Some 500,000 Year One (seven-year-old) pupils in Malaysia will benefit from fee-free education with the start of the semester on 4 January 2012.
The recently announced free education policy, which covers some 5.3 million students in primary and secondary government schools, is a first in the education history of Malaysia.
This initiative is part of the 2012 budget revealed in October 2011 with the aim of ensuring that all Malaysian students will have access to quality and affordable education.
Nordic countries such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland are often cited as successful examples of modern welfare states where education has been free in schools and universities.
The general working model is where there is a direct transfer of funds from the state to the services provided such as education and healthcare, as well as directly to individuals. The Nordic model of education seems to fare much better comparatively across the board.
For example, Toril Johansson of the Ministry of Education and Research of Norway has been cited as saying that the principle of free education is provided for in Norwegian law, and it is the responsibility of the country’s politicians to make sure that education remains free of charge.
Prior to this, students were required to pay a fee of RM24.50 and RM33.50, which included payment for co-curriculum activities, internal test papers, Malaysian Schools Sports Council fees and insurance premium.
Another worthy exercise is to revert to the original purpose of residential schools, which is to make quality education available to the poor in the effort to promote socio-economic equity.
The issue is not about schools per se, but more of narrowing the socio-economic gap that seems to be an obstacle to underprivileged pupils even as Malaysia approaches its 55th anniversary of its independence.