Why was the purchase of expensive “imported” English textbooks not done through open tender like other local textbooks?

While efforts to improve English proficiency among our students and teachers must be supported, it does not mean that the Ministry of Education (MOE) can do whatever it likes and worse, risk the future of our children through irresponsible experimenting and ill-advised policy decisions.

Earlier this week in Parliament, I exposed MOE’s incredulous decision to use new “imported” English Language textbooks to replace existing KSSR and KSSM textbooks for year 1 and form 1 students.

Not only are the new Super Minds (standard 1) and Pulse 2 (form 1) textbooks much more expensive, estimating to cost RM33 million to supply all year 1 and form 1 students in the country, the replacement of the existing curriculum came not long after new English language textbooks for year 1 and form 1 were approved and purchased.

As part of routine textbook updating exercises, new KSSR (Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Rendah) and KSSM (Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Menengah) textbooks had been approved through a tender process, with the winning publishers being Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka for the year 1 textbook at the cost of RM9.20 a copy and Pelangi for the form 1 textbook at RM7.50 a copy. This amounts to about RM7.1 million based on current student enrolment figures, which is a stark difference compared to the “imported” textbooks.

This also begs another question – why decide to use new “imported” books barely less than a year after local books had been approved and purchased?

I have also pointed out how the content of the books are completely Western in context with no local content whatsoever. Some of the articles and exercises in the books contain foreign cultural references that are very difficult for our local teachers and students to relate to. Besides the example that I raised concerning an article on an Amish teenager’s visit to Britain, another exercise in the Pulse 2 textbook talks about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (page 24). Not only is the subject a strange one for Malaysians, I am not sure many would be able to even pronounce Edinburgh correctly.

Meanwhile, another exercise advises students to volunteer themselves over the weekend by helping out at Chester Zoo or planting flowers at Dartmoor National Park (page 48). I don’t think one weekend is enough if our students really do attempt to engage in these activities, what with the long travel time required. Is it quite unbelievable that MOE can approve such content.

On top of that, almost every page in the textbooks contain instructions and references to audio content which has been removed from the local versions. In other words, MOE has purchased these textbooks without their accompanying digital content, even though these books cost four times more than their local counterparts.

Finally, while the local textbooks are subject to competitive open tenders, the purchase of the “imported” textbooks through local publishers Pan Asia Publications for Super Minds and Desa Fikir for Pulse 2 were seemingly done by direct negotiation.

Therefore, MOE owes the Malaysian public an explanation as to why they decided to replace the local textbooks with “imported” ones at such short notice and without a proper tender procedure.

Below is a table that illustrates the differences between the local and “imported” textbooks:

  Local Textbooks “Imported” Textbooks
Cost RM7.1 million RM33 million
Content Local cultural context with digital content. Totally foreign cultural context with digital content removed and references made to unavailable material.
Procurement Open competitive tender Direct negotiation

Zairil Khir Johari
Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera
DAP Parliamentary Spokesperson for Education, Science and Technology

Pulse 2 p24 Pulse 2 p48

NB: This press statement was released on 25 November 2017 in Kuala Lumpur.

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