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NB: This press statement was released on 23 October 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

On Monday, I revealed that the Ministry of Education (MOE) entered into a three-year contract worth RM270 million to be paid to three consultancy firms, namely the British Council, Brighton Education Group and SMR HR Group, to provide a total of 360 native English-speaking mentors in order to improve the teaching of English in selected schools in Malaysia.

This amounts to RM250,000 a year, or almost RM21,000 a month to hire each foreign English mentor. In addition to the startling costs involved, I would now like to question the efficacy of this programme and the quality of mentors recruited.

Only three years experience required to be an expert?

According to British online recruitment website, JustJobs.co.uk, an advertisement was taken out for such mentors by Nord Anglia Education, a company partnering with Brighton Education Group, one of the consultancy firms hired by MOE for this programme.

The advert accessible at http://www.justjobs.co.uk/job_details.aspx?ad=68342 states that “Nord Anglia Education in association with Brighton Education Group is looking for English Language Teaching Consultants (ELTC) to improve English language and literacy teaching in clusters of Malaysian government primary schools.”

The advert further explains that “the ELTCs will be fluent English speakers and have a minimum of three years teaching experience in primary or kindergarten. Additional ESOL qualification and international experience would be an advantage.”

As for the job’s benefits, it is described as an “excellent ex-pat package including housing/transport/annual flight,” where “successful applicants will enjoy … a generous international package, based upon qualifications and experience….”

The “excellent” and “generous” employment package described above is certainly consistent with the extravagant RM270 million agreement between MOE and the three consultants, but is the government really getting their money’s worth when the so-called English experts only require a minimum of three years teaching experience? For the excessive amount of money being spent, surely only experienced senior English teachers should be recruited instead?

The Japanese comparison

Secondly, the MOE also needs to explain the need to hire expensive consultancy firms when Japan has been able to implement a successful English teaching programme since 1978 without the use of external consultants.

Now the largest programme of its kind in the world, the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme attracts English-speaking university graduates from all over the world to work as English teachers in Japanese schools.

Unlike the Malaysian version, the Japanese government does not outsource the programme to consultants, but instead runs it as a collaboration between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, in cooperation with the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations.

Interested applicants are required to apply directly through their local Japanese embassies or consulates worldwide. Meanwhile, all relevant information is publicly available online. For example, the starting salary for English teachers begins at 275,000 Yen or roughly USD2,800 a month, a modest sum considering that Japan is one of the most expensive countries to live in.

What are the results and will the mentoring programme be continued?

Considering the absurd amount of public money spent, the MOE has a responsibility to disclose the results of the programme thus far. Malaysians deserves to know what improvements in the quality of English amongst our schoolteachers have been achieved since the mentoring began in 2011.

This is especially pertinent considering that I have personally received feedback from teachers who have been involved in the programme suggesting that they have not gained much benefit due to the minimal training received. In most cases, they were only “mentored” for three to four hours a month.

Finally, the MOE has to declare whether the Government has any intention of renewing the programme after its completion this year. And if not, are they prepared to accept responsibility for the possibility that RM270 million of public funds has been wasted?

Zairil Khir Johari
Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera
DAP Assistant National Publicity Secretary

NB: This press statement was released on 21 October 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

Recently, it was revealed that the Ministry of Education (MOE) paid RM20 million to McKinsey & Co for their consultancy services in drafting the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025.

However, it would appear that McKinsey’s RM20 million MOE consultancy job is only the tip of the iceberg. According to a Parliamentary reply I received from the Minister of Education, the ministry has engaged three external consultants, namely the British Council, Brighton Education Group and SMR HR Group, in a three-year programme designed to “increase the capacity” of local English-language teachers.

The three consultancy firms have been contracted from 2011 to 2013 at a total cumulative cost of RM268.5 million, or RM89.5 million a year. As part of the agreement, the firms will provide 360 native English-speaking mentors (120 mentors per firm) throughout the three-year period.

The parliamentary reply further states that a total of 7,500 teachers from 1,800 schools will be trained, with the responsibilities divided geographically. The British Council has been tasked to provide mentors to train teachers in Labuan, Sabah and Sarawak, while Brighton Education Group will train teachers in Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Malacca, Johor and Negeri Sembilan. Meanwhile, SMR HR Group will train teachers in Penang, Perlis, Perak, Kedah and Selangor.

In other words, close to RM270 million is being spent to hire 360 English mentors. This breaks down to RM250,000 a year for each mentor, or an extravagant sum of almost RM21,000 a month.

No matter what explanation MOE gives, there is no way they can justify the absurd amount of money being spent to provide what is essentially a three-years paid working-holiday to 360 native English mentors.

On top of that, based on ground reports and feedback received from teachers undergoing the programme, it would appear that the “mentoring” they receive ranges from only three to four hours a month. This immediately brings into question the efficacy of the mentoring programme, as how is anyone expected to master a language, or any subject for that matter, with only three to four hours’ worth of training a month.

Furthermore, the total expenditure of RM270 million to train 7,500 teachers is equivalent to RM36,000 per teacher over three years. This sum is much more than what it would cost to enrol the same teacher into a properly structured English-language degree programme in a local university. For example, Wawasan Open University offers a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in English Studies at a total cost of about RM24,000, which is two-thirds the cost of the mentoring programme currently provided by the consultancy firms. Meanwhile, a six-month diploma course in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) would cost only RM4,500 at a local private college.

While the objective of improving the quality of English-language teachers is admirable and should be pursued, there is absolutely no justification for MOE’s penchant for hiring overpaid consultants, especially when cheaper and better options are readily available.

Zairil Khir Johari
Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera
DAP Assistant National Publicity Secretary

Zairil Khir Johari

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