Media Statement by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Saturday, 10th January 2009: 

Time for Hishammuddin to break his month-long silence and explain Malaysia’s disastrous showing in the 60-nation TIMSS 2007 – the four-yearly international maths and science assessment of Year 8 students 

Some 60 countries, including Malaysia, participated in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2007, the latest four-yearly international comparative assessment of the achievements and attitudes towards mathematics and science of Year 4 primary and Year 8 secondary students.

The findings of the TIMSS 2007 were internationally released on December 9, 2008, and in the past month, there had been intense debate involving the educational authorities, educational NGOs and concerned parents in all the participating countries on the results of TIMSS 2007 and their impact on their respective education policy and in particular how to improve the teaching and learning in mathematics and science for their pupils.

Except in one country – Malaysia, where there is total silence by the education authorities and even blackout of the TIMSS 2007 findings in the mass media despite the ongoing controversy as to whether the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English should continue or revert to Bahasa Malaysia/mother tongue.

It is most unbelievable that the Education Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and the Education Ministry could perpetrate a conspiracy of silence for one whole month on the TIMSS 2007 findings relating to the achievements of Malaysian students who took part in the Year 8 (Secondary Two) assessments for mathematics and science.

This is all the more irresponsible as he should be a role model for other Education Ministers as he is a member of UNESCO Board as well as President of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (Seameo).

It is time for Hishammuddin to break his month-long silence and explain his failure as Education Minister as reflected by Malaysia’s poor results in the TIMSS 2007 as compared to other countries in the 60-nation international assessment of the mathematics and science achievements of Year 8 students.

Like other participating countries, Hishammuddin and the Malaysian education authorities would have received copies of the TIMSS 2007 Report well in advance, to give them more than ample time to prepare and release their national reports on the TIMSS 2007 findings almost simultaneously as the international release of the TIMSS findings on Dec. 9 last year.

This was why Hong Kong and Singapore could come out with official statements on how their students fared in the TIMSS 2007 the very next day on December 10, and why other countries could even publish country reports giving their national perspectives of TIMSS 2007, like the United States, Australia, England, Scotland and even Dubai, which took part as a “benchmarking participant” for its own internal benchmarking purposes.

Hishammuddin had not been shy in immediately going public about the previous findings of TIMSS 2003, when it was internationally released on 14th December 2004.

Hishammuddin reported the TIMSS 2003 findings to the Cabinet and came out with a public announcement the very same day, which was reported by New Straits Times (Thursday, 16th December 2004) under the headline: “Our students hold their own in Maths, Science”, viz:

PUTRAJAYA, Wed. - Malaysian students more than held their own in Science
and Mathematics in a study carried out among 50 countries.

They were placed 10th in Mathematics, scoring ahead of Australia,
Britain, United States and New Zealand while in Science, Malaysian
students placed 20th, ahead of countries like Norway and Italy.

Education Minister Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein was pleased with this
showing, noting that in 1999, Malaysia was placed 16th in Mathematics and
22nd in Science among 38 countries.

"I believe this success shows the ability of current educators in
teaching these subjects," he said.

He added that no one should question the ability of the education system
to nurture students who excel in both subjects.

Earlier, he briefed the Cabinet on the study.

"The Cabinet was satisfied with the achievement in the Trends in
International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for last year because
the performance was encouraging compared to previous years."

A total of 5,314 Malaysians were selected for the study.

TIMSS 2003 is an international comparative study sponsored by the
International Association for the Evaluation Achievement.

Form Two or Grade Eight students were picked randomly from 50 countries
to sit for an assessment test and answer a research questionnaire.

In fact, Hishammuddin could not hide his excitement and returned to the TIMSS 2003 findings a fortnight later as the highlight of his New Year Message for his Ministry at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre!

If Hishammuddin could go public within 24 hours of the international release of the TIMSS 2003 findings in December 2004, why is Hishammuddin maintaining an eerie silence after one whole month of the international release of the TIMSS 2007 findings?

The answer is very clear although this can be no excuse for Hishammuddin’s irresponsibility in trying to “black out” the TIMSS 2003 report with regard to the results pertaining to Malaysian students.

The TIMSS 2007 had been an unmitigated disaster in the three assessments which Malaysia had participated, i.e. TIMSS 1999, TIMSS 2003 and TIMSS 2007 and it was a direct reflection on the quality of his leadership as Education Minister.

The proud statement of Hishammuddin in December 2004 that Malaysia was placed 10th in Mathematics, scoring ahead of Australia, Britain, United States and New Zealand while in Science, Malaysian students were placed 20th, ahead of countries like Norway and Italy, had all turned to ashes.

TIMSS 2007 was a total reversal, with Malaysia losing out to Australia, England, Scotland and the United States in Mathematics (New Zealand not in the TIMSS 2007 list for Year 8 students) as well as being overtaken by Norway and Italy in science!

Malaysia plunged from No. 10 placing in mathematics in TIMSS 2003 to No. 20 placing in TIMSS 2007.

With the disastrous showing in mathematics at the eighth grade level, Malaysia not only lost to the five top Asian countries which took the first five places, namely Chinese Taipei (1), South Korea (2), Singapore (3), Hong Kong (4) and Japan (5) but also to Hungary (6), England (7), Russian Federation (8), United States (9), Lithuania (10), Czech Republic (11), Slovenia (12), Armenia (13), Australia (14), Sweden (15), Malta (16), Scotland (17), Serbia (18) and Italy (19).

In the three TIMSS 2007 for mathematics in eighth grade level, Malaysia dropped a hefty 45 score points from 519 points in 1999, 508 in 2003 to 474 in 2007 (500 is the TIMSS mathematics scale average). The Australian national report on TIMSS 2007 noted that Australia’s mathematics achievement score of 496 was “not significantly different to the TIMSS scale average” and “significantly higher than the remaining 31 countries, including Italy, Malaysia and Norway”.

For science, Malaysia also plunged below the TIMSS scale average of 500, falling to 471 points in 2007, a drop by 39 points as compared to 2003 (510). In 1999, Malaysia scored 492 points. Malaysia’s ranking in Year 8 science in TIMSS 2007 is No. 21, behind Sinagpore (1), Chinese Taipei (2), Japan (3). South Korea (4), England (5), Hungary (6), Czech Republic (7), Slovenia (8), Hong Kong (9), Russian Federation (10), United States (11), Lithuania (12), Australia (13), Sweden (14), Scotland (15), Italy (16), Armenia (17), Norway (18), Ukraine (19) and Jordan (20).

What should be quite startling about the science findings of TIMSS 2007 is not the Australian national report observation that Malaysia is one of the countries which “showed a “statistically significant decline” in score points, but the observation by the Dubai national report that Malaysia’s TIMSS 2007 science score of 471 is “significantly lower than Dubai”, which scored 489, as well as Thailand catching up with Malaysia in having a similar score of 471!

Had Hishammuddin ever submitted a report of Malaysia’s dismal showing in the TIMSS 2007 to the Cabinet and did the Cabinet give the Hishammuddin the “green-light” to bury the disastrous TIMSS findings from public knowledge?

It must be particularly galling to Hishammuddin that he cannot really claim credit for Malaysia’s good results in TIMSS 2003 (as the survey was conducted in 2003 when he had not been appointed Education Minister), but he has to bear full responsibility for the dismal results in TIMSS 2007 as he had already been Education Minister for three years when the survey was conducted in 2007.

If Hishammuddin had fully devoted himself to his duties and responsibilities as Education Minister, instead of devoting his energies politicising his position whether as Education Minister or UMNO Youth leader as in his many keris-wielding antics and most recently in trying to dragoon students for Umno Youth demonstrations, Malaysians would have today an education system held in high international regard for its quality, excellence and competitiveness capable of being a global educational hub to fully develop the human resource potential of Malaysians and the region.

When will Hishammuddin perform his first duty as Education Minister by making public a national report highlighting the main Malaysian results and findings, setting them in the international context as well as discussing Malaysia’s performance in maths and science since 1999?

After Malaysia’s participation in TIMSS 1999, I had called on the government to have a strategy to place Malaysia among the world’s top five or six nations in mathematics and science, as with five Asian countries as the top performers in mathematics and science in previous TIMSS surveys, there is no reason why Malaysia cannot join their ranks..

This dream has to be shelved however until Hishammuddin can come out with a a satisfactory explanation and solution for Malaysia’s dismal performances in both mathematics and science in TIMSS 2007.

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor