DAP calls for genuine educational transformation to ensure “educational excellence for all students” and not just for 1.3% of the student population with over 51% failures


Both the current Education Minister, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and his predecessor Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein must be held responsible for the decline and deterioration of educational standards in Malaysia in the past decade, as illustrated by the 2007 and 2011 TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and the 2009 and 2012 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment).

This is because Hishammuddin was Education Minister from 2004 – 2009, and must be held solidly responsible for Malaysia’s poor performance in the 2007 TIMSS and 2009 PISA while Muhyiddin, who had taken over the Education Ministry in April 2009, must bear full responsibility for Malaysia’s educational performance in the 2011 TIMSS and 2012 PISA.

I have a vested interest in the performance of Malaysian students in international educational benchmarking, as I was responsible in getting Malaysia involved in the global educational assessments in the first place.

In 1996, I met the then Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Run Razak, and persuaded him that Malaysia should participate in TIMSS, as I had emailed the organisers of TIMSS, the Netherlands-based International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), inquiring about Malaysia’s participation in TIMSS as Malaysia had not participated in the four-yearly TIMSS assessment for eight-grade (Form Two) students.

Najib agreed with me that Malaysia should participate in the international educational assessments so that we know where Malaysian students stand with their peers in other countries, resulting in Malaysia’s first participation in a global educational assessment in the 1999 TIMSS.

In 1999 TIMSS, Malaysia’s scores on both Mathematics and Science (519 and 492 respectively) were above in the international average, with a ranking of 16 among 38 countries in Mathematics and 22 in Science.

In 2003 TIMSS, Malaysia’s performance was similar to that of 1999. The Science score actually increased, remaining well-above the international average, while the Mathematics score dropped somewhat but also stayed above the international average and the country’s rank actually improved to 10th place among 45 countries.

I still remember that in my response to the 2003 TIMSS results in December 2004, I cautioned Hishammuddin from being too euphoric at Malaysia’s performance, suggesting that a special committee should be formed to analyse the results of the TIMSS 2003 as well as to work out a strategy to emplace Malaysia among the top five scorers in future TIMSS surveys, as there is no reason why Malaysia cannot be ranked among the top five scorers whether for mathematics or science.

In the 2003 TIMSS, Asian students dominated the maths and science tests, with Singapore leading top performers in both mathematics and science, as illustrated by the following results:

Grade-Eight Students:

Top Five in Maths (with score)

1. Singapore 605
2. South Korea 589
3. Hong Kong 586
4. Taiwan 585
5. Japan 570
International Average 466

Top Five in Science

1. Singapore 578
2. Taiwan 571
3. South Korea 558
4. Hong Kong 556
5. Estonia & Japan 552
International Average 473

I said in December 2004 that if Malaysia cannot squeeze into the top five, we should at least be world’s No. 6 in both the international  maths and science tests.

Unfortunately, this was not the case and the 2007 and 2011 TIMSS showed a significant deterioration in performance for Malaysian students as compared to their peers in other countries.

By 2011, the Mathematics score had dropped to 440 points (26th position among 42 countries), while the Science score benchmarks fell to 426 points (32nd among 42 countries).

Up to 38 percent of students in Malaysia did not meet the minimum benchmarks in Mathematics and Science in 2011, an approximately twofold increase since 2007, and five times higher than in 1999.

Malaysia participated in the triennial PISA assessments for 15-year-old students in 2009 and 2012 and performed poorly, stuck in the bottom third for Reading, Mathematics and Science, well below the international and OECD averages, as well as the level of performance expected given Malaysia’s income level and that of high income economies that Malaysia aspires to join.

What is most disturbing from the 2012 PISA results is that more than half of Malaysian students (51.8%) do not reach basic proficiency levels in Mathematics, i.e. “low performers below Level 2” in 2012 PISA and only 1.3% of the students are “top performers” (at Level 5 or 6 in 2012 PISA).

In contrast, Shanghai-China (55.4%) has the largest proportion of students who are top performers, i.e. at Level 5 or 6 for mathematics followed by Singapore (40%), Taiwan (37.2%), Hong Kong (33.7%), South Korea (30.9). Between 15% and 25% of students in Belgium, Canada, Finland, Germany, Japan, Liechtenstein, Macao, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland and Switzerland are top performers in mathematics.

These 2012 PISA figures do not tally with the local data as according to the 2012 Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR), the failure rate for maths is only 6.3% as compared to the 51.8% in 2012 PISA.

Muhyiddin and the Education Ministry officials should explain this discrepancy but what is very obvious, and which the DAP urgently calls for, is genuine educational transformation to ensure that the objective of our education system is “educational excellence for all students” and not just for 1.3% of the student population with over 51% failures.

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  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Sunday, 15 December 2013 - 9:38 am

    If UMNO and Mahathir were TRULY serious about Education and Math & Science, they should make it a REQUIREMENT for ALL THINGS UMNO i.e., they don’t get to promited without strong Math & Science scores – All Ministers must have college level high Math & Science scores – even those involved in religion should have strong Math & Science scores. EVERYTHING..

    It would automatically at least get rid of the quarter-baked people involved in govt like those who says a person’s religious right is held up even worst standards than our already broken judiciary.

  2. #2 by bruno on Sunday, 15 December 2013 - 10:38 am

    Our students are lagging behind in educational standards of our neighbouring countries,is because our education ministers are not well versed in education.The present one is a shakedown king when he was MB of Johor.What can a “taikor” do for our students,except to teach them how to act rowdy.

  3. #3 by bruno on Sunday, 15 December 2013 - 10:43 am

    If one were to only look at how our once prestigious and well respected MU is doing will know where our educational standards are going.Uphill or downhill ? It depends on whom you asked.Go figure.

  4. #4 by bruno on Sunday, 15 December 2013 - 10:54 am

    How can a country which wants to be a developed nation in 2020,not have English as a second language.

    Spanish can be considered as a second language in the US.Now Americans and the Westerners are encouraging their children to learn and master the Chinese language.There are some Americans who can speak Mandarin better then the Chinese.

  5. #5 by boh-liao on Sunday, 15 December 2013 - 11:32 am

    Y worked up on 2012 PISA results 1? Oredi history what
    Look forward lah, man, have a life
    Just wait 4 our super brilliant PMR 2013 results on 19.12.2013, moooooooooooooooo

  6. #6 by limkamput on Sunday, 15 December 2013 - 11:47 am

    Sdr Lim, there is no hope to transform education in this country unless you transform all the teachers and lecturers first. It is a fact most of our teachers are hopeless – they can’t read fluently, they can’t write coherently, they do not know their subjects and they have moronic worldviews. They are there to teach our students to obey, to follow the rules, to respect the rich and the aristocrats, not to rock the boat, be subservient, and be STUPID. There is no need to be politically correct – just do a test on all the teachers and headmasters in the country. Most of them are nincompoops. Please note, I am making a general statement based on general observation. I am not talking about exception. But you must know the exception cannot make thing happen.

  7. #7 by pulau_sibu on Sunday, 15 December 2013 - 3:46 pm

    The ministers are similar to this group of below average students. Make sure we also let all the MPs and ministers take the PISA test.

  8. #8 by waterfrontcoolie on Sunday, 15 December 2013 - 5:02 pm

    Bigjoe, I thjnk you know the EGO and UMNO have never wanted the Malays to think outside BTN indoctrination programme which is designed to make them feel good like a jaguh kampong so that they are happily shouting how great they are! In the process they will be able to cream off the national coffer like the outflow of us$175 billion! So all our pleads for a better education will be writing on the wall which will be erased by the rain and the sun after a while. After all, the know that Melayu mudah lupa! In the meantime please make sure your children get some proper guidance and teaching lessons from you and partner. If the majority refuse to see the light and pretend to be blind, I would prefer to jst wish them luck and plan my own strategy for my children and we shall have to wait until they all wake up!!!

  9. #9 by Noble House on Monday, 16 December 2013 - 5:13 am

    Seriously, I am more inclined to believe that a government who exploits the people can never be depended on to educate them. Our education system fell short of the basic foundation necessary for character buildings, and self-development leading to academic excellence, all-round ability and leadership potential among students.

  10. #10 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Monday, 16 December 2013 - 10:05 am

    We all have to thank Mahathir for destroying one whole generation’s facility with the English language.

  11. #11 by john on Monday, 16 December 2013 - 10:47 pm

    OK, don’t worry. We can engage another foreign consultant to redress the last blueprint, this time for all students – ie. an Overall Blueprint. As we view Education as another pillar of Nation building, the consultant fees will be high as we only deal with the high-powered ones. Anyway, we do get a Blueprint at the end, so we can prove it, we engaged them.

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