“To Sir With Love”, How This Movie Can Actually Inspire The Transformation Of The Future Education In Malaysia

ByMohd Azad Jasmi

Teaching holds a special place in my heart, as both of my parents are retired teachers, and my first job after completing my undergraduate degree was as a temporary teacher in my hometown of Perlis, the northernmost state in Malaysia. I was fortunate enough to be offered a position as a temporary teacher at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Agama Perempuan Perlis, a fantastic school located in the lush gardens adjacent to the Perlis State Mosque, in 1998.

When I received the letter from the state education department, I showed it to my parents. In response, they suggested that I watch “To Sir With Love”. In 1998, I borrowed a VHS tape from a local video shop and upon watching it, I was inspired by Sidney Poitier’s performance and it left a lasting impact on me. The main character, Mark Thackeray, played by Sidney Poitier, had a positive attitude towards his students and believed in their potential, even when they were challenging. As a new teacher, developing a positive attitude towards my students can help me build a good rapport with them and motivate them to learn.

After a few months of teaching, I was allowed to pursue my master’s degree.

Since then, I have always considered myself a teacher. Even though I currently work as a coach and trainer, I still view myself as a teacher. I tell those I speak with, including Ministries and government agencies, to refer to me as “Cikgu” (teacher in Malay). In this article, I aim to provide some sincere and humble thoughts on how Malaysia’s education system could be improved. This is not meant to be a lament on the state of education in Malaysia but rather a personal perspective.

I am not a politician, nor am I a high-ranking member of any ministry whose ideas are sought after. Instead, I am an ordinary citizen with a sincere interest in expressing my ideas and suggestions to be conveyed to the respective agencies or ministers. I hope that at least one or two of my suggestions can be considered for implementation.

Malaysia and the power of Who

Unfortunately, in Malaysia, it often seems that only high-ranking officials or individuals with significant wealth are listened to, regardless of the validity of their ideas. Often, people focus more on “who said it” rather than “what was said”.

In other words, who says something is often more important than what is being said. Despite my lack of a high-ranking title or significant wealth, I hope that my humble thoughts and ideas on improving Malaysia’s education system can be heard and considered.

As a “Kampung Boy” from the smallest state in Perlis, I hope that this small article on the “Blueprint” can be read and taken into consideration by those who are interested in improving education in Malaysia.

Education is one of the most important pillars of any society. It shapes the future of a country by providing its citizens with the necessary skills, knowledge, and values to contribute to the development of the nation. In Malaysia, education has been a top priority for the government since independence. However, in recent years, there has been growing concern about the effectiveness of the education system in preparing students for the challenges of the 21st century.

Innovative and transformative blueprint

To address these concerns, we should craft a blueprint for innovative and transformative education in Malaysia. The blueprint may be titled “Shaping the Future,” which aims to transform Malaysia’s education system into one that is relevant, responsive, and future-proof.

The blueprint can outline several key strategies for achieving this goal. One of the main strategies is to shift the focus of education from rote learning or memorizing things; to the development of higher-order thinking skills. This means that students will be encouraged to think critically, solve problems, and communicate effectively, rather than simply memorize information.

To support this shift, the blueprint proposes a new curriculum that is more flexible, interdisciplinary, and learner-centered. The new curriculum will be designed to enable students to pursue their interests and talents, and to develop the skills and competencies that are needed in the 21st century workforce.

Another key strategy outlined in the blueprint is to enhance the quality of teaching and learning. This will be achieved through the development of a comprehensive teacher development program that will provide teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge to implement the new curriculum effectively.

The blueprint also proposes the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning. This includes the provision of digital resources and tools, such as e-books and educational apps, and the use of online platforms for collaboration and communication.

To ensure that the benefits of education are accessible to all Malaysians, the blueprint proposes the expansion of access to education, particularly for students from low-income and marginalized communities. This will be achieved through the provision of financial assistance, such as scholarships and bursaries, as well as the development of special programs to support the learning needs of disadvantaged students.

It is essential to carefully assess students’ interests and capabilities and conduct aptitude tests to avoid wasting time teaching subjects that may not be related to their strengths. Furthermore, it is crucial to eradicating the negative perception surrounding technical vocational training (TVET) and skills-based education, which has long been viewed as inferior to academic-based education. This negative stigma not only affects students pursuing TVET but also their parents and the community at large, leading to an indoctrinated sense of inferiority. The prevailing mindset prioritizes salary and status based on academic qualifications rather than competencies.

In addition, the blueprint proposes the establishment of a national education system that is more responsive to the needs of the community. This includes the involvement of parents, employers, and civil society organizations in the development of education policies and programs.

Overall, my idea of “Shaping the Future” represents a bold and ambitious vision for the future of education in Malaysia. By shifting the focus of education towards the development of higher-order thinking skills, enhancing the quality of teaching and learning, and expanding access to education for all Malaysians, the blueprint has the potential to transform Malaysia’s education system into one that is innovative, responsive, and transformative. With the commitment and support of all stakeholders, including the government, educators, parents, and students, Malaysia can achieve its vision of a world-class education system that prepares its citizens for the challenges of the future.

The education system in Malaysia has been criticized for having a heavy focus on academic achievement and putting too much pressure on students. The large number of subjects taught in schools has been identified as one of the key factors contributing to this issue. To help alleviate this problem, several steps can be taken.

Re-evaluate the current curriculum. The Ministry of Education can review the current curriculum to determine if any subjects can be consolidated or removed. This can help reduce the number of subjects that students have to take, freeing up more time for other activities.

Increase focus on student-centered learning. The education system in Malaysia can shift towards a more student-centered learning approach, where students have more input into their learning experience. This can involve more project-based learning, collaborative learning, and self-directed learning.

Emphasize the importance of non-academic activities. The Ministry of Education can work with schools to place a greater emphasis on non-academic activities such as sports, arts, and community service. These activities can help students develop important skills such as teamwork, creativity, and leadership, and can provide a much-needed break from the academic pressure.

Offer more flexible options. The education system in Malaysia can explore more flexible options for students who may have different needs or interests. For example, some students may benefit from vocational training or apprenticeships, while others may be more suited for academic studies.

Encourage a growth mindset. Students can be encouraged to adopt a growth mindset, which emphasizes the importance of effort and perseverance over innate ability. This can help reduce the pressure to perform and encourage students to focus on their personal growth and development.

My suggestion

I would like to provide some suggestions based on the commonly discussed topics and ideas for changing the education system in Malaysia. Some suggestions are:

  1. Reducing the number of subjects. As you mentioned earlier, students in Malaysia are often given too many subjects, which can cause stress and burnout. One potential solution is to reduce the number of subjects and focus on core competencies and skills that will be more beneficial in the long run. This could also free up more time for extracurricular activities and character-building programs.
  2. More emphasis on creativity and critical thinking. Many experts argue that the Malaysian education system is too focused on memorization and rote learning, and not enough on creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. To address this, schools could incorporate more project-based learning, group discussions, and other activities that encourage students to think critically and creatively.
  3. Technology integration. Technology can play a big role in improving education, and schools in Malaysia could benefit from more extensive use of technology in the classroom. This could include things like e-learning platforms, interactive whiteboards, and online resources that students can access outside of school.
  4. Teacher training and professional development. Teachers are the backbone of any education system, and they must have the skills and knowledge to effectively teach students. Ongoing training and professional development opportunities can help teachers stay up-to-date on the latest teaching methods, technologies, and best practices.
  5. More focus on character building. As we discussed earlier, character-building programs can help students develop important life skills and values that will serve them well in the future. Incorporating these programs into the curriculum and making them a priority could help create a more well-rounded education system in Malaysia.

These are just a few suggestions, and there are many other ideas out there for how to improve the education system in Malaysia. Ultimately, it will take a concerted effort from educators, policymakers, and the public to make lasting changes that benefit students and the country as a whole.

Education Framework: Finland versus Malaysia

Finland and Malaysia have vastly different education frameworks. Finland is known for its world-class education system, which consistently ranks highly in international comparisons, while Malaysia has faced criticism for its education system’s shortcomings. In this article, we will examine the differences between the two systems and highlight some areas where Malaysia can learn from Finland’s successes.

Structure and Focus of Education

In Finland, education is highly decentralized, with a focus on creating an equal and inclusive education system. Education is mandatory for children between the ages of 7 and 16, and there are no national standardized tests until the final year of high school. The Finnish education system emphasizes creativity, independent thinking, and collaborative learning. There is a high level of teacher autonomy, and teaching is a highly respected profession.

In contrast, Malaysia’s education system is highly centralized, with a national curriculum and standardized testing at all levels. The curriculum is highly structured, with a strong emphasis on academic subjects and memorization-based learning. The education system in Malaysia is highly exam-oriented, with high-stakes national exams determining entry into universities and future job prospects.

Teacher Training and Professional Development

In Finland, teachers are highly trained and have a great deal of professional autonomy. Teachers in Finland are required to have a master’s degree in education, and teacher training is highly selective. Teachers are given the freedom to develop their lesson plans and choose their teaching methods. In addition, teachers are encouraged to continually improve their skills and knowledge through ongoing professional development.

In Malaysia, teacher training is more focused on rote learning and teaching to the test. Teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree in education, but there is a lack of emphasis on ongoing professional development. Additionally, the education system in Malaysia has faced criticism for the low salaries and lack of respect afforded to teachers.

Innovation and Technology

Finland is known for its innovative use of technology in education. Technology is seen as a tool to enhance learning, rather than a replacement for traditional teaching methods. Finland’s education system emphasizes the use of technology to support individualized learning and collaboration. For example, classrooms are equipped with interactive whiteboards, and students are given access to a wide range of digital learning resources.

Malaysia’s education system has been slower to adopt new technologies. While the use of technology in classrooms is increasing, it is still not as widespread as in Finland. Additionally, there is a lack of training and support for teachers in using technology effectively.

How Malaysia can follow Finland in education subjects and framework?

Finland has long been recognized as one of the world’s leading countries in education. Its education system consistently ranks high in international assessments, including the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measures the performance of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science, and reading. The Finnish education system is characterized by a student-centered approach, a high level of teacher autonomy, and a focus on equity and equal opportunities. Malaysia can learn from Finland’s education system and implement some of the practices that have made Finland a world leader in education.

One of the key features of Finland’s education system is the focus on play-based learning. Finnish children start school at the age of seven, and before that, they attend a preschool that emphasizes play, exploration, and socialization. Play is seen as an essential component of learning and is integrated into the curriculum throughout the primary school years. In Malaysia, the focus is often on rote learning and play-based learning is not emphasized. By introducing more play-based learning into the curriculum, Malaysia can help students develop their creativity, problem-solving skills, and social skills.

Another area where Malaysia can learn from Finland is teacher training. In Finland, teachers are highly trained professionals who undergo rigorous academic and practical training. All teachers have a master’s degree, and admission to teacher training programs is highly competitive. This ensures that only the best and brightest are selected to become teachers. In Malaysia, teacher training programs are often criticized for being insufficient, and many teachers do not have the necessary qualifications or training to provide high-quality education. By improving teacher training and recruiting highly qualified candidates, Malaysia can ensure that students have access to the best possible education.

Finland’s education system is also known for its focus on equity and equal opportunities. All students have access to high-quality education, regardless of their socio-economic background or geographic location. In Malaysia, there is often a wide gap between students from urban areas and those from rural areas, as well as between students from high-income families and those from low-income families. By adopting a more equitable approach to education and ensuring that all students have access to high-quality education, Malaysia can help to reduce these inequalities and ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed.

Another area where Malaysia can learn from Finland is the use of technology in education. In Finland, technology is used as a tool to support learning, rather than as a replacement for traditional teaching methods. Teachers are trained to use technology to enhance their lessons and help students develop digital literacy skills. In Malaysia, technology is often seen as a solution to the challenges facing the education system, but it is not always used effectively. By adopting a more strategic approach to technology in education and ensuring that teachers are trained to use it effectively, Malaysia can help to improve student learning outcomes.


Malaysia can learn a lot from Finland’s education system. By adopting some of the practices that have made Finland a world leader in education, Malaysia can improve student outcomes, reduce inequalities, and ensure that all students have access to high-quality education.

Key areas where Malaysia can learn from Finland include play-based learning, teacher training, equity and equal opportunities, and the use of technology in education. By implementing these practices, Malaysia can work towards creating a world-class education system that prepares students for success in the 21st century.

Finland’s education system is often held up as a model for other countries to follow. Finland’s focus on creating an equal and inclusive education system, teacher autonomy, and innovative use of technology have all contributed to its success. Malaysia, on the other hand, has faced criticism for its highly centralized and exam-oriented education system, as well as a lack of emphasis on teacher training and ongoing professional development.

To improve Malaysia’s education system, it could learn from Finland’s successes by increasing teacher training and professional development, emphasizing innovation and the use of technology in education, and moving away from a highly centralized and exam-oriented system. By implementing these changes, Malaysia can create a more inclusive, equitable, and successful education system for its students.

The education frameworks of Finland and Malaysia are vastly different, but there are valuable lessons that can be learned from both. As Malaysia continues to strive towards improving its education system, it is important to consider the successes of other countries and implement the best practices that can help shape the future of education in Malaysia.

When comparing Malaysia’s education system to that of Finland, it is important to note that Finland’s system serves only as a benchmark. Additionally, one major issue in Malaysia is the constant change in policies and frameworks whenever a new government or minister takes over, which leads to teachers and students being adversely affected. With teachers being bogged down by desk jobs and administrative tasks, their primary role of teaching and delivering lessons to students is compromised. To address this, I suggest that every school have dedicated personnel for data entry and report submission, allowing teachers to focus solely on self-development, student engagement, and teaching delivery. This approach would improve the overall performance of both teachers and students.

I hope that my sincere thoughts will be read and received positively, as they are intended for the benefit of the next and future generations. Please do not view this article as an attack on the egos of past or present policymakers, but rather as a message from a teacher to the Ministry regarding what needs to be done.

Ok class, the bell is ringing. Our class is over. I’m going out for my next class. Till we meet again.

The memory of Mark Thackeray’s character still resonates with me to this day. Although I didn’t tear up any job offer letters, I still share his passion for teaching and consider myself a teacher in Malaysia. As I conclude this article, the rhythmic beat and melody of “To Sir With Love” by Lulu echoes in my mind, reminding me of the impact a dedicated teacher can have on their students and the importance of striving for excellence in education.

From Sir With Love To Malaysian Education — Cikgu Azad

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