Annual allocations by the government for the education sector increases yearly but the country's quality of education remains poor, said former cabinet minister and Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
Speaking at Kolej Yayasan Saad in Malacca today, the former finance minister said Malaysia has been spending more than its Asean neighbours on education as well as South Korea and Japan.
He said the country was placed at the 16th spot among 102 nations in government expenditure for education at all levels.
"Unfortunately, in terms of gross domestic product ratio, the big spending is not worth it, at least it does not show the results in terms of improvement in education quality," said Razaleigh in the text of his speech released to the media.
He cited the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which found Malaysian students' score in Mathematics plunge from 520 in 1999 to 440 in 2011.
In science, Malaysian students also dropped from 510 in 2003 to 426 in 2011.
Similarly, the Programme for International Student Achievement (Pisa) found Malaysian students performing below average compared with countries in the same economic ranking.
Pisa ranked Malaysia at 39 with a mean score of 422 after assessing students in 2012 on creative problem-solving, while neighbouring Singapore came out tops with a mean score of 562.
The overall mean score for all countries was 500.
Razaleigh said there was a lack of emphasis in critical thinking in the country's education system, which is too exam-oriented.
"Rote learning will not improve students' thinking and problem solving skills which are crucial in the working world, and to be students who are thinking, disciplined and responsible.
"Teachers and parents should not glorify results such as scoring 13 As in PMR and SPM. This only encourages rote-learning which is mechanical and unable to open the students' mind," he added.
He also expressed worries over the rising unemployment rate among local graduates, which according to the World Bank, stood at 21% in 2013.
He said excluding Indonesia, the unemployment rate among young people in Malaysia was the highest in Asia.
"It doesn't matter if the situation is worse in Europe. We should not be happy about this situation. If there is an economic crisis which we expect in the near future, unemployment among youths is very worrying."
He urged Putrajaya to pay more attention to improving primary and secondary education especially on skills development, saying this was crucial if the country were to achieve high wage economy as opposed to high income economy.
He also underlined the importance of mastering the English language among college and university graduates, saying it was the world economy's "lingua franca".
He said mastering English has been emphasised since the Razak Report, a blueprint on the future Malayan education system released in 1956 and named after then education minister Tun Abdul Razak.
"What has happened that we now have problem with this medium of international communication?" he asked. – November 15, 2014.