In the wake of Dr Maszlee Malik’s resignation as Minister of Education,[1] various names have been proposed as his replacement. Possible candidates touted include[2]:

i) Saifuddin Abdullah, the current Foreign Minister;

ii) Mustapa Mohamed, the former International Trade and Industry Minister;

iii) Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a notable economist;

iv) Mohd Sham Mohd Sani, former Vice Chancellor of the National University of Malaysia;

v) Nurul Izzah Anwar, Member of Parliament for Permatang Pauh.

It cannot be denied that Dr Maszlee brought about some notable reforms during his 20 month tenure.[3] However, it was also marred with controversy. During his press conference on 2nd January 2020, Dr Maszlee was quoted as having said:

“I have been seen to be the cause of many crises, including the Jawi calligraphy issue, Internet at schools and the free breakfast programme.”[4]

It is undeniable that the Education portfolio is rife with Catch-22s, resulting in this particular ministerial position being a less than desirable one.

The medium of instruction for Mathematics and Science

The Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) programme was first introduced by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2003.[5] It was not without its opposition.[6]

Subsequently, PSMI “was replaced with the policy on ‘Enhancing Bahasa Malaysia, Strengthening the English Language’ [“MBMMBI“] in stages from 2010.”[7] The MBMMBI, amongst others, resulted in Mathematics and Science being taught in the national language. At the time, YB Muhyiddin Yassin, the current Home Affairs Minister, was the Minister of Education.

In/around 2015, the Ministry of Education introduced the Dual Language Programme (“DLP“) wherein schools that had opted in for the programme could teach Mathematics and Science in English. As at January 2018, it was reported that 1,303 schools had participated in the DLP.[8]

In 2019, Tun Dr. Mahathir announced that the government is assessing a policy to reintroduce the use of English to teach Mathematics and Science (PPSMI) in public schools in detail.[9]

The National Muslim Students Association (PKPIM), the Muslim Youth Movement (Abim), the Linguistics Association of Malaysia, Amanah Youth, PSM Youth, and Gerakan, have all voiced their disagreement with the proposal for Maths and Science to be taught in English.[10] Meanwhile, groups like the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) have been consistent in its support for Mathematics and Science to be taught in English.[11]

The continued existence of vernacular schools

Vernacular schools have at times been blamed for the worsening race relations in Malaysia. Recently, the Mufti of Perlis was quoted as having said:

“As long as vernacular schools that do not use the national language are not eliminated from the country, then the conflict and unrest between races will remain”[12]

The very existence of vernacular schools has also been the subject and are still being the subject of a legal challenge.[13]

At the same time, it is indisputable that vernacular schools have been in existence in Malaysia for a long time.[14] Vernacular schools are also close to the hearts of many Malaysians and its existence will be staunchly defended by groups like Gerakan, the Malaysian Chinese Language Council,[15] and Dong Zong (The United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia).

The recognition of the United Examination Certificate

According to the Dong Zong, “UEC, the abbreviation for Unified Examination Certificate, is the unified examination for Independent Chinese Secondary Schools in Malaysia. The first known Unified Examination was held in 1975, and reached its 44th year in 2018.”[16]

In the past, senior members from the Federal Government and Federal Opposition have proposed to officially recognise the UEC as an entry qualification to public universities and federal public services.[17] The proposal has received severe backlash from groups like Parti Islam Se-Malaya (PAS)[18], Gerakan Pembela Ummah (UMMAH),[19] Perkasa, Gabungan Pelajar Melayu Semenanjung, and UMNO Youth.[20]


The three examples given above are just a few examples of hot button issues any Education Minister would have to face. Unfortunately, such issues are highly politicised and therefore, if the Minister were to take a hardline stance on any of the given issues, he/she risks alienating an entire voter base to the detriment of his/her party/coalition.

It would then appear that the ideal candidate for the Education portfolio would be someone who is a moderate and has immense goodwill with all sides of the political divide (and is able to maintain said goodwill throughout his/her helm of the Education Ministry).



Editor’s Note: This article was featured on Malaysiakini , The Malaysian Insight, and New Straits Times.  

[1] Hashini Kavishtri Kannan, “Maszlee resigns as Education Minister.” New Straits Times. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[2] “Tok Pa, Jomo, others proposed as Maszlee’s replacement.” Malaysiakini. Accessed January 4, 2020.; Lim How Pim, “Brolin endorses Nurul Izzah as successor to education minister post.” Borneo Post. Accessed January 4, 2020.


[4] Mazwin Nik Anis, Joseph Kaos Jr. and Lee Chonghui, “Maszlee quits as Education Minister (updated).” The Star Online. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[5]  “New System Under Study to Teach Science, Mathematics in English – Mahathir.” Prime Minister’s Office of Malaysia. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[6] See for example, Hafizah Iszahanid, “Bahasa Melayu dipinggirkan bangsa sendiri.” BH Online. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[7] “New System Under Study to Teach Science, Mathematics in English – Mahathir.” Prime Minister’s Office of Malaysia. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[8] Farhana Syed Nokman and Aina Nasa, “DLP to proceed as planned in 1,303 schools: Education Ministry.” New Straits Times. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[9] Muhd Amin Naharul, “Maths and Science in English the way to go, says Dr Mahathir.” The Malaysian Reserve. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[10] “Dr M’s Science and Maths in English push meets resistance.” Malaysiakini. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[11] See for example, “Kembalikan dasar PPSMI – PAGE.” Astro Awani. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[12] Justin Ong, “Perlis mufti blames vernacular schools for communal friction.” Malay Mail. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[13] See for example, FMT Reporters, “2 organisations file suit over existence of vernacular schools.” FMT. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[14] Kua Kia Soong, advisor to Suaram, has commented that “The first Chinese school in the peninsula was the “School of the 5th Happiness” in Penang in 1819.” [Kua Kia Soong, “Comment: Celebrating 200 years of Chinese education.” The Star Online. Accessed January 4, 2020.]

[15] Faiz Zainuddin, “Mahkamah tetap 16 Jan mohon celah saman keabsahan sekolah vernakular.” FMT. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[16] “Value & Achievements of the UEC: Q&A.” Dong Zong. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[17] For example, see FMT Reporters, “Recycling promise on recognising UEC bad for PH, says Teo.” FMT. Accessed January 4, 2020.; see also “Najib: UEC recognition part of BN manifesto.” Star TV. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[18] Atirah Huda Zalhe, “UEC sabotaj Dasar Pendidikan Kebangsaan: PAS.” ISMA Web. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[19] Zurairi AR, “Rescind UEC recognition in seven days or face our wrath, Muslim groups tell Maszlee.” Malay Mail. Accessed January 4, 2020.

[20] Faiz Zainudin, “Umno Youth: UEC recognition will make education system ‘disorderly’.” FMT. Accessed January 4, 2020.