Muhyiddin should stop “building castles in the air” about Malaysia among the top one-third of TIMSS and PISA systems by 2021 when he seems to be comfortable or resigned to the country being a nation of mediocrity instead of being a nation of excellence

The Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin will be remembered for what he failed to say instead of what he said in the past week.

On the morning of his joint opening of the annual general meetings of UMNO Youth, Wanita and Puteri on Tuesday night, the 2012 PISA results on the global assessment of 510,000 15-year-old students in 65 countries and regions on the three critical subjects of mathematics, reading and science were released, but he did not have anything to say on it although it fell directly under his portfolio.

Although Muhyiddin as Education Minister would have earlier notice of the 2012 PISA results, he continued to keep dumb on the 2012 PISA results, even omitting reference to it in his winding-up speech at the three-day UMNO General Assembly yesterday.

Elsewhere in the world, the 2012 PISA results have created waves.

They provoked soul-searching in Western countries – such as former PISA star Finland where performance declined in all three areas, and the United Kingdom with its UK Education Secretary Michael Gove describing the 2012 PISA results as “scandalous” for their education system, as UK schoolchildren are up to three years behind their peers in the top-performing countries in Asia.

Or they elicited satisfaction or delight in some countries because of good results or significant improvements compared to previous assessments like Singapore, Vietnam and even United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kazakhstan and Thailand as the last trio outperformed Malaysia in all the three subjects!

But for Malaysia, stuck in the bottom third of the PISA countries assessed, there is only prolonged ominous silence from the very top of the government and education ministry.

When launching the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, Muhyiddin announced an “education transformation” over 13 years, with Malaysia’s performance on PISA and TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) rocketing to the top third of the assessment systems by 2021.

Muhyiddin should stop “building castles in the air” about Malaysia among the top one-third of TIMSS and PISA systems come 2021 when by his silence in the past week on the 2012 PISA, he seems to be comfortable or resigned to the country being a nation of mediocrity instead of being a nation of excellence.

I am reminded of Muhyiddin’s similar prolonged and ominous silence last December when the poor results of Malaysian students in the TIMSS 2011 were announced.

In my statement “Quo Vadis Malaysian education system” on December 19, 2012, I said:

“Since the world-wide publication of the TIMSS 2011 results on December 11, Muhyiddin had commented on everything under the sun except on TIMSS 2011 results showing unchecked plunge in the standards of mathematics and science for Malaysian students as compared to other countries – powerful testimony that Muhyiddin is neither committed nor interested in his first duty as Education Minister.”

Muhyiddin is repeating the same exercise of going dumb on the 2012 PISA results as he had done with the TIMSS 2011 results last December.

In the TIMSS 2011, Malaysia’s scores for both maths and science were below the international average, lagging behind Israel, Hungary, Slovenia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Armenia, Romania, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Lebanon in the maths test and trailing behind Slovenia, Israel, Lithuania, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Iran, Romania, UAE, Chile, Bahrain, Thailand, Jordan, Tunisia, Armenia and Saudi Arabia in the science study.

In the four TIMSS 1999-2011, Malaysia is the country which suffered the biggest drop in scores among all participating countries for both maths and science: in maths dropping by 79 points from 519 in 1999 to 440 in 2011; in science, dropping by 66 points from 492 in 1999 to 426 points in 2011.

Muhyiddin cannot remain silent for Malaysians are entitled to know why he is unconcerned and indifferent to the TIMSS 2011 and PISA 2012 results for Malaysian students, which is an indictment of the Malaysian national education system as well as the series of UMNO/BN Education Ministers in the past– going back even to the period when the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak was the Education Minister from 1995-2000.

Muhyiddin’s greatest service to education is to stop playing politics with education.

At the close of the Umno General Assembly yesterday, he asked all Umno divisions through the Umno Education Bureau to play a major role in the implementation of the National Education Blueprint.

Is the implementation of the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025 to be the preserve of only the UMNO divisions – or is it to be the role and responsibility of all political parties, NGOs and Malaysians regardless of whether Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat?

Even more important, are UMNO divisions being mobilised to ensure that the strategic objective of the National Education Blueprint to ensure that Malaysia could achieve the top third of the PISA and TIMSS systems by 2021, especially in the critical subjects of mathematics, reading and science, and if so, why Muhyiddin failed to give the UMNO delegates an in-depth analysis of the failures of Malaysian students not only to match the top-performing countries like Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, or to come up to the OECD and international averages, but also losing out to countries which Malaysians had always thought they are more superior in educational attainments like Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Thailand and Chile?

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah