In 2009, the Malaysian government announced a plan to phase out their policy of using English as the medium of instruction.  Among the reasons cited by the education minister was the risk of undermining students’ grasp of their first languages, as well as the fact that the policy had exposed the dearth of Malaysian teachers who were prepared to deliver instruction in English.  This gap was exacerbated by outward migration of English speaking teachers to Brunei and Singapore, which began in the 1980’s and continues today.  The gap was particularly acute in rural schools because many English option teachers prefer to serve in urban areas.  Rural student performance in mathematics and science had begun to drop as a result. 

In an effort to both stem teachers leaving, and to meet ambitious national mandates for improved instruction and performance outcomes with English taught as a priority foreign language, the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) has negotiated with the Ministry of Education to ensure teachers get the support they need to teach in-country. This includes promotion opportunities, and a better career path. The former is in part facilitated by up to 14,000 School Improvement Specialist Coaches (SISC+), trained by the ministry. These peer mentors are part of an extensive program to improve Bahasa Malaysia, English and Mathematics by providing job-embedded professional support. SISC+ coaches work with schools where just one in ten students have successfully passed national exams. 

Though primarily filled by Malaysian teachers, some migrant teachers have also been recruited to ensure that participants “learn new ideas and teaching techniques,” as well as “gather best teaching experience,” as the NUTP described in an email correspondence. Indeed, Malar Raj writes on her blog, Cease to Learn—Cease to Teach, “Because peer review can lead to changes in employment, teacher unions often have been involved in the implementation and evaluation of peer review programs.”  This represents an important example of union engagement to influence the structure of international recruitment programs to support meaningful professional development and language acquisition. 


Miwil, Olivia. “Sabah chosen to pioneer education transformation.” New Straits Times, January 23, 2013.