, offering courses in arts, sciences and law exclusively with an estimated enrolment of 14,500 students (13,500 undergraduates and 1000 graduates) (Martin, 2011). Previously it offered medicine, teaching and economics but now single discipline universities are in vogue partially to reduce civil unrest (for example, the government shut down universities temporarily during the 1990s) and partially for organizational reasons. From further discussion with teachers and lecturers in the last quarter of 2011, it is clear that the numbers enrolled have been increasing but the quality of output has been falling. At the same time, university lecturer salaries have increased over the past few years – from US$15 per month to US$40 per month – but this does not take into account inflation and the rising cost of goods. Both staff and students are monitored closely and unrest has been manifest among Buddhist monks. It is difficult for foreigners to talk with academic staff as they fear repression from the authorities. As reported previously (ibid.: 133), students who wish to study overseas go to the British Council or other English training institutes and, if qualification are deemed to be good enough by overseas universities, their major destinations


Education in South-East Asia

are New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. English language training is mainly provided by the British Council and the American Centre. A new group, Pearson, offers training online. However, unless access to a faster-speed internet is provided, this may take a long time to become active and effective. Furthermore, the rising Australian dollar in 2011 has reduced numbers going to that country, and the ongoing world financial crisis is affecting even the well-to-do in Myanmar. Despite sanctions, aid, although not directly in education, has increased rapidly in the past year or so. Donors such as the European Commission, the British and Australians have put aside their usual rivalries for individual donations and are now sensibly working together. Australia is one of the biggest donors following a review by AusAID and a visit by the Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

Buddhist Education and Teacher Training Education provided by Buddhist monks is a tradition dating back to the eleventh century. It has played an important role in trying to fill the gaps of the government system. Currently, monastic schools only provide basic educational need for needy children and orphans. It does fill some gaps in the delivery of education such as in providing ethics and moral foundation lessons for children and, of course, continues to reinforce Buddhism as the unofficial state religion, except in the east of the country where Islam prevails. Monks provide basic educational needs with the assistance of some NGOs but few students from monastic schools go on to secondary or tertiary education as the curriculum and facilities are usually not designed for academic training. Despite being told rather glibly by a UNICEF official that MOE had addressed at least to some extent the question of teacher salaries, the problems of inadequate teacher training and low job statue remain. There is a severe shortage of teachers which the Ministry of Education tries to overcome by placing administrative staff in teaching positions. Teaching is by rote learning and little incentive is provided for teachers to go beyond the official curriculum (Martin, 2011).

The Role of the Military, its Education System and Control The military was certainly the place to be if one wanted to become rich and free – to a certain extent. Education in the military followed three channels. The first was through the Defence Services Academy, established in 1954, which

Myanmar: Governance, Civil Society and the Developments in Education


cadets attended as a quasi-university, completing a military four-year degree (James, 2005). Annual intake began at about 250 per year but has increased over the years: since that time over 20,000 graduates have been trained. Another avenue is the Defence Services Academy which allows students to rise through the NCO stream, becoming officers and gaining a university degree. The third is through an apprenticeship officer programme. Which level the student enters at depends mainly on the personal influence of their families or friends (Steinberg, 2010: 84). Most of these students go into the army and the facilities they are provided with and the standard of education – apart from ideological propaganda – is relatively high. As will be seen in the civil education system, universities have become single-disciplined, breaking up the old comprehensive system exemplified by the likes of Rangoon University. There are also other military academies which specialize in medicine, nursing, engineering, nuclear physics, aviation, building and logistics. To rise to the level of colonel and above, suitable officers are sent to a Command General Services College where they are groomed for higher positions. Education for the military is certainly not neglected. Since independence, the military has become a stabilizing influence in Myanmar society. It was the one type of position that was well paid and was joined by the sons and daughter of the elite. In 1958, Myanmar was faced with civil war and the military intervened in 1962 (and 1988). It restored order to the country and many generals or senior officers were placed in key civil positions. Conscription was introduced but was never needed as supply succeeded demand. The military introduced the Defence Services Institute (Steinberg, 2010) and took over commercial operation, as has happened in China, Laos and Vietnam. In 1962–3 the military became dissatisfied and believed they could run the civilian government while at the same time keeping the minority groups under control. They were also dissatisfied with the ineffectiveness of the U Nu government. U Nu wanted to make Buddhism the state religion which would offend the Kachin and the Karen. The real reason for military intervention, however, was the fear of the breakdown of the union. It was a coup without much change with the exception of reinforcement of the military presence. General Sein Lwin, who led the coup and wanted to improve the economy by socialist agricultural reform, was then appointed president. Following the 1963 purge of a moderate senior army general, the government took a sharp turn to the left. Foreign relations deteriorated, with many outside governments locked out. Tourist visas were restricted to 24 hours and censorship was widespread.


Education in South-East Asia

In 1974 a new constitution was promulgated and Myanmar became the Socialist Republic of the Union of Myanmar, seemingly derived from an East European model. The role of the Myanmar majority was threatened and the military rulers reduced the funds to schools, teachers and medical facilities in the minority area. Monks who provided assistance to the poor and basic education to minority groups began to be seen as a threat to the government. In 1979 the government formed a Supreme Council of 33 monks, and all monks were registered centrally. The fear was that anyone could shave their head and wear a saffron robe and become an agent provocateur. The education activities of the monks was monitored and censored, as was the curriculum. Military officials attended meetings of the monks throughout the country to ensure that official guidelines were followed. Not only monks were controlled, as there were now three tiers of citizenship imposed, with the Myanmar becoming predominant. The indigenous Assamese were not considered to be citizens at all and were excluded from the ethnic groups (Steinberg, 2010). General Ne Win, who came from a Sino-Myanmar background – the first amongst equals – became virtually the leader in Myanmar. A dropout of from the University of Rangoon, he exerted his influence in many ways, surviving a coup in 1976. It is strictly beyond the scope of this chapter, but it should be noted that he also destroyed the Myanmar economy and agricultural production, and produced a monetary system where the currency became valueless. To be brief, in 1988, the people demonstrated and extensive hostility towards the government arose. Some students in Rangoon became involved in an argument, the police became involved and a number of students were killed. More demonstrations occurred and all universities were closed. Ne Win was not in the country at the time and the government was breaking apart. A widespread uprising began, extending beyond Rangoon and Mandalay. Students were neutralized and people were allowed to run riot in the expectation that they would return to the old military rule. The USA sent a fleet which anchored off the coast of Myanmar; China became politically involved and chaos erupted. It is estimated that over 1000 people were killed in the demonstrations (ibid.: 79).

Civil Society The concept of civil society and its relationship to Myanmar is somewhat of a contradiction, as can be seen from this definition of the term: ‘Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and

Myanmar: Governance, Civil Society and the Developments in Education


values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated’ (Alagappa, 2004). It is a combination of such areas as education, health and the environment where small organizations do not provide a direct threat to the military establishment and they provide support to education and to the poor and destitute. There are no reliable estimates of the number of civil society organizations in Myanmar – maybe it is better to call them NGOs. Estimates vary from 2140 non-political organizations to up to 50 international organizations (Steinberg, 2010). These are small in nature and exclude most other government or international organizations with the exception of UNICEF and some small projects from AusAID or the European Commission or the UK Department for International Development. The Japanese International Development Agency on the one hand has been allowed to operate in Myanmar, but with great difficulty and many restrictions on their operations. Despite the smaller NGOs being rather ineffective, they do provide value in some communities in capacities such as child care centres and parent–teachers associations among others. However, their relationship with the local military command is a key to their success or failure. In some area these organizations provide support for the maintenance of local languages which is affected by the compulsory teaching of Myanmar in all schools. Civil society organizations also provide some pluralism amidst the centralized control of the Myanmar government. The work of the NGOs is assisted by United Nations (UN) organizations such as UNICEF, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), but all such activity is carefully monitored by the central government (James, 2005). Relationships between the UN organizations and Myanmar government are usually fairly cooperative although these organizations tread a fine line sometimes. In conclusion, there has been a slow acceptance of the increase of civil society in Myanmar but this is limited to the indigenous races and has been assisted by the Myanmar government, albeit in a small way, to provide additional resources. In addition, it provides an outlet for the Buddhist monks to assist the poor and deflects them in some part from political activism.

Reform A visit to Rangoon in November 2011 has altered the writer’s view of what may happen in Myanmar. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has established


Education in South-East Asia

a presence in the country. Aid, especially from Australia, has increased significantly over the last year. ODA has increased to $47.6 million. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, visited Myanmar in December 2011 and seemed to make progress with the President, Thein Sein, who is not a member of the military and who, from reports, is in fact a moderate and a reformist. A recent statement from AusAID gives grounds for hope: Our focus will be on continuing with successful programs and incorporating measures to support long-term reform. This involves building on models of delivery that have achieved results in sectors of continued great need – health, education and livelihoods and food security sectors. It also involves identifying a role for Australian aid in building the capacity of Burmese people and organizations, to better plan and deliver essential services. Through work with international NGOs we will continue to help local community organizations strengthen their role in service delivery. (AusAID, 2011)

Conclusions and Future Prospects There are a number of actions that need to be taken to improve the lot of the people of Myanmar, especially the children who do or do not attend schools. These are: MM





withdrawal of the military from the day-to-day life of the populace and the release of political prisoners, which has begun but is not yet completed; the WB and ADB to become involved again in education, with ODA to Myanmar; the reform of the civil education system, including access to the students and staff of the universities in Myanmar. US engagement with – rather than alienation of – those who have blocked democracy in Myanmar; and finally the return of the 150,000 mainly Karen refugees from Thailand to Myanmar together with recognition of minority groups and their permission to engage in the processes of government and society as a whole.

Despite all the obstacles ahead, Myanmar faces a better future for educating children in their country, and with assistance, especially from ODA, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, things will gradually improve. In all interviews, contrary to previous visits, there is a feeling of optimism from ordinary people, embassies, including the USA, the European Commission and other

Myanmar: Governance, Civil Society and the Developments in Education


major organizations. The recent establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the USA and Myanmar is also a welcome note. One can only hope that the situation in Myanmar continues to change positively, particularly if the changes outlined above occur and aid is allowed to improve the dire situation of education in the country. Certainly, educational institutions from democratic countries should see this as a golden opportunity to enter dialogue with the authorities in Myanmar.

References ADB (Asian Development Bank) (2003). Myanmar Education Sector Review (draft and never published). Alagappa, M. (2004). Civil Society and Political Change in Asia. Stanford: Standford University Press. AusAID (2011). Australia’s strategic approach to aid in Burma: An interim statement. Canberra: Australian government. CIA (2011). Fact book on Burma. Washington, DC: CIA. European Commission (2007). Report on Burma. European Commission discussions, Bangkok, Nov 2011. James, H. (2005). Governance and Civil Society in Myanmar. Oxford: Routledge. Martin, R. (2011). ‘Education in Myanmar’, in C. Brock and L. P. Symaco (eds), Education in South East Asia. Oxford: Symposium Books. Ministry of Education (MOE) (1998). The Education System in Myanmar. Yangon: MOE. —(2007). The Education System in Myanmar. Yangon: MOE. Nay Pyi Taw (2011). Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey. Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, Ministry of Health and UNICEF 2000–2010. Ricklefs, M. C. (ed.) (2010). A New History of South East Asia. UK: Palgrave. SEAMEO (2009). Enrolment in Pre-primary, Primary and Secondary Schools, and Tertiary Institutions. Bangkok: SEAMEO. Steinberg, D. (2010). Burma/Myanmar – What everyone needs to know. Oxford: OUP. UNESCO (1995). National Profiles in Technical and Vocational Education in Asia and the Pacific. 

Useful Websites Education in Myanmar: SEAMEO country profile of Myanmar: com_content&task=view&id=65&Itemid=88


The Philippines: Education Issues and Challenges Lorraine Pe Symaco

Introduction Given that the preparation of skilled manpower, one of the components of a prosperous economy, forms a considerable part of the educational process, education must be seen as an effective social device for creating a modern nation. This explains why societies worldwide allocate substantial investment in resources to prepare and deliver a formal system of education that will help support social and economic development (Tullao, 1999; Symaco, 2009). Expansion in education has been documented in most countries (Schofer and Meyer, 2005), and its link to development has led to even greater growth in developing countries. Since education is seen as a ‘national project’ in developing countries (Boli et al., 1985), it is now more than ever considered indispensible for national development. The important function of education in local, regional and national development is recognized by governments, and considered essential for policy reorganization. Additionally, the related call for a greater access to higher education services has also resulted in the emergence of privatization and markets in the education sector. Distance learning and e-services, along with cross-border provision, have characterized recent features of this tertiary sector. Both developed and developing countries have recognized the need to update and equip their universities for changing times, thereby training their students to function and adapt to the ever-changing demands of the knowledge society throughout the world. This is clear in the Philippines, where the increasing demand for a highly trained and sophisticated labour force has resulted in the expansion of education. The repositioning of the Philippines’ basic and tertiary education sector for these objectives is apparent; however, despite the increasing modernization and internationalization of services in education, the perennial but modified issues


Education in South-East Asia

of quality, access and equity are present. This chapter will review the education sector of the Philippines, and the sector’s response in relation to such issues will also be discussed.

National Context The Philippines is an archipelago of about 7100 islands in South-East Asia with a population of over 96 million (projected for 2012), with an estimated land mass of about 300,000 square kilometres. With more than 300 years of colonial rule under the Spaniards and Americans, the Philippines reflects an eclectic mix of influences in its institutions (Symaco, 2011). The Philippines lies in the typhoon belt and the Pacific Ring of Fire, making it as a country prone to be affected by natural disasters. The disaster-prone feature of the country resounds the call to link the education sector to sustainable development, in addition to the already set role of the sector to advance the country’s socio-economic progress. The American influence is particularly distinct in the country’s education sector and the use of the English language is pervasive in educational institutions. Three independent agencies are mandated by the government to oversee and provide policy reorientations to the education system of the country. The Department of Education (DepEd) is responsible for the basic education sector (primary and secondary level), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) caters to the higher education sector, while the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) oversees technical and vocational education. This chapter will focus on the country’s policies for basic and higher education. However in anticipation of a more exclusive account of the country’s education system, it may be helpful and instructive to discuss the competitive indices of the Philippines as compared to the rest of South-East (SE) Asia (note: ‘SE Asia’ in this chapter will refer to the ten member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus Timor-Leste, as relevant to the coverage of this book).

Economic performance and competitiveness The Philippines, which at one point demonstrated its economically competitive state in the region in the 1960s, has now been surpassed by most of its neighbours. The country is classified as a low middle income country with an

The Philippines: Education Issues and Challenges


unemployment rate of 7.4 per cent (in 2010), of which 41 per cent have higher education/university degrees (World Bank, 2012). The Global Competitiveness Index for 2011–12 also shows the Philippines lagging behind most of its South-East Asian counterparts, with a ranking of 75th out of 142 countries, a slight improvement from its position of the previous year, and only surpassing Cambodia and Timor-Leste in this respect. Myanmar and Laos are the only South-East Asian nations not included in the Global Competitiveness Index ranking. The report also highlights different stages of development from the lowest ‘factor-driven’, a middle stage of ‘efficiency-driven’, to the highest ‘innovation-driven’ (which is characteristic of the richer and more developed countries in the West), with transitional stages between those levels. The Global Competitiveness Index ranks countries accordingly in different pillars which would then determine their overall ranking as compared to 142 countries (for 2011–12). It also considers four pillars that signify a country’s readiness to move towards the challenges of a knowledge-based economy: (a) macroeconomic stability, (b) technological readiness, (c) innovation, and (d) higher education and training. These will now be discussed in brief.

Macroeconomic stability The Philippines ranks 54th of the mentioned 142 countries in terms of macroeconomic stability. Government surplus/deficit, national savings rate, inflation, government debt and interest rate spread are considered when calculating the macroeconomic stability of a country. The Philippines is the second lowest ranked in this category amongst the SE Asian countries included in the survey. The net foreign direct investment inflows in the Philippines totalled US$1.9 and US$2.7 billion during 2009 and 2010 respectively (World Bank, 2012). Additionally, the Philippines is ranked 116th out of 141 economies in the Inward Foreign Direct Investments Performance Index for 2010.

Technological readiness and innovation Also relevant to the move towards a modern society is technological readiness, which comprises the most basal requirements, such as internet users in a country, as well as more advanced markers such as availability of the latest technologies and qualification for a wide range of technological transfers. The Philippines is ranked 83rd in this pillar of socio-economic and military competitiveness, only significantly surpassing Cambodia, Timor-Leste and Indonesia


Education in South-East Asia

among SE Asian countries. It cannot be overstressed how important it is to provide, to every member of a society, access to or benefits from technological resources that can lessen the ‘digital divide’, not only between countries but also among the different sectors of a society. It is evident that, despite the Philippine government’s aim to improve in technological readiness and innovation, it has not caught up in this respect with the lead countries in the region. Another feature related to technological readiness is innovation. Factors such as a country’s spending on research and development, university–industry research collaboration, and government procurement of advanced technology products are materials in the innovation ranking. The Philippines (108th), along with Timor-Leste, appears in the bottom rank among SE Asian nations.

Higher education and training The higher education and training evaluation in the Global Competitiveness Index takes into consideration the quality of: institutions and programmes; the availability and extent of local research and training services; internet access of schools; and secondary and tertiary enrolments. The Philippines ranks 71st in the index, only surpassing Cambodia, Timor-Leste and Vietnam in its region. The average pass rate for licensure examination in the Philippines for 2010 across disciplines where higher education is necessary was below 34 per cent (PBET, 2011), which raises the issue of the quality of the teaching and training in its higher education institutions (HEIs). This distressing reality of belowaverage educational quality, however is not limited to the higher education sector. The Philippines is also ranked a low 110th in terms of the quality it provides in primary education. A related issue worth considering is the issue of the ‘brain drain’ which affects the labour market efficiency of the country. The Philippines accounts for a significant number of skilled workers going overseas for job opportunities, which are also often below the standard of the qualifications gained (e.g. school teachers who decide to work as household help in more developed countries). To illustrate the massive effect of this migration of skilled people, we may refer to the fact that the Philippines received, in 2010 alone, US$16.2 billion in terms of workers’ remittances and compensation of employees (World Bank, 2012). Indeed, the boost to the economic performance of the Philippines of these migrants has been, and in all probability will long continue to be, a major factor in the Philippines’ economic situation – a ‘positive factor’ in a sense, but from a long-term perspective it creates for the Philippines a great technological

The Philippines: Education Issues and Challenges


dependence on other countries, and demonstrates the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of both the government and the private sector in creating productivity opportunities for a great deal of the population. With the results demonstrated above, the report considers the Philippines to be in the transition stage between a ‘factor-driven’ and ‘efficiency-driven’ economy in its stage of development. Figure 10.1 below summarizes the rankings of the Philippines in the competitive indices discussed above. Figure 10.1  Philippines’ Ranking in the Global Competitiveness Index (out of 142 countries) Philippines Macroeconomic stability Technological readiness Innovation Higher education and training Overall rank

54 83 108 71 75

Basic Education Education in the Philippines has long been a national concern. The 1987 Constitution states that ‘The State shall protect and promote the rights of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all’ (Article XIV). This regard for education is further emphasized in the Governance of Basic Education Act of 2001 which states the duty of the country to ‘protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality basic education … by providing all Filipino children a free and compulsory education in the elementary level and free education in the high school level’ (R.A. 9155). The basic education sector (primary and secondary levels) had an estimated 25.7 million students enrolled for 2011 for both public and private schools, of which 86 per cent were enrolled in public institutions. In addition, of the total enrolees, 60 per cent were from the primary level (DepEd, 2011). The school-leaver rate on the one hand for 2009 was 6 per cent for the primary level, and 7.45 per cent for the secondary level (Symaco, 2011). Of late, policy orientation for the basic education sector lies primarily in envisioning and ‘gearing up’ to meet the country’s Education for All (EFA) objectives by 2015, the central goal of which is to provide basic competencies that will ensure functional literacy (NEDA, 2006). The 2010 Philippines Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), however, predicts the


Education in South-East Asia

unlikely attainment of the EFA by 2015. The report shows a consistent decline in net enrolment rates from 2000 to 2006 (97 per cent to 83 per cent). Progress has been on a relatively slower pace with 75.4 per cent of cohort survival rate for 2008 and primary completion rates of 67.6 per cent in 1990 and only 73.7 per cent in 2008 (NEDA, 2010). Despite this, revisions have been set to existing policies deemed lacking in resource provision to achieve the official aim. The Department of Education adopted the Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda (BESRA) of 2006 with further revisions to attain its goal of EFA 2015. The BESRA 2006 included foundation actions on, among others: (a) SchoolBased Management; (b) Standards-Driven Reforms in Teacher Education and Development; and (c) Quality Assurance and Accountability. Some of the current initiated revisions set to BESRA 2006 include (a) the localization of National Learning Strategies; (b) Indigenous Peoples and Muslim Education, and (c) the expansion of alternative learning systems programmes (DepEd order 23, 2010). The following sections will discuss some of the reforms set by the Department of Education in response to issues of quality, access and equity.

Quality The Department of Education has recently initiated orders that aim to respond to the pressing concerns of quality in the basic education sector. These are, among others, the promotion of the K to 12 initiative and the multilingual education policy.

K to 12 Initiative The K to 12 initiative by the government aims to add two more years of basic education to the already existing ten years. In line with this is the ‘Universal Kindergarten Education’ mandate which aspires to: (a) expand the coverage of kindergarten education to reach five-year-old children in the poorest households and (b) improve their readiness and foundational skills to be ready for the primary grades (DepEd order 37, 2011: 1). Despite noble intentions to upgrade the quality of basic education in the country through the realization of such proposals, the ideas embodied by them have not escaped criticism and scepticism. The country’s president, in relation to the K-12 policy, has stated: ‘How do Filipinos become competitive if from the very beginning we are already at a disadvantage in the number of years of studying and training? What we want is to give the next generation a strong foundation’ (Philippine Star, 2012). The

The Philippines: Education Issues and Challenges


common misconception, time and again, is to equate quality with quantity. Not discounting that it has been pointed out that the K-12 initiative can be effective if the conditions are ideal (e.g., no surmounting classroom shortages). How can an overstretched system that lacks 103,599 teachers, 152,569 classrooms, more than 13 million chairs and 151,084 water/sanitation facilities (ACT, 2012) support a further expansion of two years? The grave inadequacy of physical facilities is well illustrated by the country’s having ‘multigrade schools’, a feature wherein one teacher would attend to/teach two or more levels in one classroom. The lack of resources has pushed the government to initiate the ‘home study’ approach where the students can study at home and attend a regular class only once a week. The educational system as a whole would at least experience some improvement if the additional budget allocation for the K to 12 (i.e. 238.8 billion Philippine Pesos (PHP) for the DepEd in 2012 – 30 billion more than 2011’s budget) is placed to address existing problems within schools. The argument of ‘if not now (i.e. K to 12) when?’ carries no weight because it is necessary to address current problems before initiating projects that will further divert resources from an already overstretched education system. The effect would be similar to what Morley (as cited in Symaco, 2010: 266) says of widening access, which is ‘perceived as dilution, pollution and inflation of certification rather than enhancing quality and efficiency overall’.

Multilingual education The language policy debate as relevant to the medium of instruction in schools, well documented in education literature, presents a number of contentions as to why a certain ‘language’ is favoured: from optimal learning of the students (Brock-Utne, 2010; Watson, 2012) to the achievement of greater national unity, or maintaining a formidable political power base (Watson 1999; Hsieh, 2009; Symaco, 2010). The Philippine government discourse on language policy centres on the former though one should be cautious not to discount the latter. Most government initiatives also take into account the promotion of national unity. For further reading, Fishman (1976) provides a wide-ranging account of language provision in over 100 countries. The Philippines is a multi-ethnic, multilingual country. Although English is widely used, over 160 different dialects are also used, spread through over a hundred ethnic groups (Watson, 2011). The mother tongue-based multilingual education (MLE) was institutionalized in the country in 2009 under DepEd Order 74 and adopted by all public schools nationwide by 2012. The main aim


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of this policy is to provide academic competencies that can be attained, better supposedly, through the use of the mother tongue/first language rather than a second language. The said policy promotes the use of more than two languages for instruction and further states that ‘other than English, Filipino, or Arabic for Madaris [Islamic] schools, the choice of additional languages shall be at the behest of parents and endorsed stakeholders … Filipino and English shall be gradually used as MOI [medium of instruction] no earlier than grade three [age nine]’ (p. 4). As of this writing, there are more than 900 schools (including schools with indigenous peoples) implementing the MLE programme. Eight major languages/dialects are included in the nationwide roll-out of 2012. Another pressing issue in Philippine education is that of access and equity, which is highlighted through an informative look at the Indigenous Peoples (IP) and Muslims of the country. Lack of access to decent basic social services such as education, as compared to the rest of the population, is evident in this minority groups. The following section will discuss some of the programmes initiated by the government/education sector to address these concerns.

Access and equity in basic education An accurate count does not exist, but the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that there are about 14–17 million IPs belonging to some 110 ethnolinguistics groups in the Philippines. The communities of such are distributed throughout the country, but most groups are found in Mindanao (61 per cent) and Northern Luzon (33 per cent); the rest are at various places in the Visayas (UNDP, 2010). The indigenous communities have had to confront perennially deficient economic and education opportunities. One significant factor holding back these groups’ adequate access to education is the absence of culturally appropriate education services in schools at or near the areas where their communities are settled. The government has taken steps to further the educational opportunities of indigenous peoples. However, cultural and other problems greatly impede the provision of adequate education to the minority groups of the county. The Indigenous People’s Act rightly requires equal access to education, among other things, highlighting the need to maintain and preserve the cultural identities of indigenous minority groups (R.A. 8371). The Department of Education in 2010 ordered the adoption of the National IP Education Policy Framework that will ensure provision of quality and relevant basic education to such communities. Continuous development of IP education facilitators is

The Philippines: Education Issues and Challenges


also envisioned in this framework. An Indigenous People’s Education Office has been set up by the Department of Education in 2012 to streamline education concerns of the IP community. Increase to educational access of IPs is reported by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples through the granting of financial assistance to 700 and 1182 students in primary and secondary levels respectively in 2009. A total of about 28,000 beneficiaries are reported from 1999 to 2009 under this aid scheme (NCIP, 2012). The Philippine Muslims, on the other hand, are a minority representing about 8 to 12 per cent of the total population (Symaco and Baunto, 2010). The problem of the marginalized Muslims in the Philippines is one of the more dominant problems in terms of inequity. This problem is not confined to education access but also reflects the widening gap in economic opportunities in the southern part of the country, Mindanao (ibid.: 226). The economic and social disparities found within Mindanao underline the lesser scale of development in the region. The conflict scenario existing in some of the dominant Muslim areas of the southern Philippines also accounts for failures to provide adequate education. High poverty incidence is recorded in less integrated conflict areas where 57 per cent of the people are considered to be living in poverty; while this incidence is reduced in the more integrated areas, 53 per cent still live below the poverty line (Baunto, as cited in Symaco, 2009). School-aged Muslim children attend either the formal education system and/or the madrasah (Islamic schools). Under formal education, the enrolment, survival rate and dropout rate of school children at the primary and secondary levels in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are among the most negative in the country; there is only scanty evidence on the relative performance of the madrasah schools (Symaco and Baunto, 2010: 224). In the ARMM for academic year 2008–9, the cohort survival rate is reported at 40.7 per cent, on the ‘far lowest end’ in the country. The survival rate at the National Capital Region (NCR) where Manila, the country’s capital, is located, is reported at 87.5 per cent. The completion rate for ARMM on the one hand is 37.5 per cent as compared to NCR’s 85.27. Evidence suggests that the poverty incidence in the ARMM reflects the poor educational achievements in the area (NEDA, 2010). Several development interventions have been reported to improve the access (and quality) situation of Filipino Muslims as regards education. Among these are the Basic Education Assistance in Mindanao Project, the Mindanao Basic Education Development Project and Assistance for Comprehensive Educational Development in Mindanao (Symaco and Baunto, 2010). It is a reality that funds have been drawn from international agencies to help in access and integration


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‘issues’ in Mindanao, but concrete developments have yet to be observed. However, the signing of the peace pact between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in late 2012 is hoped to bring equitable progress among the Filipino Muslims. The professionalization of the ustazis (Islamic religious teachers) through the Accelerated Teacher Education Programme (ATEP) was also proposed by the Department of Education (DepEd) in 2010 to improve the quality of instruction in southern Philippines. The ATEP allows ustazis to obtain a degree in education, and thus be qualified to take the national licensure examination for teachers.

Higher Education Sector Higher education in the Philippines is envisioned to advance ‘productivity enhancement and job creation’ and further address ‘key issues confronting Philippine society … produce globally competitive professionals, entrepreneurs and high-level technical manpower for the domestic and international market’ (CHED, 2007: xviii). With the current trends in global socio-economic, conditions, higher education in the Philippines is undergoing major changes. A continual emphasis on knowledge formation and the expansion of academic foundations as initiating points for further development are essential, owing to the constant shift in global demands. The government discusses the need for a predestined imperative to emphasize the connection between the knowledge, attitudes and skills acquired from higher education and the world of work. Despite efforts to develop such a vision, the tertiary system in the country still contains numerous areas in need of improvement. With a higher education system which was in the 1950s more advanced than those of Taiwan, Korea and other developing countries, it seems that time has stood still for the Philippines, and the sector has fallen behind almost all of its neighbours. Recent trends have been significantly negative, with underinvestment, inefficiency and lack of quality coming to characterize most HEIs in the Philippines (Cooney and Arrezo, 1993; Symaco 2011). Based on the awareness that higher education institutions need to respond to the changing times, the CHED proposed a Long-Term Higher Education Development Plan (LTHEDP) 2001–2010 to ensure the relevance and responsiveness of the higher education system to changing societal needs (CHED, 2001b). Prior to this, a Medium-Term Higher Education Development and Investment Plan (MTHEDIP) were also set up parallel to human capital formation. The goals and sub-points of the LTHEDP include (CHED, 2001a):

The Philippines: Education Issues and Challenges


(a) Promoting quality and excellence through: (1) the upgrading of higher education institution (HEI) programmes and standards toward global competitiveness, and (2) providing a program of assistance to prepare students entering the higher education system. (b) Promoting relevance and responsiveness through: (1) ensuring the responsiveness of the higher education system to the labour market, and (2) strengthening the research and extension functions of higher education institutions. (c) Broadening access through: (1) the rationalization and expansion of student financial assistance, and (2) the expansion of alternative modalities of higher learning. (d) Improving efficiency and effectiveness through: (1) the rationalisation of state universities’ and colleges’ (SUC) programs and resource allocation, and (2) improving information on the labour market. Despite the seemingly slow progress of development of a quality higher education system, officials maintain that the Commission is doing all it can to achieve the desired goals. Quality is assured through the setting of ‘policy standards and guidelines’ for the different disciplines of tertiary education. The higher education sector of the Philippines is huge, and it continues to expand. In 2011, there were 2247 HEIs in the country of which 643 were public institutions and 1,604 private. The total enrolees for academic year 2012–13 are estimated to be close to 2.7 million. The most popular courses are in the fields of business; medical and allied fields; education and teacher training; and information technology, in that order (CHED, 2012a). For 2011, of the 1.8 trillion Philippines Pesos (PHP) from the national expenditure programme, 21. 8 billion PHP was allotted to State [public] University Colleges (SUCs) (Manila Times, 2012). The Commission has set a strategic plan for 2011–16 to further address the concerns of the higher education sector. The sections below will discuss issues of quality, access and equity, and the policies and means which the CHED is using, or may adopt in the future (as its initiative or higher authority, including the Congress, may require), to address such concerns.

Accreditation for quality The Republic Act 7722 mandated CHED to promote quality education through policies on voluntary accreditation in support of quality and excellence in higher


Education in South-East Asia

education (CHED order no. 31). Through such a policy, CHED encourages the use of ‘non-voluntary non-governmental accreditation systems in aid of the exercise of its regulatory functions’ (CHED order no. 31: 1). Given this, the Commission promotes policies which sustain the non-governmental and voluntary character of accreditation, and at the same time safeguard the reliability of the process. The accreditation process classifies educational programmes into four categories: applicant status (level I), and accredited status (levels II, III and IV). Level I status is for programmes which have undergone an initial survey visit and were classified competent to obtain accredited status within two years. Level II status is for programmes that have been given accredited status by any member agencies of the Federation of Accrediting Agencies of the Philippines (FAAP). Institutions are granted level III status if the programmes have been reaccredited and have met any two of the following criteria: (a) a high standard of instruction, as manifested by teacher quality; (b) a highly visible community extension programme; (c) a highly visible research tradition; (d) a strong staff development tradition, as manifested by an appropriate budget allocation; (e) a highly creditable performance of its graduates in licensure examinations; and (f) the existence of working consortia or links with other schools and/or agencies (CHED order no. 31: 2–3). Level IV accreditation is granted to institutions which cover an extensive variety of academic disciplines and have earned academic authority comparable to that of internationally well-regarded universities. In addition, level IV accreditation is given to institutions which have: (a) at least 75 per cent of programmes attaining level III status for a minimum period of ten years, that is, two consecutive terms of five years each; (b) excellent results in research, teaching and learning, and community service, as manifested in the number, scope and impact of scholarly publications, the performance of graduates and alumni, and the impact of their contribution to socio-economic development; (c) evidence of international links and membership in academic consortia; and (d) well-developed planning processes which support quality assurance mechanisms (CHED order no. 31: 3–4).

Quality and relevance The Commission’s drive to improve the quality and relevance of the country’s higher education system is further evident in its declared goal to maintain a globally competitive higher education sector which responds to the varied needs of the knowledge-based society. Concern for improvement in quality is

The Philippines: Education Issues and Challenges


seen in its recognition of ‘the need for quality inputs to produce quality outputs in education, and the exacting demand of domestic and global markets’ (CHED, 2007: 6). The importance of having quality faculty staff in tertiary institutions is acknowledged as one of the most important factors in achieving this aim (and the low proportion of faculty members with graduate degrees shows clearly the need for strengthening in this area). In the academic year 2004–5, only about 31 and 9 per cent of staff have masters or doctoral degrees respectively (CHED, 2007). The Commission envisions help to alleviate this problem through the faculty development programme which aims to upgrade the academic competencies of HEI academic staff through further studies by providing scholarships to qualified applicants. The programme also provides opportunities for staff to attend international training relevant to their fields. As of 2011, there are about a thousand recipients for the second phase of the faculty development programme (CHED, 2012b). The relevance and responsiveness of the higher education sector is seen through the prism of the contribution of universities to local society through relevant research and extension services, and the Commission stresses that ‘higher education becomes relevant if instruction adapts to changes in the various professions and responds to the requirements of domestic and global markets’ (CHED, 2007: 6) Under the strategic plan for 2011–16, quality assurance and improvement is envisioned through, among others: (a) a programme monitoring the closure of non-compliant institutions or programmes; (b) compliance with international standards; (c) a faculty development programme; and (d) strengthening of Centres of Excellence and Development (COE/COD). For 2010–11, CHED recognized an additional 91 Centres of Excellence and Development and 14 Zonal Research Centres. The Commission has closed over 300 programmes in various HEIs which failed to meet the minimum standards (CHED, 2012b). Prior to this, under the Medium-Term Development Plan for Higher Education 2001–2004, financial inducements were granted to 275 COEs/CODs, divisions of 79 HEIs, throughout the country, and resources were allotted for scholarships, faculty development and research and extension services, among others (CHED, 2007). The rise in voluntary accreditation made a noticeable leap in 2004, when a total of 303 HEIs (18.72 per cent) had accredited courses, as compared to 160 HEIs in 2000 (CHED, 2007). International benchmarking also aims to increase the global competitiveness of the higher education sector of the Philippines through the creation of technical panel committees that review and update the curricula produced by tertiary institutions worldwide. Technical panel members include individuals


Education in South-East Asia

from academia, as well as practitioners and members of the boards of professional organizations, motivated by the aim of improving standards in courses offered by the tertiary sector particularly in their fields of expertise and practice. Performance indicators for HEIs would include the publication of university pass rates (in licensure examination) verified by professional boards and other relevant accreditation data. Additionally, an increase in the sector’s competitiveness is sought through the promotion of the country as an educational hub in the region, on the basis of proficiency in English, particularly by the educated and professional classes in business, trade and media generally and of course in academia, low living costs and cheaper tuition fees compared to what other HEIs in the region charge. The government shares in this desire to promote its leading universities for this purpose, but the political instability of the country has proved to be a drawback in terms of this objective. Cross-border provision through twinning programmes, as initiated by some private HEIs, is, however, not a popular alternative to the market, as regards attracting foreign students to the programme. Educational institutions in other countries which are characterized by such cross-border provision, like Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, are far more competitive and preferred by the international student market, which the Philippines is finding very difficult to penetrate. Additionally, to envisage the country as an educational hub in the region without first strengthening its local institutions, some of which are in a dire condition, speaks volumes of the implausibility of the government’s objective. The basic figures presented above show that, despite the government’s efforts to jump-start the country’s higher education sector, immense improvements still need to be made to achieve the objective of making the Philippines a regional hub in tertiary education terms. For that, quality continues to require significant strengthening.

Access and equity through alternative programmes The Philippine government’s objective to provide access and equity in higher education is expressed in the government’s mission statement regarding the role of higher education, which, among other aims, seeks to: (a) protect, foster, and promote the right of every individual/citizen to afford relevant quality higher education regardless of sex, age, creed, socio-economic status, occupation, physical and mental condition, racial or ethnic origin, or political or other affiliation; (b) develop and implement the necessary steps to ensure

The Philippines: Education Issues and Challenges


that higher education shall be accessible to all people from all walks of life who desire to and are qualified to avail themselves of it; and (c) provide access for indigenous peoples, cultural or linguistic minorities, disadvantaged groups, and those suffering from disabilities who have the potential for higher education (UNESCO NatCom Philippines, 2001). The different programmes developed by the Philippine government to achieve these objectives are discussed below.

Equivalency and accreditation programmes The ‘Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation Programme’ (ETEEAP) was formulated in 1995 to address concerns regarding access and equity. ETEEAP is seen as an alternative mode of action, though it also aims to impart quality higher education, acknowledging quality learning acquired through personal learning and work activities. This programme serves as an alternative way of acquiring tertiary level qualifications through competency based evaluations (CHED, 2004). There are about 7000 graduates of ETEEAP as of 2010 and 96 deputized HEIs that provide relevant academic degrees through the said programme (CHED, 2012a). The Commission ensures that the degrees conferred through such programmes conform to criteria of high-quality learning in both theory and practice, and also that they are viable in the marketplace of human resources. The instruments used in such programmes also guarantee high quality standards of learning and appraisal, and in addition, the ‘Ladderized Programme’, established in teamship with the CHED and TESDA, ensures the flexible transfer of credits between organizations and programmes, in order to promote better access for those wishing to obtain tertiary level qualifications. Despite the call for greater access, however, this flexible transfer between levels and sectors (technical and tertiary) can result in mere credentialism, an inherent danger in the expansion of higher education programmes.

Technology for access and equity The expansion of programmes focusing on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is another component working towards the aim of enhancing access and equity in higher education. General promotion of computer literacy, incorporation of ‘electronic campuses’ in mainstream education, along with open and distance learning, are some of the alternatives offered to promote greater access to higher education (Symaco, 2012). But it should be noted that the optimal benefits of ICT in relation to ‘expanding access and equity’ may not be achieved because ‘poor and disadvantaged households may not be able to


Education in South-East Asia

afford the necessary computing equipment [and] secondly, students and their families who are used to traditional forms of teaching would likely experience ‘switching costs’, which are rather significant for those who come from isolated rural communities’ (ibid.: 48)

Access, equity and effectiveness in Philippine higher education Achieving access and equity are recognized by CHED as essential to the promotion of ‘a fair society’, in which higher education will act as leverage for economic and social opportunities. The extension of scholarship services is the main form of direct provision of access, and extension services and other costeffective measures that promote access are being made available as resources permit and linkages and international aid are those to be tapped. CHED provided 60,789 scholarships and study grants (for academic year 2011–12) to financially disadvantaged students to further their tertiary training (CHED, 2012b). The efficiency and effectiveness of the tertiary sector is envisaged by the government to contribute to overall quality, relevance, access and equity throughout the system. It is therefore important to ‘review existing structures on governance, operations, competitions, and rationalize the higher education system in the country in terms of location, programme offerings, cost and tuition structure of higher education institutions’ (CHED, 2007: 7). Alternative means of resource generation are also promoted by CHED for existing HEIs, in order to support the improvement of their programmes. The Special Zone of Peace and Development Project (SZOPDP) has been created, catering to ‘fasttrack systems of accreditation of prior learning experience’ (CHED, 2007: 18). This programme endeavours to promote greater equity among the displaced people of the southern part of the country – Mindanao – and among members of the indigenous communities in various areas.

Are Philippine Higher Education Institutions World Class? Quality has long been a central concern of higher education. League tables that rank higher education institutions nationally and internationally with regard to peer rank, student-to-professor/lecturer ratios, and graduate employment, among other things, seem to guide the popular view of institutions. Notwithstanding the criticisms directed to such league tables due to their statistical inaccuracy and the often inappropriate measures used to gauge

The Philippines: Education Issues and Challenges


academic quality (Bowden, 2000), the market has nevertheless chosen to recognize such ranking scales to gauge, with the usual reservations, cautions and contingencies, an institution’s performance and quality standing. Furthermore, the making of such tables has raised the market competitiveness of universities, which is viewed as one factor driving higher education institutions to promote educational excellence (Dill and Soo, 2005). Of course, the very general aspect of ‘quality’ itself elicits a myriad of classifications or definitions that are relevant to measuring it. Problems in higher education have in recent times been exacerbated by fiscal crises, especially hitting developing countries. The ‘overexpansion’ of higher education, without concomitant increase of available resources, which led to deteriorating and overcrowded lecture rooms, a lack of funds for non-salary expenditures such as those for course texts, reprographic ICT facilities and the like, have contributed to a decline in the quality of research and teaching (El-Khawas et al. as cited in Symaco 2010). Nonetheless, total management quality assurance has been observed in many developed countries, which indicates better student performance and maintenance of standards and services despite reduced resources (Kanji and Tambi, 1999). The increasing consensus as to the significance of the higher education sector for development, especially in this time of globalization, has focused on the assurance of obtaining a level of quality in higher education institutions that will benefit the student body and the community as a whole. The increasing appeal for quality assurance is all the more relevant, especially with the rise in alternative modes of learning, for example e-learning and distance education that inherently create a potential problem in delivering quality learning comparable to that obtained through full-time studentship on campus. This has brought pressure to provide quality management in tertiary institutions, for instance through accreditation by various bodies, quality assurance structures set up in various countries, and often the independent formation of institutional bodies to govern higher education sectors. Calls for quality control in this sector arise from various factors identified by van Vught (1995) through the expansion of higher education, where an increasing rate of enrolment and diversity of study fields have pushed the need to guarantee the direction and amount of public expenditure allotted to this sector. Relevant to this are the limits of the public budget and the implicit guarantee which leads to the querying of the relative quality of ‘higher education’ purportedly obtained through these ‘innovative means’ – that is, whether the people’s money is being spent for ‘non-quality education’. Another factor relates to the move towards technology-based societies. This tendency requires from CHED and from the schools policies


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that will guide students in new fields considered significant to ‘technocentric’ social and economic development. Given the important role of human resources in achieving socio-economic competitiveness and the previous discussions on the Philippine government’s regard for the education sector in general, and specifically higher education, to promote the country’s advancement, how do the higher education institutions of the Philippines compare with the rest of the international community? The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU, 2012) has been annually ranking the top 500 universities in the world since 2003. Among its indicators are quality in education and faculty as demonstrated by Nobel prizes awarded to alumni and faculty staff members, and highly cited researchers. Research output through publications, and academic performance with respect to size of institution, are also included. For the 2011 rankings, no HEIs from the Philippines were included. The same goes for other South-East Asian countries, except for Singapore, which had one HEI in the 101–50 group, and one from Malaysia in the 401–500 group. Universities from North America and Europe dominated the ranking scale. Only five universities from the Far East made it into the top 100 – all of which are from Japan. The QS World University Ranking (QS, 2012) has also been ranking the top 500 universities in the world annually since 2004. The QS ranking similarly positions the universities according to academic faculty staff citations, proportion of international student and faculty members, and faculty student ratio, among others. However, in contrast to the ARWU scale, the QS scale includes more countries from the Far East in its top 100 group; 17 are from the Far East, two of which are part of the ASEAN (the Singapore universities). There are 13 universities from South-East Asia in the top 500 ranking, two of which are from the Philippines, showing a significant decline from the 2010 rankings. One of the listed universities dropped from 314 in 2010 to 332 in 2011 while the other from 307 to 360. Surprisingly, despite the relatively low performance of Philippine HEIs, the Commission on Higher Education mentioned that the decline in rankings is not reflective of the quality of tertiary institutions of the country and that it does not consider that ‘the quality of education offered by the country’s higher education institutions (HEI) is not at par with their counterparts in the region’ (SunStar, 2012). Given the low performance of Philippines HEIs in league tables, it is clear, however, that CHED is constrained to enact policies that will help ensure the optimal functioning of the country’s higher education sector. Broadening the population’s access to higher education services through alternative forms of

The Philippines: Education Issues and Challenges


learning, as mentioned earlier, is seen as an activity that will promote poverty reduction through the training of the workforce. It needs to be recalled, though, that quantitative and qualitative mismatching is also prioritized – the former to be dealt with through a moratorium on oversubscribed courses. Another strategy used by the Commission is to confront the issue of quality mismatch, which is addressed through the strengthening and enforcing of a quality assurance system that will enable the country’s higher education sector to compete internationally. The creation, through consultation within the sector, of appropriate curricula that will provide the country’s human resources with skills appropriate for the worldwide knowledge-based economy is now well in place, and it is obvious that HEIs need well-constructed curricula in order to address the issue of quality. Programmes that are considered to be marketdriven and receptive are promoted, and this includes ICT-related and innovative research development courses. Additionally, and in line with the promotion of its higher education sector with a view to gaining international recognition, the Commission in this regard hopes to set up international links with foreign institutions. There is also a focus on the improvement of faculty qualifications, as this is inextricable from the quality mismatch issue.

Closing Remarks This chapter gave an overview of the education system of the Philippines and policies enacted by the education sector to address the issues of quality, access and equity. It is apparent that the Philippines’ education institutions fail to perform with most of the rest of the international community, as to education, and also have failed to measure up to the expectations of various stakeholders. Despite the noble intention to promote quality in both the basic and higher education sectors, the government should be cautious in adopting policies that may, contrary to expectations, only add to or worsen present problems, or add to the strains pulling backwards the already strained education system of the country. At the end of the day, despite the growing trend of internationalization of educational services, policy reorientations are only as good as they are relevant to – and are doable in – the country’s current situation.


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References ACT (2012). Available at: (accessed 24 June 2012). ARWU (2012). World’s Top 500 Universities. Available at (accessed 28 June 2012). Boli, J., Ramirez, F. and Meyer, J. (1985). ‘Explaining the Origins and Expansion of Mass Education’. Comparative Education Review, 29 (2): 145–70. Bowden, R. (2000). ‘Fantasy Higher Education: university and college league tables’. Quality Higher Education, 6 (1): 41–60. Brock-Utne, B. (2010). ‘Research and Policy on the Language of Instruction Issues in Africa’. International Journal of Educational Development, 30 (4): 636–45. CHED (2001a). Medium-Term Higher Education Development and Investment Plan. Pasig City: CHED. —(2001b). Long-Term Higher Education Development Plan. Pasig City: CHED. —(2004). Paper presented at the International Conference on Higher Education. Manila. —(2007). Medium-Term Development Plan for Higher Education 2005–2010. Pasig City: NEDA. —(2012a). Statistics. Available at: Information/Statistics (accessed 25 June 2012). —(2012b). Strategic Plan for 2011–2016. Available at: (accessed 21 June 2012). —Memorandum Order 31 (1995). Pasig City: CHED. Cooney, R. and Arrezo, E. (1993). ‘Higher Education Regulation in the Philippines: issues of control, quality assurance and accreditation’. Higher Education Policy, 6 (2): 25–8. DepEd (Department of Education) order 74 (2009). Multilingual Education. —order 23 (2010). Adoption of the BESRA Implementation and Accountability Plan. (no publisher) —order 61 (2010). Guidelines for the Training and Development of Muslim Teachers. —order 37 (2011). Universal Kindergarten Education. Dill, D. and Soo, M. (2005). ‘Academic quality, league tables, and public policy: a crossnational analysis of university ranking systems’. Higher Education, 49 (9): 495–533. El-Khamas, Jurand, R. and Nielsen, L. (1998). Quality Assurance in Higher Education: recent progress; challenges ahead. Paper presented at the UNESCO World Conference in Higher Education, Paris: 5–9 October 1998. Fishman, J. (1976). Bilingual Education: an international sociolinguistic perspective. Rowley, MA: Newbury House. Hsieh, P. T. (2009). The Impact of Globalisation on Foreign Language Policy in Taiwan: curriculum design and implementation. DPhil thesis. University of Oxford. Kanji, G. and Tambi, A. (1999). ‘Total Quality Management in UK Higher Education Institutions’. Total Quality Management, 10 (1): 129–53. Manila Times (2012). UP, Ateneo Dropped from World’s List of Top Universities. Available at:

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top-stories/19391-up-ateneo-dropped-from-list-of-worlds-top-universities (accessed 24 June 2012). NCIP (2012). Available at: (accessed 28 June 2012). NEDA (2006). Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan. Pasig City: NEDA. —(2010). Philippines Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals. Pasig City: NEDA PBET (2011). It’s Still Basic Education. Available at: (accessed 26 June 2012). Philippine Constitution (1987). Article XIV. Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports. Philippine Star (2012). K+12 Education Program Launched. Available at: http://www. (accessed 25 June 2012). QS (2012). QS Top 500. Available at: (accessed 28 June 2012). R.A. 8371 (Republic of the Philippines). Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997. R.A. 9155 (Republic of the Philippines). Governance of Basic Education Act of 2001. Schofer, E. and Meyer, J. (2005). ‘The World Wide Expansion of Higher Education in the 20th Century’. American Sociological Review, 70 (6): 898–920. SunStar (2012). Times 400 ‘Not Reflective’ of Quality of Tertiary Education. Available at: (accessed 25 June 2012). Symaco, L. P. (2009). Higher Education and Development in the Philippines and Malaysia: an analysis of the perceptions of the main stakeholders in government, education and business. DPhil thesis. University of Oxford. —(2010). ‘Education and evaluation: An editorial introduction’. The International Journal of Educational Psychology and Assessment, 5 (2): 188–9. —(2010). ‘Higher Education and Equity in Malaysia’. The International Journal of Educational and Psychological Assessment, 5 (2): 265–72. —(2011). ‘Philippines: Education for Development?’, in C. Brock and L. P. Symaco (eds), Education in South-East Asia. Oxford: Symposium Books. —(2012). ‘Higher Education in the Philippines and Malaysia: The Learning Region in the Age of Knowledge-Based Societies’. Journal of International and Comparative Education, 1 (1): 40–51. Symaco, L. P. and Baunto, A. (2010). ‘Islamic Education in the Philippines with Reference to Issues of Access and Mobility’. The International Journal of Educational and Psychological Assessment, 5 (2): 223–36. Tullao, T. (1999). Human Resource Master Plan for Education. Unpublished paper. UNDP (2010). Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines. Available at: ph/Downloads/fastFacts/fosteringDemocraticGovernance/2010/fastFacts6%20-%20 Indigenous%20Peoples%20in%20the%20Philippines%20rev%201.5.pdf (accessed 28 June 2012).


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UNESCO NatCom Philippines (2001). Private Higher Education in the Philippines. UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines Policy Series No. 2-2001. van Vught, F. (1995). ‘The New Context for Academic Quality’, in D. Dill and B. Sporn (eds), Emerging Patterns of Social Demand and University Reform: Through a Glass Darkly. Oxford: Pergamon. Watson, K. (1999). ‘Language Power, Development and Geopolitical Changes: conflicting pressures facing plurilingual societies’. Compare, 29 (1): 5–21. —(2011). ‘Education and Language Policies in South-East Asian Countries’, in C. Brock and L. P. Symaco (eds) Education in South-East Asia. Oxford: Symposium Books. —(2012). ‘South-East Asia and Comparative Studies’. Journal of International and Comparative Education, 1 (1): 31–9. World Bank (2012). World Development Indicators. Available at: http://data.worldbank. org/indicator/BX.KLT.DINV.CD.WD (accessed 21 June 2012). World Economic Forum (2012). Global Competitiveness Index. Available at: http://www. (accessed 22 June 2012).

Useful Websites Commission of Higher Education: Department of Education: http://

Notes 1 Parts of this chapter are sourced from Symaco (2009, 2010) as found in the reference list. 2 42 Philippine pesos (approximate) = 1 US dollar.


The Philippines: Higher Education and Development Lorraine Pe Symaco

Introduction Governments around the world have emphasized the need to engage their education sector with its development policies. This is especially true of developing countries which adhere a great deal to the general notion of the human capital theory. As further emphasized by Harbison and Meyers (1964: 10), employment expansion in newly developing countries is underprovided if ‘it fails to incorporate a program for expansion of education and the rational gearing of educational policy to economic policy’. Despite critiques to this theory (Bowles and Gintes, 1975), it is assumed that for policymakers, economic advancement can be achieved if human capital investment is dispensed properly to national needs and thus support of it will even ‘add to the returns that accrue to private individuals on their investments in the economy’ (Symaco, 2009: 9). The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) – specifically with regard to the universal access to primary education – has reversed the swing of the pendulum back to the education sector, in which a two-hundredfold increase in tertiary students between 1990 and 2000 was recorded (Schofer and Meyer, 2005). The increases in the primary sector eventually led to increases in secondary and tertiary enrolments, despite wastage at the primary and secondary levels, especially in developing countries (Symaco, 2011). In the Philippine national context, expansion of education has also been documented, and very likely because of this expansion a call has arisen to attune Philippine education to the needs of the modern society as exemplified in education literature in regard to other countries, through the rise of globalization and the knowledge-based economy. This brings to the fore the role of higher education (HE) in the aspirations of developing countries worldwide.


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The rise of the ‘knowledge economy’ means that universities now play, more than ever, a significant role in generating knowledge that links the global to the local (Thanki, 1999). Specifically relevant to the developing world is the notion that higher education is a leveraging tool for ‘catching up’ with more developed nations (Chatterji, 1998). At the prospect of the need for a more analytical and extensive account of the policies set by the government as pertinent to the development goals of the Philippines, a review of existing theories of expansion and development in the educational situation is presented in the sections that follow.

Higher Education History and the Role of the University Universities are amongst the ‘oldest continuously operating institutions’ in human societies (Lister, 2008: 3) and the history of higher education can be traced at least as far back as a thousand years ago in the Arab world, with focus on the teachings of Islam. These universities also served as major institutions that linked the Islamic world to the rest of Europe in the Middle Ages. It is also worth noting how certain provisions of Islamic schools or the madrasah (e.g. funding, residential quarters) were made prominent later on in medieval European establishments, particularly in the early universities in Italy, Spain, Flanders, and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge which are the only survivors of the true collegiate model (Muborakshoeva, 2008). The oldest university in the West, the University of Bologna in Italy, which was founded in the late eleventh century, gave rise to the concept of the modern university (Teichler, 2007). Brock (2007), however, mentions that the so-called modern universities were derived from traditions earlier than those of the Arab world and Renaissance Europe, as evidenced in: Indian scholarship at such institutions as Nalanda and Valabhi. Although there was certainly a strong tradition of learning in Ancient China at least a thousand years earlier, it does not seem to be characterised by the degree of orthodoxy that formalised the idea of the university as such. (ibid.: 25)

The different approaches of universities in promulgating knowledge can be observed through the different ‘systems’ of higher education that emerged in Europe. The British model of higher education as most exemplified by Oxford and Cambridge focuses on the tutorial system and draws strength through

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regular contact and communication between professors and students. Strong state coordination and decentralized governance within universities characterize the French system, while academic freedom or freedom of learning and institutional autonomy are embedded in the German tradition. Indeed, the model of the modern university derives from Humboldt’s University of Berlin, which was further elaborated by Ertl (as cited in Brock, 2007) that Humboldt’s distinction between academies and universities is that academies are ‘responsible for the improvement and standing of German science in the world’ while universities are intended ‘to fulfil an important societal role, as they work in close collaboration with the state and the practical business of citizens’ (ibid.: 29). American higher education derives from these European models but in different political, social and economic derivations and mixtures. The ‘modular course’ serves as the distinctive and fundamental characteristic of American curricular organization wherein accumulated credit points or units in terms of course subjects serves to determine the awarding of a degree. The possibility to transfer accumulated credit units from one institution to another sustains the flexibility of the American system (Trow, 2001). It should be noted that the higher education system of the Philippines is patterned on the American system. The contemporary role of the university has varied, and exhibits different facets: from providing the political and leadership needs of the nation state, to creating links with science and technology (beneficial to both sides), and enhancing better (i.e. higher and more specialized) educational opportunities for society at large. In spite of the widely recognized contribution of universities to economic development, the role of these institutions is also significant to the national character and the cultural roots and traditions of the society where they exist. Beyond the technical skills they impart, universities are also presumed to mould individuals that can ‘engage critically with issues’ (Pring, 1998: 119) and to have the ability to be ‘flexible’ and equipped for sound preparation, not just in technical aspects but also in terms of pragmatic realism in the interests of the nation. Another more recent social role of higher education is its function in assisting and rebuilding post-conflict and damaged societies. In fact, the sector is considered to be pliant – that is, while victorious rebels may perform social reconstruction, education is necessary in this process in the short and long run. However, the tendency of the system to propagate divisions in the wider, diverse society is also present (Gallagher, 2005) if there is no conscious effort to generate


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equal financial provision and adapt a universal structure. Unfortunately in postconflict states, secondary and tertiary education is often of low priority to donor agencies although others may suffer the most rapid deterioration during conflict and a slower revival from such events (Buckland, 2006). The assertion is that proper management of the educational system, especially in post-conflict or fragile states, can ‘heal the social wounds of war, solve youth unemployment, deliver decentralization and democracy, build peace and promote economic and social development’ (ibid.: 7).

Modernization Theory The new comparative politics in the 1950s led to an increased focus among practitioners on the ‘non-Western’ or ‘developing’ part of the world. Comparative politics embraced the theory of modernization in its desire to comprehend the phenomena of modernization taking place in the developing world. The terms ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ characterize the dichotomization of societies as those pertaining to the first world (Western nations) and the underdeveloped, so-called Third World, states. Sutton (1963: 69) underscores the distinctive ‘types’ between agricultural (traditional) society and industrial (modern) society. The fundamental difference between the traditional and modern society is the ability of an individual in the ‘modern’ type to have greater ‘control’ over his natural and social environments on the basis of and with the use of present technology, coupled with the prospect of continuing technological advancements (Huntington, 1971). In so-called developing countries there is necessarily a dilemma as to the provision of a kind of education suitable for the ‘modern sector’ of the economy and that suitable for the ‘traditional sector’. This inevitably creates a serious issue as to how to select appropriate individuals, through education, for the modern sector which includes national representation internationally and leadership in the home country with large population segments (in groups and widely scattered) living together with many people who have adopted to and adhere to modern concepts. Modernization theory assumes a revolutionary process that eventually leads to a clear contrast between the traditional and modern in every aspect of civilization, including the aims, attitudes and norms of the society. The theory suggests the attainment of democracy as a result of economic development and social transformation and ‘equalization’ of the population economically and educationally. Its contention that economic development may be reached

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through the acceptance and practice of the values of a modern society, through interaction with and the influence of transformed institutions which develop modern values and behaviour, is however highly criticized (Preston, 1996). The ethnocentric bias in modernization theory gives the theory the particular character of being tantamount to a Western ideology. Defenders of the ethnocentric bias ingrained in modernization theory, however, assert that despite such bias, there is a constructive ideological purpose among social, economic, cultural and political interests for the extension of Western values, norms and attitudes to underdeveloped countries, especially at the level of national institutions. This modernization view brings to the forefront the increasing access to educational services with the implicit aim to obtain general well-being of the human race as mirrored through a movement from the ‘traditional’ coherence to the ways of life handed down through the centuries to the ‘modern’ aspect of individual/society, each person living in accordance with one’s own values, generally attuned with the rest of society, or to human progress, innovation, new ideas. This is because one of the more prevalent features of education systems globally is its function ‘to produce a labour force that is receptive to the everchanging situations surrounding it ... the increasing formation and production of knowledge through technological diffusion and innovation are integral in the knowledge-based society’ (Symaco, 2012: 40). The following section shall now discuss further matters concerning educational expansion.

Educational Expansion The technical-functionalist theory provides a compelling view regarding the direct relationship between education investment and the development of an economy. Human capital theory, as developed from this functionalist view, manifests in its practice the direct proportional relationship between increasing levels of development and human resources. The main point of this and similar theories is that the standard of the educational system of a country is related to its economic development. In other words, the economic advance of a country produces the expansion of education which in turn enhances economic growth. Such a claim has, however, been disputed (Rubinson and Browne, 1994; Windolf, 1997), as quoted in Hartley (2003: 585). Rubinson and Browne mention that ‘Technical-functional and human capital theories actually


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produce little convincing evidence … that education has expanded in rhythm with industrialisation.’ Neo-Weberian conflict theories, on the other hand, explain the expansion of education through the increasing demand of particular groups to conform or achieve a ‘social status’ that is reached by having high-status educational credentials. It regards the immediate needs of certain groups as maximizing their status vis-à-vis entering influential and prominent standing, through educational achievements deemed significant in the pursuit of such class. In effect, a stronger competition within and between status groups promotes a more rapid educational expansion (Collins, 1971). The isomorphic convergence explained by the institutionalist theory on the one hand (which also challenges the functionalist view of the expansion of education) contends that the increasing modernization and expansion of educational institutions is caused by adhering to the ‘universal’ model of nation states. In addition to the effects of capitalism which this theory purports to be the prime cause of such motivation and the consequent educational expansion, the constructed cultural mores of modernity such as individualism and equality play a role in isomorphically permeating institutions patterned after them – giving rise to markets, bureaucracy and the other relevant social modernity norms (Boli et al., 1985; Hartley, 2003). The expansion of access to higher education internationally has been observed in different countries across the globe. This has led to a great number of tertiary institutions, and of course to an increase in tertiary enrolment rates worldwide (Trow, 2001; Schofer and Meyer, 2005; Teichler, 2007). The steady expansion of higher education during 1995–2003 in World Economic Indicator (WEI) countries, which include more than 70 per cent of the world’s population, saw an increase in enrolment rates of, on average, 77 per cent. OECD country rates during the same period were also seen to increase, on average, by 43 per cent. The increase in both cases is attributed to the rise in enrolment rates in tertiary education, most significantly during 2003. The number of tertiary students worldwide is expected to grow to more than 150 million by 2025 (West, 1997; UNESCO–UIS/OECD, 2005). However, the failure of many countries to meet the increasing and varying demands, especially in recent times, for a higher education service, has led to issues regarding access to this sector. In terms of quantitative expansion, proposals to augment the amount of higher education to meet the demand have encouraged the emergence of technology-driven educational services such as distance learning. This is viewed as a more cost-effective way of delivering such educational provision (Daniel, 1996). Globalization has

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also seen a rise in the trans-national providers of higher education which also has meant better access to educational services at this level. The sections that follow discuss the strategies set by the Philippine government for higher education in line with the goal of socio-economic advancement, as linked to education’s assumed role in the rise of modernization. Additionally, they will look at the social role of the education sector through the potential role of education in disaster mitigation and the promotion of social justice, mainly by a review of efforts along these lines in the conflict-ridden parts of Mindanao (southern Philippines). Interviews have been held with relevant stakeholders in view of the issues to be presented.

Education for Sustainable Development The Philippines, an archipelago of about 7100 islands, lies in the typhoon belt and the Pacific Ring of Fire, making it a high-risk country for natural disasters. In fact, the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) in Belgium has consistently ranked the Philippines as one of the most disasterprone countries in the world, ranked third in 2011, just behind India and China (SunStar, 2011). An average of about 20 typhoons enter the Philippines annually and recently, in 2009, extraordinary dire effects were experienced through Typhoon Ondoy (international name Ketsana). That unusual typhoon brought to the country a record-high 455 millimetres of rainfall in 24 hours – rain that resulted in high floods which resulted in damages costing about 5 billion Philippine Pesos (PHP) and 277 deaths, and affecting almost two million people nationwide (Dedace, 2009). The effects on schooling brought about by serious calamities like Typhoon Ondoy are extremely difficult to bear – and are beyond the meagre emergency equipment, expertise and labour force of ordinary schools. Aside from classes being suspended – thus disrupting the learning process – most of the schools are usually emplyed as emergency habitat and medical clinics and as shelters for displaced people during calamities, which can go from weeks to months. Disruption to schooling as a result of flooding, mudslides and such like puts further pressure on an already overstretched and resource-limited educational situation. Disaster management is practically non-existent for developing countries like the Philippines, which lack even basic educational resources. Despite this, given the regularity of natural disasters faced by the country, it is vital to take on the responsibility of ‘readiness’ so that the effects of such calamities can be reduced to more manageable levels. This


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further highlights the relevance of providing disaster mitigation sessions in schools since it is well-acknowledged that an informed public is more capable to prepare for and respond to the effects of disasters should they occur. As Nielsen and Lidstone (1998) state, ‘humanity has the capacity to subjugate nature and harness technology to provide for individual safety’ (p. 14). However, activists regarding climate change and others state that the occurrence of disasters has much to do with the interactions of the public with their environment and that ‘human intervention often results in aggravated risk of geophysical impact’ (Alexander, 1991: 211). The quest for ‘sustainable development’ has today become one of the most important goals of human society (Bossel, 1999). Socio-economic conditions and the environment are now seen as interconnected and this perception has led to an overall desire to attain a world where poverty and political and social inequality have been eradicated (Hopwood et al., 2005). The advance of capitalism has raised the concern of exploitation of natural resources in preference to increasing production and improving productivity. The term ‘sustainable development’ itself, despite its prevalent use in contemporary literature, embraces several disparate concerns and therefore incites concerns reciprocally disparate, resulting in agendas overlapping and conflicting in various ways and in various layers ‘difficult to compute’. The Brundtland Report (WCED, 1987: 43) speaks of sustainable development as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their needs’. Pearce (1988: 599) conceived sustainable development to be consistent with, among others: MM



justice to future generations; justice to nature; aversion to the risk from: (a) ignorance about the nature of the interaction of environment, economy and society; and (b) our ignorance of economic damage arising from inadequate infusion of resilience to external ‘shock’.

Adapting the education system to be responsive to the needs of attaining a sustainable future is one of the essential roles of the modern education. Envisioning a sustainable, developing future with the support of the education sector is vital since educational institutions – and specifically higher education – by their nature, and by their perceived community role – in intelligence, information, public respect and their capacity to lead – bear a substantial responsibility to the society that supports them and whom they represent. To

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earn society’s support, which basically sustains them, educationalists should regularly provide knowledge and expertise, promote social awareness, form social values, and provide information needed by society for its welfare and for fulfilment by the society, as presently constituted, of its obligations to future generations and to the very future of their worldly domain. There are various ways in which educational institutions can advocate sustainable development, from the simplest act of signing a declaration to support it, to a more challenging role, going beyond economizing and changing operations to make these more eco-friendly and more socio-economically responsible and supportive. These are ventures that require adapting the content and focus of academic research and collateral programmes to promote indefinitely sustainable development as the sole rational option for the present generation to fulfil its obligations to future generations. These are indeed extremely significant contributions that the education sector could make to society’s present and future advancement (Verbitskaya et al., 2002). To return to disaster management, which of course lies at the very base of sustainable development in any country, in the Philippines, despite some provisions made by the government to handle the disaster preparedness issue in the country, exercises for these situations are seldom, if ever, witnessed by the general public despite the volatile nature of the country in terms of disaster incidents. Earthquake and fire school-based drills are conducted quarterly by schools, which aims to ‘generate the highest level awareness among the public on disaster risk reduction … and to assess the capacity level of the school and community in the eventuality of disasters and emergencies’ (DepEd Order 48: 1). Additionally, disaster preparedness is made through enforcing measures as ordered by the Department of Education through (a) assessment of poorly built structures; (b) the capacity of teachers and administrators in disaster preparedness response; and (c) placement of warning systems as relevant (DepEd order 83). However, aside from some recommendations such as briefing the students about typhoons, landslides and other disasters, there are no formal curricula for these matters nor formal training of leaders and monitors. Furthermore, in higher education there are no disaster preparedness courses or sessions that aim to make the students aware of the effects brought about by nature or accidents. Integrating formal courses in the curricula in higher education (or basic education, for that matter, as well) is the basic way that students can be equipped for the purpose and disaster mitigation achieved similar to what other countries are doing. For instance, Iran, an earthquake-prone country, integrates


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risk and local hazard information into its curricula (science, geography, social studies, among others) at all levels and this has become an optional core course rather than simply an ‘add on’ (Finnis et al., 2007). This curriculum feature, which is lacking in Philippine education, can be integrated since, after all, an educated public must be made more aware of the effects of natural disasters and ‘education for disaster reduction is complex yet essential to any properly implemented, centrally managed hazard strategy’ (Neilsen and Lidstone, 1998: 14)

Strategies of the Philippine Government for Development and Higher Education’s Role Education has always been a priority of every Filipino family. Higher education specifically is seen as an avenue to advancement – this is strongly confirmed by the government time after time, and it mandates the higher education sector to ensure the ‘formation of high-level human resource, and generation, adaptation, and transfer of knowledge and technology for national development and global competitiveness’ (CHED, 2012: 1). The Philippines, in its Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) 2004–2010, lays out the priorities of the government in achieving socioeconomic development in the country. Among its focused sectors as envisioned in the plan are: (a) economic growth and job creation; (b) social justice and good governance; and (c) enhancing youth opportunities (NEDA, 2006). The sections to follow will discuss these underlying objectives and the role of the higher education sector in achieving them.

Economic growth and job creation The Philippine government relies on human capital development as part of its strategy for economic growth. Parallel to this is the increase in job creation that aims to benefit the skilled manpower generated by educational institutions. Among the central factors in job creation on which by the government has focused are the trade and investment situations in the country. However, problems such as law and order, poor infrastructure and logistics systems, and, mainly, weak investor confidence – due to many reasons, most of them known to government officials themselves – continue to plague the country (NEDA,

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2006). These anomalies are identified as among the main factors affecting the country’s competitiveness in the global market. I know that we are better than them … but unfortunately this is a result of what you call Philippine disease … nobody listens to us because our economy is a mess, so even if we are better than most of the Asians … but when people learn that you’re Filipino, they say why would we listen to you? Look at your culture. (University professor)

The 2012 budget allocation had the economic services sector getting the second largest allocation (next to education), particularly infrastructure and capital outlays, at 243.9 billion PHP, a 27.2 per cent increase from the previous year’s allocation. At the same time, the defence sector saw an increase of 9.9 per cent at 111.4 billion PHP (Office of the President, 2012). The Philippines’ desire to gear up for the rise of individual entrepreneurs as an alternative option to paid occupations in larger companies is evident in the government strategic plan. Financial assistance has been given to micro, small and medium enterprises through the SUMULONG programme, which has resulted in an increase of 2.6 per cent in loans granted to such enterprises that qualify (NEDA, 2007). The role of Information Communications Technology (ICT) in development is acknowledged by the Philippine government as integral to development. As such, measures to implement training in higher education institutions (HEIs) for such a programme are envisioned by the government as part of its strategy for better economic performance. The appeal to promote this field is also apparent. I wish that – everybody says this incidentally including the education officials – that more people would go to courses related to ICT and science, maths and so forth. Now it would appear that these courses are available it’s just that perhaps for cultural reasons not enough people are attracted to them. (Government official)

In this regard, the government has proposed ICT inducement plans to create more competitive incentive packages for investors, and to improve the ICT human resource of the country. Additionally, the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) was created in 2004 to streamline ICT services and programmes (Symaco, 2012). The CICT (now known as the Information Communications and Technology Office): ... envisions building the Philippines Cyberservices Corridor (PCC), similar to the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) found in Malaysia ... [P]roviding


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knowledge and software developments that will push the country towards the position of being the e-services hub of Asia is also envisioned. The PCC is part of the five ‘super regions’ identified by the government in its push towards the country’s development. The five regions include: northern Luzon for agribusiness capacity, Luzon as urban gateway for industry and service centres, central Philippines for tourism, Mindanao for agribusiness, and the cyber corridor for ICT’ (ibid.: 46)

Aside from making the existing curricula more relevant through increasing interface between the Commission of Higher Education (CHED) and CICT, the ICT sector is expected to provide employment services through, among others, customer contact centres (call centres), medical transcription and animation (Symaco, 2012). In the Philippines, ‘call centre’ careers continue to be a popular option for university graduates. The move to make the country the global destination for call centre companies is enabled by the ability to pass national ICT development and certification programmes, which will ensure the generation of quality ICT professionals and provide a blueprint for the organization of ICT professional deployment. These programmes will also aim to address the general lack of human resources in the ICT field. Additionally, the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), the model for a software improvement project, aims to manage and improve software development procedures in compliance with international standards. In addition to all of this, providing universal access to ICT was launched through various programmes that will access and prioritize marginalized sectors of society (NEDA, 2007). [If] we put up universities, working with universities … [others are] doing what I think we need to do … we create higher education for businesses that we want to encourage. So if we are going to be in call centres maybe we should have a call centre university for what that’s worth. (Business executive of a local company)

The Philippine government, however, has been cautious to provide a specific target in terms of the expected increase in population access to ICT business as a whole. Job creation is also envisioned in other areas where the Philippines sees itself at a relative advantage. Agriculture and natural resource optimizations have been targeted by the government. However, the country’s dismal record in terms of its weakening comparative advantage over the years in agriculture is evident. There has been a clearly declining comparative advantage of the Philippines in the agriculture sector in the period 1960–2000 as compared to its neighbours Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam (NEDA, 2006).

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The Thais were taught by the Filipinos how to plant rice. In 5 years’ time or so the Thais became self-sufficient in rice; after another 5 years and another 10 years Thailand became the world’s number 1 exporter of rice using Philippine technology. At present, the Philippines is not even self-sufficient in rice. How come? (Government official)

Social justice and good governance One of the concerns of the government in addressing social justice and basic needs is the level of poverty and missed opportunities for higher education and socio-economic development among the less privileged members of society. Most of those in the lowest level of the social strata are classified as rural poor. Three out of four of the population are based in rural areas, and most of them are small and landless farmers, fisher folk and indigenous people (NEDA, 2006). Livelihood programmes, asset reforms and basic essential services, such as health services, are prioritized by the government to serve the needs of the poor. There is severe poverty in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the southern part of the country and rehabilitation programmes to reintegrate insurgents into mainstream society were also introduced by the government through the National Reintegration Programme (NRP). Scholarships were awarded to rebels (who have yielded to the government) and to their next-of-kin through that programme. To further promote social cohesion, the government also enacted an Executive Order institutionalizing and mainstreaming peace education in teacher education courses in the universities (E.O. 570, 2006). Additionally, justice for internally displaced people in Mindanao has been improved through the strengthening of the legal education offered by Mindanao State University with the support of international bodies (NEDA, 2004). An inclusive human rights education programme is also proposed for the police and military, involving local peace-keeping and capacity-building initiatives and general security enhancement (NEDA, 2007). The government is also, through instructive education, ramping up the capacity of institutions for multicultural ways of life, through the CHED. The policy of reinforcing cultural tolerance has also been highlighted by the role of the Philippines in emphasizing the significance of interfaith dialogue during its term of authority at the UN Security Council in 2005. Its policy proposals were eventually adopted as a resolution by the UN General Assembly the following year (NEDA, 2007). Expanding the understanding of different cultures is perceived to be important in responding to the realities of the global


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environment that impinge on the development goals of all countries. With regard to good governance, the curbing of corruption practices in public office has been targeted. Widespread corruption in government units in the Philippines inhibits the development of the country, so anti-corruption measures have been implemented. The country is also reported to be complying with international standards on fighting corruption. The Philippines, through the Senate, ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption (NEDA, 2007). Moreover, a zero tolerance of corruption, via a multi-sector alliance, was pushed by the government. However, despite these steps, massive corruption in education projects is documented. For instance, the government purchased 668 million PHP worth of multimedia equipment which was found to be defective and not appropriate for the educational institutions where it was distributed. Also, computers and other technological equipment were found to be distributed to educational institutions that had neither computer laboratories nor electricity (Alberto, 2008). A congressman would say, I’ll give 10 million [Philippine] Pesos for the building but in reality the building is only worth 5 million Pesos ... if you go against these congressmen they will go after you. What is their ethics in Congress? Even if someone is in the wrong, no one among them will speak up to denounce their colleague. (Government official)

Enhancing youth opportunities Tertiary education and skills development are given priority by the Philippine government through more effectual collaboration with different stakeholders, to ensure an improved access to higher education. ‘Ladderized Programmes’ were also adopted by the government to institutionalize an equivalency in academic ‘units’ (‘units’ as given by regular universities for courses) taken under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the CHED (E.O. 358, 2004). The aim is to promote better (i.e. wider) provision of human academic resource and the expansion of jobs and youth opportunities. Various government units (e.g. the Professional Regulatory Commission, and Department of Science and Technology) were requested to work in partnership with TESDA and CHED to achieve a national qualifications framework for the two agencies in connection with the project. Further to this, there is the recognition of the role of other non-governmental organizations and private-sector industries in providing the consultations needed for this innovation. CHED

The Philippines: Higher Education and Development


has also issued policies and standard guidelines to tertiary institutions that can be granted autonomy in operating the ‘Ladderized Programmes’, which are intended to promote academic quality as well as widening access to the HEIs. Financial assistance was also given to those enrolled under the programme (NEDA, 2007). Similar to the access provision of the ‘Ladderized Programme’ is the ‘Equivalency Programme’ in higher education, which leads to accrediting industry experience through the granting of a degree. Since its initiation in 1999, this ‘Equivalency Programme’ has produced around 7000 graduates from 96 recognized HEIs (CHED, 2012). The role of State University Colleges (SUCs) in the Philippines’ higher education sector, despite its controversial nature (Symaco, 2011), is also to provide better access for less privileged members of society. The Technology Commercialization Programme (TECHCOM) of CHED is directed to strengthening these institutions in order to reduce poverty and generate employment in the country. In addition, an interface with local government units has been initiated (alongside the SUCs) to provide and support technical assistance to farmers and fishermen through relevant technologies in the field. Alternative fuel and biofuel research and enterprise training was also established by CHED together with the SUCs to make available expert advice in the areas of manufacturing, tooling, making of simple machines, repairs and the like (NEDA, 2007). The creation of Centres of Excellence (COE) and Centres of Development (COD) among tertiary institutions is an attempt by the government to promote the development of more technical knowledge. Some 13.5 million PHP was provided to support the research and extension services of these centres (NEDA, 2007). Support for faculty members from CHED is envisioned through the College Faculty Development programme, to provide financial assistance to faculty members who wish to pursue postgraduate studies. Obviously, the result hoped for is the improvement of the quality of faculty members in tertiary institutions. The government envisions the strengthening of young people’s advantage in the global economy through the promotion of science and technology (S&T) in HEIs. This is parallel to the agenda of the government in promoting science and technology through priority research and development (R&D) areas, technology transfer and the promotion of innovation (NEDA, 2007). Scholarship programmes were allotted to about 3300 university students under the Science Education Institute (SEI) in 2012 (SEI, 2012). Nonetheless, despite several innovations to promote science and research, the government recognizes that significant gaps need to be addressed:


Education in South-East Asia

The country needs bold and well-funded R&D initiatives to strengthen the country’s economy. Thus, the government should continuously increase the budget for S&T and education. Majority of the budget for S&T should be allocated for R&D and scholarships, considering sectorial priorities and the absorptive capacities of R&D institutions. (NEDA, 2007: 142)

Addressing the significant gaps will, the government hopes, lessen the comparative disadvantage of the Philippines when it is compared with other developing and developed countries in its stride towards socio-economic development.

Closing Remarks This chapter has discussed the different strategies set up by the Philippine government in its higher education sector in line with its development goals of socio-economic advancement. The rise of modernization in its educational institutions through highlighting the use of ICT, science and technology, research and development, among others, signals the increasing demand to generally fine-tune or remodel what it has now in higher education, and eventually, through continuous, innovative efforts, sharp focus, and efficient use of international aid and local resources, place its higher education sector in line with the needs of internationalization and globalization. Higher education, it is now perceived worldwide, is an extremely significant means to promote social justice, equality and individual freedom – hence the rise of higher education as a social factor is internationally recognized. Evidently, in the Philippines, there should be proper and continuous implementation of good strategies to ensure success in achieving what higher education, and all of education, if fact, could do for the country. Weak institutions and the lack of or the dimming of transparency in the government, however, continue to be hindrances in the proper implementation of a good deal of fine policies.

References Alberto, T. (2008). DepEd wastes million in bungled projects-house groups. Available at: (accessed 24 September 2008). Alexander, D. (1991). ‘Natural Disasters: A Framework for Research and Training’. Disasters, 15 (3): 209–26. Boli, J., Ramirez, F. and Meyer, J. (1985). ‘Explaining the Origin an Expansion of Mass Education’. Comparative Education Review, 29 (2): 145–70.

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Bossel, H. (1999). Indicators for Sustainable Development: Theory, Method, Applications. Winnipeg: International Institute for Sustainable Development. Bowles, S. and Gintis, H. (1975). ‘The Problem with Human Capital Theory: A Marxian Critique’. American Economic Review, 65 (2): 74–82. Brock, C. (2007). ‘Historical and Societal Roots of Regulation and Accreditation of Higher Education for Quality Assurance’, in B. C. Sanyal and J. Tres (eds), Higher Education in the World 2007: Accreditation for Quality Assurance, What is at Stake? Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 24–36. Buckland, P. (2006). Post-Conflict Education: Time for a Reality Check. MAGAZINE (1 October 2008) Available at: Supplement/full.pdf (accessed 1 October 2008). Chatterji, M. (1998). ‘Tertiary Education and Economic Growth’. Regional Studies, 32 (4): 349–54. CHED (2012). Strategic Plan for 2011–2016. Available at: (accessed 21 June 2012). Collins, R. (1971). ‘Functional and Conflict Theories of Educational Stratification’. American Sociological Review, 36 (6): 1002–19. Daniel, J. (1996). Mega Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education. London: Kogan Page. Dedace, S. (2009). NDCC puts Ondoy damage at P4.8-B, death toll at 277. Available at: (accessed 4 July 2012). DepEd (Department of Education) order 48 (2012). Quarterly Conduct of the National School Based Earthquake and Fire Drills. —order 83 (2011). Disaster Preparedness Measures for Schools. E.O. (Executive Order) 2006 (570), Manila: Malacanang. —2004 (358), Manila: Malacanang. Finnis, K., Johnston, D., Becker, J. S. and Ronan, K. (2007). ‘School and CommunityBased Hazards Education and Links to Disaster Resilient Communities’. Regional Development Dialogue Journal, 28 (2). Gallagher, T. (2005). ‘Balancing Difference and the Common Good: Lessons from a Post-Conflict Society’. Compare, 35 (4): 429–42. Harbison, F. and Myers, C. (1964). ‘Education and Employment in the Newly Developing Economies’. Comparative Education Review, 8 (1): 5–10. Hartley, D. (2003). ‘Education as a Global Positioning Device: Some Theoretical Considerations’. Comparative Education, 39 (4): 439–50. Hopwood, B., Mellor, M. and O’Brien, G. (2005). ‘Sustainable Development: Mapping Different Approaches’. Sustainable Development, 13 (1): 38–53. Huntington, S. (1971). ‘The Change to Change: Modernisation, Development and Politics’. Comparative Politics, 3 (3): 283–332. Lister, R. (2008). After the Gold Rush: Towards Sustainable Future in Computing. Paper presented at the 10th Conference on Australasian Computing Education, Wollogong, 22–25 January 2008.


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Muborakshoeva, M. (2008). Universities in Muslim Contexts: Contexts, Challenges and Opportunities. DPhil thesis. University of Oxford. NEDA (2006). Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan. Pasig City: NEDA. —(2007). Socioeconomic Report 2006. Pasig City: NEDA. Nielsen, S. and Lidstone, J. (1998). ‘Public Education and Disaster Management: Is there a Guiding Theory?’ Australian Journal of Emergency Management, Spring 199: 14–19. Office of the President (2012). 2012 budget. Available at: president-aquino-approves-p1-816-trillion-proposed-budget-for-2012/ (accessed 6 July 2012). Pearce, D. (1988). ‘Economics, Equity and Sustainable Development’. Futures, 20 (6): 598–605. Preston, P. W. (1996). Development Theory. Oxford: Blackwell. Pring, R. (1998). ‘Liberal Versus Functional Values in Higher Education’, in J. Talati, et al. (eds), Higher Education a Pathway to Development. Karachi: Aga Khan University, pp. 117–23. Rubinson, R. and Browne, I. (1994). ‘Education and the Economy’, in N. Smelser and R. Swedberg (eds), The Handbook of Economic Sociology, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Schofer, E. and Meyer, J. (2005). ‘The Worldwide Expansion of Higher Education in the Twentieth Century’. American Sociological Review, 70 (6): 898–920. SEI (2012). SEI qualifiers. Available at: merit_qualifiers.pdf (Accessed 15 July 2012). SunStar (2011). Philippines ‘third most- disaster prone country’ Available at: http://www. (accessed 29 June 2012). Sutton, F. (1963). ‘Social Theory and Comparative Politics’, in H. Eckstein and D. Apter (eds), Comparative Politics: A Reader. New York: Free Press of Glencoe, pp. 67–81. Symaco, L. P. (2009). Higher Education and Development in the Philippines and Malaysia: An Analysis of the Perceptions of the Main Stakeholders in Government, Education and Business. DPhil thesis. University of Oxford. —(2011). ‘Philippines: Education for Development?’, in C. Brock and L. P. Symaco (eds), Education in South-East Asia. Oxford: Symposium Books. —(2012). ‘Higher Education in the Philippines and Malaysia: The Learning Region in the Age of Knowledge-Based Societies’. Journal of International and Comparative Education, 1 (1): 40–51. Thanki, R. (1999). ‘How Do We Know the Value of Higher Education to Regional Development?’ Regional Studies, 33 (1): 84–9. Teichler, U. (2007). Higher Education Systems. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. Trow, M. (2001). ‘From Mass Education to Universal Access: the American Advantage’, in P. Altbach, P. Gumport and B. Jonhstone (eds), In Defence of American Higher Education. Baltimore, MD: JHU Press, pp. 110–43.

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UNESCO–UIS/OECD (2005). Education Trends in Perspective: Analysis of the World Education Indicators. Paris: UNESCO–UIS/OECD. Verbitskaya, L., Nosova, N. and Rodina, L. (2002). ‘Sustainable Development in Higher Education in Russia: The Case of St. Petersburg State University’. Higher Education Policy, 15 (2): 279–88. WCED (1987). Our Common Future: The Brundtland Report. Oxford: Oxford University Press. West, R. (1997). Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy (Report of the West Review). Canberra: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Windolf, P. (1997). Expansion and Structural Change: Higher Education in Germany, the United States and Japan. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.


Singapore: Education in Transition Letchmi Ponnusamy and Saravanan Gopinathan

Introduction The twenty-first century has seen several major movements and revolutions, spanning political, social and monetary systems, and amongst these changes, a less sensational but perhaps more fundamental pervasive change has occurred in education. More than ever before, countries have begun to scrutinize their education systems and seek to improve them to suit the future needs of society. This is not surprising, for in the contemporary, highly globalized, networked world, education has become a key lever that countries use to expand and make more competitive their economies. Where wealth generation has occurred, first in East Asian states like Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore, and more recently in the rising economic powers such as Brazil, China and India, there is now the new-found capacity to invest in education, and improve infrastructure in health, transportation and other areas of national importance. These developments promise greater opportunities for education to make a difference. Singapore’s education system is regarded as one of the world’s best (DarlingHammond and Bransford, 2005; Darling-Hammond, 2010; Mourshed et al., 2010; OECD, 2011) not only for the high academic achievement of its students, but also for the ways in which policy, investment and a culture of excellence and rigour were achieved in just four decades. This achievement is also drawing attention as it occurred while developed country systems appeared to be troubled with poor performance (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Jennings and Rentner, 2006) and when all systems are struggling to cope with the emergence of a knowledge economy, the increased use of technology and fierce competition for talent. As a young, resource-scarce nation, Singapore has sought to develop and mobilize its people to create a modern society that is centred on a meritocratic system that values and rewarded effort and persistence. While the phenomenon


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of globalization can bring about more opportunities and challenges, it is also accompanied by an increased demand for greater public involvement and debate in all sectors of globalized and diverse societies (Kalantzis and Cope, 2006). Hence, for our analysis of Singapore’s educational development, we use the concept of transitions, of deliberate state-initiated change, to capture the ways in which the state intervened in moments of crisis and opportunity to strengthen education and training. Specifically, this chapter addresses transitions that the education sector in Singapore has seen in the last 40 years and issues and challenges faced by the current system. The first part of this chapter therefore identifies the key transitions and initiatives that have contributed to the development and sustained performance of Singapore’s education system. (For a more detailed account, the reader is advised to look at more comprehensive sources of the evolution of Singapore’s education system, e.g. Gopinathan, 1974, 2009; Goh and Gopinathan, 2008; Lee, et al., 2008). The second part then maps out the challenges faced by Singapore’s education system as it strives to remain relevant to the needs of a global economy, manage substantial socio-economic changes and satisfy the demands of its mobile and mature population.

Modernization of Singapore and Education System Transitions Post-colonial transition In order to understand the place of education in Singapore’s remarkable development, it is necessary to understand some aspects of its history. While Singapore’s lack of natural resources is always stressed – after all, it is a tropical island of approximately 750 square kilometres, with a population for much of its history below three million and only now approaching five million – it has one major advantage: its location. It is at the tip of the Malay Peninsula with the Indian Ocean on one side and the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean on the other. It was an important part of maritime trade for four hundred years from the thirteenth century, and after its founding in 1819 by Stamford Raffles, it began to realize its full potential, aided by the adoption of a free port status. A second feature is that it attracted migrants, especially from China and India, and so its ethnic and linguistic diversity has always been a part of its distinctive character. British colonial rule was essentially benign in character. Colonial administrators like Raffles, Swettenham, Fullerton, Farquahar and Maxwell, while not

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without their prejudices, saw great potential in Singapore. In education, their philosophy was to let the natives fend for themselves, while providing for some state-funded English-medium schools and supporting church initiatives to provide schooling (Doraisamy, 1969). The bulk of schooling was provided by Chinese clans and wealthy businessmen, and was fairly effective. At the turn of the century, there were more students in Chinese-medium schools than English. However, this hands-off policy led to the Chinese schools being influenced by socio-political turmoil in China and these schools became radicalized (Gopinathan, 1974). British efforts to control schools were resisted and were largely ineffective. At the beginning of the 1940s the education system was divided and segmented, mirroring the plurality in the wider society.

1945–65: The first transition The end of World War Two, a war during which Singapore was occupied by the Japanese, and the myth of British superiority was smashed, provided an opportunity for new beginnings. Decolonization movements had sprung up in other parts of the empire, notably in the Indian subcontinent. In Singapore, the principal consideration was the rebuilding of the education infrastructure and widening access to schooling. The British Military Administration proposed a ten-year plan, intended to expand education opportunities. This signalling of the importance of education in the future of Singapore is one we will find repeated many times in later periods. A second socio-educational initiative of importance in this period was the Report of the All Party Committee on Chinese Education (Singapore Legislative Assembly, 1956). We noted earlier the hostility of the Chinese-educated towards English and English-language dominated administration. Further, decisions had to be taken regarding the future of the multiple languages and dialects used in schools and in the wider society. It was recognized that while languages could be a rich resource, they could also foster and deepen divisions. The report proposed equality of treatment as a core principle and a policy of bilingualism in schools. Subsequent refinements led to the adoption of a four-langauge formula – Malay as the national language, English as the major medium of instruction in education and administration, and Chinese, Malay and Tamil as official second languages. Though English was spoken only by a minority of the population in the 1950s and 1960s, it was positioned as a link language between the different linguistic groups and for providing access to markets, financial capital, science and technology. The second language was also designated as mother tongue


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languages, representing rich civilizations whose cultures served as a source of rootedness as Singapore began Western-style modernization. The positioning of Malay as the national language was an acknowledgment of Singapore’s place in the region, and to ease prospects for merger with Malay-dominant Malaya. This linguistic settlement is of enormous importance as it may be deemed a crucial determinant in fostering social cohesion, in the development of the Singaporean identity, and in allowing resource-scarce Singapore a chance at being economically competitive. The merger and expulsion period from Malaysia from 1963 to 1965 is significant, not just in making Singapore an independent state but also for its impact on education. Given its limited resources, small size and ethnic mix, the dominant view, prior to merger, was that Singapore was not viable on its own. A merger with Malaya would ‘balance’ Singapore’s Chinese–dominant population, expand its resource base and provide greater security. However, the merger period was marked by distrust and acrimony, culminating in racial riots in both Malaysia and Singapore. The Malays in Malaysia sought to entrench a pro-Malay affirmative action policy, replace English with Malay as the dominant medium of instruction, and viewed many Chinese-school graduates as potential subversives. When Singapore gained independence in 1965, it inherited a school infrastructure that was highly plural and segmented, with English-medium government schools coexisting with privately financed schools run along ethnic and religious lines, such as Chinese, Tamil and Malay-medium schools, as well as convents and madrasahs. The young nation had to choose policies that would make it more politically and economically viable. It saw education and training as a key resource for socio-economic modernization and in the building of a socially cohesive society (Gopinathan, 1974). Thus there was an expansion of schooling for all children, modernization and standardization of the curriculum and improved teacher preparation. The bilingualism policy was strengthened and implemented with vigour. Greater attention was paid to moral and citizenship education (Gopinathan, 1974; Gopinathan and Sharpe, 2004). Policy-makers realized that Singapore had to build an industrial economy – and that led to changes in curriculum to emphasize English, mathematics and science and also technical and vocational education. It was clear that with limited natural resources the only option was to enhance human capital through education; education and training has been central in Singapore’s socioeconomic journey to First World status. Finally, in sharp contrast to Malaysian affirmative action, Singapore adopted the principle of meritocracy. Hence,

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while equal opportunities would be provided to all ethnic groups, their ability, effort and performance would determine their life chances. Quality would thus become a defining mark of Singapore’s education system.

Singapore’s educational reform efforts and development Conventionally, three stages are evident in the development of Singapore’s education system. These are the survival-, efficiency- and ability-driven stages and at each stage various policies and reforms were enacted, each with its own benefits and implications (Luke et al., 2005; Goh and Gopinathan, 2008). Each of these three stages of development responded to the various stages of the island’s industrial and post-industrial transformation, triggered by the nation state’s heavy dependence on human capital as its only enduring resource. The two key policy objectives were to ensure that its citizens were committed to a multicultural society, and, through acquiring the prerequisite knowledge and skills, to allow citizens to gain employment, which in turn would bring continuous economic growth and give the state a competitive edge (Low et al., 1993).

Enduring policies and principles The key drivers for the formulation and implementation of educational policies since Singapore’s independence have been the need to foster greater social cohesion amongst citizens and afford increased and customized access to quality education. In this respect, policies and initiatives such as the use of English as a medium for instruction as well as bilingualism in all schools, streaming and citizenship education have endured. Arguably, these three policies that have endured, albeit with changes over time, have played an important role in providing greater relevance and better access in education, as well as greater cohesion at the societal level. The reasons for the use of these policies as well as how they value-add to Singapore’s education system are discussed next.

English language and bilingualism Much of the current success of Singapore’s education system and indeed in overall societal modernization can be put down to the early recognition and adoption of English as a language of instruction in schools. The requirement of bilingualism showed the fledgling government’s commitment to its objective of building a


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cohesive, multilingual society with English as the link language. English was seen as a uniting language, given its core role as the working language of government, administration and the judiciary as well as a key language for the development of science and technology; the second language was seen as providing the needed link with the student’s cultural identity. Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew noted, ‘If we were monolingual in our mother tongues, we would not make a living. Becoming monolingual in English would have been a setback. We would have lost our cultural identity, that quiet confidence about ourselves and our place in the world’ (Lee, 2000: 181). The bilingual policy continues to be considered as the cornerstone of Singapore’s economic and social prosperity. However, even as the bilingualism policy was consistent with the reality on the ground of increased preference of parents for English-medium schools as proffering better employment opportunities for their children, it was also a big challenge, as very few families spoke English at home; only 11.6 per cent of Singaporean households used English at that time (Lau, 1993). At the same time the Ministry of Education also took steps to embrace its large, Chinesespeaking stakeholder group – the Ministry converted Chinese-school teachers into teachers of Chinese as a second language, while steps were taken simultaneously to increase the quality of instruction in Chinese, and to ensure that students saw mastery of Chinese as a necessary vehicle for accessing Chinese cultural heritage. The small size and the concerted and systematic efforts of the government in implementing the bilingual policy in national schools have ensured the relevance of this policy for students as well as future workers as the national economy moved out the of the industrial era to a post-industrial one.

Balancing educational efficiency and quality By the end of the 1970s, the education system was showing signs of strain; evidence was emerging of increased attrition rates and semi-lingualism instead of the hoped for bilingualism (Goh, 1979). Reforms in this phase led to it being characterized as the ‘efficiency phase’ (Goh and Gopinathan, 2008: 22). Then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee was tasked to review and fix the inefficiencies in the education system. His report stated that Singapore’s bilingualism policy had not been ‘universally effective’ (1979: 6), with less than 40 per cent of the student population achieving minimum competency level in two languages, and that this had led to high attrition rates in the school system. His committee proposed the streaming of students at the end of Grade 3 (age eight). Streaming or the channelling of students into different academic tracks based on their

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performance in English, mathematics and the mother tongue was seen as an effective means to lower attrition in schools (Goh, 1979). This reform additionally allowed weaker students to focus on one language (English), while students who excelled in two could choose a third language in addition to English and their mother tongue. Students in the weaker extended stream were allowed to complete primary education in eight years instead of the usual six years. Streaming was expected to reduce performance variation by grouping students based on examination performance; further, the Ministry developed specialized education pathways with a customized curriculum for each stream, as shown in the following figure. Figure 12.1: The New Education System

Figure 12.1  The New Education System


Universities/  Institute  of  Education    

Polytechnics   GCE  (Advanced)  Level  Examinations     Junior  College  (2  years)  or  Pre-­‐University  Centres  (3  years)     GCE  (O)  Level  Examinations     GCE  (Normal)  Level  Examinations     Special  &  Express  Streams     (Secondary  1-­‐4)  

Normal  –  Academic  Stream     (Secondary  1-­‐5)  


Primary  School  Leaving  Examinations


Normal      (3  years)  

Extended   (5  years)  

Primary  1-­‐  3  Streaming  Examinations  

Source: Author.

Source: Author.

  Vocational  Institutes  


Education in South-East Asia

In 1991, after a review found high attrition rates in secondary schools, contributing eventually to an undereducated workforce, the policy was changed. The new changes allowed all students to complete primary education in six years and a greater number to complete secondary education (Ministry of Education, 1991), ensuring a well-trained workforce that was needed by the diversifying economy (Low et al., 1993). It should be noted that Singapore had no compulsory education at this time; such a law and pertaining only to primary education was introduced much later, in 2000. Streaming and a greater differentiation in educational options in secondary education have become significant features of the education system since 1979. A Gifted Education programme was introduced in selected primary and secondary schools in 1983 and 1991 respectively. In 1987, following the publication of the Towards Excellence in Schools report (Ministry of Education, 1987), the Ministry of Education selected nine leading secondary schools to function as independent schools. In 1994, a second tier of autonomous schools was created; there are currently 26 such schools. Schools were also encouraged to build excellence niches, both academic and non-academic, to brand and promote themselves more forcefully (Tan, 2011). A little noticed irony in this situation is that policy was directed, from 1956 onwards, in rationalizing and standardizing the system, introducing a national curriculum and examinations – building on the philosophy of schools as sites for a common identity building and social cohesion – only for policy to change to adopt increasing differentiation, and as a consequence accelerating disparities in educational outcomes. Specialized and independent schools were seen by the Ministry as providing much needed differentiation in the secondary education sector. The specialized schools, such as the School of The Arts and the National University of Singapore High School of Math and Science, provide customized and practice-based curricular experiences for students with talents in these specialized fields. Independent schools, with more freedom in curricular programmes, put less emphasis on state examinations and cater to the brightest learners who show high learning ability. Such schools, however, while creating fertile grounds for talented learners to explore their passions, have the disadvantage of further dividing learners and emphasizing differences in school, a trend that has worried some observers. Within Singapore’s higher education sector, the concern for balancing educational efficiency and quality has been an important decision-making principle. Singapore’s university sector was reformed in 1970, with the merger of two local universities, Nanyang University and the University of Singapore, with

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each catering to Chinese- and English-medium schools respectively. The falling enrolment in Chinese-medium schools prompted the Singapore government to merge these institutions and form the National University of Singapore (NUS) (Gopinathan, 1989). From 20 years, NUS was the primary university in Singapore, whilst and Singapore Polytechnic offered technical diploma courses. However, by 1980 Singapore’s economy had expanded from manufacturing to specialized industries including pharmaceuticals, banking and insurance. There was also greater demand for highly-qualified professionals to support the research and development sectors. These factors, together with the growing appetite for higher qualifications and more students qualifying on the back of the progress in the national school system (Tan, 2004), encouraged the government to diversify the higher education sector. In the 1990s, three other universities – the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), which incorporated the National Institute of Education, the Singapore Management University (SMU), modelled after the Wharton Business School in the United States, and the Singapore Institute of Management – were set up. Four more polytechnics were also created since the 1980s: the Republic Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Temasek Polytechnic and Nanyang Polytechnic (Tan, 2006). A fourth university, the Singapore University of Technology and Design, is targeted to open in 2013. To check that the rapid growth of the higher education sector does not affect quality, the Ministry has set degree quotas at 30 per cent for 2015 (Ministry of Education, 2011). While then Education Minister Goh and his team did not set out to create an unequal society via the New Education system (1979), their approach paid insufficient attention to the socio-economic context in which schooling was occurring. On most socio-economic indicators, the Malays as a distinct ethnic group lagged behind, especially in the higher education sector (Tan, 2004). Most Chinese homes used dialects and Primary 3 streaming examined two languages, English and the mother tongue. Socio-economic status was bound to play an important role in examination performance, especially one that only assessed academic achievement. Many argued that schools did not have the time to make a difference and that the education system was disadvantaging children from poor homes. Changes were brought in to ensure that there was greater flexibility in educational provision, especially as Singapore’s education system shifted from the efficiency- to the ability-driven phase. It addressed children’s diverse abilities, interests and aptitudes, thus developing every child to his fullest potential while at the same time offering students, through choice, greater ownership of their


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learning. While in the early period, the curriculum emphasized achievement in traditional subjects, now it sees human potential as being multiple peaks of different talents, each individual as having different strengths; the specialized schools in sports and performing arts meeting the multiple aspirations of a nation. Thus, the diversification of educational opportunities has become a boon for learner diversity as much as it has become a strain on the educational system’s efforts at national cohesion.

National cohesion and national education The Singapore government’s commitment to maintaining and strengthening social cohesion in a diverse multiracial society has been consistently applied to the education of young Singaporeans. Early civics and citizenship curriculum was directed towards teaching civic responsibility. A colonial-fostered mentality of subservience and inferiority had to be replaced with pride and optimism in an island whose future lay in urbanization and industrialization. It could be argued that more important than conventional civics education was the publication of the All-Party Report on Chinese Education (Singapore Legislative Assembly, 1956), and the acceptance of the principle of equality of treatment with regard to language and culture, a significant first step in dealing with the issue and consequences of ethno-linguistic plurality. The formula of one national language (Malay) and four official languages (English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil) continues to this day to be the core principle by which the state mediates ethno-linguistic relations. Putnam’s ‘bridging social capital’ (2000: 22) is a useful concept here. English, not Chinese, was positioned as the bridge language as it was not the language of any ethnic group. It allowed for continuity in administration and was vital in Singapore’s search for rapid economic growth as it provided access to capital, technology and markets. That it was also the colonizer’s language, and source of much resentment on the part of the Chineseeducated, shows how much political will was required to opt for English. Notwithstanding the above, given that the mother tongue was positioned as heritage languages, the teaching of values and morals was to be in the mother tongue. As Singapore prospered, it persistently explored and trialled multiple ways of enhancing social cohesion and citizenship education and this has been a key feature of the school curriculum. In the 1960s, citizenship education was taught as Ethics, with its focus on creating self-respecting individuals and good citizens (Ong, 1979). This was later replaced by Civics, through the Education for Living

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syllabus, which dealt with issues of nationhood such as the constitution and international relations, and the teaching of values such as patriotism, loyalty and civic consciousness. In the 1980s, civics education took the form of the Being and Becoming programme, which was meant to reflect the double transitions that children were experiencing, both at the individual level and as citizens of a state that was experiencing rapid economic growth, and possessed a sense of achievement against formidable odds (Gopinathan, 1998). One innovation worth noting is the introduction of a Religious Knowledge curriculum in 1980. The principal argument for this was that values need anchoring in religion and the religious diversity available in Singapore provided a good platform for this. The original offerings were Bible Knowledge, Buddhist Studies, Hindu Studies, Islamic Religious Knowledge and World Religions; later Confucian Ethics, drawn heavily from Chinese myths and legends, was introduced at the request of Singapore’s then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and Sikh Studies at the request of the Sikh community. The rationale was that increasing industrialization and urbanization were seen as leading Singapore to an ‘incipient moral crisis’ (Gopinathan, 1995: 23) and to address then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s anxiety about Singapore being ‘deculturalized’ (1972: 2). At the heart of this curriculum was the desire for citizens to discover ‘Asian values’. Singapore had always emphasized the importance of family ties, orderliness in society, respect for institutions as crucial to Singapore’s well-being and development to counter the threat to these values by the perceived excessive stress by ‘Western values’ on the individual rather than the community, a lack of social discipline and a too-great tolerance for eccentricity and abnormality in social behaviour. As an initiative, the ‘Asian values’ move can be traced to as early as 1972, when Prime Minister Lee, one of its strongest proponents, emphasized the need as Asian citizens in a modernizing world to ‘understand ourselves; what we are, where we came from, what life is or should be about and what we want to do … only when we first know our traditional values can we be quite clear that the Western world is a different system, a different voltage, structured for purposes different from ours’ (Lee, 1972: 4). However, the Religious Knowledge initiative faltered when implemented in schools and was withdrawn in 1989 (see Gopinathan, 1995; Tan, 1997). While the government was strongly in favour of this, Confucian Ethics was the least popular choice among Chinese students. Parliamentary debates also noted that there was a ‘heightened consciousness of religious differences and a new fervour in the propagation of religious beliefs’ (Singapore Government, 1989, col. 578). A survey on religion conducted by the Ministry of Community Development


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also found that ‘aggressive and insensitive evangelization had taken place’ (Kuo et al., 1988: 307). In this context, it was feared that teaching about religion in state schools would lead to the schools becoming sites for evangelistic competition. The failure of the Religious Knowledge initiative was followed by a ‘shared values’ programme that stressed placing society above self, upholding the family as the basic building block of society, resolving major issues through consensus instead of contention and stressing religious tolerance and harmony (Singapore Government, 1989, col. 13). There is certainly an echo of the ‘Asian values’ and Confucian Ethics formulation at work here. This was soon followed by a Civics and Moral Education initiative. At the same time, greater emphasis on the histories of South-East Asia, India and China was made in the history and social studies curriculum. In 1997, a new curriculum, National Education (NE), was introduced to further strengthen national cohesion, cultivate the instinct for survival as a nation and instil in students, confidence in the nation’s future. NE leaned more strongly towards citizenship education. Then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong observed that Singapore’s students lacked sufficient knowledge of national history and that a lack of knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Singapore’s past and efforts at social cohesion could lead to future problems. NE emphasized the cultivation of a sense of belonging and emotional rootedness to Singapore, through providing a deeper understanding of the Singapore story, how it succeeded against the odds to become a nation, and its unique challenges, constraints and vulnerabilities. However, Singapore’s efforts at citizenship education, especially NE, have met with limited success and in fact raised questions. A study of eight Singapore teachers of NE concluded that ‘none of the teachers held a transforming position premised on confronting injustice and resisting oppressive government policy’ (Sim and Print, 2009: 259). A survey of school students in 2007 found that primary school pupils enjoyed national education but secondary school students felt it was propaganda and boring. Recent research by Ho Li-Ching (2010) concluded that Singapore students from highly dissimilar socio-economic and racial backgrounds shared a remarkably similar understanding of the Singapore historical narrative, and that this echoed the state’s emphasis on racial equality, meritocracy and the individual citizen’s responsibility for racial harmony. This degree of inconsistency is to be expected. NE is not taught as a formal subject but more through extra-curricular activities and projects which primary

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age children can be expected to enjoy. A strong government with a grand metanarrative of the ruling party’s role in state-building and the establishment of meritocratic advancement does not sit well with older students, some with lived experiences of opportunity denied, marginalization and increasing income inequalities. The inability in school contexts to question state-sanctioned metanarratives is likely to lead students to only a passive acceptance of NE principles. Indeed, this has led the Ministry of Education to place a greater emphasis on character education in the school curriculum, with efforts to infuse values even within heavy content-based subjects such as mathematics and science (Heng, 2011).

The Challenges that the Singapore Education System Faces in the Era of Globalization Within three decades, 1965–95, Singapore had transformed a segmented, colonial-era education system into one that is recognized as an effective worldclass one. The education system is characterized by bilingualism, streaming and an emphasis on social cohesion via ethics and citizenship education. An expansion of secondary and post-secondary education via the creation of universities and polytechnics had provided opportunities for enhanced skill training which has served Singapore’s economic diversification. In addition to raising academic achievement across the board, education policies have also been successful in reducing achievement differences across ethnic groups, though differences remain. An emphasis on quality and excellence was maintained through an emphasis on student effort, family support and meritbased advancement. A recent OECD report (2011: 12) attributed the following factors to Singapore’s success in education: 1. A forward-looking, integrated planning system. 2. Close links between policy implementers, researchers and educators. 3. Policies with the means to implement them. 4. The advantages of a small scale. 5. Commitment to equity and merit. 6. A strong focus on mathematics, science and technical skills. 7. Human resource management which matches the demands of the system. 8. A system which is continuously being improved.


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The question that policy-makers and educators have faced since the late 1980s is ‘Will the current system suffice?’ We noted earlier the Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s call for schools to undertake more innovation and to be responsive to new challenges in his Thinking Schools, Learning Nation speech (1997). The Ministry’s attempt to deal with the phenomenon of globalization began with the Towards Excellence in Schools report (1987) which introduced a measure of decentralization. Subsequently, a slew of other initiatives such as Thinking Schools, Learning Nation (Ministry of Education, 1997), Ability Driven Education (Teo, 1999), Teach Less, Learn More (Ministry of Education, 2004), IT Master Plans 1, 2 and 3 (Ministry of Education, 2008) and Curriculum 2015 (Ng, 2008) have sought to change the way educators view the role and processes of education and this in turn has affected the way schools and classrooms function today. The Ministry has also carried out continuous fine-tuning in the last 20 years, and frequently reviews the primary, secondary and higher education systems through the use of multi-ministerial review panels and focus-group discussions with key stakeholders. These reviews resulted in the Primary Education Review Initiative (PERI), Secondary Education Review and Implementation (SERI) and the Junior College and Higher Education Review reports (Ministry of Education, 1991, 2010, 2011). Academics who researched these policies (P. T. Ng, 2008; Tan and Ng, 2008; Gopinathan, 2009). note that these policy changes are a response to the challenges that Singapore education will need to contend with in the wake of uncertainties as a consequence of globalization as well as the mounting expectations of a maturing, internationally-connected electorate who have witnessed Singapore‘s transformation from a ‘third world to a first world [nation] in one generation’ (Ministry of Trade and Industry, 2003: 62). Besides responding to the continued pressure of global competition and ensuring that it has a skilled and talented population, recent political developments in Singapore have also prompted the goverment to look at the way policies have played out in the last 20 years, changes that arguably have been prompted in part by the onset of pervasive globalization, increased emigration and immigration and as a consequnce increased economic inequalities. In early May 2011, Singapore held its 14th parliamentary general election. The results called for ‘radical change’. For Singapore watchers accustomed to expecting more of the same, the results were significantly different from what most observers had expected. Though the People’s Action Party’s overwhelming majority in Parliament remained, their share of the popular vote at 60.1 per cent was the lowest since independence; additionally, they lost two ministers and a nominee for Speaker of Parliament (The Straits Times, 2011a).

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These results raised some issues about evolving attitudes to agency, citizenship/ civic responsibilities and the views of young voting adults. It is agreed that younger voters bypassed traditional media and used social networking media to good effect to raise questions about political governance and policies. Rather than being apathetic, they attended political rallies, especially opposition ones, in huge numbers, and loudly cheered criticisms of government policy. Many volunteered and organized on behalf of opposition candidates. A persistent complaint was that the government had lost touch with voters’ needs, and that office holders were too distant from voters’ concerns, that government officials in general were arrogant, taking a ‘we know best’ attitude. While generally appreciative of what the government had done, they wanted meanigful participation, fairness in political contests and a say in how Singapore’s future should be shaped. They did not riot in the streets, nor occupy squares, but followed the rules and sent a clear political message that bread alone was not going to be enough. It is obvious that this changed context and, as noted earlier, rising expectations for greater political participation require a re-examination of the equalityequity issue, the role of citizenship education and the demands on teacher capacity for these changed times. The current leadership has acknowledged that in this changed landscape, the ‘survival against odds’ narrative is inadequate as a mobilizer as it seems centred on the creation of policies that pay little heed to the present needs and aspirations of its citizens. We examine these issues to tease out the arguments that arise from challenges created in this new policial climate of the interaction of the key OECD-identified educational imperatives in Singpaore’s educational journey of forward planning, commitment to equity and merit and the matching of human resource development. We also identify the challenges to teacher capacity as twentyfirst century learner qualities are expected, and how the characteristic close linking during planning between policy implementers, researchers and educators, and the demand for reflexive, continuous improvement on the part of teachers, affects consecutive policy implementation in the education system.

Globalization, the nation state and education issues Singapore transformed itself from a colonial outpost with little growth prospects to become one of the four East Asian ‘tigers’ characterized by social stability, administrative efficiency and sustained economic development. The economy was expanded and diversified rapidly to include manufacturing, commerce


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and services activities. The government linked its education system to socioeconomic development needs. However, despite it enviable success, Singapore is a small country with a trade-dominated economy, and therefore always vulnerable to global trends. In the midst of unpredictable economic conditions, and worsening employment opportunities for low-skilled workers, the education system is also expected to provide high-skilled, creative and flexible workers for the twenty-first-century economy, using an education system that was honed to meet the needs of an industrial economy. While globalization is sometimes viewed as a process that removes restrictions, thus leading to increased trade and economic growth and economic benefits, there are social costs due to greater uncertainty and risk, reduction of sovereign power, growing inequalities in some countries, commodification of culture and education, and a rise in unemployment in certain sectors (Hsieh and Tseng, 2002; Stiglitz, 2002). One of the government’s responses to globalization has been to gradually increase the number of graduates in the cohort and the figure has grown. Recently, a Committee on University Education Pathways beyond 2015, chaired by the Minister of State (for Defence and Education), was established to review higher education opportunities, seeking to increase access without sacrificing quality (Ministry of Education, 2011). The income differences between highly skilled jobs and less skilled ones in the newly restructured economy have grown and this has created an increased premium for those with degree qualifications and a greater demand for higher education. Recent estimates indicate that more than 40,000 students are currently attending private higher education institutes to attain diploma and degree-level qualifications (Tan, 2004). It remains to be seen if the economy is able to support all of these new graduates.

Equality, equity and merit – a catch-22 situation The economic changes associated with globalization have also increased the levels of inequality in Singapore, as in many other countries (The Straits Times, 2011b). There is still a stronger correlation between socio-economic status and achievement than Singapore education leaders would like to see. The issue is how schools perpetuate the status quo in social standing, as there is clear social pressure for greater equity and fairness. In this respect, Singapore has a special problem as it has been successful in raising educational standards for a larger part of the population. However, the other side of the education issue is the notion of equity in education – how does the system administer education in such a way that is meets the existing needs of the learner? Prime Minister Lee

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in a recent parliamentary address pointed to a greater stratification of Singapore society, where children coming from less affluent homes had a lower chance of being successful (Lee, 2011). This issue is further complicated by the continuous flow and increasing diversity of immigrants, on the back of greater economic activity and demand for labour to fill up jobs in sectors that have become either less attractive or beyond the existing competencies of the local population. The challenge of continuing to uphold a merit- and equity-based system when there is now a deepening social divide between citizens and new immigrants is especially difficult, a problem reflected in recent electoral results. There is also a key problem of ensuring adequate integration of immigrants into the larger society. An educational consequence of increased migration into Singapore is increased diversity in schools and institutions and increased competition for places. On the other hand, easier access for Singaporeans to tertiary institutions by way of greater opportunities in higher education has also raised the issue of merit. The government has the difficult problem of having to be open to foreign talent in order to be competitive and at the same time to meet citizen aspirations for high-quality post-secondary education. As politicians and planners are now more mindful of Singaporeans’ views with regards to immigration, new policies have been instituted such as recent changes to Primary 1 (Grade  1) school admission policies that give greater priority to Singapore citizens (The Straits Times, 2012).

Twenty-first-century teacher capacity Given the strong linking of the education system to economic and employment structures, it is not surprising that schools and teachers are expected to ensure students possess twenty-first-century skills. This means that teachers will require substantial professional development, especially for older teachers, and changes in school leadership and governance is needed to give teachers greater pedagogical freedom. Yet another key challenge going forward is that there is, as yet, no agreed approach for measuring these new kinds of complex twenty-first-century skills. There will be a greater reliance on performancebased assessment. The Ministry, recognizing the need for change, works closely with the National Institute of Education, the sole teacher education institute in Singapore, in the identification and implementation of twenty-first-century teacher capacities to facilitate teacher professional growth (National Institute of Education, 2012). The Ministry has also increased investment in education research and introduced policies aimed at changing classroom pedagogy and


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assessment (Office of Education Research, 2012). However, there is a key concern of teachers resisting such changes to instructional practice, given their teacher-dominated pedagogy and the pressures of the high-stakes examinations system. In addition, these new demands, and the greater sophistication in work options for young graduates, make it harder to recruit quality people into teaching, needed to support these new kinds of learning.

Conclusion This chapter has examined both the development of and the growing issues in Singapore’s education system. It traced the growth and tensions of three key policies that have remained, namely streaming, bilingualism and the emphasis on social cohesion and citizenship education. The education system, despite its many successes, now experiences a key challenge in ensuring that Singaporean workers remain competitive within the wider global space. Ultimately, the success of educational reform will depend on selecting the right policies to sustain the judicious use of right drivers for building good systems, namely capacity building, teamwork, instruction and systemic solutions (Fullan, 2011).

References Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The flat world and education: How America’s commitment to equity will determine our future. New York: Teachers College Press. Darling-Hammond, L., and Bransford, J. (2005). Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc Pub. Doraisamy, T. R. (ed.). (1969). 150 years of education in Singapore. Singapore: TTC Publications Board, Teachers Training College. Fullan, M. G. (2011). Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform. Centre for Strategic Studies Seminar Series. Available at: SeminarPaper204.pdf (accessed 30 October 2011). Goh, C. B., and Gopinathan, S. (2008). ‘Education in Singapore: Developments since 1965’, in B. Fredriksen and T. J. Peng (eds), An African exploration of the East Asian experience. Washington, DC: The World Bank. Goh, K. S. (1979). Report on the Ministry of Education 1978. Singapore: Ministry of Education. Gopinathan, S. (1974). Towards a national system of education: 1945–1973. Singapore: Oxford University Press.

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—(1989). ‘University education in Singapore: The making of a national university’, in P. G. Altbach and V. Selvaratnam (eds), From dependence to autonomy: the development of Asian universities. Dordecht: Kluwer Academic, pp. 207–27. —(1995). ‘Religious education in a secular state: The Singapore experience’. Asian Journal of Political Science, 3 (2): 15–27. —(1998). ‘Educational development in a strong developmentalist state: The Singapore experience’, in W. K. Cummings and N. McGinni (eds), International handbook of education and development: Preparing schools, students and nations for the twenty first century. New York: Pergamon. —(2009). ‘Educating the next generation’, in B. Welsh, J. Chin and T. H. Tan (eds), Impression of the Goh Chok Tong Years in Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press and co-published with the Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, pp. 240–51. Gopinathan, S., and Sharpe, L. (2004). ‘New bearings for citizenship education in Singapore’, in W. O. Lee, L. Kennedy and D. L. Grosswan (eds), Citizenship education in Asia and the Pacific: Concepts and issues. Hong Kong: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Heng, S. K. (2011). Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, at the Ministry of Education (MOE), Work Plan Seminar, on Thursday, 22 September 2011 at 10.00 am at Ngee Ann Polytechnic Convention Centre. Available at: http:// (accessed 16 Oct 2011). Ho, L. C. (2010). ‘Don’t Worry, I Am Not Going to Report You’. Education for Citizenship in Singapore, 38 (2): 298–316. Hsieh, Y. L., and Tseng, S. F. (2002). ‘The welfare state in the “information age”, hollowing out or restructuring in the changing labour market in Singapore?’ International Journal of Human Resources Management, 13 (3): 501–21. Jennings, J., and Rentner, D. (2006). ‘Ten big effects of the No Child Left Behind Acts on public schools’. Phi Delta Kappan, 88: 110–13. Kalantzis, M., and Cope, B. (2006). ‘On globalization and diversity’. Computers and composition, 23: 402–11. Kuo, E., Quah, J. S. T. and Tong, C. K. (1988). Report on religion and religious revivalism in Singapore. Singapore: Ministry of Community Development. Lau, K. E. (1993). Singapore Census of Population 1990. Singapore: Department of Statistics. Lee, K. Y. (1972). ‘Traditional values and national identity’, The Mirror, pp. 1,4, 7. —(2000). From Third World To First: The Singapore Story 1965–2000 – Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: The Straits Times Press. —(2011). Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Yang at the debate on the The presidents address, 20 October 2011, at Parliament. Available at: content/pmosite/mediacentre/speechesninterviews/primeminister/2011/October/ Speech_by_Prime_Minister_Lee_Hsien_Loong_at_the_Debate_on_The_President_ Address.html (accessed 30 Jan 2012).


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Lee, S. K., Goh, C. B., Fredriksen, B. and Tan, J. P. (2008). Toward a better future: Education and training for economic development in Singapore since 1965. Washington, DC: World Bank Publications. Low, L., Heng, T. M., Wong, S. T., Tan, K. Y. and Hughes, H. (1993). Challenge and response: Thirty years of The Economic Development Board. Singapore: Times Academic Press. Luke, A., Freebody, P., Lau, S. and Gopinathan, S. (2005). ‘Towards research-based innovation and reform: Singapore schooling in transition’. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 25 (1): 5–28. Ministry of Education. (1987). Towards Excellence in School. Singapore: Singapore University Press. —(1991). Improving Primary School Education. Singapore: Ministry of Education. —(1997). Thinking Schools, Learning Nation. Available at: about/#our-vision (accessed 27 September 2011). —(2004). Teach Less, Learn More. Available at: http:// tllm. htm#tllm1. (accessed 13 October 2011) —(2008) IT Masterplan 1 and II. Available at: press/2008/08/moe-launches-third-masterplan.php —(2010). Report of the Secondary Education Review and Implementation (SERI) Committee. Available at: (accessed 13 October 2011). —(2011). Committee on Univeristy Education Pathways Beyond 2015 Report. Available at: (accessed 13 October 2011). Ministry of Trade and Industry (2003). Report of The Economic Review Committee (2003). Available at: MainReport_Part1_v2.pdf (accessed 27 September 2011). Mourshed, M., Chijioke, C., and Barber, M. (2010). ‘How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better’. Available at: reports/schools/How-the-Worlds-Most-Improved-School-Systems-Keep-GettingBetter_Download-version_Final.pdf (accessed 26 July 2011). National Institute of Education. (2012). A teacher education model for the 21st Century (TE21) – NIE’s journey from concpet to realisation: An Implementation report. Singapore: National Institute of Education. Ng, E. H. (2008). Our journey in education. Speech by Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education. Available at: (accessed 3 Oct 2011). Ng, P. T. (2008). ‘Educational reform in Singapore: from quantity to quality’. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 7 (1): 5–15. OECD (2011). Lessons from PISA for the United States: Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education. OECD Publishing.

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Office of Education Research (2012). Education Research Funding Programme. Available at: from (accessed 28 Feb 2012). Ong, T. C. (1979). Report on Moral Education. Singapore: Ministry of Education. Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and the revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuster. Sim, J. B. Y. and Print, M. (2009). ‘The state, teachers and citizenship education in Singapore schools’. British Jounal of Educational Studies, 57 (4): 380–99. Singapore Legislative Assembly (1956). Report of the All-Party Committee of the Singapore Legislative Assembly on Chinese Education. Singapore: Singapore Goverment Printers. Singapore Government. (1989). Singapore Parliamentary Debates 1989–1990. Singapore: Republic of Singapore. Stiglitz, J. (2002). Globalisation and its discontents. London: Allen Lane. The Straits Times (2011a). Election outcome a factor in deciding line-up: PM. 19 May 2011. —(2011b). A chance to move up in life. 28 October 2011. —(2012). Singaporeans to get priority in Primary One balotting. 24 March 2012. Tan, J. (1997). ‘The rise and fall of religious knowledge in Singapore secondary schools’. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 29(5), 603. —(2004). ‘Singapore: Small nation, big plans’, in P. G. Altbach and T. Umakoshi (eds), Asian Universities: Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Challenges. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, pp. 175–200. —(2006). Singapore: Higher Education in South-East Asia. Bangkok: Thailand Unesco, pp. 159–87. —(2011). ‘Singapore: Schools for the future’, in C. Brock and L. P. Symaco (eds), Education in South-East Asia. Oxford: Symposium Books, pp. 156–75. Tan, J. and Ng, P. T. (eds) (2008). Thinking Schools, Learning Nation: Contemporary Issues And Challenges. Singapore: Pearson/Prentice Hall. Teo, C. H. (1999). Speech by Rear-Admiral Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Education. Available at: (accessed 20 December 2011)

Useful Websites Teacher Education Institute, National Institute of Education. Main website: www.nie. Twenty-first-century teacher education: teacher-education-21 Ministry of Education Singapore. Main website:


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Mother tongue policy: returning-singaporeans/mother-tongue-policy/ Speeches by Education Ministers: Primary, secondary and higher education: committee-on-university-education-pathways-beyond-2015/ Statistics on Singapore. Main source: Education themes:


Singapore: The Malay Ethnic Minority – Playing Perennial Catch-up in Education? Jason Tan

Introduction Constituting 13.4 per cent of Singapore’s resident population of 3.77 million (i.e. citizens and permanent residents) in the latest 2010 population census (Wong, 2010: 5), the Malays constitute the largest ethnic minority. They also form a politically significant minority, having close kinship and cultural ties with their ethnic counterparts, who form the numerical and political majority in neighbouring Malaysia (of which Singapore was once a part) and Indonesia. With 98.7 per cent of the Malays professing Islam (Wong, 2011: 14), their significance has been further enhanced in the light of the global Islamic revival and especially since the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in September 2001. This chapter reviews the status of the Malays in education since the attainment of self-government from Great Britain in 1959. Both the Singapore government as well as Malay community leaders have expressed public concern over the Malays’ less-than-ideal educational performance vis-a-vis their ethnic Chinese and Indian counterparts (constituting 74.1 per cent and 9.2 per cent of the 2010 resident population respectively) (Wong, 2010: 5). The persistence of this state of affairs has been viewed as hindering Malay participation in the national economy, especially since education has repeatedly been trumpeted officially as the key means of developing human capital to maintain Singapore’s global economic competitiveness. In addition, the implications of such an educational gap for national social cohesion have been a constant focus of attention. The chapter focuses on the combined efforts of the Singapore government and Malay community leaders to tackle the problem of Malay educational achievement from 1981 onwards, principally by means of the formation of


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Mendaki (Council for the Development of Singapore Muslim Community, formerly known as the Council on Education for Muslim Children). It will contrast the government’s endorsement of Mendaki with its largely hands-off approach to assisting the Malays in the 1960s and 1970s. Mendaki’s strategies to improve Malay educational achievement will be examined, along with its tenuous legitimacy among sections of the Malay community. Several prominent themes in the official discourse are highlighted. First, the government has consistently rejected affirmative action policy measures such as higher education admission quotas practised in other countries such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India. Instead, it claims that Malays ought to develop a spirit of self-reliance instead of depending solely on official largesse. Improvements in educational achievement are to be a joint effort on the part of the government and Malay community leaders. Second, the official assistance offered to the Malays in 1981 has been extended to the economically disadvantaged sections of the Chinese, Indian and Eurasian communities since the early 1990s, as part of an overall policy of mobilizing private resources to take on a larger share of welfare provision. Such a policy is consistent with the Singapore government’s reluctance to be viewed as encouraging a welfare state. The article will also argue that the issue of Malay educational achievement is intricately linked to the wider political, social and economic problems that face Singapore. Lastly, despite the best intentions of the government and community leaders, the educational gaps appear rather intractable, leaving the Malays in the somewhat unenviable position of playing a perennial catch-up game.

The Malays and Education, 1959–80 Upon being voted into power in the June 1959 general elections, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in a newly self-governing Singapore took several symbolic steps to provide Singapore with a more Malay veneer in anticipation of political merger with neighbouring Malay-dominated Malaya. These included making Malay the national language, having the national anthem in Malay, having Malay words on the national coat of arms and appointing an ethnic Malay as the head of state. The new constitution recognized the special position of the Malays as the indigenous people and explicitly proclaimed the government’s responsibility ‘to protect, safeguard, support, foster and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social and cultural interests and the Malay language’ (Singapore Government, 1958: 1).

Singapore: The Malay Ethnic Minority


In line with these constitutional guarantees, various educational policies were implemented. For instance, in 1960 the government declared that all Malays who were Singapore citizens or children of Singapore citizens would receive free secondary and tertiary education (Ministry of Education, 1962). It also offered special bursaries and scholarships, free textbooks and transport allowances to deserving Malay students (Zahoor, 1969: 196). In addition, it expanded enrolments in Malay-medium secondary and pre-university education. Despite these policies, the government refused to accede to opposition Members of Parliament (MPs)’ requests for special Malay quotas in employment and trading licences (Legislative Assembly Debates, 11, 17 July 1959, cols 220–4; 13, 13 August 1960, cols 67–70, 158–9). During the brief and tumultuous period between September 1963 and August 1965 that Singapore was part of Malaysia, Singapore Malays found themselves part of a politically dominant majority community. There was increased Singaporean–Malay agitation for quotas and special rights similar to those in the rest of Malaysia (see for instance, The Straits Times, 1964b). The then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew rejected these demands, claiming that education was to be the main means through which Singapore Malays would slowly but gradually close the socio-economic gap separating them from other Singaporeans. He claimed that such quotas would serve only to create a small class of Malay capitalists while not benefiting the majority of Malays (The Straits Times, 1964a; Lee, 1965a, 1965b). Lee further claimed that while he was mindful of the possible threat that Malay economic backwardness posed to national unity, he had at the same time to balance the interests of the 90 per cent non-Malay population in Singapore (Lee, 1964: 2). The Malays were instead urged to change their outlook and to develop the will to compete with the non-Malays (Rahim, 1965: 2–3). This fundamental disagreement between Lee’s government and the central government in Kuala Lumpur on how to approach the problem of ethnic economic imbalances contributed not only to a heightening of ethnic tensions during this period, but also to the eventual separation of Singapore from Malaysia (Fletcher, 1969). Singapore’s political independence from Malaysia in 1965 marked a key watershed for Singapore Malays. The government decided that the basis for the new national identity would continue to be multiracialism, in which all the main ethnic groups were regarded as separate but equal before the law and would be provided with equal opportunities for advancement. Another founding myth was meritocracy, that is, that individual merit and performance would form the basis for personal advancement (Chan, 1972). While retaining


Education in South-East Asia

the Malays’ constitutional status as the indigenous people, it reiterated its previous stand that there would be no special privileges for them beyond free education and bursaries. Malay MPs from the PAP called on the Malays to adopt correct mental attitudes to suit the changing times (Parliamentary Debates, 25, 16 March 1967, col. 1337; 27, 13 May 1968, cols 214–15). Lee Kuan Yew stressed that it could take a long time, maybe 10 to 15 years, to ‘make the Malays as hardworking and competitive’ as other Singaporeans (The Straits Times, 12 November 1967). During the early post-independence years, various Malay community organizations urged the PAP to pay greater attention to the Malays’ educational and economic problems. A key instance was the 1970 seminar on Malay participation in Singapore’s national development, jointly organized by the Central Council of Malay Cultural Organizations and an Anglican lay-training centre. Several participants pointed out that the government’s strict adherence to a meritocratic policy worked to the Malays’ disadvantage. A Malay MP suggested the formation of a Malay Secretariat that would act as a coordinating body for various Malay organizations as well as make recommendations to the government on measures to help the Malays (Sharom and Wong, 1971). He said that unless some action was taken, the socio-economic gap between Malays and non-Malays would become unbridgeable. He stressed as well that the Secretariat should not be equated with Malay rights or privileges, and that the Malays accepted the need to work within the existing multiracial framework. Lee Kuan Yew slammed the proposals as being incompatible with the national multiracial policy (The Straits Times, 15 December 1970). With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see that the Malays’ demands were ill-timed, coming as they did while the senior PAP leadership still had fresh memories of the acrimonious arguments with the central Malaysian government in Kuala Lumpur over the best way to redress inter-ethnic economic inequalities, as well as memories of the Sino-Malay racial riots in Singapore in 1964 and 1969. Furthermore, the demands were anathema to the PAP, which has consistently eschewed the ‘welfare state syndrome’ (Parliamentary Debates, 32, 12 October 1972, cols 9–12). The demands also coincided with those of ethnic Chinese pressure groups for greater prominence to be accorded Chinese language and culture. In rejecting the demands from both communities, the PAP adopted a ‘strategy of avoidance’ (Rothschild, 1986: 430), in which decision-makers use the state’s coercive powers to place brakes on inter-ethnic conflict and moderate ethnic interest demands. Another reason for the PAP’s rejection of Malay demands might have been the official priority given to more

Singapore: The Malay Ethnic Minority


pressing tasks such as national defence, economic survival and developing a cohesive national identity. The PAP leadership might have felt that once these major problems had been satisfactorily addressed, it could then be in a better position to address specific Malay problems (Hussin, 1993; Sidek, 1993; Zainul, 1993). After these unsuccessful attempts at influencing the PAP government, the Malay community organizations gave up trying to make further representations. They concentrated instead on three main strategies to improve Malay educational achievement: financial assistance for Malay students, tuition classes and attitudinal change (Yang, 1980). All these efforts were uncoordinated, with little government participation or assistance (Wan, 1990). On its part, the PAP government acknowledged that some of the Malays’ grievances might have been translated into anti-PAP votes in the 1972 general elections, but stressed that no special privileges or treatment would be given to any group of people (The Straits Times, 3 September 1972). By the end of the 1970s, the Malays constituted a disproportionately large percentage of primary and secondary students failing their courses (Ahmad, 1979: 69). This period marked the start of government leaders stressing the importance of upgrading the educational level of the entire population in line with plans to move away from labour-intensive industries towards highly-skilled ones. But as yet, there was no coordinated effort to address the Malays’ educational problems, even on the part of the Malay PAP MPs.

The Formation of Mendaki in 1981 The 1980 population census results revealed that the Malays had had the largest percentage increases over the previous decade in terms of persons with at least secondary qualifications (Tay, 1985). However, they continued to be grossly under-represented in the professional/technical and administrative/managerial classes of the workforce, constituting 7.9 per cent and 1.8 per cent in these two categories, respectively (Khoo, 1981b: 66). Both the PAP and Malay community leaders voiced concern over the fact that there were only 679 Malay university graduates, making up 1.5 per cent of the total 44,002 graduates. Likewise, Malays comprised only 5.7 per cent of those with an upper secondary (including polytechnic) education (Khoo, 1981a: 15). In August 1981 Lee Kuan Yew urged Malay leaders and educationalists to give top priority to upgrading the educational level and training of the large


Education in South-East Asia

number of Malays without a secondary education. As a result of discussions between the nine Malay PAP MPs and various Malay community organizations, the Council on Education for Muslim Children (Majlis Pendidikan Anak-Anak Islam, or Mendaki for short) was formed in October 1981. Its formation marked the first major collaborative effort between the Malay MPs and non-political community leaders, and represented a major break with the PAP’s past policies. It was also the first innovative attempt to coordinate efforts and resources within the Malay community in order to tackle the community’s educational problems. In his opening address at the Mendaki congress in May 1982, Lee Kuan Yew claimed that ‘it is in the interests of all [Singaporeans] to have Malay Singaporeans better educated and better qualified and to increase their contribution to Singapore’s development’ (Lee, 1982: 6). He also promised government assistance in the form of making premises available for Mendaki, and by urging non-Malay teachers to help Mendaki. However, Lee cautioned that there was no quick solution in sight. Mendaki’s real success would lie in its ability to raise the educational levels of the majority of Malays and not only of the minority at the top of the educational pyramid. Lee claimed that a government-run scheme would not match community-run efforts because the latter would be able to ‘reach them through their hearts, not just their minds’ (Lee, 1982: 9). Mendaki was officially registered the following October, with its primary objectives being to promote the education of Muslims at all levels of education, to participate and assist in educational programmes and undertakings to raise Muslims’ educational level and to sponsor research into matters relating to the education of Muslims (Yayasan Mendaki, 1982). All the Malay MPs were members of the Governing Council, with several of them being Executive Committee members too. By February 1982 Mendaki had obtained the support of 11 Malay and Muslim bodies as founder organizations. The abrupt turnaround in the PAP’s thinking on assisting the Malays may be viewed as part of its realization that its earlier policy of not providing the Malays with specific assistance apart from free education and bursaries did not appear to have narrowed the socio-economic gap between the Malays and non-Malays. In addition, the Malays’ earlier calls for government assistance might have been ill-timed, coming as they did alongside Chinese community pressure groups’ demands for greater prominence to be accorded to Chinese language and culture. Both of these sets of demands might have been viewed at the time as being incompatible with multiracialism. At the same time, the persistence of these socio-economic gaps had at least three major implications for the PAP government.

Singapore: The Malay Ethnic Minority


First, there was the spectre of the PAP losing even more of its somewhat tenuous legitimacy among the Malay voters, a problem facing it ever since it came to power in 1959 (Ismail, 1974). Lee Kuan Yew has estimated that the PAP managed to win not more than half the Malay vote in the 1980 general elections (Parliamentary Debates, 44, 25 July 1984, col. 1825). Second, the Malays’ persistent educational problems had consequences for national integration and political stability. Furthermore, the Malays were a politically significant minority given Singapore’s geographical location in the midst of Malaysia and Indonesia: If we [the Malays] keep on lagging behind ... people may say the non-Malay government is not looking after the Malays carefully. They may, rightly or wrongly, compare the situation with that in Malaysia, where there are constitutional safeguards and special programmes [for the Malays].’ (Sidek, 1993)

A third factor to consider was the growing Islamic revival within South-East Asia since the late 1970s (Hussin, 1990) and its impact on the Malays (Vasil, 1992). There had been occasions in the 1960s and 1970s and even in the early 1980s when the PAP had acted against individuals who were attempting to incite Malays into action against it (Seah, 1975; Chiew, 1983). Yet another possible reason for the government’s endorsement of Mendaki was that this would be in line with its push in the 1980s for the better educated and more privileged sections of society to come forward to assist the less fortunate in upgrading themselves, so as to discourage excessive reliance on the government (Goh, 1986).

Mendaki’s Attempts to Upgrade Malay Educational Achievement Over the past 30 years, Mendaki’s efforts have been concentrated in three main areas (see for instance, Yayasan Mendaki, 1989): (a) Conducting tuition classes from primary to pre-university levels with a focus on preparing students for public examinations: the Primary School Leaving Examination, the General Certificate of Education (Ordinary) examination, the General Certificate of Education (Normal) examination, and the General Certificate of Education (Advanced) Level examination. The Home Tuition Scheme was introduced in 1987 for students who preferred more individual attention. In addition, special academic and confidence-building courses have been run for Malay students who are deemed high-performing


Education in South-East Asia

in the hope that they will sustain their educational achievement, as well as for low-achieving Malay students. (b) Providing scholarships, bursaries and study loans to those with outstanding public examination results, as well as those proceeding to undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Mendaki also manages scholarships awarded to Muslim students by various organizations such as the Singapore Institute of Management. (c) Promoting Islamic social values that Malay leaders feel will promote family support for educational success. This is done through speeches, booklets, marriage-guidance courses, parent education courses, mosque sermons, media coverage and dialogue sessions. Mendaki was restructured in 1989 and its English-language name was changed to the Council for the Development of Singapore Muslim Community. Its objectives were broadened to include the promotion of economic activities among Malays/Muslims in all fields of the economy, the promotion of social and cultural activities of Malays/Muslims and the strengthening of Islamic values (Yayasan Mendaki, 1989). However, its focus continues to be education. This focus has extended beyond school-age Malays to persuading lowly-educated Malays in the workforce to apply for government subsidies in order to undergo educational and skills upgrading programmes. Government assistance has come in various forms. Besides the provision of working premises at a nominal rent, the Ministry of Education has allowed Mendaki the rental-free use of school premises as tuition centre venues. Next, it has also provided training for Mendaki tutors. Furthermore, Malays were allowed to make voluntary monthly contributions from their Central Provident Fund accounts. In addition, a Mendaki-Ministry of Education Joint Committee was established in 1989 as yet another visible gesture of assistance.

Mendaki’s Legitimacy Problems Mendaki has, from its inception, faced legitimacy problems, principally relating to suspicions over the government’s sincerity in supporting it. For instance, the then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong questioned whether the PAP should continue supporting Mendaki. Goh’s comments were made in reaction to a group of young Malays booing outside a ballot counting centre during the 1988 general elections. The PAP claimed that it had feedback indicating a significant loss of Malay electoral support (The Sunday Times, 11 September

Singapore: The Malay Ethnic Minority


1988). He reminded the Malays that the PAP’s support for Mendaki was a form of positive discrimination in favour of the Malays, but that this policy carried with it a possible trade-off in the form of unhappiness among the non-Malay majority. If in spite of this the Malays did not support the PAP, and the PAP’s electoral majority dropped drastically, the PAP would have to reassess its ability to continue this policy (The Straits Times, 18 October 1988). In addition to Goh’s controversial statement, the Malay community found itself embroiled in various socio-political controversies during the 1980s. First, there was a growing public perception that Singapore was taking on an increasingly Chinese character. This perception came about mostly as an unintended result of government policies and statements by prominent cabinet ministers. These included the launch in 1979 of the Speak Mandarin Campaign among the ethnic Chinese community and the official attribution by the PAP of Singapore’s economic success to Confucianism. Next, Malays continued to face discrimination in the workplace and stereotyping as being lazy and underachieving (Li, 1989; Lily, 1998). Furthermore, constant government exhortations to enter the ‘national mainstream’ and highlighting of the community’s pressing social problems, such as early marriages, a high divorce rate and drug addiction, served to reinforce the stereotypical image of Malays being a peripheral community (Lily, 1998). What was even more serious was the lingering doubts on the part of the PAP about the Malays’ loyalty to Singapore, as manifested for instance in the public admission by cabinet ministers in 1987 that Malays were under-represented in certain posts in the Armed Forces in order to avoid placing them in the awkward position of having their loyalties divided between their religious faith and their nation. These revelations drew a heated response from politicians in Malaysia. Equally controversial was Goh Chok Tong’s 1989 proposal to stop providing automatic free tertiary education for all Malays, and for Mendaki to administer the tertiary fee subsides on a means-tested basis instead (Goh, 1989). The proposal raised the issue of whether free tertiary education was a constitutional right of the Malays. It also was put forward just two months after a PAP MP had claimed that some younger non-Malays were questioning the rationale for the fee subsidies (Parliamentary Debates, 53, 17 March 1989, Col. 446). In response to Malay fears that their constitutional rights were being eroded, the government claimed that free tertiary education was merely a policy to help Malays better themselves educationally, and could therefore be ‘changed, adjusted or amended from time to time’, especially now that there was a larger number of affluent Malays (The Straits Times, 23 May 1989). In addition, it was


Education in South-East Asia

not fair to poor Chinese that the children of well-off Malays should receive free tertiary education (The Straits Times, 25 October 1989). The Malays were urged, as they had been many times before, to show that they needed only ‘temporary assistance, not permanent privileges’ (The Straits Times, 30 October 1989). They had to learn to compete on equal terms with everyone on a meritocratic basis so that they could feel proud of their achievements and avoid the stigma attached to benefiting from ‘special competition rules’ (The Straits Times, 18 October 1989). Mendaki accepted the proposal a year later, claiming that by signalling to non-Malays that the Malays were willing to ‘stand tall alongside the other communities, and not to be treated indefinitely as a community in need of support’ (Parliamentary Debates, 56, 7 June 1990, col. 11), the Malays expected an end to discriminatory treatment in employment and business (Aspire, 1990: 2). The string of controversies stirred a group of Muslim professionals to organize a convention in October 1990, during which they suggested that community organizations, including Mendaki, should not be led by politicians. This would address the lack of popular Malay support for Mendaki due to its overly close political links to Malay PAP MPs. They also suggested forming an association of Malay/Muslim professionals to serve as an articulatory channel on major issues facing the community (Forging a vision, 1990: 29–31). Goh responded swiftly by urging the professionals to establish a parallel Mendaki and promised government support. He claimed healthy competition between the two organizations would be beneficial for the Malay community. The new organization, called the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), was officially launched in October 1991, without any government representation on its board of directors. Like Mendaki, it has focused on conducting educational programmes, pre-school education, family education, and promoting greater Malay economic participation. Although the two organizations have on occasion collaborated with each other, they have remained for the most part rivals, with a degree of overlap in their activities. Shortly after the formation of the AMP, the government worked with ethnic Indian community leaders to establish the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) in 1991 to tackle the problem of Indian students’ educational achievement, a problem that had been highlighted in the press since the late 1980s. That same year, Goh urged the setting up of a ‘Chinese Mendaki’ (The Straits Times, 8 July 1991). Goh claimed that the PAP’s less-than-stellar performance in the 1991 general elections had been an expression of discontent by poorer ethnic Chinese who felt neglected by the government’s focus on helping

Singapore: The Malay Ethnic Minority


the Malays (The Straits Times, 5 October 1991). Accordingly, the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) was established the following year. As in the case of the SINDA, PAP MPs were represented on the CDAC’s governing board. In October 1992, the ethnic Eurasians, who constitute less than 2 per cent of the population, launched an endowment fund under the auspices of the pre-existing Eurasian Association to finance education and welfare programmes for Singapore Eurasians. The PAP pledged financial support for the AMP, the SINDA, the CDAC and the Eurasian Association and replaced the MendakiMinistry of Education Joint Committee with an expanded membership that included these other associations as well. The idea of using ethnically-based community groups to improve educational achievement proved controversial right away. Questions were raised about their compatibility with multiracial ideals, as well as about the heightening of ethnic differences. Worries have been expressed that the smaller organizations will be unable to compete with the CDAC, with its substantially larger financial resource base (Gopinathan, 1992). Also, many of the problems facing educational underachievers might in fact have strong roots in socioeconomic problems rather than in specifically ethnic ones. It has therefore been argued that a more effective strategy might be to have a national body instead of ethnically-based ones. These questions have persisted over time (see for instance, Parliamentary Debates, 71, 2000, col. 1144; 75, 2002, col. 1499). Equally persistent has been the PAP’s insistence that the current model works much better, as a national body would not be sensitive enough to the needs of each community. Community-based involvement is more effective because it draws on and mobilizes deep-seated ethnic, linguistic and cultural loyalties (see for instance, Parliamentary Debates, 86, 2009, cols 1174–6).

The Malays’ Educational Achievements, Thirty Years On This chapter has thus far reviewed the governing PAP’s responses to the question of Malay educational achievement over the slightly more than three decades from its assumption of political power in 1959 under the helm of Lee Kuan Yew to the formation of Mendaki in 1981, the AMP in 1991, and the extension of Ministry of Education assistance to the AMP and other ethnicallybased groups. Twenty years on, at the beginning of the 2010s, despite reductions in the Malays’ dropout rates from primary and secondary school, and improvements in their performance in the key national examinations over the past

Education in South-East Asia


few decades, they show few signs of closing the quantitative gaps separating them from the non-Malays, in particular, the ethnic Chinese majority (see for instance, Ministry of Education, 2011). In addition, the Malays also continue to be grossly under-represented at the universities, despite finally having gained proportional representation at the polytechnics over the decade spanning 2000 to 2010, as seen in Figure 13.1 below. This data has to be viewed within the context of a tremendous government expansion of enrolments in technical institutes (offering technical certificates), polytechnics (offering diplomas) and universities as part of its ambitious bid to progressively raise the educational profile of the entire population in readiness for the supposed demands of global competition in the knowledge economy. What is perhaps astonishing amid all this discussion of quantitative improvements is that neither Mendaki nor the AMP has been able to show conclusively what impact, if any, they have had on contributing to these improvements. Figure 13.1  Per Cent of Total Enrolment by Ethnic Group, 1990, 2000 and 2010 Level of Schooling




1990 2000 2010 1990 2000 2010 1990 2000 2010 Post-secondary N.A (non-tertiary), i.e., technical institutes Polytechnics 90.9 Universities 90.1









84.0 92.4

74.9 86.0

5.1 3.5

10.0 2.7

16.3 5.5

2.5 5.0

5.2 4.3

7.2 11.8

NA: Not available. Sources: Lau, 1993, pp. 167–9; Leow, 2001, pp. 34–7; Wong, 2011, pp. 86–9.

The major contributing factor to the continuing Malay under-representation at university level is probably the over-representation of Malay students in the slower-paced bands or streams at both primary and secondary levels of schooling, a phenomenon that has persisted stubbornly since the inception of ability-based streaming at the primary and secondary levels in 1979 and 1980 respectively. In a high-stakes education system with gate-keeping national examinations and a steady sorting of students into achievement streams or bands, along with a relatively low rate of upward mobility to faster-paced streams or bands, a student’s chances of qualifying for university admission diminish steadily as he or she is placed in a slower-paced stream or band at the primary or secondary levels of schooling. The students in the slower-paced streams or bands cover less subject material and have less access to crucial

Singapore: The Malay Ethnic Minority


subjects in national examinations, and these gaps are cumulative over the course of a student’s schooling experience. The Ministry of Education stopped publishing ethnically-based enrolment data in the various streams in the mid-1980s. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that the Malays are under-represented in the most prestigious secondary schools (that channel an overwhelming majority of their students to pre-university studies in preparation for university admission), and correspondingly over-represented in some of the least prestigious secondary schools. In the wake of public revelation that Malay students were over-represented in some non-prestigious secondary schools, a few of these schools claimed that having high percentages of Malay students had not adversely their schools’ General Certificate of Education (Ordinary) Level examination results (The New Paper, 2002). To date, no official reports, Yayasan Mendaki or AMP reports or academic studies have been published that establish conclusive evidence on the precise reasons – be they cultural, educational or structural, for instance – for the stubbornly persistent Malay achievement gaps. The PAP Malay MPs persuaded the Ministry of Education in 1987 to impose an upper limit of 25 per cent on Malay enrolment in every primary school in the belief that Malay students would be better motivated if they were surrounded by a majority of non-Malay schoolmates. However, this quota was later quietly scrapped because of official concern over the feasibility of its implementation (Parliamentary Debates, 74, 21 May 2002, col. 1906). A Malay MP revealed in Parliament that he had been told that once schools had an over-representation of Malay students, non-Malay students, especially ethnic Chinese students, shied away from choosing such schools (Parliamentary Debates, 74, 21 May 2002, col. 1893). The persistence of these educational gaps has serious societal implications amid growing public disquiet over widening income disparities, a matter that has emerged as a key issue in the 2011 general elections. Meanwhile, there is evidence that five decades of common socialization in a national school system since the 1960s have still not managed to eradicate racial prejudice among school students (Lee et al., 2004). The existence since 1979 of Special Assistance Plan schools at both the primary and secondary levels, that are almost entirely ethnic Chinese in enrolment, has been the subject of periodic discussion because of their perceived ethnic exclusivity (Parliamentary Debates, 55, 1990, col. 371; 76, 2003, col. 1635). Streaming (which was later modified to a form of banding at the primary level in 2004) within the context of a highly competitive, high-stakes education system has contributed to prejudice on the part of students in faster-paced streams or bands, and teachers as well, towards


Education in South-East Asia

students in slower-paced streams or bands (Tan and Ho, 2001; Kang, 2004). The promotion of aggressive competition among secondary schools in annual league tables of achievement in academic and non-academic endeavours has further intensified the race among many schools to recruit students who are perceived as assets instead of liabilities in terms of contributing to the schools’ performance. The initiation of the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme in 2004, which allows secondary schools to admit a certain percentage of their annual student intakes on the basis of non-academic abilities, has further increased the stakes in the education race. Since middle-class parents are increasingly turning to private tutorial agencies to provide their children with an edge in the auditions and interviews for the DSA, the Malays, who form a disproportionately large percentage of the less economically privileged and a correspondingly small percentage of the professional section of the workforce, will find it increasingly difficult to increase their representation in the top-end schools. Further compounding the situation in the past decade has been a renewed heightening of awareness of religious differences, especially between Muslims and non-Muslims. For instance, the Compulsory Education Act that came into force in 2003 placed limits on the future growth of privately-funded Islamic religious schools called madrasahs, which had experienced a boom in enrolments in the 1980s and 1990s as a direct consequence of the global Islamic revival (Kamaludeen and Khairudin, 2009). In the lead-up to the passing of the Act in Parliament, the Ministry of Education-appointed committee felt that while the madrasahs played a vital role in producing religious scholars and teachers, they might not adequately prepare their students for the needs of the knowledge-based economy and might not provide their students with adequate opportunities to socialize with non-Muslim students (Ministry of Education, 2000). This view of madrasahs, whose enrolments of ethnic Malay students were far smaller than those in mainstream schools, stirred up strong feelings among Malays. In early 2002, a few months after the incidents of 9/11, another controversy broke out over the Education Ministry’s insistence that female Muslim students not be allowed to don Islamic head veils in state-run schools (Kamaludeen and Khairudin, 2009). Yet another incident erupted in February 2008 when the Education Ministry ordered a primary school principal to reverse his earlier decision that all food served or consumed in his school canteen had to be halal (suitable for consumption by Muslims). These controversies have been complicated in recent years by the rapid influx of new immigrants and individuals on temporary work permits from such countries as the People’s Republic of China and India. Permanent residents and

Singapore: The Malay Ethnic Minority


foreigners living, working or studying in Singapore constituted 10.7 per cent and 25.7 per cent respectively of the 5.1 million people recorded in the 2010 population census (Wong, 2011: 3). These new immigrants have had to cope with resentment from some Singaporeans over perceived competition for places in the most prestigious schools, undergraduate places in universities and the job market. The consequences of this huge demographic change for the Malay community have been debated in Parliament (Parliamentary Debates, 87, 2010, cols 1191–4). The fact that the former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has justified the influx of migrants in part because of the need to maintain the then current percentages of various ethnic groups in order to maintain Singapore economic competitiveness (The Straits Times, 21 August 1989, ‘Entry of Hongkongers won’t upset racial mix’), and continues to hold these views (Lee, 2011), exacerbates the feeling among some Malays that they are still being viewed as marginal. Lee’s views that ‘the Malays are not as hardworking and capable as the other races’ (Plate, 2010: 53, 56), coupled with his often critical views of the growing observance of Islamic food rituals and greater numbers of Muslim women donning headscarves (Plate, 2010: 118; Lee, 2011: 220, 228–31) have not made the task of fostering social cohesion any easier. His enduring belief in the genetic basis of the Malays’ supposed educational shortcomings (Plate, 2010: 53; Lee, 2011: 188) have led him to the conclusion that despite official efforts to help the Malays, ... they will never close the gap with the Indians and the Chinese, because as they improve, the others also improve. So the gap remains. They are improving but they are not closing that gap. That’s a fact of life. (Lee, 2011: 206)

In a similar vein, during a 1992 interview with the International Herald Tribune, Lee has claimed that: ... we bring the problems [of education and race] out into the open … If you pretend that the problem does not exist, and that in fact [the Malays] can score as well as the Chinese in Mathematics, then you have created yourself an enormous myth which you will be stuck with. And there will such [sic] great disillusionment. (The Straits Times, 26 June 1992)

Lee believes that the key to improving Malay educational performance is a combination of successful Malays helping less successful Malays and government provision of remedial assistance (ibid.). The current government stance – that the gap appears unbridgeable over the long term, but that joint government– Malay community efforts to improve Malay educational achievement will continue nevertheless – appears to have changed little over the past few decades.


Education in South-East Asia

In addition to his views on Malay educational performance, Lee still holds reservations about the trustworthiness of Malays in sensitive appointments in the Armed Forces (Lee, 2011: 222). So influential a figure is Lee that the publication of his remarks on Malays in the Armed Forces on the eve of the 2011 general elections led his son, who is the current Prime Minister, to issue a public apology. To add to the lingering perception of Malays as a peripheral group, there is still a great deal of official discussion on the major social problems, such as early marriage, divorce and drug addiction, afflicting the Malay community (see for instance, Parliamentary Debates, 82, 2007, col. 3493).

Conclusion The chapter has focused on the Malays’ educational achievement over the past five decades or so since the coming to power of the PAP in 1959. It has critically analyzed the changes in the PAP’s official stance over the decades, from its limited affirmative action policies in the 1960s and 1970s, to its approval of the setting up of a Malay community-based organization, Mendaki, in 1981. It also provided Mendaki various forms of financial and infrastructural support as part of an innovative response to the problem of unsatisfactory Malay educational achievement. Mendaki has focused its efforts in three main areas: financial assistance, tuition classes and parental guidance. One of the major problems it faced was that of its legitimacy among sections of the Malay community. A group of Muslim professionals emerged in 1990 calling for the depoliticization of Mendaki. The group subsequently set up a rival organization, the AMP, with government financial and infrastructural support as well. This concept of ethnically-based community groups was soon extended to the Indian, Chinese and Eurasian communities, all of which benefited from official largesse. In addition, the chapter has identified key themes in the official rhetoric on the issue of improving Malay educational achievement. First, the Malays’ educational problems pose a potential threat to national unity and successful political integration. Second, the PAP has eschewed broader affirmative action policies such as admission quotas practised in a number of countries, for instance in Malaysia, as being inimical to multiracialism and to the principle of merit. It has insisted instead on the value of collective state–community efforts to improve educational achievement. The Malays have also been reminded to be less dependent on constitutional privileges and government assistance so as to avoid the attendant stigma of benefiting from such policies.

Singapore: The Malay Ethnic Minority


At the same time, the issues surrounding Malay educational achievement have proved inseparable from wider issues in education, economics and politics. The Malays have had to cope with being stereotyped as lazy and as less hardworking than their Chinese counterparts, as well as perceptions that they appear to be a marginal community plagued by various social ills. The chapter has illustrated how the state’s wider policies on defence, economics, immigration and education, as well as the pervading influence of Lee Kuan Yew’s views on these matters, have impacted on the Malay community. To date, despite all the quantitative gains Malays have made in educational achievement, they remain under-represented at the most prestigious levels of the education system and in the workforce. Any gains they may have made have been more than matched by the non-Malays, making the task of catching up appear perennial, rather than transitory. No less a figure than Lee Kuan Yew has claimed that ‘we are trying to reach a position where there is a level playing field for everybody which is going to take decades, if not centuries, and we may never get there’ (Parliamentary Debates, 86, 2009, col. 1173). More interestingly, there is no hard evidence that any of these gains can be directly attributed to the interventions of Mendaki or the AMP. The Singapore case provides a salutary reminder of the nagging persistence of ethnic inequalities in education despite officially sanctioned attempts to reduce them. It also points out how educational issues are often entwined with wider socio-political issues as well, with the latter being equally difficult to disentangle. More than 30 years after the formation of Mendaki, it appears that no other solutions are in immediate sight to the vexed question of how best to improve Malay educational achievement and bring it on a par with that of the majority Chinese community.

References Ahmad, K. (1979). ‘Raising skills through training’. Speeches, 3: 69–71. Aspire (Yayasan Mendaki newsletter), May–June 1990. Chan, H. C. (1972). ‘Singapore: Drive for identity’. Current Affairs Bulletin, 48: 227–41. Chiew, S. K. (1983). ‘Singapore in 1982: Economic slowdown and normative change’, in P. Thambipillai (ed.), Southeast Asian Affairs 1983. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 249–62. Fletcher, N. M. (1969). The separation of Singapore from Malaysia (Data Paper No. 73). Ithaca, NY: Southeast Asian Studies Program, Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University.


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Forging a vision: National convention of Malay/Muslim professionals (1990). Singapore: Stamford Press. Goh, C. T. (1986). A nation of excellence. Singapore: Information Division, Ministry of Communications & Information. —(1989). ‘Total effort: Raise Malay community’s performance’. Speeches, 11: 7–11. Gopinathan, S. (1992). ‘Education’, in T. Y. Lee (ed.), Singapore: The year in review 1991. Singapore: Times Academic Press, pp. 54–64. Hussin, M. (1990). ‘Islamic revivalism in ASEAN states: Political implications’. Asian Survey, 30: 877–91. Hussin, M. (30 April 1993). Interview with author. Ismail, K. (1974). Problems of elite cohesion: A perspective from a minority community in Singapore. Singapore: Singapore University Press. Kamaludeen, M. N. and Khairudin, S. M. A. (2009). Muslims as minorities: History and social realities of Muslims in Singapore. Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Kang, T. (2004), ‘Schools and post-secondary aspirations among female Chinese, Malay and Indian Normal Stream students’, in A. E. Lai (ed.), Beyond rituals and riots: Ethnic pluralism and social cohesion in Singapore. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, pp. 146–71. Khoo, C. K. (1981a). Census of population 1980, Singapore: Release no. 3: Literacy and education. Singapore: Department of Statistics. —(1981b). Census of population 1980, Singapore: Release no. 4: Economic characteristics. Singapore: Department of Statistics. Lau, K. E. (1993). Singapore census of population 1990 Statistical release 3: Literacy, languages spoken and education. Singapore: Department of Statistics. Lee, C., Cherian, M., Rahil, I., Ng, M., Sim, J. and Chee, M. F. (2004). ‘Children’s experiences of multiracial relationships in informal primary school settings’, in A. E. Lai (ed.), Beyond rituals and riots: Ethnic pluralism and social cohesion in Singapore. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, pp. 114–45. Lee, K. Y. (1964). Text of speech by the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, at the meeting with Malay non-political bodies at the Victoria theatre on Sunday, 19 July 1964, at 10.30a.m. Mimeograph. —(1965a). The battle for a Malaysian Malaysia. Singapore: Ministry of Culture. —(1965b). Malaysia – age of revolution. Singapore: Ministry of Culture. —(1982). ‘Mendaki’s task is to raise education of all Malays’. Speeches: 5, 525. —(2011). Hard truths to keep Singapore going. Singapore: Straits Times Press. Legislative Assembly Debates, Singapore: Official reports, 11, 17 July 1959; 13, 13 August 1960. Leow, B. G. (2001). Census of population 2000 statistical release 2: Education, language and religion. Singapore: Department of Statistics. Li, T. (1989). Malays in Singapore: Culture, economy and ideology. Singapore: Oxford University Press.

Singapore: The Malay Ethnic Minority


Lily, Z. R. (1998). The Singapore dilemma: The political and educational marginality of the Malay community. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. Ministry of Education (1962). Ministry of Education annual report 1960. Singapore: Government Printer. —(2000). Report of the committee on compulsory education in Singapore. Singapore: Author. —(2011). Performance by ethnic group in national examinations 2001–2010. Press release. The New Paper (2002). ‘More Malays = Better Results’, 5 March. Parliamentary Debates Singapore: Official report, 25, 1967; 27, 1968; 32, 1972; 44, 1984; 53, 1989; 55, 1990; 56, 1990: 71, 2000; 74, 2002; 75, 2002; 76, 2003; 82, 2007; 86, 2009; 87, 2010. Plate, T. (2010). Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew: Citizen Singapore: How to build a nation. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions. Rahim, I. (1965). ‘The Alliance government perpetuates colonial economic system’. Petir, 2–3. Rothschild, D. (1986). ‘State and ethnicity in Africa: A policy perspective’, in N. Nevitte and C. H. Kennedy (eds), Ethnic preference and public policy in developing states. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reiner, pp. 15–61. Seah, C. M. (1975). ‘Singapore in 1975: Consolidating amidst uncertainties’, in Southeast Asian Affairs 1975. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 141–50. Sharom, A., and Wong, J. (eds) (1971). Malay participation in the national development of Singapore. Singapore: Central Council of Malay Cultural Organizations. Sidek, S. (21 April 1993). Interview with author. Singapore Government (1958). Singapore (Constitution) Order in Council, 1958. Singapore: Government Printer. The Straits Times, (a) 8 June 1964; (b) 13 July 1964; 12 November 1967; 15 December 1970; 3 September 1972; 18 October 1988; 23 May 1989; 21 August 1989; 18 October 1989: 25 October 1989: 30 October 1989; 8 July 1991; 5 October 1991; 26 June 1992. The Sunday Times, 11 September 1988. Tan, J. and Ho, B. T. (2001). ‘ “A” levels or a polytechnic diploma? Malay students’ choices of post-secondary options’, in J. Tan, S. Gopinathan and W. K. Ho (eds), Challenges facing the Singapore education system today. Singapore: Prentice Hall, pp. 207–23. Tay, M. W. J. (1985). Trends in language, literacy and education in Singapore (Census monograph no. 2). Singapore: Department of Statistics. Vasil, R. (1992). Governing Singapore. Singapore: Mandarin. Wan, H. Z. (1990). The Singapore Malays: The dilemmas of development. Singapore: Singapore Malay Teachers’ Union. Wong, W. K. (2010). Census of population 2010 advance census release. Singapore: Department of Statistics.


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—(2011). Census of population 2010 statistical release 1: Demographic characteristics, education, language and religion. Singapore: Department of Statistics. Yang, R. K. (1980). Education and the Malays in Singapore (1959–1979): The position, perceptions and responses of a minority community. Unpublished academic exercise, University of Singapore. Yayasan Mendaki (1982). Constitution. Singapore: Author. —(1989). Kongres Pembangunan Masyarakat Melayu-Islam Singapura (Congress on the development of Singapore Malay-Muslim society). Singapore: Author. Zahoor Ahmad, B. H. F. H. (1969). Policies and politics in Malay education in Singapore, 1951–1965, with special reference to the development of the secondary school system. Unpublished Masters’ dissertation. Singapore: University of Singapore. Zainul, A. R. (7 April 1993). Interview with author.


Thailand: Issues in Education Chaiyuth Punyasavatsut

Introduction As in many countries, Thailand is facing a mounting demand for more and better education. Since 2000, Thailand has spent an impressive amount of money on education. Its education budget accounted for over 20 per cent of the national budget, the largest share, or around 4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). If contributions from household and corporate sector are included, total spending on education will be much larger, up to 5 per cent of GDP. Thus, Thailand is already among the world’s top education spender relative to its size. Despite its enormous education resources, improving educational quality and equitable access remains a challenge. Thailand ranks among the lowest of the participating countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2009. In the 2010 rankings of world universities by Quacquarelli Symonds, Thailand’s top university was ranked 180. In addition, access to education quality remains different among socio-economic groups. Participation in higher education also varies greatly by income groups and regions. Compounding such quality and equity issues is the country’s recent ambitious policy of providing a free 15-year basic education, starting from pre-primary to upper secondary education. Not only does such a policy require a larger demand for public money, but it also changes the structure and nature of financing of the whole education system. Putting more money into the basic education implies less money for other levels of education. Expanding such large public investment inevitably diminishes the role of the private sector in education provision. It is thus imperative to understand financial mechanisms and the size of the resources mobilized for the education sector. This chapter examines the up-to-date structure and current pattern of education financing and their implications for access, quality and equity


Education in South-East Asia

in Thailand. The structure of the chapter is as follows: the second section provides an institutional background for the education systems; the third section examines financing systems for education in detail; the fourth section addresses key issues in education finance; and the final section concludes and offers policy recommendations.

Education Systems Institutional background The 2007 Constitution and the 1999 National Education Act (NEA) with 2002 amendments set Thailand’s education framework. They provide principles and guidelines for the provision and development of Thai education. The Constitution states that all Thai people have an equal right to receive free and good quality basic education for at least 12 years. The Act included many changes that had an impact on the way education finances are managed. It stipulates that a per-student funding mechanism be set up. Such funding covers a basic 12-year education in both public and private educational institutions. The Act also stipulated that financial management should be decentralized and that the expansion of private education provision should be encouraged through subsidies and support. Moreover, the Act also increased the length of compulsory education from six to nine  years, enforcing the enrolment of all children at the lower secondary level. The Act created Local Education Service Areas (ESAs) to operate in parallel with the provincial structure as part of decentralization. ESAs are responsible for, among other things, managing basic education provision. The Thai education system is divided into formal, non-formal and informal sectors. Formal education includes two levels: basic education and higher education. Basic education covers pre-primary and the 12  years of education from six years of primary, three years of lower secondary and three years of upper secondary education. Vocational education starts at upper secondary till higher education. Higher education is further divided into two levels: university degree and diploma levels. Non-formal education includes early childhood education and adult learning. Lastly, the informal sector covers self-study and home-school learning. Public education is administered and managed at three levels: central, local and institutional. At the central level, the administration and management

Thailand: Issues in Education


is divided among five  main offices at the Ministry of Education (MOE). The central government is the main decision-maker in budget allocation, personnel management, curriculum design and planning. The MOE is responsible for 10 million students, most of whom are in public education, and over 30,000 schools scattered around the country (OEC, 2010). At the local level, there are two  major administrative bodies: Education Service Areas (ESA) under the MOE, and Local Administrative Organizations (LAO) under the Ministry of Interior (MOI). The ESAs were created around the country to handle education management at a local level. In 2011, there were 183 ESAs for primary and 42 ESAs for secondary education (MOE, 2012). They are responsible for overseeing, monitoring, evaluation and dissolution of schools, and coordinating and promoting private schools in the area. Each ESA is administered by its local committee, comprising community representatives, the Local Administrative Organizations (LAOs), the teachers’ association, educational administrator associations, the parents’ association and educational scholars. Another local authority for public education provision is the Local Administrative Organizations. The Constitution enshrines the right of the LAOs to participate in providing education at all levels according to their capabilities and local needs. When requested, the MOE must devolve its authorities in providing education services to qualified LAOs. In practice, decentralization of school management to the LAOs has been slow, as indicated by the limited number of schools devolved to the LAOs. The main issues are the transfer of personnel and all school assets. Now, it is the decision of each school whether to be transferred. To date, the education system in general remains centralized. There remains some ambiguity in respect to the relative roles of the decentralized system (MOE and ESA) and the devolved system (MOI and provinces). In terms of educational institutions, the administration and management can be divided into two categories. At the basic education level, the institution is responsible for its own administration and management including academic matters, budgets, personnel and general affairs. It is monitored by its board, consisting of representatives of parents, teachers, community groups, local administrative organizations, alumni and scholars. At the higher education level, state universities are encouraged to become state-supervised institutions which can function as legal entities. Under the new management structure, each university has greater flexibility and academic freedom under the supervision of the university council. Parallel to the state education system, the private sector can provide education at any level and of all types. The MOE is responsible for overseeing


Education in South-East Asia

the administration and management and monitoring the quality and standards of private institutions. Two independent offices are responsible for assessing and monitoring educational quality. The Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment was established in 2000 as an independent public organization, conducting external quality assessment at both basic and higher education. All educational institutions also implement an internal quality assurance system. Another independent public office responsible for national large-scale assessments is the National Institute of Educational Testing Service Office, which was established in 2005. Its annual revenues come from the government budget. Its services cover primary, vocational and higher education, including examinations for university admissions. Thailand has made a significant progress in expanding educational access for all its citizens. Since 1999, Thailand has adopted a 12-year free education policy, making primary to upper secondary education free of charge. More recently, the basic education, which is free of charge, now covers 15 years of education from pre-primary to upper secondary education. Compulsory education is nine years, from primary to lower secondary education. In 2009, there were 12.6 million students enrolled in basic education. Gross enrolment at this level is high at 85 per cent. Primary education is nearly universally achieved. Access to lower secondary education has also been improved over time. Its gross enrolment rate jumped from 70 per cent in the early 2000s to 93 per cent in 2009 (OEC, 2010). The transition rates at upper-secondary level increased from 82 per cent in 2000 to 104.2 per cent in 2009, with 63.6 per cent in general education and 40.6 per cent in vocational education. In basic education, about 83 per cent of students in 2009 enrolled in public schools while the remaining 17 per cent enrolled in private schools (OEC, 2010). The share of privately-provided education has increased since the 1999 Act but remained lower than that of the policy target with 35 per cent. Notably, the role of the private sector is much greater at the vocational level, accounting for 35 per cent of students. Its role is also more evident in Bangkok.

Higher education The higher education system in Thailand is administered by the Office of the Higher Education Commission in the Ministry of Education. Admission to higher education is based on a central admission system and screened directly by the universities. Students applying for public universities through the central

Thailand: Issues in Education


admission channel must take the Ordinary National Educational Tests (O-NET) exam. Only some university faculties require students to take the Advanced (A-NET) exam. At present, two-thirds of the students entered the public universities by the direct screening (World Bank, 2009). The number of students enrolled in higher education has expanded dramatically over the decade. There were 2.4 million students enrolled in higher education in 2009, rising from 1.8 million students in 2000. The transition rate of students from upper secondary to higher education was particularly high at around 74 per cent in 2009. The gross enrolment rate at higher education is 57.3 per cent, which is similar to other East Asian countries with the exception of South Korea (OEC, 2010). Rapid expansion of higher education in the last decade could be explained by both rising demand for higher education amongst Thai youth stimulated by the free basic education policy and generous student loan programmes, and changes in university supply capacity. As of 2009, there were 190 public universities and 109 private higher education institutions (OEC, 2010). Most public universities enjoy providing special programmes which can charge high tuition fees and receive large amount extra-budget income. The dominating role of the public universities comes from their long-term quality reputation and cheaper tuition fees compared to private universities. Due to large subsidies from the government, public universities can charge tuition fee about half of those charged by the private. As a result, the enrolment share of private universities has decreased from 24 per cent in 1996 to 15 per cent in 2009 (OEC, 2010). The public sector thus dominates overall provision at this level with 85 per cent of the total. In 2009, about 92 per cent of university students were undertaking a bachelor degree programme while the remainder were pursuing diploma or graduate programmes. When looking at student academic choice, only about 30 per cent of all students pursue a career in science and engineering (OEC, 2010). Compared to its neighbors, Thailand lagged behind in the share of students obtaining degrees in science and engineering and was lower than its own target at 50 per cent.

Resources and Financial Mechanisms for Education This section begins by examining overall educational resources from public and private sources. It focuses on levels of funding and asks whether Thailand’s expenditures on education are adequate. Does it invest more or less in education

Education in South-East Asia


in relation to countries with the same income level? Then, it examines financial mechanisms for providing education to the Thai people.

Public sources of education expenditures As in many other countries, Thai education is mainly financed by the national budget. For the past decade, the education sector has received the largest share of the total budget. The education budget accounted for 20–28 per cent of the total budget in the 2000s (Bureau of the Budget). This amount was well above the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 12.9 per cent in 2008. As a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it ranged from 3.7 per cent to 4.3 per cent, lower than the OECD average of 5.4 in 2008. This rate is lower than that of Vietnam and Malaysia, but still higher than that of Indonesia or the Philippines (see Figure 14.1 below). Figure 14.1  Total Public Expenditure on Education as Percentage of GDP, 2008 6 5.32 5 3.75

4 3








2 1 0




Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2012).

For a decade now after the 1999 Act, the biggest share of the education budget has been allocated to basic education, covering pre-primary, primary and secondary education. The budget for basic education occupied 73 per cent of the education budget or 2.8 per cent of GDP in 2010. About 15 per cent of the total education budget is allocated to higher education and the remainder goes to services and supports for education (Bureau of the Budget, various years). Overall, allocation in this manner seems to be rational, as the constitutional

Thailand: Issues in Education


law provides that basic education shall be free and accessible for all. Moreover, investment in basic education has been shown to favour the poor. Analysis of the distribution of educational benefit showed that spending is distributed almost equally across income groups (Punyasavatsut et al., 2005a). Figure 14.2  Public Expenditure per Pupil as a Percentage of GDP per capita: Primary and Secondary, 2008 Primary


25 20.8



17.0 14.5

15 10


12.8 8.4






5 0







Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2012).

Out of the budget for basic education, 74 per cent of current expenditure is allocated to staff salaries (Bureau of the Budget). This is not different from most of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Large outlay for personnel reflects an inflexible system of teacher employment, drawing more attention from policy-makers. It was much higher before, putting pressure on the education sector to downsize teacher employment. When the major government reform took place in 2003, it triggered the massive early retirement of teachers. However, recent increases in the number and remuneration for educational personnel, thereby salary share in the budget, would no doubt reverse the situation. To date, the student–teacher ratio for primary education in 2010 still remains low at 18:1 (MOE, 2011). This ratio is lower than the OECD average of more than 21 per class in 2008. Another feature to consider is how the education budget is allocated to primary and secondary levels. Figure 14.2 shows public expenditure per pupil as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in 2008. Statistics showed that Thailand allocated more resources per pupil toward primary


Education in South-East Asia

education, the highest compared to its neighbors, while its resources per pupil for secondary level were the lowest. Based on evidence from the national household survey, the limited resources of secondary education through public funding are not compensated enough by private funding. Private sector contributions only amounted to 0.06 per cent of GDP, which is too low to support strong secondary education. Another public source for education expenditures is local government. Although local government can mobilize funds through local tax revenues, it still relies on central resources and subsidies that are transferred on a per-student basis. Local government spending on education based on its own income is thus expected to be quite small. Total public expenditure on Thai education thus can be approximated by the national education budget.

Private sources of education expenditures Here, we look at the role of private households in bearing the cost of education, using information from the socio-economic survey (SES) of the National Statistics Office (NSO). The average share of household expenditure on education has been small and increased over time, ranging from 1.1 per cent in 1999, to 1.9 per cent in 2010. A breakdown of household expenditure on education by category shows that the largest item is tuition and fees in private schools, followed by tuition and fees in public schools, school supplies and private tutoring fees. As a result of the Education Act, households have spent less on public school tuition and fees, school uniforms, transportation to school and school supplies. Interestingly, households have switched to spend more on private school tuition, tutoring, art and music expenses. We can also compare the education burden among income classes by dividing households into five income groups, ranking from the lowest income to the highest income. Data shows that average spending on education increased with income. The richest spend eight times more than the poorest. Although higher income groups spent more money on education, the expenditure was nevertheless a smaller proportion of their income. The poorer groups, though spending less in the absolute amount, were spending a larger proportion of their income on education. Education is considered a necessity, but it means a larger burden for the poor. In sum, our estimates showed all household spending on education amounted to 93,312 million Thai Baht (THB) in 2010. This spending amounted to 0.9 per cent of GDP or 25 per cent of the national education budget. Besides household spending, other private resources for education come from the business sector

Thailand: Issues in Education


and non-profit organizations. However, contributions from these remaining sectors are expected to be small.

Overall resources for education Putting together public and private sector contributions gives us a rough estimate of overall resources for education. In 2010, using the data from the household survey, the author estimates that Thailand spent on education about 513,462 million THB, accounting for 5.1 per cent of GDP. Sources of education expenditure in Thailand have shifted toward public funding. In 2010, public sources accounted for 74 per cent of all resources. Among private sources, households contributed 18 per cent of the total (see Figure 14.3 below). Since public sources of education expenditure includes expenditure on educational institutional subsidies for students and for other private expenditure outside institutions, our estimate of all resources for education were in fact something of an overestimate, due to double counting. Figure 14.3  Sources of Education Expenditure as a Percentage of Total Source

Public sources All private sources Household expenditure Expenditure of other private entities


OCED average Korea

United States






62 38 32 6

74 26 18 8

83.5 16.5 -

59.6 40.4 29.5 10.9

71 29 21 8

Source: OECD (2011) and the author’s calculation.

In sum, Thailand invests a substantial proportion of its resources in education. Education in Thailand today is mainly public funded as in many OECD countries. Public funding for education is growing while private funding is relatively diminishing. This trend is likely to continue as the free education provision remains a popular policy among politicians. Resources devoted to secondary education are relatively fewer compared to other countries.

Financial mechanisms Next we look into financial mechanisms for education provision. We examine in more detail how schools, Education Service Areas, Local Administrative Organizations and universities are financed.


Education in South-East Asia

Financing schools through per-student subsidies The Act implemented since 1999 has redefined the way the budget is allocated to both public and private schools providing basic education. The Act requires that the finance should be on a per-student basis and that financial management should be decentralized. Per-student funding for basic and compulsory education for all levels to all schools nationwide started in 2002. The funds were allocated directly to schools through Educational Service Areas (ESAs) in block grants. This school allocation fund is called ‘general subsidies for per-student expenditure’. The subsidies were expanded in 2009 from 12 to 15 years for each student to include pre-primary education. To comply with this budget allocation requirement, the Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC) is responsible for developing the formula and methodology to calculate expenditure per head. This reflects the cost of basic education by students’ needs and by level and type of education. The OBEC also has to determine criteria for allocating the capital budget and establishing the database necessary for allocating and administering the budget for basic education. General subsidies for per-student expenditure for basic education have been distributed to both public and private educational institutions since 2002. The current subsidy scheme includes only non-salary expenditures at a flat rate, differentiated only by grade level (see Figure 14.4 overleaf). The subsidy amount is expected to cover the basic operating expenses of educational institutions. The government also allows private institutions to collect additional fees from students, but these should not exceed limits specified by the MOE. Additional fees are allowed to improve the quality of education and to cover some school costs.

Financing Education Service Areas (ESAs) According to the National Education Act, the Education Service Areas (ESAs) have been established to operate at the sub-provincial level. These ESAs are local education authority units and responsible for local supervision. To date, there are 183 ESAs for primary education and 42 for secondary to serve schools in 76 provinces. Each ESA is responsible for approximately 200 educational institutions in which there are around 300,000–500,000 students (MOE, 2012). Allocation of budget from the centre to each ESA is to support that ESA’s own operation and its services to educational institutions in the area. The current budget allocation framework acknowledges that different ESA characteristics result in varying budget requirements in order to deliver education

Thailand: Issues in Education


Figure 14.4  General Subsidies to Public and Private Educational Institutions, per Student Level / type of institution

Subsidy per student (Thai Baht)

Ratio to pre-primary

A. Formal Education Pre-primary Primary Lower secondary General upper secondary Vocational  Industry  Commerce   Home economics   Fine Arts  Agriculture  general  specific B. Non-formal Education Primary Lower secondary Upper secondary

  1700 1900 3500 3800

  1.00 1.12 2.06 2.24

6500 4900 5500 6200

3.82 2.88 3.24 3.65

5900 11,900   1100 2300 2300

3.47 7.00 0.65 1.35 1.35

Source: Office of the Basic Education Commission, Ministry of Education (2011).

services in a given area. Each ESA thus receives both the equal base budget and additional budgets based on its differential needs.

Financing Local Administrative Organizations (LAOs) In accordance with the National Education Act, local administrative organizations can provide education at any or all levels of education. Originally, the 1999 Decentralization Act demanded that at least 35  per cent of total government revenues in 2006 be allocated to Local Administrative Organizations (LAO). Since the LAOs have different capacities for absorbing a service delivery function and there are wide variations in terms of qualified personnel and local resource endowments, the cabinet agreed to slow down the decentralization process. The subsequent 2006 Decentralization Act stated that the LAOs’ share of total government revenue should not be less than 25 per cent. In addition, the amount of funds transferred should correspond to the activities transferred to local governments. In educational funding, the revenue allocated to LAOs depends on the number of students in schools under their supervision. This in turn depends


Education in South-East Asia

on the number of schools transferred to LAOs. In this regard, little progress has been made in implementing the decentralization of education services. In 2004, only some minor functions were transferred to LAOs. These included running child development centres, developing activities for pre-primary education, providing school milk and lunches, and overseeing sub-district libraries and village reading centres. In 2006, many LAOs were ready to assume greater responsibilities (through ‘transfers’) from the MOE. To ensure capacities and readiness of the LAOs in school management, the MOE issued guidelines and criteria for evaluation. However, the transfers were complicated by these sets of guidelines and criteria. Only 80 public schools were successfully transferred to the LAO. More than half of the schools transferred went to the Province Administrative Organizations, which can afford bigger budgets than those received from the central government. In 2005, the number of students in basic education under the LAOs was only about 6.2 per cent of the total. In 2006, the revenues allocated to LAOs were 25.2 per cent of total government revenues (UNESCO, 2009).

Financing of higher education Thailand allocated about 18 per cent of its education budget to higher education in 2009, approximately 0.7 per cent of GDP. Thailand’s spending on higher education is below the OECD average of 1.3 per cent and far below other Asian countries such as Malaysia and South Korea (World Bank, 2009). Spending per higher education student is somewhat lower than the OECD average, but remains relatively high, as in Indonesia or Korea. About 80 per cent of the total budget was allocated to operating expenses and the remaining went to capital expenses (MOE, 2012). As in many developing countries, Thailand’s spending on research and development has been low: 18,225 million THB or approximately 0.21 of GDP in 2007. Budget allocation for academic research was even more negligible at only 5,926 million THB in the same year (National Research Council of Thailand, 2009). In the higher education system, public universities received larger subsidies from government for their operating costs. Krongkaew (2005) estimated that these subsidies were high at 70 per cent while students paid only 30 per cent. Since the vast majority of students at this level are from richer families, this means poor households are helping the rich to pay for their education through taxation.

Thailand: Issues in Education


Participation in higher education can generate high rates of return – significantly higher than that of secondary education (Punyasavatsut, et al., 2005a). However, many students from low income families cannot participate in higher education due to their financial constraints. The inability of low income families to borrow from the capital market to finance such investment is a form of market failure, providing the rationale for governmental supports. To support those disadvantaged students, the government has developed a variety of scholarship and loan programmes. Of considerable interest is the student loan programme launched in 1996. From 1996 to 2006 this financial aid took the form of a mortgage-type loan known as the Student Loan Fund (SLF). The SLF is aimed at disadvantaged students to increase their access to upper secondary and higher education. This loan fund includes students in non-formal education programmes who wish to further their studies beyond lower-secondary level. The coverage of the scheme at higher education is extensive, reaching about one-third of university students, excluding open universities, and a half of all students enrolled in Rajabhat institutes. This fund was allocated to educational institutes on a quota basis rather than the social profile of students enrolled in those institutions. Students then apply for loans through universities for tuition fees and living expenses. The criterion for loan recipients was household income, in which the ceiling defining a low income family has changed over time. For example, only students from households earning less than US$4300 a year are eligible for the loan. The loan size varies with educational level, field of study and types of expenses. The loan, plus a low interest charge, must be paid in full within 17 years after graduation. Over the first decade of the programme’s implementation, US$5.7 billion was disbursed to more than 2.6 million students (Tangkitvanich and Manaboonphempool, 2010). According to Ziderman (2003), the student loan scheme was not effective in reaching the poor. The ceiling that defines poverty was set so high that many non-poor students get the loans. In addition, allocation of loans was biased toward universities with a large number of aggregated students with few poor students. Some universities with large numbers of poor students received insufficient funds. And when the loan scheme expanded but available loans levels were limited, the amount of loan was spread thinly to maximize the number of loan recipients. This meant that many poorer students were not able to cover their living expenses. This has lessened further the effect of the scheme in terms of helping the most needy. In addition, the SLF operated with a generous repayment condition, providing very considerable interest rate subsidies as high, as 67 per cent on average


Education in South-East Asia

(Chapman and Lounkaew, 2008). The SLF also has a very poor repayment collection mechanism, yielding a large number of borrowers who did not repay on time. The SLF was suspended briefly in 2007 and reincarnated with some modifications in 2008. The new form of SLF provides loans up to 100,000 THB (US$6277) per year to cover living supports and tuition. Students whose family annual income is lower than 150,000 THB (US$9416) are eligible to apply for a loan. A recent evaluation of the SLF implementation indicated that only 7 per cent of loans for upper secondary students were provided to the non-poor, compared with 19 per cent of loans for undergraduate students. Overall, the SLF had significant effects on the participation of the poorest in higher education, but few effects on students with higher incomes. Improving access for the poor via this loan scheme thus implies more the application of more effective eligibility and screening criteria for loan recipients. The new loan scheme, called the Income Contingent Loan (ICL), was an attempt by the Thai government to respond to the flaws of the SLF. The ICL was introduced in 2007 and differed from the SLF in many ways. First, it allowed for only undergraduates to borrow without an income ceiling condition. Second, it covered only tuition. Third, the borrowers had to begin repayment when their income reached the minimum income level. The repayment rate was contingent on the borrowers’ incomes and increases with higher income. Under the new ICL, cost recovery is of great concern. A substantial increase in university tuition fees will be accompanied by the introduction of the ICL. Greater cost recovery is likely to result in disincentives to students to continue university studies. There is a continuing debate whether the new form of loan scheme is desirable for higher education finance in Thailand. For further discussion, see Chapman and Lounkaew (2008) and Ziderman (2005).

Issues Related to Educational Finance The distribution of finance over levels of education involves issues of efficiency, quality and equity. Even if the aggregate amounts of resources are adequate, problems may arise from improper mechanisms, poor distribution of resources across levels, or inefficient uses within the system. Such problems inevitably affect quality and equity outcomes. This section identifies areas of major concern.

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Efficiency There are several ways to measure efficiency of the current financing system. We focus on a few indicators that highlight the key concerns of the Thai education system. For basic education, the dropout problem is a serious concern. Official statistics report that only 1.7 per cent of students from primary to secondary dropped out of school in 2010. The upper secondary has a relatively higher rate of dropout at 2.4 per cent, while the primary has the lowest rate at 1.1 per cent (MOE, 2012). Repetition rate is quite small in both primary and secondary due to the policy rule. However, data that follow the 1990 and 1998 cohorts from Grades 1 through 12 reveal much lower survival rates (see Figure 14.5 below.). Of students entering the first grade in 1998, only 79.6 per cent were expected to complete lower secondary education. And only 54.8 were expected to complete upper secondary education (MOE, 2012). This will definitely affect levels of educational attainment of the workforce, which was at 8.2 years in 2009 (NSO, 2012). Although the average schooling of the Thai workforce is better than the previous decade, it remains critical to improve survival and continuation rates to achieve universal secondary education. Past studies indicated that many children dropped out of schools not because of an immediate need for work but because poor families could not finance the education cost. Some families, particularly poor families, found sending their children to upper secondary costly. Thus, recent government measures to lower direct costs of education for families may have some desirable effects. Figure 14.5: Survival Rates of 1990 and 1998 Cohorts

Figure 14.5  Survival Rates of 1990 and 1998 Cohorts

Source: Office of the Education Council (2010).

Source: Office of the Education Council (2010).


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As for the higher education system, the estimate of the college completion rate was only 33 per cent on average, which is much lower than the average of OECD at 70 per cent (World Bank, 2009). It is thus apparent that the system can be made more efficient by lowering dropouts. Another way to measure efficiency is to look at how efficiently schools and universities use their resources. Educational institutes are technically efficient when it is not possible to increase outputs without using more inputs. Studies found significant inefficiency in the education process in Thailand as evidence suggests that sources of school inefficiency are driven in part by the way teachers and administrative staffs are allocated (Punyasavatsut et al., 2011; Limsakul et al., 2008; Phongsakornnoppadol, 2005).

Quality Poor educational quality is a serious concern for at least two reasons. First, it reflects how efficiently the system utilizes its resources. Large public investment in education is economically justified when it improves the quality of schools as well as quantity of school attainment. Second, disparate quality of education has strong implications on equity as well. Among other factors, it leads to inequitable access to higher education, thereby widening wage inequality. Deteriorating school quality, as measured by declining national education test scores, has caused public outcry. The average scores for the ONET (Ordinary National Educational Test) for Grades 6, 9 and 12 were below 50 per cent in both 2008 and 2009. Results showed that Thai students in primary and secondary levels performed very poorly in English language, mathematics and science. Similar conclusions can be drawn from the PISA results. According to PISA 2009, the scores of most Thai students were below the international average in all subjects. Nearly half of Thai students did not have basic reading and science skills; and more than half lacked basic mathematics skills. Scores have also dropped across the board when compared with PISA 2000 findings. According to PISA 2009, the quality of teachers has a greater impact on student learning than physical infrastructure. Overall, the performance of Thai students has not improved even though schools are now more equipped with computers and have greater access to the internet. To many, public schools are seriously in trouble. All test results certainly point out that something is wrong in the public education system. For policymakers and ordinary voters, larger spending on education may be needed. But given that large resources are already spent, there are doubts whether increasing

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the budget could lead to better school quality or student learning. Certainly, existing evidence on quality indicates inefficiency in the public provision of basic education, which could imply that schools pay for ‘inputs’ that are not always translated into ‘outputs’. Clearly, efficiency issues relate to the way schools are financed. Studies about the relationship between school resources and learning outcome can be used to assess the efficiency of public education. Punyasavatsut et al. (2005a) provided evidence that school resources are positively related to student outcomes in the basic education sector. After controlling for parental and community supports, teacher quality (measured by the percentage of teachers with master’s degrees in school) and pupil–teacher ratio are found to be crucial determinants on student learning. Findings in PISA and more recent research also indicate that differences in teacher quality is the most significant part of quality differences across schools. Findings from the ONET and PISA also indicated large disparities in quality across regions and income groups. Schools in Bangkok had the highest average scores, followed by those in the central, south, north and north-east regions. Schools in the north-east region, which scored the lowest, account for 43 per cent of schools in Thailand – of which most are small schools. Such disparities in the quality between Bangkok and the other provinces obviously relates to the way that schools are given their resources. From the ONET 2009, evidence shows that test scores are positively correlated with school size. It is believed that small schools, which produce substandard quality, are often associated with inadequate per-student budget, young and less experienced teachers, shortage of learning materials and low parental and community supports. This implies that they face greater resource constraints than bigger schools. Since most small schools serve children from poor families and those who live in remote areas, providing more subsidies to targeted students of these small schools could prove to be beneficial in the long run. Reducing quality disparities will also improve equality in educational opportunities in terms of access to higher education. As for higher education, the top university in the country, Chulalongkorn, ranked 100th in the region and 492th in the world in the 2010 SCIMAGO Institutions Rankings (SIR) World Report. The high-ranked universities in the world are clearly those that invest heavily in research. The higher education system in Thailand invested a meager amount of money in research, forming only 1.8 per cent of the total education budget in 2007. Thailand’s contribution in this area is very minimal (e.g. below 1 per cent of publications worldwide) (World Bank, 2009).


Education in South-East Asia

The other quality problem is the inadequate skills of graduates and students when entering the job market. Studies reveal that Thai workers lack English, Information Technology (IT), numerical skills and other soft skills like creativity, among others. In addition, there are shortages of skilled workers, indicating the supply rigidity of the education system in responding to changing and rising demands in the labour market. Evidence showed that Thailand has an oversupply of social science graduates while lacking graduates in the fields of science and technology (World Bank, 2009). A significant wage premium on skills that are in short supply indicates some mismatch between skills needed and those produced in higher institutions.

Equity Family income, among other things, determines student participation in upper secondary and college education. Generally, children from poor families tend to have less opportunity to move to upper secondary and higher education than those from rich families. In Thailand, the free education policy and establishment of student loan funds might have mitigated this problem somewhat, at least for upper secondary level. Evidence show that differences in the participation rates in upper-secondary level between the poorest and the richest income groups indeed fell considerably over the last two decades. However, the college participation gaps have been widened between the richest group and the rest. Such widening gaps in college participation would worsen income inequality and probably hinder intergenerational social mobility (Lathapipat, 2011). College participation rates also varied substantially across regions and localities. Bangkok has the highest rate of participation at this level followed by the central and southern regions. The north-east, the poorest region, has the least access to higher education. Such inequalities in regional participation persist even though there has been a continuing increase of students at this level. The enrolment gap between urban and rural students has also become wider, rising from 15 percentage points in 2001 to 17 percentage points in 2005 (World Bank, 2009). Inequalities in terms of access to higher education is also reflected through substantial variation in household spending. The richest households invest eight times as much as the poorest households. However, for the poorest households, their spending for higher education accounted for 60 per cent of their total income, while such spending accounted for only 1 per cent for the richer households (NSO, 2012). Attending higher education represents a great financial burden for poor households.

Thailand: Issues in Education


The last equity issue is to acknowledge the reality that there are still a significant numbers of disadvantaged children. These are primarily the children of migrant workers, those from extremely poor families, those in slums or in remote areas, and the handicapped. Close to one million primary school-aged children (ages 6–11) are not in school or enrol late. To date, the total estimate of children of all ages remaining outside formal education is close to two million (QLF, 2012).

Improper school subsidies The current school funding scheme via per-student subsidies has not achieved the desired quality and efficiency in basic education (Punyasavatsut, et. al., 2005a). So far, there has been a shortage of budgetary supports for the disadvantaged and for differentiated needs due to geographical location and the scale of school operation. Evidence shows that governmental support for poor students in the form of free lunch can cover only 60 per cent of students at primary level (School Lunch Program Office, 2012). Subsidies for students from poor families could not cover all of those in need. Better targeting of public support to disadvantaged students needs to be addressed. Evidence also shows insufficient support from the government for small public schools (defined as those with fewer than 120 students) to perform their tasks and to raise their quality up to an acceptable standard. Extra operating budgets for these small schools are given later but remain insufficient. The teacher salary budget, which is the largest element of education costs, is not included in the school-based funding framework. That diminishes fund availability and opportunity to fund schools in a more appropriate manner, leaving the system inefficient and inequitable. Resources can be made more available and used in a more efficient way if Thailand manages and integrates a large number of small-size schools. The number of students in many areas has declined as a result of the decrease in the birth rate and students commuting to attend better endowed schools. In those areas, the number of teachers has not declined accordingly, yielding a low student–teacher ratio. In 2010, about 46 per cent of public schools or 14,397 schools in total are classed as small (OBEC, 2011). Although there has been resistance to change from communities, efforts at selective dissolution and consolidation of these small schools must be continued. Different administrative arrangements or financial incentives for such changes need to be explored. This is a critical policy issue that needs to be seriously addressed.


Education in South-East Asia

Conclusions and Policy Recommendation Thailand’s biggest challenge in education finance policy is to provide a free basic 15-year education with quality. Financing this policy has proved to be very costly to taxpayers. Enormous national resources have been allocated to support the policy but its goals seem to be far-reaching. Recent attempts to provide a ‘truly free’ basic education added even more financial burden to the state. Achieving such goals will need a better financing framework and improved efficiency of public expenditures on education. A major feature of the financing policy initiative is the mobilization of greater resources from the private sector, business and households, and local communities. The role of the private sector in education provision must be encouraged through supports and tax incentives. Educational services, which can be privately provided in a more cost-effective way, should be shifted to the private sector. Such services include a vast diversity of vocational and training programmes. Encouraging the private provision of education means giving them more flexibility and greater control over their own management. Thailand needs to find more balance between the private and public roles in education provision. Another possible way to meet the financing needs is to pursue higher cost recovery and cost sharing at post-secondary education. Most students attending higher education enjoy substantial private benefits and are likely to come from well-to-do families (Chapman and Lounkaew, 2008; Lathapipat, 2011). Given this scenario, tax finance to higher education is then quite regressive. It is therefore both efficient and fair that those enrolled in higher education bear some of the costs. Public funds could then finance more of basic education. Obviously, secondary education will deserve a larger share of the budget, which is now below what countries with strong secondary education sectors typically spend. Mobilization of more resources from families is also worth consideration. The share of household contributions to education has decreased substantially as there is a broad perception that schools are now totally free. Raising parental supports and fee collection are less successful and require greater effort. Fee controls also place a barrier against financial resources to schools. Such controls might benefit the poor but they exacerbate problems of funding shortage and poor educational quality in many schools. One option would be to abolish fee controls or at least have them deregulated. The fact that since only minimum services can be financed by the government, some form of fee is desirable and

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necessary for the system. Evidence from many countries shows that charging some fees would keep schools accountable for the quality of their educational provision (Tooley, 2012). Schools should charge more for quality improvement and services that are beyond the minimum standard. Fees could also be placed on certain households that can bear the cost of education. So far, resource mobilization from the private sector via tax incentives has not been successful. Tax reductions/deductibles can be adjusted to further mobilize financial support from the private sector. Improving the efficiency of overall public expenditures is another challenge. In basic education, school funding is based on per-student subsidies, which vary with grade levels. Supplementary funding is then added according to the differentiated needs of students or schools. School operating costs are funded by these subsidies, excluding teaching-staff costs. In the future, funding schools via block grants including teaching-staff salaries could be promoted or piloted. Budget allocation in this way is consistent with unit-cost principles and performance-based budgeting as first proposed in the reform. Clearly this change would have important implications for personnel management, greatly enhancing efficiency of the system. Enhancing efficiency of public expenditure on education will also need to solve the inflexible system of teaching-staff employment and redeployment. Distributing staffing resources more equitably across schools and alleviating staffing constraints should be a major priority. This will most likely require a new incentive system for teachers and modified redeployment rules. It is envisaged that the local education service areas would have more discretion over personnel management eventually and their operations to be funded by both central and local resources. In the same way, allowing public schools to have more autonomy and discretion over resources and management could enhance efficiency in terms of how they use their resources. Additionally, a sizeable efficiency gain will come from the better management of small public schools. Close to half of public schools providing basic education are small. Many are located in remote areas and the majority of them remain underfunded and thus underperform. It is imperative to manage these schools for efficiency gains. Selective dissolution and consolidation of these schools must be carried out without losing equity goals. Equalization subsidy by providing additional incentives to encourage good teachers to work in these schools can be adopted. Lastly, Thailand needs to increase the share of its higher education spending in the total education budget or in GDP. In addition, funding priorities must be emphasized to ensure that public money will be allocated more to research,


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and to institutions producing graduates in science and engineering. Improving the quality of Thai universities to an international standard may require more autonomy for higher institutions, including a greater flexibility in structuring recruitment offers and allowance adjustments for faculty in fields with high market demand. Continued efforts to transform public universities into autonomous institutions will further improve the tertiary sector. Additionally, efficiency and equity gains can be made by improving the student loan scheme to operate more effectively in reaching and helping the poor and other disadvantaged groups. More effective screening mechanisms and targeting need to be put in place. The loan scheme could be made less generous, as returns to higher education are fairly high and accrued mostly to loan recipients.

References Bureau of the Budget (various years). Budget in Brief. Bangkok. Chapman, B. and Lounkaew, K. (2008). Income Contingent Student Loans for Thailand: Alternatives Compared. EABER Working Paper Series No. 46. Krongkaew, M. (2005). The Promise of Thailand’s New Higher Education Financing System: The Thailand Income Contingent and Allowance Loan (TICAL) Scheme. Paper presented at the Third Roundtable Meeting of Thailand and the United States on Policy Research, Science Education Management, and Higher Education Reforms. Lathapipat, D. (2011). Schooling, Access, Inequality and Educational Wage Trends in Thailand, 1986–2009. Thailand Development Research Institute. Limsakul, K., Inphasaeng, S. and Chomtosuwan, T. (2008). Needs-Resource Allocation for Basic Education. Paper submitted to the Office of Education Commission. Ministry of Education (MOE) (2012). Available at: (accessed 12 January 2012). Mongkolsmai, D. and Chaiyuth Punyasavatsut (2006). Formula Funding for Public Schools and Education Service Areas in Thailand. Paper submitted to the World Bank and the Ministry of Education. National Research Council of Thailand (2009). Annual Report 2009. Available at: http:// (accessed 12 January 2012) National Statistical Office (NSO) (2012). Statistical Yearbook Thailand 2011. Bangkok: Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. OECD (2011). Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators. Paris. Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC) (2011). Educational Statistics of the Office of Basic Education Commission, Academic Year 2010. Bangkok: Ministry of Education.

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Office of the Education Council (OEC) (2010). Educational Statistics in Thailand, Academic Year 2009. Bangkok: Ministry of Education. Phongsakornnoppadol, Y. (2005). Technical Efficiency Measurement of Elementary and Secondary Schools by Data Envelopment Analysis. Master’s thesis, Thailand: Thammasat University. Punyasavatsut, C., Mongkolsmai, D., Satsanguan, P. and Khoman, S. (2005a). School Finance Reform: Efficiency of Public Expenditure in Education. Paper submitted to the Office of National Education Commission. Punyasavatsut, C., Mongkolsmai, D., Satsanguan, P. and Khoman, S. (2005b). School Finance Reform: Development of a Funding Formula for Central Government Allocations to Local Schools. Paper submitted to the Office of National Education Commission. Punyasavatsut, C., Vananan, P. and Maneelek, R. (2011). Development of Formula Funding for Educational Service Areas: Phase 1. Paper submitted to the Office of Basic Education Commission. Quality Learning Foundation (QLF) (2012). Available at: (accessed 12 January 2012). Ross, K. N. and Levacic, R. (eds) (1999). Needs-Based Resource Allocation in Education via Formula Funding of Schools. Paris: UNESCO, International Institute for Educational Planning. School Lunch Program Office, Office of the Basic Education Commission (2012). Available at: (accessed 12 January 2012). Tangkitvanich, S. and Manasboonphempool, A. (2010). ‘Evaluating the Student Loan Fund of Thailand’. Economics of Education Review, 29: 710–21. Tooley, J. (2012). ‘Private education for the poor: lessons for America?’, in D. F. Salisbury and J. Tooley (eds), What American Can Learn From School Choice in Other Countries. Washington, DC: The Cato Institute. UNESCO (2009). Education Financial Planning in Asia: Implementing Medium-Term Expenditure Frameworks. Bangkok: UNESCO. —(2011). UNESCO National Education Support Strategy (UNESS) Kingdom of Thailand 2010–2015. Bangkok: UNESCO. UNSECO Institute for Statistics (2012). Available at: default.aspx (accessed 12 January 2012). World Bank (2009). Towards a Competitive Higher Education System in a Global Economy. Bangkok: The World Bank Office. Ziderman, A. (2003). Student Loans in Thailand; Are they Effective, Equitable, Sustainable? Bangkok: UNESCO. —(2005). Increasing Accessibility to Higher Education: A Role for Student Loans? Paper prepared for the Independent Institute for Social Policy, Moscow.


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Useful Websites National Education Information System, Ministry of Education: Office of Basic Education Commission, Ministry of Education: and Office of the Education Council, Ministry of Education: main/main.php?parentID=CAT0000029 Office of the Higher Education Commission, Ministry of Education: http://www.mua. Office of the Permanent Secretariat Commission, Ministry of Education: http://www. Office of Vocational Education Commission, Ministry of Education: http://www.vec. Portal for education link: &categoryID=CAT0000462

Related links Bank of Thailand: Bureau of the Budget: Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB): http://www. UNESCO Bangkok:


Timor-Leste: Education, Decolonization and Development Bob Boughton

Introduction In May 2002, Timor-Leste became the first country in the world to achieve its independence in the twenty-first century, ending over 400 years of colonial rule which had begun with the arrival of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. In 1974–5, a revolution in Portugal prompted a short-lived attempt by FRETILIN, the political party which founded the Timor-Leste independence movement,1 to decolonize the education system, but this was aborted by the military invasion and occupation of the country by its largest neighbour, the Republic of Indonesia, in December 1975. Independence was finally won only after a protracted war of national liberation forced the eventual withdrawal of the Indonesians in September 1999, and a period of direct rule by the United Nations until 2002 (Cabral, 2002). For ten years, now, this tiny country of one million people, occupying the eastern half of a rugged island 600 kilometres north of Australia, has struggled to build its first fully-developed independent education system out of the ruins left by colonialism and war. However, unlike many other ex-colonies which achieved independence in the second half of the last century, the newly emerging education system in Timor-Leste has been the site of a major multinational aid and reconstruction effort, initially coordinated by the United Nations and the World Bank. Its recent history therefore provides an object lesson in the role of international actors in educational development in countries of the Global South. While the pre-colonial period lasted from 40000 bce until the arrival of the first Portuguese explorers in 1516, the traditional systems of Indigenous education that developed over millennia are not considered in this chapter.


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Rather, the focus is on the recent history of Timor-Leste, which can be broken down into the following periods: 1. 1974–5 – The first phase of decolonization. 2. 1975–99 – Indonesian invasion, occupation and resistance. 3. 1999–2002 – United Nations rule. 4. 2002–6 – FRETILIN-led First Constitutional Government. 5. 2006–7 – Political crisis – Second and Third Constitutional Governments. 6. 2007–12 – AMP-led Fourth Constitutional Government. I begin the chapter with a reflection on the contradiction between the instrumentalist view of educational development which prevails within international agencies and the more emancipatory view which grew out of the recent lived experience of the Timorese and their aspirations for decolonization. The next three sections provide a narrative of events between 1974 and 1999, to provide more detail about that lived experience, before turning to an analysis of some aspects of the current structure of the education system. The final sections provide some critical commentary, particularly on the role of the international community in educational reconstruction. The chapter draws on my in-country research undertaken over the period 2004–11, including a three-year project undertaken in partnership with the Ministry of Education, working with the emerging system of adult education (Boughton and Durnan 2007; Boughton 2009, 2010, 2011).

The Road to a Post-colonial Future? The discourse of international education aid agencies presents such aid and its objectives in the supposedly-neutral language of educational administration; and the reports of the World Bank and United Nations’ agencies on education in Timor-Leste are no exception. The main issues, according to this discourse, are physical infrastructure, access, participation, retention, languages of instruction, quality teaching, curriculum, resources, and systems of administrative and financial management and planning. For example, in a report to the First National Education Conference after independence, the World Bank outlined ‘The Way Forward’ under the following headings: Improving access and coverage, ensuring completion at a reasonable cost. Improving achievement.

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Building a sustainable financing system. Strengthening management capacity (World Bank, 2003).

This report, and many subsequent ones in the same genre, present educational planning as a technical exercise, in which resources must be expended efficiently and effectively, to ensure achievement of outcomes deemed universally valid, including literacy, numeracy, and school and post-school completions and qualifications. These outcomes, it is assumed, will contribute to moving the country along a path which is well known, towards an equally unproblematic stage of ‘development’. As many writers have pointed out, this contemporary international education policy discourse is permeated by the ideology of neoliberalism (Rutkowski, 2007), as evidenced in its vocabulary which is rich in the words of corporate managerialism, of ‘challenges’, ‘goals’, ‘stakeholders’, ‘partnerships’, ‘strategies’, ‘commitment’, ‘capacity’, ‘effectiveness’, ‘flexibility’ and ‘opportunities’ (Connell, 2009: 219–10). This discourse, however, shifts the focus away from any consideration of why the people of Timor-Leste struggled and died in their hundreds of thousands to become an independent and free nation; and about what kind of an education system might help them fulfil the aspirations of their extraordinary struggle. Seven months prior to the above-mentioned conference, a Timorese intellectual, Balthasar Kehi, had called for ‘a new system of education [that] decolonises, depaternalises and defeudalises the minds and practices of the Timorese’ (Kehi, 2003: 8). Such sentiments were echoed at the time in the writings and conversations of many Timorese, particularly the political leaders and the many local non-government organizations (NGOs) which had grown out of the earlier resistance structures. For the international agencies, however, the past was over, the country was now free and democratic, and it remained only to equip it with a functioning education system, whose elements were already well known. In effect, the international community set about ‘recolonizing’ Timor’s education system, through a failure to acknowledge or learn from the rich pedagogic traditions which had played a central role in the independence struggle. A consequence of this approach is that many international observers and advisers now find it difficult to explain why things have not moved in the direction they expected as smoothly as anticipated. These contradictions, moreover, remain at the heart of many of the ongoing issues, including debates around languages of instruction, the problem of mass illiteracy, rising disaffection among a new generation of university students, and the slow pace


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of development of an indigenous education leadership with its own coherent vision and plans for the future. For Timor-Leste, as for many post-conflict societies, the warning of Mahatma Gandhi, that ‘the road to the future lies over the bones of the past, on which we dare to tread’ has a particular resonance. Conservative estimates put the number who died as a direct result of the Indonesian military occupation at over 180,000, from a population of only 600,000 in 1975 (CAVR, 2006). While the international agencies regularly acknowledge the enormous challenges which existed at the end of the conflict, they are less forthcoming about the role of the international community during that occupation, including many of the Western countries which now dominate the donor effort. This lack of focus on the past not only serves to obscure the West’s role in this genocide, however. It also renders unimportant the ‘movement knowledge’ (Cox and Fominaya, 2009) of the national liberation struggle, the many lessons which the Timorese learned from their experiences of colonization, resistance and war, which the new Constitution explicitly valorizes and which many argue should be at the centre of a new national education system. To elaborate on this, it is necessary to review the country’s recent history.

Education for Decolonization and Resistance 1974–99 The founders of Timor-Leste’s independence movement in the 1970s were above all educators, men and women who identified with the intellectual leaders of the national liberation movements in the African colonies of Europe, including Franz Fanon in Algeria, Amilcar Cabral in Guinea Bissau, Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique, and Julius Nyere in Tanzania (Cabral, 2002; Da Silva, 2010). For the leaders of FRETILIN, education was a primary means to decolonization. Like Paulo Freire, whose works they also studied, they believed that education was ‘the practice of freedom’ (Schuguernsky, 2011), and they condemned the educational policies and practices of the colonial power Portugal and its ally in all things educational, the Vatican, as ‘obscurantist’. By this, they meant they were designed to keep the people in darkness, a darkness which, as Freire had written, was maintained through a ‘culture of silence’. Following the Portuguese ‘Carnation Revolution’ in April 1974, a space was opened in what was still then Portuguese Timor to pursue the idea of a decolonizing education. Roque Rodrigues, a leader of FRETILIN’s education work at that time, told an Australian journalist:

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The colonial state used the education system to polarize the people’s creativity and suffocate the Timorese culture. A struggle against the colonial education is to promote an education that is to serve the mass of the Timorese people and to stimulate the indigenous culture.

FRETILIN teachers and FRETILIN schools were needed, he further told Nicol, to spread a popular ideology and to revolutionize the education system, creating a new mentality, a new citizen, anti-colonial, anti-fascist, popular and democratic (Nicol, 2002: 162–3). Studying in universities in Portugal in the 1970s, FRETILIN’s leaders had learned also from Freire and the liberation movements in Africa about the importance of adult literacy. On their return, they not only participated in the Portuguese government’s Education Decolonization Commission, but began to mobilize and train young high school students to go into the countryside to teach the rural peasantry, whom they called the Maubere people, how to read and write. The students worked from a manual, Rai Timor Rai Ita Nian – Timor is Our Country – in which simple ‘generative’ words and phrases were broken down and reconstructed into sentences about colonialism and imperialism, finishing with the words of an independence anthem, Foho Ramelau (Mount Ramelau)2 (Basurewan, 2004; Boughton, 2010). As the literacy campaign spread through the rural areas, FRETILIN’s growing support prompted an opposition party supported by Indonesia to attempt an armed coup in the capital, Dili. The Portuguese authorities withdrew, but their Timorese troops defected to FRETILIN and routed its opponents, installing the independence movement as the effective governing power in the colony. In November 1975, as armed incursions by Indonesian troops increased, FRETILIN unilaterally proclaimed the country’s independence, and sought international support. Two weeks later, Indonesia launched a full-scale invasion, as the Western powers, including the United States and Australia, turned a blind eye. The majority of the population retreated into the mountains, where, for nearly three years, a revolutionary administration was built in resistance bases defended by the FRETILIN army, FALINTIL (Joliffe, 1978). These bases had several hundred ‘popular schools’, a health system utilizing traditional Indigenous medicines and skills, and a system of popular justice. This was, in the words of Timorese scholar and resistance activist Da Silva, ‘the pedagogy of the Maubere revolution’ (Da Silva, 2011), an experience through which the ‘Maubere People’ learned for the first time how to be free and to govern themselves.


Education in South-East Asia

After three years of almost total international isolation, this revolutionary social experiment ended in defeat. With thousands of its supporters dying from famine and bombing attacks on its bases, FRETILIN directed the surviving members of the civilian population and most of its troops down from the mountains, to surrender and live under Indonesian rule. Over time, the FRETILIN leaders built a new form of underground resistance, involving an extensive clandestine network in the towns and villages which penetrated the Indonesian administration and military, and maintained contact with the remaining guerrilla force in the mountains and a small but effective external diplomatic front operating from Mozambique, Portugal, the United States and Australia (Cabral, 2002). From 1978, until eventual victory in 1999, this movement educated a new generation of leaders, to replace the first generation leadership, almost all of whom were captured and killed by the Indonesian military in the period 1975–8. Many of the new generation leaders were high school and university students, trained by the ex-students to whom the first generation leaders had taught the ideas of Freire, Cabral and Fanon before the invasion (Da Silva, 2011). As the struggle continued, the Catholic Church, which had originally opposed independence, became a strong supporter, and through its use of the Tetum language in its liturgy and schools, helped to build the national consciousness (Carey, 1999). From the 1980s onwards, Indonesia greatly expanded the education system under its control, as part of its strategy to pacify and integrate the Timorese to the ‘new order’ regime of President Suharto and his military junta. As the new country’s Commission for Truth and Reconciliation later wrote, following its intensive investigations of the period: The use of schools [by Indonesia] for propaganda and indoctrination severely interfered with the education of an entire generation of East Timorese youth. Education was used in this way as part of an integrated security approach whose overriding objective was to ensure that pro-independence sentiment did not take root in a new generation. In this context, teaching children the skills that would enhance their prospects and enable them to fulfil their human potential was secondary. (CAVR, Ch. 7.9, para. 148)

It is not surprising, therefore, that while this new generation grew up speaking Indonesian, not Portuguese, they also looked to the works of educational thinkers like Cabral and Freire for ideas about the kind of education which was needed to build their movement for an independent state. In this sense, the education system of the colonial power continued to ‘teach’ the Timorese

Timor-Leste: Education, Decolonization and Development


lessons which ran contrary to their official curriculum, with many students and often also their teachers playing key roles in the resistance, especially during the 1990s (Pinto, 2001). In 1998 and 1999, when the Indonesian dictatorship of General Suharto collapsed under the combined weight of the Asian financial crisis and a growing student-led democracy movement, the high school and university students of Timor-Leste took to the countryside again, mounting a popular education campaign for independence. A United Nations-supervised vote on a proposal for a limited form of autonomy provided the final catalyst, when 78.5 per cent of the population rejected the offer, choosing independence, despite widespread violent intimidation by Indonesian troops and local militias they had armed and trained (Cristalis, 2009). The educational legacy of the Indonesian occupation thus had a contradictory character. On the one hand, nearly three decades of resistance had forged a new national identity and unity around the concept of a free and independent TimorLeste, and created an energetic and politically-astute leadership at national, district and local levels, not least among the younger generation of student and ex-student activists. On the other hand, and this is the aspect which was emphasized in most international reports, over 50 per cent of adults were illiterate, there was a drastic shortage of trained Timorese teachers, the occupation had compounded an already complex language ecology, and the bulk of the education infrastructure had been destroyed. Underlying all of this was a myriad of unresolved tensions, grievances, conflicts and unfulfilled aspirations built up over the period of colonial occupation, and which refused to be swept aside.

The United Nations Interregnum 1999–2002 Finally forced to withdraw, the Indonesian military and local militias which they had armed and trained laid the country waste. Every school was deroofed, every public building burned out, and over a thousand more independence supporters died, before an international peacekeeping force arrived, led by Australia – which has almost until the last supported the Indonesian occupation. In the wake of the peacekeeping force came UNTAET, a United Nations authority which was to govern until May 2002. A UN assessment of the situation they discovered was unequivocal: Not since the end of World War II has a country experienced such destruction of its infrastructure, complete collapse of government structures, displacement


Education in South-East Asia

of most of its population and near total disruption of all economic activities. The cost in material and human terms has been immense. (Nicolai, 2004: 28)

The high school and university students who had led the popular education campaign in support of a vote for independence now turned their attention to the education system, and hundreds returned to the countryside, this time to reopen the schools and to start small local literacy classes with adults, inspired by the model of their leaders of 1975. Their efforts went largely unrecognized by the legion of international bureaucrats who began arriving to ‘rebuild’ the country, armed with templates developed in ‘emergency post-conflict situations’ in countries as different as Afghanistan and Bosnia (Nicolai, 2004). Reduced to a state of complete dependence on foreign donors coordinated by the World Bank, the senior leadership of the independence movement had little choice but to comply, especially as they had few trained educational administrators in their ranks. The political leadership focused on drafting a progressive new Constitution and a National Development Plan which prioritized education, while a plethora of experts and consultants from international agencies and donor countries argued over the shape of the new independent education system, with little input from the young Timorese who had fought to win the right to have one. The students gradually built new organizations, NGOs, through which to influence these debates, eventually forming a network of popular educators, called Dai Popular (Durnan, 2005); but real power lay in the interim Ministry of Education, which was firmly controlled by the technocratic discourse described at the start of this chapter.

The Post-independence Period When the United Nations relinquished sovereignty in May 2002, the First Constitutional Government following the restoration of independence was led by FRETILIN, whose Secretary General Mari Alkatiri became the Prime Minister in a government of ‘national inclusion’ which included several non-FRETLIN ministers, including the first Minister for Education. The priority of the new government was to build effective state institutions, including a public education system. The Constitution of the new Democratic Republic of TimorLeste (RDTL), adopted in 2002, set the overall framework, guaranteeing the right to education for all citizens, as well as making specific provision to ensure

Timor-Leste: Education, Decolonization and Development


that the rights of women, youth and veterans of the resistance are guaranteed. Article 59 makes an unequivocal commitment to free public education: The State shall recognize and guarantee that every citizen has the right to education and culture, and must promote the establishment of a public system of universal and compulsory basic education that is free of charge in accordance with its ability and in conformity with the law. (pp. 29–30)

Under Article 13, it specifies two official languages, Tetum and Portuguese, while requiring the state to ‘value and develop Tetum and the other national languages’. Timor’s complex language ecology (Hajek, 2000) is further recognized in Article 159, under which ‘Indonesian and English shall be working languages within civil service side by side with official languages as long as deemed necessary’ (p. 63). Other significant features of the Constitution, in terms of an overall education philosophy for the new nation, were its explicit valorization of the resistance, its commitment to social and economic equality, its guarantee of women’s rights to participation in politics and its strong expressions of international solidarity. Between 2002 and 2006, the First Constitutional Government presided over the rebuilding of the education system, including the refurbishment of the majority of the schools destroyed in 1999, work on a new primary bilingual curriculum, the development of a strategic plan for universal primary education by 2015, a school feeding programme and the launch of the national adult literacy campaign, supported by the Cuban government. Until 2006, however, the government remained almost entirely dependent on donor funds, because Australia was unwilling to renegotiate a seabed boundary it had agreed with Indonesia, reducing Timor-Leste’s access to its rich oil and gas resources off its southern coastline (Cleary, 2007). This gave donors, whose chief concern was basic and vocational education, a strong hand in negotiations around education priorities The socially progressive Constitution and the fierce commitment of the Timorese to national sovereignty and independence was reflected also in Alkatiri’s hard-line stance in the oil negotiations with Australia, and his belief in a state-led economic development strategy. These policies and attitudes did not sit well with Western governments committed to neoliberal economic ideology and desperate to control energy resources to secure their own economic futures. Consequently, a range of internal opposition groups found ready support from sections of the international community, even when their campaigns threatened to destabilize the government.


Education in South-East Asia

A major political crisis broke out in May 2006 when a section of the army mutinied, and the situation quickly escalated as loyalist and rebel elements of the security forces fought gun battles on the streets of Dili. In the ensuing security vacuum, gangs of unemployed youth looted and burned houses and government buildings with impunity (Anderson, 2006). Once again, the Ministry of Education was targeted, including a warehouse full of the new primary curriculum textbooks, and the majority of international advisers were evacuated. Nearly 200,000 people were again displaced, as they had been in 1999, into refugee camps around the capital and in the districts, though the violence itself affected only a few districts outside Dili. Security was slowly restored following the deployment of a new Australian-led international stabilization force, but FRETILIN was forced to hand over the Prime ministership to Nobel-prize winner Jose Ramos Horta, the favoured candidate of the ex-resistance leader, President Xanana Gusmao, and his Western supporters, including Australia and the United States. The presidential and parliamentary elections of 2007, conducted under the protection of the international stabilization force, resulted in a complex leadership shuffle, in which Ramos Horta became President and Gusmao the Prime Minister, leading an alliance of smaller political parties which had combined to keep FRETILIN out of office. While FRETILIN accepted this result, and went into opposition, an armed group of rebel soldiers and police who had helped create the instability the year before remained dissatisfied with the outcome. They continued to operate with impunity, culminating in armed attacks on the residences of the President and Prime Minister in February 2008, in which the main rebel leader died. In May 2008, a settlement was finally negotiated and there have been no further major outbreaks of violence. The legacy of this period of instability was a further period of interruption in the schooling of most children and young people in Dili for up to two years, and major disruptions to the institution-building processes within the Ministry of Education. It also revealed the fragility of the postindependence consensus around a new national identity and vision for the country, as small political parties grew and several new ones formed, ending the hegemony of FRETILIN as a unifying political force.

The Situation Today The international community encouraged the new government to embark on a very different development agenda, which prioritized expenditure on large and small infrastructure projects designed to alleviate poverty and create work

Timor-Leste: Education, Decolonization and Development


for the growing number of youth unemployed through stimulating private economic activity, using large injections of cash from the petroleum fund. There was also a strong donor-led push to establish a vocational education and training system based on the Western model of a national qualifications framework, encouragement of private training providers, and greater private employer involvement in standard setting and planning. These changes were reflected in a series of National Priorities statements from 2008 onwards, culminating in a new Strategic Plan for the period 2011–30. In 2012, a decade after formal independence, the educational reconstruction of the country has made significant progress, when measured against the Millennium Development Goals, the favoured benchmarks of the international community. Approximately 70 per cent of children are enrolled in basic education, which comprises nine years and is free. The country has a new bilingual national primary school curriculum, in Tetum and Portuguese. Secondary schooling rates remain quite low, but the national teaching workforce is gradually raising its qualifications. The university sector is growing, led by a national university, Universidad Nacional Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL). Most significantly, the adult literacy rate has nearly doubled, as a result of a populareducation-style national literacy campaign initiated by the First Constitutional Government and supported by a team of Cuban advisers who have been working in-country since 2006 (Boughton, 2010). Since negotiations regarding the oil revenue were finalized with Australia in 2006, the state budget has expanded enormously, and much more is now spent in aggregate on education, though its share in the total budget has recently been declining. Schools are operating in every one of the country’s 440 administrative areas, called sucos. While international advisers are still over-represented in educational decision-making, increasing numbers of Timorese returning from studying in overseas institutions are taking up senior posts in government and administration. In terms of the wider context, the country’s fledgling state institutions have survived the violent political crisis of 2006, and a subsequent change of government at elections in 2007; and 2012 will bring the third round of democratic elections since the Indonesian withdrawal. The administrative and legislative framework for the education system remains a work-in-progress, in part because the change of government following the 2006–7 political crisis and subsequent national elections led to major shifts in policy. The new government which took office in August 2007 altered the structure of the school system from a 6-3-3 model (six years primary education, followed by three years of pre-secondary and three years of secondary) to a


Education in South-East Asia

system of compulsory basic education which encompasses the first nine years, followed by three years of secondary education. This was enacted in a new Base Law for Education in 2008, which also provided a framework for a fairly major restructuring of the Education Ministry in line with the new government’s and its major donors’ belief in the virtues of decentralization. It also removed many of the directors appointed by the previous government (Macpherson, 2011). These changes have been incorporated in the country’s new Strategic Plan 2011–2030, which replaces the First National Development Plan. Figure 15.1 (below) illustrates the very high demands on the formal education sector, with over 350,000 students enrolled across the three sectors of basic, secondary and higher education. Figure 15.1  Student Population by Formal Education Sector 2010 Sector


Basic education  primary  pre-secondary Total basic education Secondary   secondary general   secondary technical Total secondary Total school students Higher education Total school and higher education

22,9974 60,481 290,455 35,062 5719 40,781 331,236 27,010 358,246

Source: RDTL, 2011.

However, net enrolment rates from 2007, set out in Figure 15.2 (below), indicate a significant level of non-participation. Figure 15.2  Net Enrolment Rates 2006 Sector Primary Pre-secondary Secondary Source: UNESCO, 2011.

Net Enrolment Rates (per cent) Male



64.4 32.1 18.4

66.6 37.4 29.0

65.6 34.9 23.3

Timor-Leste: Education, Decolonization and Development


Even for those children and young people who do participate, there are serious concerns about what is being learned. A recent World Bank study in 40 randomly selected primary schools found that: More than 70 per cent of students at the end of grade 1 could not read a single word of the simple text passage they were asked to read. 40 per cent of children were not able to read a single word at the end of grade 2; and the share of children scoring zero dropped to about 20 per cent at the end of grade 3. The assessment provides clear evidence that many children spend years in primary schools in Timor‐Leste without learning to read. The fact that children do not gain this most fundamental learning skill is a major contributor to the high rates of grade repetition and drop outs in Timor‐Leste’s primary schools. It is also important to note that the assessment covered only those children who are in school. Between a quarter and a third of primary age children in Timor Leste are not in school and presumably also have little or no reading ability. (World Bank, 2010: 2)

Many commentators faced with data such as this focus on the need to improve teacher quality and curriculum, without addressing the more fundamental problem that the majority of children and young people in rural areas, as well as a significant minority in urban areas, grow up in an environment where the majority of adults are also not literate, and where poverty puts enormous pressure on families’ ability to engage with schooling. In other words, there is a failure to consider the wider context of social inequality and its impact on schooling. This is in part being addressed through a rapidly expanding non-formal education sector, with the national literacy campaign having already provided basic literacy classes to over other 150,000 adult illiterates, out of an estimated total when the campaign began in 2007 of 240,000. A proportion of these people are expected to join adult basic education courses, called Equivalence, where they can complete a simplified basic education curriculum. However, the majority are unlikely to do this, and there is a major gap in terms of suitable ‘post-literacy’ activities and programmes to prevent the newly-literate from losing the skills they have acquired through the campaign. There is also a rapidly growing vocational training sector, operating through private and public training providers. The Equivalence programmes and the vocational training system receive strong support from international donors, especially the World Bank and the International Labour Organization (ILO), because of their supposed benefit in providing


Education in South-East Asia

pathways for the very large numbers of unemployed youth into employment and further education. The most dramatic change since 2007 has been the massive increase in the size of the Ministry of Education budget, which has doubled from US$34 million in 2006–7 to US$70 million in 2011. A significant proportion is being used to raise teacher’s salaries, in return for increasing qualification levels tied to the national qualifications framework (NQF). Moreover, an additional $25 million was allocated in the 2011 budget to a new Human Development Fund, around half of which will be spent on overseas scholarships. This reflects the new government’s determination to spend more of the resources of the Petroleum Fund, and has been matched by even larger increases in other areas of activity, particularly infrastructure development. Nevertheless, as a proportion of the total state budget, education still only receives around 10 per cent, well below the recommended 20 per cent for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. On the face of it, it appears that the new government has accepted the standard neoliberal prescription for overcoming poverty in a so-called ‘underdeveloped’ country, namely to focus on private sector job creation combined with rudimentary basic education, reductions in adult illiteracy and an expanded vocational training sector underpinned by a private training market sensitive to the skills needs of private employers and international investors. The secondary and higher education sector is given much lower priority than basic education and vocational training (RDTL, 2011), suggesting a future for Timor-Leste’s population as another low-wage, low-skilled country in the international division of labour. There also appears to be little attention paid to the political and social objectives of development, including community education for democracy and wider political participation. There is virtually no discussion or debate around curriculum content, other than in terms of the appropriate language of instruction.

Social Inequality and the Rural–Urban Divide The reduction in the proportion of public expenditure spent on education was highlighted by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, after her visit to the country in late 2011. According to Ms Sepulvada:

Timor-Leste: Education, Decolonization and Development


While the country has witnessed a recent decline of income poverty to an estimated 41 per cent in 2009, poverty – understood not only as being confined to economic deprivation but also as extending to social, cultural and political exclusion – remains pervasive and widespread. This begs the question of whether the poorest of the poor have enjoyed the benefits of such growth. Of the 75 per cent of the population living in rural areas, the majority remains entrenched in intergenerational cycles of poverty.

Less than 30 per cent of the population live in urban areas, according to the most recent census. The vast majority, over 70 per cent, are in rural areas, often in very small hamlets (called aldeias), isolated by poor roads and transport infrastructure from large or even small towns. For administrative purposes, aldeias are grouped into larger administrative units, called sucos, and there is a primary school in every suco. Sucos in turn are grouped into sub-districts, of which there are 65, and above that, into districts, of which there are 13. Between 2004 and 2010, the population of the district of Dili, the nation’s capital, has grown by a third, from 175,730 to 241,331 (RDTL.DNE, 2011). This is a direct result of a lack of investment in rural areas, including investment in education and health, since many people move to the capital to improve their families’ access to these services. Another important factor is the concentration of international development agencies in the capital, which creates job and income earning opportunities, but also creates a classic ‘two-speed’ economy, with high housing and food prices in the city contributing to the country’s inflation rate of over 17 per cent. In 2006, local NGO La'o Hamutuk estimated the total aid contribution to the Timorese economy as follows: Since 1999, two billion U.S. dollars has been allocated to Timor-Leste as aid. The five biggest donors are Portugal, Australia, the United States of America (USA), Japan and the European Commission. In addition, UNTAET and UNMISET have their own budget, totalling US$1.7 billion, from assessed and voluntary contributions from UN Member states. In total, it’s more than three billion US dollars. (Neves, 2006)

Three years later, La'o Hamutuk reported that the total aid contribution for the period 1999–2009 had risen to $5billion, which contrasted with total government expenditure for the same period of $4billion (La'o Hamutuk, 2009). The impact of large-scale expenditures on an ‘undeveloped’ economy has been compared to pouring a large bottle of water into a small glass. The ‘spillage’ is a metaphor for the flow of money back out of the country, in the


Education in South-East Asia

form of remittances home by international aid workers, and contracts let to international companies and consultants. This is a contradiction of educational aid, in that its effective utilization, in terms of the usual performance indicators, requires the deployment of tertiary educated and highly- skilled educators and educational administrators. At the same time, it is the inability of the system to grow such people locally that the aid is intended to overcome. Unless the major focus of aid professionals is on building local capacity, the development process becomes locked into a pattern of dependency. A further worrying trend, pointed to in the UNHCR report cited earlier, was the emergence of a small but very wealthy urban middle class. According to the Special Rapporteur, the richest of Timorese society now enjoys almost 180 times the wealth of the poorest of the poor (Sepúlveda, 2011). The question therefore must be asked as to the extent to which the education system is contributing to this growing social inequality. The underlying problem is the legacy of the colonial period, especially the high rates of illiteracy in rural areas which resulted from generations of educational neglect. However, this is exacerbated by an economic development strategy which prioritizes basic skills for a cash economy and investment in large infrastructure projects over a more sustainable development path centred on agriculture and essential social services, especially health and education.

The Issue of Languages Faced with growing evidence of the failure of schools to engage and retain more than a minority of the population, UNESCO and UNICEF have turned to the question of the languages of instruction. In fact, this is not a new issue, because international advisers with support from significant numbers of educated Timorese have questioned the wisdom of the country’s languages and languagesin-education policies since the UNTAET period (Earnest, et al., 2008). In this earlier period, critics questioned the wisdom of abandoning Indonesian when a majority of young educated people spoke it and it was the language of the most available school and university textbooks while Portuguese was spoken by only a minority and Tetum was considered ‘undeveloped’ (Nicolai, 2004). The answer, of course, was that the resistance leadership, including the Church and all political parties, had agreed before 1999 that decolonization would require a ‘de-Indonesianization’ process, and this should be reflected in the languages policy and the language-in-education policy. Both Portuguese and Tetum

Timor-Leste: Education, Decolonization and Development


had played key roles in sustaining the resistance and maintaining the idea of a separate national identity in the face of Indonesian attempts to assimilate the people into its national culture (Cabral and Martin-Jones, 2008); and so the language policy was an attempt to build on this experience. Nevertheless, English-speaking international advisers in particular continued to question the policy, focusing on the difficulties it created for schooling. Over time, and with the government’s decision in 2004 to develop a bilingual primary school curriculum, rather than focusing only on Portuguese as the written language, this critique has become more muted. Since the political crisis in 2006–7, however, a new trend has emerged in this debate, proposing that children should be taught in their mother tongue for at least the first four years of primary schooling. This is said to be a more effective way to deal with the complex language ecology in Timor-Leste, where children come to school speaking somewhere between 15 and 24 different languages and dialects. With strong support from UNICEF and UNESCO, the National Education Commission appointed a working group to develop a draft ‘Mothertongue’ Education Policy and an Implementation Plan, which has the political backing of the wife of the Prime Minister, Australian-born Ms Kirsty Sward Gusmao. UNICEF, with funding from AusAid, has agreed to support a pilot project in several districts. During 2012, the draft policy was hotly debated, but failed to win the support either of the Education Minister or the majority in the National Parliament. The main objection raised was that such a policy could undermine the move towards national unity and the development of Tetum as a common national language, reinforcing ethno-linguistic diversity and local divisions. The policy was also seen to be diverting resources away from more urgent priorities, and to be premature when most of the national languages which the Constitution was committed to support remained unwritten, and the education budget was already overstretched. However, the policy had strong support from international education advisers and teacher-linguists, and several prominent Timorese educators (Taylor-Leech, 2011). Regardless of the intellectual merits of the arguments in this debate, it provides an excellent illustration of the problems associated with a strong international influence over the development of a new nation’s education system. Applying a universal template for so-called ‘best practice’, the international agencies have supported a policy which, however educationally-sound it may be, has potentially divisive social and political effects, because of the way it intersects with the pre- and post-conflict history of the country and the stillunfulfilled aspiration for national identity and independence. Moreover, the


Education in South-East Asia

agencies are not accountable in any sense for their actions, nor are they responsible for resourcing their models beyond a time frame of one or two years. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is simply impossible for international education experts who come with their own national cultures, languages and histories, to manage or lead the development of a uniquely-Timorese national education system. That can only be done by Timorese educators and political leaders, and until there are sufficient of them able to develop and implement such complex policy issues, the system will remain an unstable hybrid.

Some Final Considerations During the Indonesian occupation, our experience was that education was simply to produce human resources for [the] labour market; this appears to continue today. But what we want in this situation is to produce thinking people who can be creative and independent. (Neves, 2006: 17)

The path of future development in Timor-Leste is by no means a settled matter. Many young university students and activists in NGOs are convinced that the key to the country’s future lies in a much greater focus on sustainability and environmental protection, and on the maintenance of the majority of the population in agricultural production in rural areas. These ideas resonate with debates throughout the Global South, where millions of people have found little to celebrate in the pattern of development promoted by international agencies (Amin, 2009). An increasing number of comparative education commentators now recognize the problems facing national state education systems in an era of globalization, with some suggesting that there is now a new supra-national level of education governance, presided over by international agencies such as the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (Lingard and Rawolle, 2011). It should not escape the attention of South-East Asian students of education policy that these institutions are by no means independent of other international institutions such as the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund, which have been at the forefront of the neoliberal economic revolution (Moutsios, 2009). In fact, globalization and neoliberalism have been working hand in hand to restructure the world economy, with disastrous consequences for the majority populations of many countries. The question many Timorese are asking is: ‘What kind of an education system prepares people in the twentyfirst century to resist and overcome these new forms of colonialism?’

Timor-Leste: Education, Decolonization and Development


The underlying problem remains as it was stated by Prime Minister Alkatiri at a meeting of the Development Partners in April 2006. The reduction in poverty requires rapid economic growth, because the population is very young and growing exponentially. Moreover, for this growth to occur in a way in which the benefits flow to the population, it must be led and coordinated by a strong democratic state. Such a state can only emerge if there is a rapid increase in the number of professionally qualified and ethically sound public servants, who have a clear sense of national identity and purpose (Alkatiri, 2006). This is particularly the case in education, but it is also the lack of capacity in the education system which makes this hard to achieve. It also requires the population as a whole to develop a critical consciousness which is based on a clear understanding of the determinants of economic growth and prosperity, and a healthy suspicion of the proponents of imported economic models whose main effect is to reproduce greater inequality, including in education. For this educated population to emerge requires a particular kind of education system, one which prioritizes the goals of national development and the cultivation of Timorese national identity constructed out of the actual lived experience of the Timorese people and, in particular, their long and difficult struggle for independence. While the anti-colonial aspirations of Timor-Leste’s first independence leaders may today seem somewhat dated to the eyes of many Western educational leaders and administrators, the fact remains that the majority of the world still suffers greatly from the legacies of the colonial period. For this reason, the quest for a twenty-first-century model for a decolonizing education system remains valid, not just in Timor-Leste, but in many other nations of the Asia Pacific.

References Alkatiri, M. (2006). Decision Time. Speech at the opening session of the Development Partners Meeting (Speech by the Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, at the opening session of the Timor-Leste Development Partners Meeting Hotel Timor, Díli, 4 April 2006). Amin, S. (2009). ‘The contours of an aid alternative: An abrupt rupture?’ Pambazuka. Available at: (accessed 7 July 2011). Anderson, T. (2006). ‘Timor Leste: the second Australian intervention’. Journal of Australian Political Economy, 58 (December): 62–93. Basureawan, A. (2004). Literacy in 1974–75. Paper presented at the First National Literacy Conference in Timor-Leste, 15 September 2004. Dili.


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Boughton, B. (2009). ‘Challenging donor agendas in adult and workplace education in Timor-Leste’, in L. Cooper and S. Walters (eds), Learning/Work. Turning work and lifelong learning inside out. Capetown, South Africa: Human Science Research Council Press, pp. 74–87. —(2010). ‘Back to the future? Timor-Leste, Cuba and the return of the mass literacy campaign’. Literacy and Numeracy Studies, Vol.18 (No. 2): 23–40. —(2011). ‘Timor-Leste: Building a post-conflict education system’, in L. P. Symaco and C. Brock (eds), Education in South-East Asia. Oxford: Symposium Books, pp. 177–96. Boughton, B. and Durnan, D. (2007). ‘The political economy of adult education and development’, in D. Kingsbury and M. Leach (eds), East Timor. Beyond independence. Clayton: Monash University Press, pp. 209–22. Cabral, E. (2002). FRETILIN and the Struggle for Independence in East Timor 1974–2002: An examination of the Constraints and Opportunities of a Non-State Nationalist Movement in the Late Twentieth Century. Unpublished PhD thesis. Lancaster: Lancaster University. Cabral, E., and Martin-Jones, M. (2008). ‘Writing the Resistance: Literacy in East Timor 1975–1999’. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 11 (2): 149–69. Carey, P. (1999). ‘The Catholic Church, religious revival, and the nationalist movement in East Timor, 1975–98’. Indonesia and the Malay World, Vol 27 (78): 77–95. CAVR (2006). Chega! The Report of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste. CAVR. Cleary, P. (2007). Shakedown: Australia’s grab for Timor oil. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen and Unwin. Connell, R. (2009). ‘Good teachers on dangerous ground: towards a new view of teacher quality and professionalism’. Critical Studies in Education, Vol. 50: 213–29. Available at: (accessed 15 August 2010). Cox, L. and Fominaya, C. F. (2009). ‘Movement knowledge: what do we know, how do we create knowledge and what do we do with it?’ Interface: a journal for and about social movements, Vol. 1 (January). Cristalis, I. (2009). East Timor. A Nation’s Bitter Dawn. London and New York: Zed Books. Da Silva, A. B. (2010). ‘Amilcar Cabral’s pedagogy of liberation struggle and his influence on FRETILIN 1975–1978’, in M. Leach, N. C. Mendes, A. B. Da Silva, A. D. C. Ximenes and B. Boughton (eds), Hatene kona ba/ Compreender/ Understanding/ Mengerti Timor-Leste. Proceedings of the Timor-Leste Studies Association Conference. Dili, 2–3 July 2009. Hawthorn: Swinburne Press, pp. 266–71. —(2011). FRETILIN Popular Education 1973–78 and its Relevance to Timor Leste Today. Unpublished PhD thesis. Armidale: University of New England.

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Durnan, D. (2005). Popular Education and Peacebuilding in Timor Leste. Unpublished Masters of Professional Studies (Honours), Armidale: University of New England. Earnest, J., Beck, M. and Supit, T. (2008). ‘Exploring the rebuilding of the education system in a transitional nation: The case of Timor-Leste’. Analytical Reports in International Education, special issue on Education in Developing Countries, Vol. 2 (2): 77–90. Hajek, J. (2000). ‘Language Planning and the Sociolinguistic Environment in East Timor: Colonial Practice and Changing Language Ecologies’. Current Issues in Language Planning, Vol. 1 (No. 3): 400–14. Jolliffe, J. (1978). East Timor. Nationalism and Colonialism. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press. Kehi, B. (2003). ‘Education Transformation in East Timor. Critical Thinking, Dialogue and Decolonisation of Mind’, in Proceedings of the National Conference on Education Timor-Leste April 2003. Dili: Oxfam, pp. 8–13. La’o Hamutuk. (2009). How much money have international donors spent on and in Timor‐Leste? Available at: pdf. (accessed 10 December 2011). Lingard, B., and Rawolle, S. (2011). ‘New scalar politics: implications for education policy’. Comparative Education, 47 (4): 489–502. Macpherson, R. (2011). ‘Educational administration in Timor Leste: Language policy and capacity building challenges in a post-conflict context’. International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 25 (2): 186–203. Millo, Y. and Barnett, J. (2003). Educational Development in East Timor. Melbourne: School of Development Studies, Melbourne University, Working Paper Series, No. 1. Moutsios, S. (2009). ‘International organisations and transnational education policy’. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 39 (4): 469–81. Neves, G. (2006). The Paradox of Aid in Timor–Leste. Paper presented at the Seminar ‘Cooperação Internacional e a Construção do Estado no Timor-Leste’. University of Brasilia: 25–28 July 2006. Nicol, B. (2002). Timor: a nation reborn. Jakarta-Singapore: Equinox Publishing. Nicolai, S. (2004). Learning independence. Education in emergency and transition in Timor Leste since 1999. Paris: UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning. Pinto, C. (2001). ‘The student movement and the independence movement in East Timor: An Interview’, in R. Tanter, M. Selden and S. R. Shalom (eds), Bitter Flowers, Sweet Flowers: East Timor, Indonesia and the World Community. Sydney: Pluto Press, pp. 31–42. RDTL (Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste) (2011). Timor-Leste Strategic Development Plan 2011–2030. Available at: SDP/2011/Timor-Leste-Strategic-Plan-2011-20301.pdf (accessed 7 July 2011). RDTL.DNE (2011). Timor-Leste National Census Results 2011. Available at: http://dne. (accessed November 2011).


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Rutkowski, D. J. (2007). ‘Converging us softly: how intergovernmental organizations promote neoliberal educational policy’. Critical Studies in Education, Vol. 48 (No. 2, September): 229–47. Sepúlveda, M. (2011). Preliminary Observations and Recommendations. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights – Mission to Timor-Leste from 13 to 18 November 2011. UNHCR. Available at: Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11618&LangID=E (accessed January 2011). Schugurensky, D. (2011). Paulo Freire. London: Continuum. Taylor-Leech, K. (2011). Timor-Leste: Finding appropriate spaces for indigenous vernacular languages in education. A presentation in the colloquium: Literacy and language policy, past and present, in Timor-Leste. Paper presented at the Language, Education and Diversity Conference, University of Auckland, 23 November, 2011. UNESCO (2011). UNESCO National Education Support Strategy (UNESS) Kingdom of Thailand 2010–2015. Bangkok: UNESCO. World Bank. (2003). Timor-Leste Education. The Way Forward. A summary report from the World Bank. December 1, 2003. Prepared for the National Education Congress, November 2003. Washington, DC: World Bank. —(2010). Timor‐Leste. An Analysis of Early Grade Reading Acquisition. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Useful Websites East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), a US-based NGO which maintains a comprehensive email news service, archived on this site: Official portal of the Government of Timor-Leste: La'o Hamutuk (Local NGO which monitors the role of international donors in TimorLeste): Official website of the National Directory of Statistics, where all census results are published: Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation Homepage: Timor-Leste Studies Association, an international association of academics undertaking research in Timor-Leste: United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Timor-Leste: United Nations Security Council publications on Timor-Leste: www.securitycouncilreport. org/site/c.glKWLeMTIsG/b.2400755/k.9653/Publications_on_TimorLeste.htm World Bank portal on Timor-Leste:

Timor-Leste: Education, Decolonization and Development


Notes 1 FRETILIN is an acronym for the Revolutionary Front for the Independence of Timor-Leste. 2 A horse, in the native language Tetum, was kuda, broken down in the manual into letters and syllables; while in the anthem, the people were called upon not to be led by others, but to ‘take the reins of their own horse’, and fight for independence – ukun rasik an.


Vietnam: The Education System – A Need to Improve Quality Martin Hayden and Le Thi Ngoc Lan

Introduction Vietnam is one of the fastest-growing economies in South-East Asia. Consistently high annual rates of economic growth during the past two decades have helped raise living standards and have enabled the more rapid development of infrastructure. The World Bank now classifies Vietnam as a ‘lower middle-income’ economy. Gross national income per capita in 2010 was US$1100, which was higher than for Cambodia (US$760) or Laos (US$1010), but lower than for Thailand (US$4210), China (US$4260), Malaysia ($7900) or Singapore (US$40,920) (World Bank, 2011). According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2010–2011, Vietnam is making significant economic progress because of its efficient labour market, its impressive innovation potential (given its stage of development), and its large market size – it has a population of about 89 million and is becoming a strong exporting nation. Economic progress is constrained, however, by inflationary pressures, an excessively restrictive regulatory environment, restraints on the freedom of international trade, the poor quality of the country’s capital infrastructure (particularly roads and ports), and low education enrolment rates at the uppersecondary and tertiary levels. Corruption is also described as being ‘frequent and pervasive’ (World Economic Forum, 2011: 30). Vietnam’s achievements in the area of education are impressive. Attendance at school up to the age of 15 years is now the norm, which is remarkable for a developing economy in which one-quarter of the population is less than 15 years of age. Participation rates in post-compulsory schooling and in tertiary education are expanding rapidly. In terms of quality, however, the education system faces a great many challenges. Resources are extremely limited; the


Education in South-East Asia

physical infrastructure of public schools, colleges and universities is poor; the curriculum continues to be very traditional; and the teaching profession generally has little incentive to adopt more contemporary forms of professional practice. A significant proportion (one-fifth) of the state budget is now being invested in public education (London, 2011: 23), but the system is also relying a good deal on private household expenditure. Well-off households, which are more likely to be located in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, are becoming progressively more privileged in terms of access to educational opportunities. This chapter reports on the distinctive features of Vietnam’s education system. It starts with a brief review of the country setting. It then provides an account of the regulatory framework and structure of the system. Challenges facing the system are discussed, and the chapter concludes with a review of priorities for the future. A number of recent publications make significant contributions to the relevant literature. One is a book edited by London (2011) that addresses issues relating to the political economy of the education system. Another is a chapter by Pham and Fry (2011) in which Vietnam’s recent educational achievements and policy dilemmas are discussed. The third is an edited volume on the reform of the higher education system (Harman et al., 2010). Finally, there are documents from UNESCO (2011) and UNICEF (2010) that provide detailed accounts of how Vietnam’s education system functions.

Country Setting Pham and Fry (2011: 222) describe Vietnam as being exceptional in many ways – that is, it is not a typical case when compared with other developing economies. Drawing on images of ‘an ascending dragon’, ‘a rising Phoenix’ and ‘a country on the move’, they confirm the remarkable resilience and determination of the Vietnamese people in recovering within less than a generation from the accumulated effects of warfare, flood and famine. They identify five important themes from Vietnamese history as being critical to an understanding of contemporary Vietnam. These are: its long history of eventual success in defeating foreign invaders; its susceptibility to natural disasters, principally floods and typhoons; its Confucian heritage, which accords great respect to teachers and places a high value on the importance of learning; its commitment to the traditional Vietnamese village as the centrepiece of Vietnamese culture; and its history of expansion in the form of the ‘march to the South’, whereby over the period from

Vietnam: The Education System – A Need to Improve Quality


the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries an expanding population from the Red River Delta (in northern Vietnam) moved steadily southwards. Pham and Fry also draw attention to the diverse and powerful external influences that have impacted on Vietnam’s education system. Important here are the influences of Chinese Confucianism, French colonialism, American individualism (in the South) and Soviet collectivism (initially in the North). Quite reasonably, they conclude that Vietnam’s education system is ‘a unique and creative amalgam of indigenous, Chinese, French, Russian, American, and global influences’ (2011: 222–3). Not explicitly identified by Pham and Fry as being distinctive, but exceptional nonetheless, is that Vietnam is also one of the few remaining nations with a political commitment to the principles of Marxism-Leninism, even though it is relying increasingly on market capitalism. State socialism was replaced during the mid- to late-1980s by a ‘socialist-oriented market mechanism’. Within the education system, however, many cultural aspects of state socialism remain firmly entrenched, and yet instances of predatory market capitalism are also evident. Vietnam’s current educational system is also, therefore, a unique and creative amalgam of socialism and capitalism. A turning point for Vietnam’s economy occurred with the official adoption in 1986 of a national policy of economic renewal (Đổi Mới), whereby centralized economic planning in the Soviet tradition began to be replaced by a regulated market mechanism. In the aftermath of this change, agriculture became more privatized, property rights were introduced across a wide range of industries, levels of employment in state-owned enterprises were cut, price controls and controls on foreign trade were eased, laws encouraging foreign investment and permitting joint ventures with foreign-owned companies were approved, the health care system was substantially deregulated and Vietnam progressively re-engaged with the international economy (Glewwe, 2004). The economic effects of these reforms were dramatic. Economic growth surged during the 1990s, reaching a high point in 1995 when real GDP growth per annum reached 9.5 per cent (World Bank, 2011). After a slow-down in the late 1990s, economic growth again accelerated, reaching a peak in 2007 when the annual rate of growth in real GDP reached 8.5 per cent (World Bank, 2011). Poverty has steadily declined. Whereas in 1993, 63.7 per cent of the population lived on less than US$1.25 per day (at 2005 international prices), by 2008 this rate was down to 13.1 per cent (World Bank, 2011). This trend, in combination with improvements in health services and educational participation, has resulted in substantial improvements in Vietnam’s score on the United Nations


Education in South-East Asia

Development Programme’s (UNDP) human development index, which takes account of life expectancy, adult literacy, educational participation and the standard of living. In 2000, Vietnam’s score stood at 0.505, indicating a low level of human development. By 2010, its score was 0.572, indicating a middle level of human development. Of note, though, is that the score for East Asia and the Pacific region as a whole in 2010 was 0.650, which means that Vietnam remains below the regional average (UNDP, 2011). Of note also is that Vietnam’s rate of improvement over the decade has only just managed to keep up with the rate of improvement across the region. Vietnam’s Gini index, which indicates on a 100-point scale the deviation from perfect equality in the distribution of income among households in an economy, is relatively high, at 0.38, but it is below levels for most other countries in the region, including China (0.42), Cambodia (0.44), Malaysia (0.46) and Thailand (0.54) (World Bank, 2011). In 2008 the income share received by the top 20 per cent of income earners was 45.4 per cent (World Bank, 2011). The extent of inequality does not appear to be worsening over time, but what is happening is that Vietnam’s wealth is more likely to be found in its two main cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Ethnic minority groups living in the more remote mountainous, delta and island regions of the country tend to be very poor. Significant progress is being made in terms of improving educational enrolment rates. There is now a vast network of educational providers in Vietnam, with pre-schools and primary schools in every village, lower-secondary and upper-secondary schools in every district, and vocational schools, colleges and universities in every province or city. Attendance at school up to the age of 15 is generally the norm, though the incidence of non-attendance by some groups of students continues to be problematic. Most students who complete primary school proceed to lower-secondary school – in 2004–5, the transition rate from primary to lower-secondary school was 98.5 per cent (UNESCO, 2011). In the lower-secondary school years, enrolment rates fall, but not by much. In 2007–8, the gross enrolment rate for lower-secondary school was 92 per cent, with the greatest losses occurring among female students from ethnic minority groups (UNESCO, 2011). Enrolment rates fall more sharply in uppersecondary education – in 2007–8, the gross enrolment rate for upper-secondary school education was 56.7 per cent (UNESCO, 2011). Enrolment rates then fall steeply for higher education, to less than 20 per cent.

Vietnam: The Education System – A Need to Improve Quality


Regulatory Framework Vietnam’s Constitution refers to education as being the ‘foremost national policy’, with responsibility for managing the national education system vested in the state. The Education Law of 2005 (with revisions in 2009) prescribes four levels in the education system: early childhood education, general education (including primary, lower-secondary, upper-secondary), professional education (including vocational education and professional secondary education), and higher education (including undergraduate and postgraduate education). It prescribes the following award qualifications: a lower-secondary diploma, an upper-secondary diploma, a professional-secondary education diploma, a college diploma, a university degree, a master’s degree and a doctoral degree. It accords every citizen, regardless of ethnic origin, religion, beliefs, gender, family background, social status or economic conditions, an equal right of access to learning opportunities. It obliges the state and the community to help the poor to have access to education, and to enable gifted people to develop their talents. Primary and lower-secondary education are declared to be universal education levels, with all young people obliged to participate in learning up until the completion of lower-secondary education. The government must submit for decision by the National Assembly all major guidelines affecting the learning rights and duties of citizens, together with any significant reform proposals. The government must also report annually to the National Assembly on all educational operations and on education expenditure. The Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) is responsible for implementing government policies. Other ministries and ministerial-level agencies are responsible for cooperating with MOET in this regard. People’s Committees at provincial and district levels are responsible for implementing state management in accordance with approved delegations. They also have a special responsibility for ensuring ‘financial conditions, infrastructure, teachers, teaching equipment for public institutions under their management, meeting the demand of scale expansion, improvement of educational quality and efficiency in their localities’ (Article 100, Education Law of 2005). MOET exercises oversight of the sector and sets the broad policy directions (UNESCO, 2011). Responsibility for the management of infrastructure, staffing and finances has progressively been decentralized. Provincial Departments of Education and Training (DOETs), which report both to MOET and to


Education in South-East Asia

provincial People’s Committees, are responsible for upper-secondary schools and professional education. Bureaus of Education and Training (BOETs), which report to People’s Committees at the district level, are responsible for lowersecondary schools and primary schools. At the vocational education and higher education levels, the regulatory framework is more complex. Vocational education is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), though vocational training provided through professional secondary schools is the responsibility of MOET. Private education, widely referred to in official documentation as ‘non-public’ education, is slowly expanding as a segment within the education system. In the 2008–9 school year, the percentage of students in non-public institutions was 13.3 per cent (up from 11.8 per cent in 2000). The share was 4.78 per cent at the school level, 22.2 per cent at the professional secondary level, 31.2 per cent at the vocational college level, and 12.7 per cent at the higher education level. Private educational providers have a high level of financial and management autonomy, though they remain subject to the state for approval of their curriculum and for their admission quotas. State priorities for the system are expressed in ten-year strategy statements. These typically express ambitious goals with which few could disagree. The Education Development Strategy for 2001–10, for example, referred to the importance of nurturing talent and training human resources in an effort to catch up with more developed countries in the South-East Asian region. The draft Education Development Strategy for 2011–20 continues in the same vein. It also identifies the need for a ‘fundamental and comprehensive modernization of the national education system’ and for ‘more cooperation between families and schools’ (Vietnam News Service, 4 September 2011).

Education Levels Figure 16.1 (below) presents an overview of the organization of the education system in Vietnam. It shows the usual duration of studies for each of the levels in the system, and the usual pathways between the different levels. Each level will now be discussed.

Vietnam: The Education System – A Need to Improve Quality


Figure 16.1  The National Education System in Vietnam Age

24 21

Doctor of Philosophy (2-4 years)

18 18

Master (2 years)

Nonformal education

University Education (4-6 years)

College Education (3 years)

15 11 6 6

Professional Secondary (3-4 years)

Upper secondary (3 years)

Vocational Training Long term (1-3 years) Short term (< 1 year)

Lower-secondary (4 years) Primary (5 years)

Kindergarten Nursery

Source: MOET.

Early childhood The early childhood level of crèches and kindergartens provides for very young children. Crèches accept infants aged from three months to three years of age. Kindergartens accept children aged from three to five years of age. Participation in pre-school education is compulsory, but rates of participation in cities and among better-off families are higher than in the county. In 2008–9, the gross enrolment rate for children aged three years or less was 20 per cent, while for children aged three to five years it was 79 per cent, and for children aged five years it was 99 per cent (UNESCO, 2011). In a recent policy statement (Decision 579/QD-TTg, 19 April 2011), the government has committed to achieving universal pre-school education by 2015 for children under the age of five years.

Primary Primary schools accept children at the age of six and provide five one-year grade levels. The school principal gives a certificate to students who successfully complete Grade 5. Schools follow a national curriculum, with some time made


Education in South-East Asia

available to address local content. Schools are being encouraged to offer foreign language training as an elective in the upper grade levels. English language studies tend to dominate. In 2009–10, there were 15,172 primary schools in Vietnam, providing for a total enrolment of 7.02 million students (46 per cent were girls). There were 349,500 qualified teachers (UNESCO, 2011). It is estimated that in 2005–6, the gross enrolment rate in primary education was 103.1 per cent, and that the average overall repetition rate was 1 per cent (UNESCO, 2011). These rates may, however, disguise a certain amount of non-attendance at school in the more remote regions and among ethnic minority groups.

Lower-secondary Lower-secondary schools provide a further four grade levels of education. The District Bureau of Education and Training awards students who successfully complete Grade 9 a lower-secondary school diploma. The lowersecondary curriculum seeks to consolidate and develop student capability in Vietnamese, mathematics, national history, the social sciences, the natural sciences, law, informatics and foreign languages. Schools follow a national curriculum, but some flexibility in applying the national curriculum at a local level is permitted. In 2009–10, there were 10,064 lower-secondary schools, and a further 294 combined lower and upper secondary schools, providing for a total enrolment of 6.15 million students (43.3 per cent were girls). There were 314,900 teachers, nearly all with teaching qualifications (UNESCO, 2011). It is estimated that in 2005–6, the gross enrolment rate for lower-secondary education was 84.5 per cent (UNESCO, 2011). These rates may also overstate to some extent actual school attendance rates, especially in the more remote regions and among ethnic minority groups.

Upper-secondary Upon successful attainment of a lower-secondary diploma, students may proceed to upper-secondary education, subject to conditions decided upon by provincial authorities. Upper-secondary education provides three grade levels. Students who successfully complete Grade 12 are awarded an uppersecondary school diploma by the provincial DOET. Whereas the curriculum for primary and lower-secondary education is standardized nationally, at the

Vietnam: The Education System – A Need to Improve Quality


upper-secondary level there is a general curriculum and a special curriculum, with the special curriculum intended to allow students to specialize in certain subject areas (natural science, social sciences or the arts). At the end of uppersecondary education, students must sit for a final examination, set by MOET and administered by the provincial DOET. In 2009–10, there were 2267 upper-secondary schools, providing for a total enrolment of 3.07 million pupils (50.2 per cent were girls). There were 125,200 teachers, nearly all with teaching qualifications (UNESCO, 2011). It is estimated that in 2007–8 the gross enrolment rate for upper-secondary education was 56.7 per cent (UNESCO, 2011). In a recent policy statement (Decision 579/QD-TTg, 19 April 2011), the government committed to expanding upper-secondary participation.

Vocational The vocational education level includes two streams, professional secondary education and vocational training. Professional secondary education has one level only, an intermediate level (hence, it is often referred to as professional intermediate education). Students admitted to this level require three to four years to complete a programme of studies if they have been admitted on the basis of completion of a lower-secondary school diploma, or one to two years of study if they have been admitted on the basis of completion of an upper-secondary school diploma. Professional secondary education programmes are provided by professional secondary schools belonging to ministries or provincial People’s Committees, or they may be provided by professional secondary schools that are affiliated with higher education institutions, or that have been established by business companies or an industry organization. Professional secondary schools are under management by MOET for academic and enrolment matters, and they are under management by the ministry to which they belong for operational matters, including staff recruitment, infrastructure development, and so on. They are accountable administratively to provincial People’s Committees. Schools belonging to provincial People’s Committees are under management by approved organizations. The second stream, vocational training, falls exclusively under the management of the Ministry of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs (MOLISA). It has three levels: a basic level, an intermediate level and a college level. Admission to training programmes offered at the basic level is relatively unrestricted, and these programmes, which may take from three months to one year to complete,


Education in South-East Asia

are made available through vocational training centres, vocational secondary schools, vocational colleges, professional intermediate schools, and so on. It is reported (Nguyen, 2007: 129) that 30 per cent of graduates from lowersecondary education, and 10 per cent of graduates from upper-secondary education, enter basic-level training programmes at vocational training centres. Admission to training programmes offered at the intermediate level is restricted to students who have completed either a lower-secondary school diploma, in which case the training programmes may take three to four years to complete, or an upper-secondary school diploma, in which case the training programmes may take only one to two years to complete. In 2010, Vietnam had 513 vocational education institutions, of which 290 were professional secondary schools. There were 686, 184 professional secondary students, mainly enrolled full-time. Figures on enrolments in vocational training centres, schools and colleges are not readily available. In a recent policy statement (Decision 579/QD-TTg, 19 April 2011), the government indicated that it wishes to concentrate foreign assistance on developing high-quality vocational training. It has assigned responsibility to MOLISA to formulate a project to establish 40 high-quality vocational schools, including ten that are of international standard, with the ten internationalstandard institutions to be established by 2020.

Higher education The higher education level includes undergraduate-level education, which may be provided by a college or a university, master-degree-level education, which may be offered by a university, an academy, or, in approved cases, cooperatively with a research institute, and doctoral-level education, which may be offered by a university, an academy (for example, the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology) or an approved research institute. Students admitted to a college to complete an undergraduate-level training programme require between one and three years to complete their studies. They may be admitted on the basis of having completed an upper-secondary school diploma, a professional secondary (intermediate) qualification, or a vocational training (intermediate) qualification. Depending on the nature and duration of the training programme undertaken, they may graduate with a certificate, a diploma or an associate degree. Students admitted to a university to complete an undergraduate-level

Vietnam: The Education System – A Need to Improve Quality


training programme require at least four years to complete their studies, though some training programmes (for example, medicine and dentistry) may require six years. Students may be admitted on the basis of having completed an upper-secondary school diploma, a vocational training (intermediate) qualification, or a college-level vocational training qualification. They graduate with a degree. Students admitted to full-time undergraduate training programmes are generally required to have undertaken the national university entrance examination. Students admitted to part-time undergraduate-level training programmes may not always have undertaken this examination, particularly if completing their studies on an in-service basis involving a partnership between a university and an employer. Students participating in joint training programmes between overseas and national institutions are not required to sit for the entrance examination either. Students admitted to master-degree-level programmes at a university require one to two years to complete a programme of studies, while students admitted to a doctoral-level programme at a university or research institute require two to four years to complete their candidature. Students admitted to master-degree and doctoral programmes must complete an entrance examination. Colleges and universities are under management by MOET for approval of their curriculum and admission quotas. Public-sector institutions are also under management by the ministry (including MOET) or state instrumentality to which they belong for operational matters, including staff recruitment, infrastructure development, and so on. They may also be accountable administratively to their provincial People’s Committee. Private-sector colleges and universities are self-governing (except, of course, for approval of their curriculum and admission quotas). The higher education sector has expanded dramatically during the past decade, with enrolments increasing from 918,228 to 2,162,106 over the ten-year period from 2001 to 2011 (about 30 per cent of all enrolments in 2011 were part-time). In 2011, there were 163 universities and 223 colleges, and the number of these institutions has more than doubled since 2001. Higher education institutions vary greatly in size. Sixteen ‘key’ public universities tend to dominate. In 2011, this group accounted for about one-third of all higher education enrolments. At the same time, there are a great many very small universities and colleges. About 40 per cent of all public and private universities in the 2009–10 academic year had fewer than 3000 enrolments.


Education in South-East Asia

Challenges Vietnam’s education system faces significant challenges, many of which relate to funding constraints. Even with more funds, though, the pace of educational reform tends to be slow. Progress depends not only on more money but also on strong leadership and better management.

Finance The education system is well supported in financial terms by the government, which now allocates as much as 20 per cent of the state budget to education. Most (52 per cent) of this expenditure is directed to primary and lower-secondary education (UNICEF, 2010: 171). The rest is committed to upper-secondary education (11.2 per cent), higher education (10.7 per cent), vocational training (9.8 per cent), early childhood education (8.5 per cent) and technical education (3.8 per cent). The proportion allocated to primary and lower-secondary education will decline over coming years because the number of young people aged 15 years and below in the population is falling. The proportion allocated to vocational and higher education is expected to increase. The system is well supported by private household expenditure. Indeed, private household expenditure on education is now claimed to be approaching or exceeding public expenditure on education (London, 2011: 24). Tuition fees, which are charged at all levels other than for primary education, are a significant component of private household expenditure on education. In 2006, tuition fees were estimated to account for 31.8 per cent of all private household expenditure on education (UNICEF, 2010: 187). Other components included: ‘extra-study’ classes (16.5 per cent), textbooks (9.6 per cent), study tools (7.8 per cent), contributions to school funds (6.9 per cent) and uniforms (6.2 per cent). Increases in tuition fees and other charges are an annual occurrence – and a source of much parent disquiet, especially when imposed at short notice and for reasons that are not properly justified. The prevalence of ‘extra-study’ (that is, private tutorial) classes in Vietnam is growing, to the point where these classes are considered to be almost as significant as the formal school system itself (London, 2011: 89). A large proportion of young people now participate in them. For teachers, the classes can be quite profitable. London (2011: 90) reports that one teacher from Da Nang could earn $US1000 per month by providing ‘extra-study’ classes. Though regulations

Vietnam: The Education System – A Need to Improve Quality


prohibit the exploitation of students in the conduct of these classes, London (2011: 90) reports that the relevant regulations are ‘loosely applied’. ‘Extra-study’ classes are undermining the trust and respect traditionally accorded to teachers. They are accessible only by households that can afford to pay for them, and so teachers are being seen to be mercenary, favouring the rich. In country areas, where poor parents are desperate for their children to enter university with the hope of escaping poverty, the problem is especially difficult. These classes also restrict the amount of time available to children for play activity. A policy of ‘socialization’ provides the framework for private household expenditure on education. It encourages organizations and individuals to participate in the development of the education system by contributing to its total cost. This policy has been in place since the early 1990s and has provided a rationale for establishing semi-public (supported by the state, but with higher tuition fees) and non-public (entirely reliant on tuition fees) schools, colleges and universities. It is also the basis for permitting foreign and local investment in the private sector of the education system. Its application means, however, that access to education in Vietnam is progressively becoming less equitable. The policy needs to be reviewed because of the extent to which it is becoming open to abuse, mainly through instances of ‘predatory capitalism’. Article 20 of the Education Law of 2005 (revised in 2009), which strictly prohibits corrupt use of educational activities to distort state guidelines, policies and legislation, also needs to be reconsidered in this regard. London (2011: 24) reports that in 2008, expenditure on education was US$207 per child for high-income families, but only US$32 per child for low-income families. He reports also that in 2008 it was not uncommon for households in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi to pay more than US$100 per month for ‘extra-study’ classes. As he points out, this would be ‘an unimaginable sum’ for poor households. Increasing levels of public and private expenditure on education are causing the proportion of Vietnam’s GDP spent on education to edge upwards. In 2000, it was 3.2 per cent (Pham and Fry, 2011: 231). London (2011: 23) estimates that, by 2010, it would be 6.9 per cent. At this level, Vietnam is one of the leading countries in South-East Asia in terms of the proportion of GDP allocated to education. Notwithstanding this growth in expenditure, many in Vietnam question why the quality of the education system is not improving at a faster pace. The explanation must remain speculative, but inadequate governance systems, a slow-moving and complicated bureaucracy, certain inefficiencies and the existence of inadequate accountability mechanisms are the most likely contributors to this situation.


Education in South-East Asia

Management Management of the education system in Vietnam is widely acknowledged to be deficient. Even in high-level official policy documents, management of the system is recognized to be weak. The draft Education Development Training Strategy for 2011–10, for example, states that there is a ‘lack of synchronization’ across the education system, and that education management remains ‘inadequate’. A significant problem is the lack of a single point of authority. While MOET is responsible to the government for the implementation of national policies for education, other ministries, including the Ministry of Finance, which approves financial allocations; MOLISA, which controls vocational training; and at least 13 other ministries, which manage their own universities, colleges and professional secondary schools, routinely exercise their right to act independently of MOET in making decisions that affect the education system. A national commitment to decentralization further weakens MOET’s authority. At the provincial and district levels, People’s Committees (local governments) routinely respond to national policies as they see fit. Cobbe (2011: 111) has noted that ‘provinces do not always or consistently do what the centre wants them to, nor do districts always or consistently do what the province wants them to’. As a consequence, there is a great deal of variation in educational practices and processes across Vietnam’s many provinces and districts. Another significant problem concerns the training of managers and administrators. Pham and Fry (2011: 231) report that there are 10,400 educational administrators working for MOET, provincial offices and district offices, and that there are a further 80,000 administrators working for schools, colleges and universities. It is widely accepted that most of these people are inadequately trained for the roles they perform. Their roles are not made easier by ambiguities and complexities in official directives, or by the insufficiency of budgets. For example, ‘norms’, in the form of prescriptive input-oriented statements about the financial and other conditions under which schools, colleges and universities must operate, are often reported to be contradictory and out of date. A ‘norm’ for class sizes may, for example, be impossible to implement because of its incompatibility with another budgetary ‘norm’ on teacher salaries. Managers (school principals, directors and rectors) must therefore exercise judgement at the institutional level, but there are risks for them in making independent decisions, and so simply follow the regulations for safety. A spirit of entrepreneurship is lacking in most educational managers.

Vietnam: The Education System – A Need to Improve Quality


Teaching and curriculum The quality of teaching and the curriculum in Vietnam is widely viewed as being inadequate. The kind of teaching that is widely practised encourages students to focus more on mastery of theory and the acquisition of memorized knowledge than on the development of analytical, problem-solving and communication skills (Nguyen, 2007: 134; UNESCO, 2011). Consistent with tradition, students are expected to follow exactly the instructions provided by their teachers, and performance in examinations relies heavily on the capacity of the students to reproduce knowledge and skills learnt in this way. Many conditions reinforce this pattern. These include: an overloaded national curriculum for schools, involving expectations that exceed the capacities of most young people; a heavy reliance on examinations, often comprised entirely of knowledge-based multiple-choice or essay questions; a cultural tradition whereby teachers are given unquestioning respect; and the absence of a variety of rich learning resources – even if teachers wanted to encourage more autonomy in student learning, students may not have access to the necessary books and materials (Nguyen, 2007; UNICEF, 2010; Cobbe, 2011: 108). New approaches to teaching are being adopted, but progress is slow. Even where teachers encourage students to be more proactive in their approach to learning, the shortage of learning materials and the limitations of the physical facilities are major constraints. The ‘tyranny of testing’ that is evident in the education system warrants special mention. From pre-school to postgraduate studies, tests prevail. A child in the junior years of primary school, for example, may be required to sit for multiple tests at the end of each semester. The results of these tests form the basis for student rankings in each class. In addition, groups of schools in the same district may organize contests to choose the best students who will then be sent to further contests at the city and then the national levels. Students with good results have more opportunity to apply to good schools or special schools. Competition to perform well in assessment tasks is a feature of the education system. Teaching methods do not encourage students to engage actively or to be creative. Students become passive learners, which is contrary to the thrust of new training programmes recently introduced. Parents become fearful of academic failure. Teachers dread being ‘warned’ by their school principals if students are not obtaining high marks in tests. The overloaded curriculum stipulated by MOET compounds the problem. Teachers and parents turn to ‘extra-study’ classes to assist, with students crammed with more information so that their test results are not disappointing. At the upper-secondary level,


Education in South-East Asia

the pressure is especially intense. In order to enter a university, a student must not only pass a graduation examination comprised of six subject areas but also select the block of subjects to focus on for the university entrance exams.1 These conditions are deep-seated. Reversing them is not likely to be an easy matter. The education system lacks an effective national regulatory framework for periodically reviewing the quality of teaching and the curriculum. There is, therefore, no significant pressure exerted to achieve nationwide compliance with quality standards. Teaching quality continues to be judged largely on the basis of having the required academic qualifications, with less attention given to having an adequate subject knowledge, being competent in practical teaching skills and having the capacity to motivate students (UNESCO, 2011). Most recently, national standards for secondary schools have been officially adopted (Circular No. 13/2012/TT-BGDDT, 6 April 2012) and a nationwide quality assessment process for accreditation of these schools is being implemented. There are five criteria involved in this process: organizing and managing the schools; management staff, teachers, normal staff and students; facilities and teaching equipment; relationship between schools, families and society; and educational activities and educational outcomes). The implementation of national reform agendas is, however, characteristically slow. Provincial and district authorities tend not to do what ministries want, and there is often not the funding available to enable effective teacher professional development. The business community, particularly in large cities, has become a vocal source of pressure for change. It wants the education system to provide students with more than knowledge of theory. It values flexibility, adaptability and communication skills, and it wants students leaving schools, colleges and universities to be able to exercise initiative, accept responsibility, make decisions and provide effective customer service. In certain sectors of the economy, it also wants students to have a high level of proficiency in foreign languages, especially English. There is growing evidence that the business community is not satisfied with the ability of the education system to meet these needs. What is contradictory, though, is that the business community is generally not inclined to invest in the education system. In the case of higher education graduates, it relies on the state to produce the graduates and then it complains about their quality. In any event, the more general issue is that the education system remains steeped in a culture of judging academic success from a traditional and somewhat narrow perspective.

Vietnam: The Education System – A Need to Improve Quality


Equity The principal disparities in terms of access to education relate to ethnic background, geographic region and household income. Gender-based inequity is less evident as far as enrolment rates are concerned, except among particular ethnic minority groups and in certain geographic regions (UNICEF, 2010: 189; UNESCO, 2011). The introduction of children with disabilities into inclusive education settings remains a major challenge. Vietnam has 54 different ethnic nationalities, of which 53 nationalities account for about 13 per cent of the total population. Though the enrolment rates of ethnic minorities in primary school appear to be much the same as for the rest of the population, their pre-school enrolment rates, primary school completion rates and secondary school enrolment rates fall below those for other young people. In 2006, for example, a national sample survey found that net attendance rates at secondary school were lower for ethnic minority groups than for all other young people – among girls, for example, the attendance rate was 61.6 for ethnic minority groups, but 82.6 per cent for all other students (UNICEF, 2010: 189). To improve enrolment rates in secondary and vocational education among ethnic minority groups, the government is providing more scholarships and other forms of financial assistance, constructing more boarding schools, encouraging the learning of Vietnamese and providing tuition fee exemptions. It has also approved the use of community languages in schools attended by ethnic minority children, though, in fact, teachers, who in most cases do not come from these communities, may not know how to use a local language in their teaching. Vietnam’s ethnic nationalities tend to live in the more remote and less hospitable parts of the country, and so their geographic location adds to the difficulties of providing them with an adequate level of education. Children living in mountainous areas are possibly worst off (UNICEF, 2010: 201). Bad weather and poor roads may disrupt attendance at school. As they get older, young people from these regions, especially girls, may be required to spend more time helping out at home. Enrolment rates in pre-school and secondary education also differ significantly between rural and urban areas. The national sample survey conducted in 2006 found, for example, that 75 per cent of urban children attended a pre-school, compared with only 51 per cent of rural children (UNICEF, 2010: 176). It found no significant difference between rural and urban children in terms of the likelihood of reaching the fifth grade of school (UNICEF, 2010:


Education in South-East Asia

183), but it did find significant disparities between regions in Vietnam in terms of primary school completion rates. The Red River Delta region, for example, had a rate of 90 per cent, compared with the Central Highlands region, which had a rate of 65 per cent, and the North-West region, which had a rate of only 50 per cent. A subsequent investigation found that in 2006–7 the net enrolment rate in lower-secondary school was 83 per cent in urban areas, but only 78 per cent in rural areas (MPI, 2008; UNICEF, 2010: 184). Various conditions impact on these rates. Parents in rural areas are possibly less aware of the value of more education for their children, and they are certainly less likely to be earning high incomes (UNICEF, 2010: 181–4). Rural areas are also more likely to experience a shortage of qualified teachers, especially younger and recently qualified teachers. The relationship between the level of household income and educational enrolment rates has already been touched upon in this chapter. There is clearly a positive correlation between private household income and years of schooling undertaken by a young person in Vietnam. The national sample survey conducted in 2006 found that attendance at pre-school was twice as likely for children from the wealthiest families as for children from the poorest families – 80 per cent, compared with 36 per cent (UNICEF, 2010: 176). The survey also found that the rate of secondary school attendance was 92 per cent for the wealthiest families, but only 60 per cent for the poorest families. Data limitations constrain discussion of the extent to which Vietnam is making recent progress in terms of introducing students with disabilities into inclusive education settings. In 2005–6, the percentage of children with disabilities enrolled in inclusive education settings was only 31 per cent (UNICEF, 2010: 194). This rate is, however, a considerable improvement on the rate of only 9.1 per cent in 2002–3.

Higher education The challenges facing the higher education sector are symptomatic of challenges elsewhere in the system. On the one hand, the sector is expanding at an extraordinary pace, with projections up to 2020 of a doubling of numbers (by which time there may be 4.5 million students). On the other hand, public funds to support the system are stretched, and growth is outstripping the system’s capacity to provide quality. Quality is, in fact, a major official concern. A former Minister for Education and Training observed in 2009 that Vietnam had not managed over a 30-year period to control the quality of its higher education

Vietnam: The Education System – A Need to Improve Quality


system. He noted that there were no output standards regarding the competence of graduates, that input standards (for teaching staff, curricula, course books, physical facilities) had not been maintained, that there was no specialized agency for quality control, and that there was no factual evaluation or annual report on the training quality of universities and colleges. He concluded that: ‘The governance of tertiary education has been proven inadequate, stagnant and slowing improvement of tertiary education quality in general. Without a breakthrough and effective solution, the quality of tertiary education shall hardly catch up with the needs for the development of the country.’2 The establishment of new higher education institutions, and the conversion of colleges to universities, without paying attention to the quality, has been happening at an alarming rate. Reform has been proposed. In 2005, Resolution No. 14/2005/NQ-CP (more commonly known as the Higher Education Research Agenda – HERA) was adopted by the government. It proposed that, by 2020: public higher education institutions should be autonomous, having independent decision-making authority in matters relating to training, research, organization, personnel and finance; line-ministry control (the system of ‘hosting’ public universities and colleges by state instrumentalities) should be replaced by a governance mechanism that allowed for wider and more direct social accountability by public higher education institutions; and the focus of state management should shift from direct management of public higher education institutions to the implementation of development strategies, quality assurance processes and quality accreditation controls. However, little progress has been made. Public universities and colleges remain under the control of ministries and state instrumentalities. Expectations that governing councils would be established in public higher education institutions have not been realized. Direct control continues to be exercised. Universities in Vietnam are primarily teaching institutions, with small pockets of research. Research institutes are separate from universities, and these institutions are primarily responsible for research. This situation is a legacy of the Soviet model, within which universities and colleges provided teaching, and research institutes took care of research. The lack of research activity in universities is also a product of inadequate working conditions (for example, not having an office space in which to work) and the pressure to earn money from teaching. Taking extra classes, whether for part-time evening-class students or at private universities and colleges, is a necessary way of life for many university academics, who need to supplement a very basic income. This way of life has given rise to the culture of Thợ dạy – teachers who do nothing but teach.


Education in South-East Asia

Within the framework of ‘socialization’, the government hopes that the private sector (which now accounts for over 15 per cent of higher education enrolments) might be able to enrol 40 per cent of higher education students by 2020. This situation seems unlikely because private higher education institutions depend to a large extent on being able to enrol students who do not perform well enough in their university entrance examinations to gain a place at a public university – and these students are more likely to come from less well-off households where there are severe constraints on being able to pay the higher tuition fees required by private universities and colleges. A related consideration is that the government is awkwardly placed in terms of being able to support the private higher education sector. On the one hand, the sector’s expansion would relieve pressure on the state budget, but, on the other hand, there is a reluctance to provide any public support for the private sector because it is regarded as being wholly profit-making – in this regard the government has failed to draw any distinction between ‘for-profit’ and ‘not-for-profit’ private higher education institutions.

Priorities for the Future The draft Education Development Training Strategy for 2011–20 sets out a long list of strategic commitments for the education system. Examples include: ‘innovate the educational management’, ‘develop teachers and administrators’, ‘renew teaching methods and assessment of learning outcomes’, ‘improve research performance in science and technology’, and ‘link training with social needs’. These commitments are entirely appropriate to the needs of the system, given the challenges faced, but what is not clear is how they are supposed to be achieved. Lofty official aspirations are common in Vietnam, but achieving outcomes is often quite slow. In this regard, with one-fifth of the state budget now committed to the education system, a question that is being discussed more widely at all levels of society is why the quality of the system is not improving faster. The system certainly needs more money, but it also needs better management and urgent modernization. The system also needs a more internationally connected philosophical basis. Article 2 of the Education Law identifies the goals of education as being to ‘educate Vietnamese into comprehensively developed persons who possess ethics, knowledge, physical health, aesthetic sense and profession, loyal to the

Vietnam: The Education System – A Need to Improve Quality


ideology of national independence and socialism; to shape and cultivate one’s dignity, civil qualifications and competence, satisfying the demands of building and defending the Fatherland’. The rhetoric here is consistent with Vietnam’s legacy of heroic struggle, but its relevance to the twenty-first century is less evident. Perhaps a more unifying and globally relevant commitment might be to UNESCO’s Four Pillars of Education: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be.

References Cobbe, J. (2011). ‘Education, education financing, and the economy’, in J. London (ed.), Education in Vietnam. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Ch. 3. Glewwe, P. (2004). ‘An overview of economic growth and household welfare in Vietnam in the 1990s’, in P. Glewwe, N. Agrawal and D. Dollar (eds), Economic Growth, Poverty, and Household Welfare in Vietnam. Washington, DC: World Bank, Ch. 1. Government of Vietnam (2005). Education Law of Vietnam. Hanoi: Author. —(2005). Resolution No. 14/2005/NQ-CP, 2 November. Hanoi: Author. —(2012). Circular No. 13/2012/TT-BGDDT, 6 April. Hanoi: Author. —(2011). Decision approving the strategy on development of Vietnamese human resources during 2011–2020. Decision 579/qd-ttg, 19 April. Hanoi: Author. —(2011). Education Development Training Strategy for 2011–20. Hanoi: Author. Harman, G., Hayden, M. and Pham, T. N. (eds) (2010). Reforming Higher Education in Vietnam: Challenges and Priorities. London: Springer. London, J. (ed.) (2011). Education in Vietnam. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Ministry for Planning and Investment (MPI) (2008). Viet Nam Continues to Achieve Millennium Development Goals. Hanoi: Author. Nguyen, T. P. H. (2007). ‘Sustainable education development under globalization, and the reforms of teaching and learning methods in teacher training’, in T. L. Giang and K. H. Duong (eds), Social Issues under Economic Transformation and Integration in Vietnam. Hanoi: Vietnam Development Forum, Vol. 1, Ch. 5. Pham L. H. and Fry, G. W. (2011). ‘Vietnam as an outlier: tradition and change in education’, in C. Brock and L. P. Symaco (eds), Education in South-East Asia. Oxford: Symposium Books, Ch. 12. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (2010). An Analysis of the Situation of Children in Viet Nam, 2010. Available at: SitAn-Viet_Nam_2010_Eng.pdf (accessed 11 October, 2011). United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (2011). Human Development Report 2010, Available at: (accessed 11 October 2011).


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United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2011). World Data on Education: Viet Nam, 7th Edn, 2010/11. Available at: http://unesdoc. (accessed 11 October 2011). Vietnam News Service. Available at: (accessed 27 May 2012). World Bank (2011). World Bank Data. Available at: (accessed 11 October 2011). World Economic Forum (2011). Global Competitiveness Report for 2010–2011. http:// (accessed 11 October 2011).

Useful Websites Ministry of Education and Training: UNESCO: World Bank:

Notes 1 There are nine blocks available: A (mathematics, physics, chemistry), A1 (mathematics, physics, English), B (biology, mathematics, chemistry), C (literature, history, geography), D1 (literature, mathematics, English), D2 (literature, mathematics, Russian), D3 (literature, mathematics, French), D4 (literature, mathematics, Chinese), and D5 (literature, mathematics, German). Based on test results, MOET determines a floor mark for university admission. Universities accept students in order of merit up to their approved enrolment quota. Students from mountainous, remote and economically deprived areas receive a small bonus, and smaller bonuses are provided for students from provincial districts and rural areas. 2 Report No. 760/BC-BGDĐT, 29 October 2009. Statement by Dr Nguyen Thien Nhan, p. 11.

Index Aceh 90, 97, 110, 159, 160, 161 Acehnese 160, 161 Afghanistan 162, 163, 306 Africa 108 Algeria, 302 American 184, 192, 215, 525 Arakanese 161 Asian Development Bank (ADB) 25, 32, 47, 88, 176, 182, 188 Assamese 186 Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) 264, 265, 266, 267, 270, 271, 300 Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) 56, 64, 66, 85, 106, 115, 119, 160, 163, 180, 181, 192, 208 economic community (AEC) 115, 119 asylum seekers 157–72 Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) 199, 200, 206, 219, 225 Bali 89 Bangkok 107, 177, 182 Bangladesh 97 Belgium 219 bilingualism 3, 6, 83, 235, 236, 237, 238, 245, 250, 307, 309, 315 Brazil 233 Bosnia 306 Britain 88, 144, 173, 174, 184 British Council 183, 184 Brunei Darussalam 1–22 Budget Law 37, 38, 39 Burma 96, 174 Cairo 97 Cambodia 23–45, 47–69, 118, 162, 182, 193, 194, 323, 326 Canada 105 Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) 219

Chiang Mai 175 China 28, 39, 97, 107, 175, 185, 186, 214, 219, 233, 234, 235, 244, 265, 268, 323, 326 Chinese 2, 73, 137, 140, 142, 143, 147, 148, 152, 175, 176, 235, 236, 238, 241, 242, 255, 256, 258, 260, 263, 264–7, 270, 325 Commission of Higher Education (CHED) 192, 200. 201, 202, 205, 206, 207, 208, 222, 224, 225, 226, 227 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 162–5 Cuba 307, 309 development partners (DP) 27–31, 32, 41, 115, 119, 120, 122, 123, 125, 317 Dili 303, 308, 313 Dutch East Indies 72, 73, 74, 100, 159, 182 Early Childhood Education (ECE) 30, 31, 81, 327, 329 Education For All (EFA) 30, 31, 32, 36, 71, 117, 121, 123, 178, 195, 196 Education Quality Assurance Bodies (LPMP) 80 Education Quality Improvement Project (EQIP) 35–6 Education Sector Development Framework: 2009–15 (ESDF) 119, 120, 121, 123, 128, 129, 130, 131 Education Sector Support Programme (ESSP) 35, 26, 27. Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33, 34, 36, 40, 61, 66 e-Hijrah 16, 17, 18 e-Hijrah Government National Centre (EGNC) 19 e-Hijrah ICT in Education Strategic Blueprint (IESB) 16, 17, 18 e-Hijrah Strategy and Blueprint 17, 18, 20, 21

346 Index English language 2, 3, 4, 6, 26, 55, 56, 57, 82, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 146, 147, 149, 150, 152, 169, 180, 184, 192, 197, 198, 204, 235, 236, 237, 238, 239, 241, 242, 262, 290, 307, 315, 330, 338 Eurasian 256, 270 Europe 108, 208 European Commission 173, 177, 178, 182, 184, 187, 188, 313 Fast Track Initiative (FTI – World Bank) 30, 31, 32, 36, 117, 119, 120, 121, 123 Flanders 214 foreign aid 24, 25, 26, 28 France 23, 29, 56, 62 Freire, Paulo 302, 303, 304 FRETLIN 299, 300, 302, 303, 304, 306, 308 Germany 88, 182, 215 Ghurkas 173 Global Competitiveness Index (2011–12) 193, 194 Government of Lao PDR (GOL) 115, 116, 117, 119, 128 Great Britain 255 Guinea Bissau 302 Hanoi 324, 326, 335 higher education (HE) 46–69, 95–114, 213 higher education institutions (HEIs) 48, 65, 84–6, 95–105, 194, 200–9, 223, 227 Hindu 101 Hinduism 95, 96 Ho Chi Minh City 324, 326, 335 Hong Kong 204 India 23, 87, 97, 173, 174, 176, 219, 234, 244, 255, 256, 267, 268, 270 indigenous peoples (IPs) 198, 199 Indonesia 51, 71–93, 95–114, 159, 160, 176, 182, 193, 255, 280, 287, 299, 302, 303, 304, 305, 307, 309, 314, 315 Indonesian Chinese 72–3

Indonesia Netherlands Co-operation in Islamic Studies (INIS) 105 information communications technology (ICT) 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 13, 14–21, 205–6, 207, 209, 223, 224, 228, 292 International Baccalaureate 6, 182 International Monetary Fund (IMF) 187, 316 Iran 97, 221 Iraq 162, 163 Islam 72, 73, 74, 82, 83, 95, 96, 97, 99, 101, 199, 214, 255, 261, 264 Italy 214 Japan 30, 51, 56, 74, 88, 108, 208, 313 Japanese International Development Agency 187 Jakarta 72, 106, 159 Java 72, 73, 75, 80, 87, 96, 159 Kachin 174, 185 Karen 173, 174. 175, 185, 188 Khmer Rouge (KR) 23, 24–5, 28, 29, 30, 47, 52, 53 post KR 29–31, 40 pre KR 57 Knowledge Ladder 1, 2, 5, 8, 10, 19, 20 Korea 50, 51, 56, 175, 200, 283 South 233, 279 Kozma, Robert 1, 2, 3, 20 Kuala Lumpur 147, 165, 258 Kuomintang 174, 175 Kuwait 110 languages Arabic 6, 72, 97, 98, 198 Bahasa Indonesia 74, 75, 82, 143 Bahasa Malaysia 143 Bahasa Malayu 7 Chinese 2, 73, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 147, 148, 235, 238, 241, 242, 260 Dutch 72, 73, 74 Filipino 198 French 56, 175, 182 Indonesian 304, 307, 314 Japanese 56, 74 Java 73, 159 Khmer 26, 35, 55



Korean 56 Malay 2, 3, 4, 74, 138, 139, 141, 143, 146, 147, 148, 235, 236, 242, 255, 256 Mandarin 138, 139, 143, 263 Portuguese 307, 309, 314 Tetum 304, 307, 309, 314, 315 Thai 23, 35 Vietnamese 23 Laos 58, 60, 115–136, 174, 176, 182, 185, 193, 323 literacy 5, 6, 7, 13, 17, 71, 73, 79, 167, 195, 306, 309, 311 adult 12, 80, 81, 89, 303, 306, 307, 309, 311, 312, 326 Local Administrative Organisations (LAOs) 277, 285, 286 Local Education Service Areas (ESAs) 276, 277

Ministry of Education Strategic Plan (2012–2017) 11, 20 Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MEYS) 24, 25, 26, 27, 34, 37, 38, 41, 42, 51, 59, 61, 63, 65, 66 Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia (MOHE) 138, 140 Ministry of Labour Invalid and Social Affairs (MOLISA) 331, 336 Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) 99, 100, 101, 104, 105, 106, 107, 109 Mons 161, 163 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 200 Mozambique 302, 304 multilingual education 196, 197–8 Muslims 96, 97, 99, 100, 108, 161, 163, 196, 198, 199, 260, 264, 269 Myanmar 60, 64, 95, 161, 162, 173–189, 193

Malaysia 3, 15, 50, 51, 95, 96, 97, 98, 107, 109, 137–55, 157–72, 176, 204, 208, 236, 255, 256, 280, 281, 323, 326 Malaysia Chinese Association 144, 145 Mali 157 Mandalay 176, 186 Manila 199 Mecca 97, 110 Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (NEDA) (2006) 222, 223, 227 MENDAKI (Council for the Development of Singapore Muslim Community) 256, 260, 261, 262, 263, 264, 265, 266, 270, 271 Middle East 97 miltary 184–6, 188 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 117, 119, 123, 195, 213, 309, 312 Mindanao 199, 200, 206, 219, 225, Ministry of Economy and Finance (MOEF) 37, 38, 51 Ministry of Education (MOE) 117, 138, 177, 183, 184, 227, 284 Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC) 98, 101, 104, 105, 107 Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES) 115, 131 Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) 327, 329, 331, 333, 336, 337

National Commission on Indigenous Peoples 199 National Education System for the 21st Century (SPN 21) 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 18, 20, 21 National Education System Reform Committee (NESRC) 119 National Education System Reform Strategy 119, 121, 123, 125, 131 New Order Government 75, 76 New Zealand 88, 182, 184 Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) 41, 57, 88, 96, 120, 164, 165, 166, 169, 170, 181, 184, 187, 301, 306, 314, 316 International NGOs ( INGOs) 120, 122, 123, 160, 187, 188 North Africa 97 North America 208 numeracy 73, 79, 90 ODA 122–3 Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment (2006) 278 Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC) 284, 293 Office of the Higher Education Commission in the Ministry of Education 278

348 Index Ordinary National Education Trust (ONET) 290, 291 Organization for Economic Development (OECD) 79, 218, 245, 247, 280, 281, 283, 286, 290, 316. Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) 108, 109, 110 PAKEM (Active, Creative, Effective and Joyful Learning) 87, 88, 89 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005) 118 Paris Peace Accords (1991) 24 Pakistan 97, 108 Papua 89 pedagogy 12, 15, 21, 35, 82, 87, 104, 127, 149, 250, 301 People’s Action Party (PAP) 256, 258, 259, 260, 261, 262, 263, 264, 265, 270 Philippines 51, 96, 107, 162, 163, 191–212, 213–31, 280, 281 Pnomh Penh 29, 30, 41, 50, 57 Portugal 299, 302, 303, 304, 313 Portuguese 307, 314 Primary Education Quality Improvement Project (PEQIP) 87, 88 Priority Action Programmes (PAPs) 36, 37 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 79, 275, 290, 291 Progress in International Literacy Study (PIRLS) 79–80 Provincial Departments of Education and Training (PDETS) 327–8, 330, 331 QS World University Ranking (QS 2012), 208 Rakhines 163 Rangoon 174, 181, 182, 187 University 183, 185, 186 refugees 157–72 Rohingyas 161, 162, 163 Royal Government of Cambodia (RGOC) 50 Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) 50, 54, 57, 58 Russia 53, 176, 325

Sabah 159 Sarawak 159 Saudi Arabia 110 School of Higher Learning of Islamic Studies (STAIN) 100 SEAMEO Regional Institute of Higher Education (RIHED) 106, 107, 182 Selangor 165 Singapore 3, 15, 159, 176, 184, 204, 208, 233–54, 255–74, 280, 281, 323 Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) 264, 265 Somalia 157, 162, 163 South-East Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) 106 Spain 192, 214 Sri Lanka 162–256 State College for Islamic Studies (Stain) 100 State Institute for Islamic studies (IAIN) 100, 104, 105 State Islamic University (UIN) 100, 104, 105, 106 Sudan 157, 167 Supreme National Council of education (SNCE) 65, 66 Sumatra 96, 97, 159 Syria 157 Taiwan 50, 175, 200, 233 Tamil 235, 236, 242 Technical and Vocational Education (TVE) 34 Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) 119, 126, 127, 131 Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) 205, 226 Thailand 39, 51, 95, 96, 107, 108, 118, 159, 161, 174, 175, 188, 225, 275–98, 323, 326 Timor–Leste 192, 193, 194, 299–321 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 79 United Kingdom 3, 87, 143, 182, 187 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) 47, 71, 80, 83, 87, 88, 120, 124, 178, 218, 314, 315, 324, 343

Index United Nations Agencies 299, 300 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 87, 88, 120, 173, 176, 187, 314, 315, 324 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 187, 198, 325, 326 United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) 157, 158, 159, 165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 314 United Nations Millennium Declaration (2000) 117 United States 48, 88, 108, 175, 176, 182, 186, 188, 189, 241, 283, 303, 304, 305, 308, 313 USSR 175 Vientiane Declaration on Aid Effectiveness 115, 118, 121, 123 Vietnam 23, 53, 57, 116, 159, 179, 182, 185, 194, 280, 281, 323–44


Village Education Development Committee (VEDC) 123, 131 vocational education 3, 4, 7, 11, 34, 63, 83, 131, 140, 167, 170, 192, 236, 276, 278, 311, 326, 328, 331, 332, 339 Washington DC 119 Wawasan 2035 (The National Vision) 8, 11, 17, 21 World Bank 30, 31, 32, 35, 36, 41, 56, 58, 63, 64, 66, 79, 80, 84, 87, 88, 120, 128, 176, 182, 188, 194, 299, 300, 306, 311, 316, 323 World Education Forum, Dakar 117 World Health Organisation (WHO) 187 World Trade Organisation 316 Yemen 97, 108