16 February 2007
The Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Muñoz Villalobos, issued the following statement on 13 February 2007:
"Vernor Muñoz Villalobos in his capacity as Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, carried out an official visit in Malaysia from 5 to 14 February 2007. He visited Kuala Lumpur, Kota Bharu (Kelantan), Kuching (Sarawak) and in 40 different meetings he interacted with over 150 persons, from Government officials to teachers, students, parents, Trade Union representatives and civil society groups. The Special Rapporteur expresses his thanks to the Government for this opportunity to meet with the relevant public authorities. He regrets, however, not having had the occasion to meet either the Minister of Education or the Minister of Higher Education.
"The Special Rapporteur notes the Government’s important investment in education in support of economic growth and development and welcomes its proclaimed goal to achieve a “world class” education. However, he believes that there is a need to strengthen educational institutions which will permit the mainstreaming of human rights in all aspects of national life. This would facilitate the building of a citizenship model which is committed to the understanding and the realisation of human rights. In order to reach this goal, the Special Rapporteur encourages the adoption of an overall human rights approach. To that end the Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government ratify the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. He also recommends that national legislation be modified in order to comply with international standards. For example, the Special Rapporteur notes with concern that the “Universities and Colleges Act – 1971” in its articles 15 and 16, curtails the right to freedom of association and expression and other civil and political rights of University students, and believes that the Government should consider repealing these provisions.
"Since the educational policies promote ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity, there should be an implementation of policies geared to generating equal opportunities across the board for the different groups which make up the population: Bumiputera, Chinese and Indians. For example, it has been reported by NGOs that there are disparities in the number of state schools for the Chinese population, despite the fact that this population has increased significantly in the last decades.
"The Indigenous Populations constitute another section which encounters difficulties in the realization of its right to education. The Iban community for example, suffers from extremely high drop-out rates. These populations are unable to compete successfully for access to higher education and the education centres provided for them are inadequate in number and quality. The indigenous cultures embody part of the heritage of the nation; the Government should therefore develop culturally sensitive educational programmes designed to preserve the history, languages and traditions of these peoples. To reach these goals, the Special Rapporteur recommends the establishment of a body within the Ministry of Education which would be responsible for attending to the educational needs of the indigenous peoples.
"The Special Rapporteur was briefed on the recent educational policy whereby Mathematics and Science are taught in English. Though the introduction of a foreign language represents a positive initiative, he was also informed that students and teachers alike in the rural areas are struggling because their mastery of the language is not sufficient. The cognitive development of students is thereby jeopardized. Several teachers expressed despair at not being able to meet the expectations of the Government. The Special Rapporteur therefore recommends that the competent authorities assess the implementation of that policy in order to take action to support adequately this way of teaching.
"For many years, Malaysia has been a destination country for migration and has openly welcomed migrants in its midst. However, thousands of undocumented children of foreign origin are not able to enjoy their human right to education. The Right to Education is one of the human rights that the Government of Malaysia committed itself to when it signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, so the Rapporteur would recommend that it adopts measures to ensure this right to these children, whatever their legal status.
"As far as school life is concerned, the Rapporteur learned from the students and the teachers themselves that corporal punishment in schools remains a current practice. This disciplinary measure is expressly prohibited by the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Ministry of Education should therefore strengthen its efforts to eradicate it. In addition, the Special Rapporteur was informed that students are not involved in the decision making process on matters that concern them, as stipulated by the Convention.
"Malaysia has almost achieved gender parity in the enrolment of its students. However, the Special Rapporteur notes that it must improve its educational policies regarding the rights of the girl child, adolescents and women, through affirmative action designed to have a more decisive impact the labour market and economic life of the nation. In order to achieve this, the Special Rapporteur recommends to include gender studies and human rights education in the curricula of the teacher training courses. It would also be desirable to include a human rights perspective in the “Blue Print” the educational programme for the coming years, as part of the efforts in reducing the gap between rural and urban areas. Malaysia would therefore need to withdraw the reservations it has made to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
"The Special Rapporteur believes that the Government must urgently develop and use qualitative and quantitative indicators, disaggregated according to gender, age, ethnic group, disabilities, and collect data in developing educational programmes which can enable every person to enjoy his or her rights.
"The Special Rapporteur firmly believes that Malaysia has the resources to respond creatively and comprehensively to all the challenges it faces. He considers that the rich diversity of its population is one of the main assets it possesses to generate good educational practices, and that its historical tradition, its vision of the future and the wealth of its diverse cultures can enable it to become a pivotal link between the East and the West which will contribute to regional development and to understanding between peoples".