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publication February 13, 2018

What Other Countries Can Learn from Malaysia’s Efforts to Improve Education Sector Performance


Key Findings

  • Malaysia’s efforts to tackle education challenges, particularly through the establishment of a ‘delivery unit’ that tracks results, can help other countries seeking to improve implementation in the sector.
  • Although Malaysia has an adult literacy rate above 90%, the Program of International Assessment (PISA) which measures reading, math and science skills of 15-year-olds highlighted the need to improve English, critical thinking and analytical skills among school children.
  • Delivery units like the Education Performance Delivery Unit (PADU), setup by the Ministry of Education, and the Performance Management Delivery Unit (PEMANDU), have been critical in improving student learning outcomes as part of the Malaysia Education Blueprint and National Transformation Program.
  • Delivery units helped design and implement a key education program for primary students: Literacy and Numeracy Screening (LINUS).

How did the delivery unit approach improve implementation of education programs?

  • Making education one of the top priorities provided the mandate to re-strategize efforts to improve literacy and numeracy, resulting in improved coordination and collaboration.  
  • Linking the center of government with the education sector improved monitoring and problem-solving. Unlike other interventions, a cross-division LINUS task force was set up to work closely with the Prime Minister’s and the Education Ministry’s units, successfully providing an effective coordination, tracking, monitoring and reporting framework.
  • Ensuring the program had appropriate resources. Raising the priority of the LINUS program in the Malaysia Education Blueprint, and naming it a National Key Results Area (NKRA) helped in getting the human, financial and technical resources required to implement the program.

 What were the challenges for the delivery unit approach in education?

  • Assessments of student learning outcomes are difficult to get right.  The LINUS program design did not enable rigorous impact evaluations.
  • Attribution of results are difficult due to the absence of a dependable baseline. Several programs were introduced concurrently to the LINUS and as such, it is unclear if LINUS was the sole intervention that resulted in improved literacy and/or numeracy skills of early graders.
  • Lack of targeting and expenditure tracking leads to cost efficiency questions.

Malaysia’s delivery unit approach to improving education performance offers important lessons for other countries, both in its successes and its limitations:  

  • Making better education outcomes a national priority can elevate the profile and resourcing for the initiative.
  • Creating institutional mechanisms to ensure collaboration, coordination, and commitment among all stakeholders, from the highest levels of the ministry to the districts, schools, and teachers is key for better implementation.
  • Fostering performance culture in the implementing ministry can improve incentives on the ground.
  • Conducting process evaluations and learning from them can help improve programs by repetitively adapting their design.
  • It is important to ensure that there are appropriate baselines to track literacy and numeracy rates before embarking on a national program of this magnitude.
  • It is important to build impact evaluations into the program design to address the issue of attribution and cost-effectiveness.
  • Countries may wish to consider whether a targeted approach will achieve the same results at a lower cost prior to embarking on a nationwide program.
  • It is critical to track full program costs to establish value for money, and flag cost overruns.