Malaysia does not need any more robotic responses to sliding educational standards but innovative reactions to ensure greater accountability

Malaysia’s declining educational standards is presently a taboo subject for the Deputy Prime Minister-cum-Education Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who does not want to talk or to be asked about it, especially after two events in December which highlighted the sad reality that the Malaysia education system is facing a real crisis of confidence, unable to achieve the quality of education necessary to nurture skilled, inquisitive and innovative workers for Malaysia to break out of the middle-income trap to reach the goal of becoming a high-income nation.

These two events were the release of the 2012 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results on December 3, the first day of the week of UMNO general meetings, and the official release of World Bank’s latest Malaysian Economic Monitor themed “High-Performing Education”.

Instead of delegating to the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. Datuk Seri Wahid Omar, Muhyiddin should have personally officiated at the release of the World Bank’s “Malaysia Economic Monitor: High-Performing Education” which highlighted the importance of building a high-performance education system for Malaysia’s transformation into a high income, sustainable and inclusive economy.

In fact, the World Bank report is not about Malaysia’s “high-performing education” but how Malaysia has fallen short of producing a high-performing education system based on Malaysia’s poor performances in two international education assessments – the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) where Malaysia’s scores were significantly lower than those in 2003 and 2007 for both Math and Science, and the 2012 PISA, where the Science and Reading scores fell compared to 2010 although the Math score showed improvement.

As the World Bank report pointed out: “Among East Asian countries that participated in the 2012 PISA, Malaysian students only outperform their Indonesian peers, and lag even lower-income countries (including by a wide margin, Vietnam).”

Malaysia suffers from three failures as a result of its poor performances in international educational benchmarks, below what would be expected of a country with its income per capita or level of educational expenditures, and well below the performance of the high-income economies that Malaysia aspires to compete against for innovation and knowledge-based investments.

Having failed to make a single mention of Malaysia’s poor performance in the 2012 PISA at the week-long UMNO general assemblies, whether in his opening speech of the Joint Annual General Meetings of Umno Youth, Wanita and Puteri on the night of Dec. 3 or the winding-up debate during the Umno General Assembly the following Saturday, Muhyiddin should have taken the opportunity of the release the World Bank’s Malaysia Economic Monitor: High-Performing Education in Kuala Lumpur yesterday to convince Malaysians that the Malaysian Education Blueprint (MEB) for Malaysia to be among the top one-third world-class education systems in the world by 2012 is a serious undertaking and commitment.

Instead, Muhyiddin evaded the best opportunity for him to assure Malaysians that despite the poor performances of Malaysia’s 15-year-olds in 2012 PISA – falling below the international average in the three critical subjects of Math, Science and Reading (or literacy), as well as three or five years behind their peers in the top performing PISA countries/regions in Shanghai, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan – Malaysia’s MEB plan to be a world-class international education hub to be among the top third best education systems in the world is no “pie in the sky” .

Be that as it may, the constant bombardment on Muhyiddin and the Education Ministry for the poor Malaysian performances in the 2012 PISA since its results were released on Dec. 3 had certain effect, for it was announced in yesterday’s media that the Education Ministry has formed a special committee to elevate the ranking of Malaysian students in PISA.

Large groans could be heard all over the country at this announcement as Malaysia does not need any more robotic responses to sliding educational standards like establishment of another toothless committee but political will for genuine educational reforms and innovative reactions to firstly ensure greater educational accountability like making public the minimum passing marks of public exams and secondly, greater parental participation and ownership of national education systems as allowing parents to decide whether to adopt PPMSI.

In its response to the 2012 PISA results, the Education Ministry said in its statement: “Although the results of PISA 2012 were not so encouraging, the ministry is confident that Malaysia is capable of getting a better position in PISA 2015 through the implementation of Malaysia Education Blueprint, which was launched on Sept 6.”

Clearly, the person responsible for the Education Ministry statement does not know what is in the Malaysian Education Blueprint, for it is not about “getting a better position in PISA 2015” but breaking out of the bottom-third PISA bracket and achieving the international PISA average in the 2015 PISA and 2018 PISA and breaking into a top-third PISA bracket in the 2021 PISA.

In other words, can Malaysia become a “wonder nation” to achieve what no other country had ever achieved in four PISAs – a double quantum jump from bottom-third to top-third PISA brackets?

Are these PISA 2015, 1018 and 2021 targets for maths, science and reading still in place after the poor PISA 2012 results and the World Bank’s most adverse reports on “High Performing Education” in Malaysia?

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah