Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Is the 2019 health budget well placed?

On November 2, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng presented the first budget from the new ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, including allocations of operating and development expenditure to the Ministry of Health (MOH). Most observers expected the government to fulfil its pre-election manifesto promises, such as increasing MOH’s budget allocation to 4% of GDP; the implementation of “Skim Peduli Sihat”; the tackling of non-communicable and rare diseases; and strengthening partnership and collaboration with the private sector and NGOs.
I analysed the MOH budget from two perspectives: first, through the policies and programmes announced in the speech, and second, the estimated federal budget for each department within the MOH. Both the share and absolute amount of the budget allocation are important determinants.
Happily, the MOH allocation for 2019 has reached historic heights, totalling RM28.7 billion. Compared with Budget 2018, the health budget has increased by 7.9%, and takes a 9.1% share of the total federal budget. However, the current allocation equates to only 1.87% of GDP – an almost unchanged figure since the last budget. Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad conceded that this round of allocations is unlikely to fulfil Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto pledge to devote 4% GDP spending on the public healthcare sector; instead, he proposed to establish the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) to raise an additional RM3 billion. In the budget speech, the finance minister only mentioned the airport REIT, while hinting that hospitals could also be a possibility in future. Raising public funds through this REIT approach sounds as if the government is doing business, and some in the public might not approve of such a controversial plan.
Prior to the budget, the “Skim Peduli Sihat” proposal had been widely discussed. In his speech, the finance minister had announced and rebranded it as the National Health Protection Fund (NHPF). This is a medical-related social welfare programme aiming to help people from the bottom 40% low income households (B40). Unexpectedly, a private healthcare insurance company will contribute RM2 billion in initial seed funding to the same fund managed by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM). Some have reservations if such a fund pooling mechanism would present a conflict of interest. According to The Edge, the company is looking to negotiate a deal with the government to be exempt from the new requirement of maximum 70% foreign ownership of local insurance businesses, with this contribution. 
The NHPF programme will provide medical care in private medical institutions free of charge only for four critical illnesses. The maximum annual claim threshold given per person (or household?) is capped at RM8,000. This is contrary to the news reported few months ago that the programme will provide the B40 with between RM10,000 - RM20,000 per household, for in-patient care at private hospitals – without stating the restriction of illness categories. To date, which four illnesses the MOH intends to cover is still uncertain, but if these were serious and critical illness, RM8,000 is a mere drop in the bucket. What if these B40 patients find that their medical fees heavily exceed RM8,000 – should they be held liable? What is the claim mechanism for the benefits? Can a B40 patient go directly to a relevant specialist in any private hospital? If the government does not have a good system of claims management, in addition to government provision of RM50 daily hospitalisation income (maximum of 14 days per year), private hospitals are likely to receive a higher number of B40 patients with these critical illnesses and ultimately gain the most benefits from this programme.
Living up to MOH’s commitment to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases, a few progressive policies have been proposed, such as the sugar-sweetened beverages excise tax. The sugar tax is fixed at 40 sen per litre, if the beverage exceeds a certain concentration of added sugar content. In my opinion, the magnitude of the excise tax is not large enough to disincentive consumption. Unless the government continues to campaign heavily against high sugar-laden food and beverages, we should not expect this policy to significantly alter people’s food-consumption behaviour, or reduce obesity levels. On the other hand, the government’s determination and efforts at meeting its goal of a smoke-free Malaysia by 2045 are more obvious, with stringent measures to curb smoking in public.
Furthermore, the government should be applauded for a special budget allocation to treat rare diseases, strengthen primary healthcare, and provide health screening services to B40 senior citizens aged 50 and above. These actions reflect the ruling coalition’s election promises, and more are appropriate and timely public health policy directions to take.
Preventive care ensures residents become healthier in the future. However, for those who are currently suffering from various diseases, there is still a need for affordable, accessible and quality medical care. The current budget allocates RM10.8 billion for drugs and supplies purchases, as well as funding to upgrade and improve the quality of healthcare services in government clinics and hospitals. Comparing allocations between Budgets 2018 and 2019, MOH will have RM88 million more in funding for the purchase of drugs and medical products. 
Allocations for public health reflect the government’s policies in strengthening preventive care and primary healthcare, such as providing wider selections of free vaccination and health screening services. The current MOH budget has seen an increase of RM130 million to its public health pharmacy and supplies division, though this is mainly for purchase purposes.
For development expenditure (DE), the government will allocate RM800 million to upgrading and expanding hospital facilities in 2019, amounting to a RM132 million increase in funding. The allocation for building new hospitals has doubled, by an increase of RM140 million. Whether this is sufficient to meet the demand is uncertain, looking at the current situation where many government hospitals are overcrowded and facilities and equipment are desperately in need of repair and maintenance. In any case, the additional DE funding is crucial and pertinent. At least the government has tried its best to increase the allocations despite current budget constraints. 
Budget documents are useful indicators for understanding the government’s departmental operations, policy direction and priorities, as well as political determination for the upcoming year. Whether or not the MOH will manage its financial allocations well and achieve its policy targets by the tabling of Budget 2020 remains to be seen. As the idiom goes, put your money where your mouth is.
The article was published here at The Malaysian Insight, Voices, Nov 13, 2018.

Monday, November 05, 2018

'Samurai' Loans and Mahathir

Any thoughts on the Japan ‘samurai’ loans? PM is back in Japan for the third time. Possible he’s raising more loans from Tokyo?

It is perhaps the only possible avenue for PM Mahathir to raise loans in favourable terms. Since he took over the premiership, his stances on various mega-project deals with China possibly had angered the leadership in Beijing. After his visit to China, things are still uncertain and nothing is brought back to the country. 

PM is long known to have close ties with Japan since his first stint as PM. In the past, he brandished himself as the third world leader or hero did not augur well with western power especially the US. More so, occasionally his remarks were close to anti-semitic, this does not sit well with many powerful financial institutions in the US. 

The overblown-mentioned and often-exaggerated national debt and liabiliaty/ contigency issue , also does not help Malaysia secure loan deals in favourable terms. Therefore, it is best for him to stick with his best ally and perhaps few friendly (and rich) partner.

Ahh. That’s interesting
How good are the deals btw?
Interest is definitely low at 0.65%, but what else is there?

RM7.4 billion at 0.65% is definitely a kill....given the scale of loan.

A prudent government should always know how to handle their national debt by refinancing with better loan deals.

But this favourable loan deal must be seen in the context of Japan-Malaysia diplomatic relationship, perhaps there will be more bilateral agreements to go along with, which would be in the interest of Japan too.

Is a yen loan considered to be safe? I’ve heard how a ‘strong yen’ and a ‘weak yen’ can greatly affect the Japanese economy

i dont know what is the loan release mechanism over 10 year period, yes the currency fluctuation might be a risk, still it could be a risk worth taking given such floor interest rate.

Ah okay, thank you Chee Han
He's also getting a medal, second highest honour
Is that a sign that they really admire him?

This is a symbol of appreciation to Dr M for forging a cordial relationship between Japan and Malaysia. Indeed Dr M has done a lot (that must have also drawn irks from China)

Hahaha true
Looking at the past recipients of the award, it seems well curated
The Japanese don't simply throw medals to just about anybody

in half year 3 visits to Japan as a PM, that record deserves a medal already lah 😂

Minimum Wage and its implications to Singapore

Last week, I had accepted a written interview with a journalist from a Singapore press, questioning me on issues related to Minimum Wage, and what would be the implications to Singapore.

Below are my full responses given, but understandably, she only quoted me on two occasions because she had also other interviewees to give inputs.


1. I understand there are plenty of reasons for and against minimum wage. But at the core of it is about social inequality - can minimum wage narrow the income gap? What is a minimum wage policy supposed to achieve actually?


According to International Labour Organization (ILO), minimum wage is defined as “the minimum amount of remuneration that an employer is required to pay wage earners for the work performed during a given period, which cannot be reduced by collective agreement or an individual contract.
The core function of minimum wage is acting as a form of workers protection mechanism against unduly low pay. The amount of pay signifies a minimum expectation of a fair and just compensation to the fruits of labour regardless of which sector one works in, and who are employed (domestic and foreign, too, should be equally applied). Some coin it as minimum living wage to hedge against poverty, to allow a worker to live with dignity with at least that amount of remuneration to survive.
If the ‘social inequality’ you referred to (in the first part of your question sentence) means income inequality, implementing or raising the minimum wage could have cascading effects on the lowly paid jobs at the most bottom of labour market (ie. jobs which are paid slightly above the minimum wage would usually be pressured to adjust accordingly), and it should effectively help increase the income of low income workers, periodically.

Whether or not the so-called income gap could be narrowed, actually that depends more on the growth rate of top and middle income tiers. Periodic adjustment of minimum wage is usually at most a couple of hundreds if not at least tens of dollars, compared to middle and top income earners their salary increment could be in the range of few hundreds to tens of thousands during the same period. If that is the case, in real term, the income gap could be also widen even if minimum wage is implemented.

2. Can minimum wage be effective without supporting policies like capping top wages? What about protecting price inflation as a result of minimum wage?

The purpose of implementing minimum wage is not to reduce income equality via restricting or capping on top wages, but uplifting the low income households.
In the reference formula for setting a minimum wage rate in Malaysia, it clearly considers a few key macro- and microeconomic factors such as labour productivity , consumer price index (inflation rate), poverty line income , average number of workers per household, and median wage (for bottom income tier).

One should also consider what is called ‘social wage’ where certain basic public services (as social safety net) are provided to citizens so that the low income earners do not have to fork out their precious little wage to pay for such services. Effectively, living in such society with good public and social support in many ways could help increasing disposable income and relieving the household financial burden, particularly meaningful to the low income households.

3. Proponents of minimum wage believe that wage would drive demand and spending, spurring the economy. How true is that across economies? Meanwhile, the other side believes profit drives demand, and spurring demand for businesses would drive employment and wages rather than having a minimum wage.

With the implementation of minimum wage, low income earners would expect better and more stable income prospect in supporting their ever-increasing living cost.
The establishment or increment of minimum wage would contribute additional financial resource to low income earners, but most likely they will spend or cross-subsidize most of it on rather essential items purchase.

For example, according to Household expenditure survey 2016 in Malaysia, household income class lower than RM2,000 per month had already spent more than half of their income on food , housing utilities and transport.

So, additional amount of wage could be translated to additional household expenditure, and this could help spurring or favouring certain sector or industry rather than across the board. Small businesses such as hawker food stalls and petty traders are more likely to capture the extra amount of household expenditure. Thus, as a result of minimum wage policy (if the amount is appropriately set), it could have positive effect in encouraging  businesses and employment, rather than forcing businesses to shut down.

4. I know policy makers are most afraid that minimum wage will result in reduced employment or illegal work

For the case of Malaysia, the total number of employment is actually increasing after Malaysia first implemented the Minimum Wage in 2013.

This policy may be partially responsible for the improvement in labour force participating rate (LFPR) from 65.6% in 2012 (pre-minimum wage policy) to 67.7% in 2016. The implementation of the minimum wage policy also coincided with an increase in women’s participation in the labour force, where female LFPR reached 54.3% in 2016, up from 49.5% in 2012. The number of employed persons in Malaysia also increased from 12.8million in 2012 to 14.2million in 2016. This clearly shows that employment opportunities and labour participation in Malaysia were not negatively affected by the minimum wage policy.

For the case of Singapore, if the minimum wage policy were implemented, most likely it will only positively affect the low income earners, together with foreign migrant workers (who hold work permit - 965,200 and S-pass - 184,400, as of Dec 2017). Given that Singapore has a large foreign workforce and many are in the low income categories, the minimum wage should be set at appropriate rates in the most transparent manner. If the employers feel ‘too expensive’ to continue hiring foreign workers (such as in the construction and domestic works) perhaps they really pay too low to workers, or they should consider hiring local Singaporeans who still want to work if the minimum wage is decent enough for living. In this way, perhaps Singapore could be more self-reliant in local labour market, or pay a right price for foreign labour.

I do not think that the Singapore authority could tolerate illegal work, and most probably local Singaporeans would not accept a lower paid job than the minimum wage. For foreign workers, I doubt that they can do illegal work easily in a city state which is rather tight in immigration control.

5. ...and make the country uncompetitive for MNCs to take root?


I believe most of the MNCs Singapore attracted are not in labour intensive low-skilled industry, thus most likely their staffs/workers are not near the minimum wage. Labour policy could be a consideration for MNC to invest and grow in Singapore, but probably more towards the existent supply of middle to high skilled workers, such as those in the finance, education, health and IT sector.

The minimum wage could have uplifted many low income local Singaporeans who do not have much bargaining power to their employers, and yet face wage depression due to differential payment to foreign and local workers. They need some kind of workers protection in term of wage arrangement in order to live with means in an increasingly more expensive city.

6. At the core of it, is the basis for minimum wage a moral argument?


I do not think it is JUST a moral argument, but a fundamental labour right. If the labour do not have strong and independent unions, the compensation for their fruits of labour (in terms of wage) would just leave it to the market to determine, however due to very unequal power heavily-tilted to the employer side, the workers would most likely get unfair deal and undercut. This would actually reduce the welfare of workers in the city. Making their life harder is not going to make them happier, there would be a social cost and negative externalities to that policy.

I think the government should take pro-active approach to protect the welfare of workers, show the care by standing on the workers’ side to prevent them from being abused by the market.

7. Just want to check if there is any data on impact of minimum wage on Malaysian SMEs?


Malaysia has introduced minimum wage on 1st January 2013 (RM900 for Peninsular Malaysia; RM800 for East Malaysia) and revised on July 2016 (RM1,000 for Peninsular Malaysia; RM920 for East Malaysia). 

The annual growth of SME GDP actually shot up in 2014 and 2017(p) after the introduction and revision of the minimum wage rates. In terms of SMEs contribution to GDP, the percentage share of SMEs is growing year-on-year, even after the intervention of minimum wage policy. Biggest jump was in 2014, a year after the introduction of minimum wage.


Source: Department of Statistics, Malaysia

According to Economic Census, there was a 42% increase in number of SME establishments in 2015 compared to 2010, after the introduction of minimum wage policy. Numbers of value of gross output, value added, total persons employed/engaged were also increased, compared to 2010.

Source: Economic Census 2011 & 2016, Department of Statistics Malaysia

This shows that the minimum wage policy did not negatively affect the growth of SME industries (as a whole) in Malaysia, the economic growth for SMEs continues and maybe for better. Besides, the policy might have produced more social values that cannot be captured by the economic values stated in the statistics.

Sunday, November 04, 2018




前天,希盟新政府財長林冠英在國會提呈了首份財政預算案。衛生部的預算也包括在其中,最受矚目的是新政府欲落實的大選承諾——‘健康關懷’計劃(Skim Peduli Sihat, SPS)。這是一項針對家庭收入最底層40巴仙 人民(B40)而策劃推行的醫療福利計劃,主要是為了減輕低收入病患者的醫療費用負擔并提供另類選擇,同時舒緩那些擁擠爆滿的政府醫院。預料這計劃將會獲得相當可觀的撥款資助,但由於本文作者在截稿之前無法窺探而知準確數目,以及其執行落實方式,所以本文在此僅梳理該SPS計劃可能帶來的隱憂,同時論述它如何進而影響整體的公共醫療體系。













其二,津貼索償機制不應建立於‘有償服務’,而是相關疾病組費用(Disease Related Group)。這代表醫生或醫院只能根據診斷獲得一筆固定費用治療某病人,而不是根據治療程序和材料。這可間接避免濫用系統和誘發需求。






前天,希盟政府財长林冠英在国会提呈了首份財政预算案,卫生部的预算也包括在其中。最受瞩目的是新政府欲落实的大选承诺,例如把卫生部的预算拨款提升至国民生產总值的4%、「健康关怀」计划 (Skim Peduli Sihat)、关注非感染疾病和罕见疾病,同时加强私人界和非政府组织的合作参与。
早前各方密切关注的「健康关怀」计划,在財长的宣佈下已转型称为「国家健康保护基金」(National Health ProtectionFund)。这项针对家庭收入最底层40%人民(B40)而策划推行的医疗福利计划,最后竟然出乎预料,由一家私人保险公司先承担20亿令吉的保费「贡献」给该基金会。
笔者暂且未知所谓的四个危重病是哪个,但可以想像如果真的是重大疾病,8 0 0 0令吉根本就是杯水车薪。万一入院了,B40病人发现医疗费远远超过8000令吉,那该怎么办?索取津贴的机制是什么?B40病人可以直接去任何的私人医院找专科医生吗?笔者担心,若政府没有良好的索偿机制和资格条件管理,再加上政府还会提供全年14天、每日50令吉入院津贴给B40的计划受益者,私人医院或许会诱发B40对这四个疾病的需求並从中捞取好处。

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Peduli Sihat-style health insurance scheme may be unsustainable

We view with great concern that the public has been generally left uninformed over the new government’s plan for providing healthcare to the B40s.
At the time of writing, Malaysians still do not have any concrete idea (or worse, have not heard) regarding the previously hinted at healthcare scheme which was listed in one of Pakatan Harapan’s pre-election promises to be implemented within the first 100 days.
The new health minister, Dzulkefly Ahmad has since remained tight-lipped about the development of B40’s healthcare, except to promise that a national healthcare financing scheme for the B40s would be included in the pending Budget 2019 and would be "better" than the Skim Peduli Sihat initiated by the Selangor state government.
He also announced that B40s would enjoy free healthcare under this scheme, which would also include tertiary care in the private sector.
Yesterday, in a press conference he coined the programme a “Social Health Insurance scheme” for the B40 low-income groups, which also includes preventive care, health promotion, health screening especially related to non-communicable diseases.
Based on the limited publicly available information about the operation and allocation of the soon-to-be rolled out federal healthcare scheme, we have produced a study to inform the public about the potentially unsustainable nature of this scheme for the B40s, even if it were to only include tertiary care services.
First, we calculated the B40 healthcare demand projection for in- and out-patient services in private hospitals, based on B40 healthcare and prevalent patterns recorded in the 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey.
This projection calculation was done to match the estimated budget following the promised original Selangor model whereby every B40 family will be provided with RM500 per year. In this case, the maximum budget could go up to RM1.4 billion (equivalent to 5.3 percent of the Ministry of Health’s 2018 budget) in the current year.
If the MOH budget allocation for the next year is only adjusted nominally and does not get significantly improved as promised in the Harapan manifesto, will we see the allocation for this Peduli Sihat scheme come also from the same MOH budget?
We are worried that the introduction of such a healthcare scheme would result in further cuts to the MOH’s development expenditure, which is crucial to the development, upgrading and expansion of our public healthcare facilities. If not, how could the government justify when most, if not all, Skim Peduli Sihat funds would be spent on the private sector?
In 2015, the prevalence of in-patient utilisation by the B40 population was 7.8 percent. Since the average household size in Malaysia is 4.1, this would translate to 28.3 percent of B40 households equivalent to about 806,000 B40 households needing annual access to hospital care.
Also, according to the 2015 survey, the B40 average perceived the costs for major surgery in a private hospital to be slightly over RM10,000. This indicates that more than half would not have enough to cover their hospital expenses, if the maximum claim threshold limit for the Skim Peduli Sihat were to be set at RM10,000 per family per annum.
When one is diagnosed with major illness or if major surgery is required, RM10,000 is probably inadequate even to treat one person. Malaysia has an average household of about four persons, so if the B40 patient has exhausted his or her family’s annual limit, where would that patient or other sick family members go?
Currently, the B40 utilisation rate for private hospital in-patient services is about 10 percent (i.e. 90 percent seek public healthcare), T20 households are at about 40 percent.
If it is based on the current rate, it would exceed 56.6 percent of the maximum Skim Peduli Sihat budget. But with access to the Skim Peduli Sihat programme, what if the B40 population were to increase their visits to twice or four times the current rate?
Our findings show that it would bankrupt the scheme even if the annual household claim limit is set at RM10,000 for just in-patient services, what more out-patient and health-screening services.
Thus, if the claim mechanism is based on a fee-for-service premise, and the government does not have any cost-containment strategies, we are afraid that the private sector might wrap up the system by inducing demand from the B40 population probably for unnecessary diagnostic scans and treatments, just to maximise profit at the government’s expense.
An unintended consequence of the scheme could be that the B40 group might become more reliant on private sector, this could, in turn, widen the resource gap between public and private hospitals and encourage a greater exodus of experienced specialists and allied health practitioners from the public to private sector.
The result will be that public healthcare becomes more financially and socially deprived, more like an inferior, ‘last resort’ choice for certain groups, even though it is universal and definitely a cheaper option for the rakyat.
Our recommendations for the MOH are, first, to create a mandate for public doctors to act as “gatekeepers” at the primary-care level, such that Skim Peduli Sihat claimants would first need to obtain a referral from the doctors before utilising the claims in pre-determined and pre-negotiated private healthcare facilities.
Second, the claim mechanism should not be based on fee-for-service, but rather on Disease Related Group (DRG), to prevent system abuse and/or induced demand.
Third, the MOH should collect co-payment as low as the current MOH rate for Skim Peduli Sihat claims when patients use private service. We believe that this would only be fair to public hospital users.
Generally, we agree that the MOH should flexibly share resources with the private sector, by paying them to use their underutilised equipment and services when in need.
While we applaud the MOH’s efforts to give greater access of healthcare, especially tertiary care, to the needy B40s, we are most of all doubtful about the financial sustainability and the long-term implications of such a scheme.
With huge budget allocations involved, and the significant shift of the healthcare finance system (in terms of the “social health insurance scheme”), MOH should be more transparent and open to multi-stakeholders and public consultation, before the policy motion is tabled to the Parliament.
Most of all, we believe that MOH’s priority should be enhancing and defending our public healthcare. To that end, a well-funded public healthcare system would provide greater benefits compared to the current Skim Peduli Sihat scheme that is on the cards.

This article has been written by Lim Chee Han (senior analyst) and Kenneth Cheng Chee Kin (analyst), of the Penang Institute.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Friday, October 19, 2018

Chinese Education in Malaysia - Media Interview (via email)

A few weeks ago , my friend Dr Mustafa K. Anuar posted me 6 questions, wanted to get my views on Chinese schools in Malaysia. Below are my replies:

1.    Generally speaking, what are the problems faced by Chinese schools, both primary and secondary, in Malaysia?

One should not lump the situations faced by Chinese schools at primary and secondary level. First of all, the Chinese primary schools are generally called ‘SJK(C)’ which are fully (and some partially) funded by the Federal government and they use government’s KSSR syllabus and content as SK do. SJK(C) are largely the first choice for many ethnic Chinese families to send their kids to. However, about 18% non-Chinese enrolment in SJK(C) was reported in 2016[1].

On the other hand, Chinese secondary schools are better known as Chinese independent secondary schools, their existence are largely due to historical reason [2]. Only about 10% of SJK(c) students enroll in this school system the number stays at 60 institutions since 70s. The students have to pay fee to study (without federal government subsidy), and have different co-curriculum and syllabus to government secondary schools which are based on KSSM.

Demand for places beyond the current capacity and supply, especially plague the SJK(C) in urban areas, while the number of incoming students in rural areas is declining (some decline more rapidly) due to migration pattern of citizens. Increasingly more non-Chinese also demand for places in SJK (C), this increases the pressure of some overcrowded and oversubscribed urban Chinese schools. However, this may not last long, as the birth rate of ethnic Chinese citizens is falling, and at least for the past 5 years the number of enrolment in SJK (C) schools is in the decline (518,543 in 2018; 560,788 in 2014[3], a reduction of 7.5%).

The other major long-standing issue for SJK(C) schools is the insufficiency of Chinese-speaking teachers teaching in various subjects. This was always promised by previous MCA-deputy education Ministers but they never resolved the issue. The main contention point is not the teacher supply itself but mainly mal-distribution of resources. Other issues for SJK(C) are either educational-related (e.g. too heavy school bags and homework workload for students) or administration-related (e.g. some headmasters/mistresses were accused of ‘corruption’ for collusion with vendors).

Issues for Chinese independent secondary schools include the worrying trend of declining number of incoming students in some schools, less diverse racial interactive environment and non-recognition of their major certificate (UEC) (even though many students also sit for SPM examination). The latter issue on UEC is not just for job opportunities in public sector per se, but more symbolic in terms of national recognition of their existence and competence. The non-recognition policy, to them, is amounting to discrimination, it might have created distrust and racial sentiments which are unhealthy to national unity.

2.    The long-standing criticism against Chinese schools by certain quarters is that their existence poses a threat to efforts at national integration. What is your view on this taking into consideration the entire national education system of the country?

There are many debates on how to work towards national integration or racial harmony, and many approaches were also suggested. No matter what the approach is, In my opinion, first and foremost, the current overarching government policies must be seen as fair to all races, otherwise there could be no guarantee that even putting all children together under one roof can promote racial harmony when one particular group is clearly more preferred or privileged to others.

If we just talk about SJK(C), they are already using the same co-curriculum as with the National school (SK), the difference in most subjects[4] is probably down to teaching medium. By right, all SKs and SJKs are assumed learning similar contents including values in promoting national integration, so why does it matter in what language these are taught?  Lest should we forget that there is also a small number of government-aided religious school at primary level (544 institutions in 2018), we should also include them for national integration. Should we also be more concerned about ‘class segregation’ because the combined enrolment at primary and secondary international schools as well as private academic secondary schools is 71,640, overtaking the total enrolment at Chinese Independent schools (66,723)?

Also, now there is a more diverse outlook of racial profile in SJK(C) than in SK, who is right to say that the existence of SJKs poses a threat? Even now, many sitting in the government frontbench used to study in the SJKs.

3.    The Mahathir administration is thinking of the possibility of reviving the Vision School. What do you think of this?

By whatever name the school may be called, if the government actually means building more schools of different teaching mediums sharing facilities and resources in an area where there is clearly a demand/need for these schools, I do not think it is a bad idea. I hope that this policy does NOT mean that Vision School is the only way to build any school (esp. SJKs).

Interaction among school kids from different background in this way would be more natural and less forceful while parents still have choice to decide which language medium best served the interest for their children.

The tricky part on the Vision School might be the role and appointment of school board members, especially for SJK(C) where traditionally they are independent to government and collectively they form ‘Dong Zong’.

4.    Some of the Chinese schools are overcrowded with students. How do you account for this phenomenon – despite the government’s refusal to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate?

Currently, there are only some Chinese independent secondary schools are considered overcrowded (ie. running at full capacity with overdemanding enrolment), especially the 8 institutions located in the Klang Valley. The reasons that the students (or their parents) decide to study in the Chinese independent secondary schools could be largely cultural and linguistic. Also, not all the national secondary schools provide Chinese language classes in preparing for SPM, some students might want to further study in Chinese language. Some parents may deem national secondary schools are too Islamic and intolerant to their non-Muslim children. Some of them might generally perceive that the national schools lack quality.

Even though UEC is not recognised by Federal government, it is widely recognised by many private and overseas education institutions as well as private sector. If the students really desire to study in local public university, they could still use SPM certificate and enroll in STPM/Matrikulasi (though there are not many cases). Thus it is not a total disadvantage studying in the Chinese independent schools with the UEC being not recognised.

5.    Why do non-Chinese children increasingly go to Chinese schools despite certain problems faced by these schools?

In my opinion, for primary school, that must be the decision made by the parents. These non-Chinese parents probably see the economic value of Chinese-learned education which may enable their children to be more competitive in their career in future. This coincides with the current trend of China rising to become one of the most dominant economic powers in the world.

Secondly, these parents might appreciate that their family has a member learning another major local language and culture (so that he/she could connect with another community in their own language). This phenomenon could be more prominent in Chinese-majority areas. Some might even see SJK(C) as more superior in educational quality compared to the current SK. In addition, some of them might not like the development of SK becoming more Islamic and racial monotonous.

6.    What do you think of the Dual Language Programme that allows for schools to choose the language to be used for the teaching of Science and Mathematics in schools? 

From what I learned from educational experts and academics, to excel in acquiring knowledge, it is most effective when one starts learning the subject in their own mother tongue. Thus, if this programme is aiming at primary schools, I would object unless there is clearly evidence showing otherwise. Dual language learning on the same subject is such a waste of time and energy, surely the teaching in the second language will not raise student’s interest or curiosity in Science and Mathematics, why duplicate the efforts?

If the purpose is for the students to become familiarize with the terms in English, why not just incorporate them additionally just as a translation directly in the (first language) textbooks?

[1] https://www.malaymail.com/s/1413039/are-chinese-schools-really-the-cause-of-disunity
[2] refusal to convert into national-medium schools in the 60s according to the Rahman Talib report.
[3] Quick Facts, Malaysia Educational Statistics, 2014-2018
[4] Discounting the Bahasa Melayu where students learn it as second language (ie. non-mother tongue),