Muhyiddin’s MEB – “Miracle Education Blueprint” – expects Malaysian students to perform three educational miracles in his 13-year Three-Wave Educational Transformation Plan

The 2012 PISA results have been regarded as a “wake-up” call in many countries, provoking national soul-searching about the efficacy and competitiveness of their education systems compared to other countries, including Finland which fell from its pedestal as the top-performing OECD country, scoring 519 points for mathematics, Canada (518), Australia (504), New Zealand (500), United Kingdom (494) and the United States (481).

Although the first four countries are above the OECD average for mathematics, i.e. 494 points while UK’s score is the same as the OECD average, the US score of 481 is below the OECD average.

Malaysia with maths score at 421 is far behind these countries with our 15-year-old students behind their peers in Finland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK and US by 1.6 to 2.6 school years.

Yet the Finnish, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, UK and US political leaders including Education Ministers or their equivalents, education planners and parents are having a major debate over the 2012 PISA results but in Malaysia, led by the Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister, there is disgusting complacency and indifference about Malaysia’s poor performance in 2012 PISA.

It is coming to two full weeks but Muhyiddin has yet to say a single word about the 2012 PISA results released on Dec. 3 although the main objective for the quality of our education system in Muhyiddin’s Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2015 (MEB) is to be ranked the top third of countries participating in PISA and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Survey).

Instead of boldly stepping forward to assume responsibility for the poor 2012 PISA results as he was already Education Minister since the previous 2009 PISA, Muhyiddin has “run for cover” avoiding any discussion of the 2012 PISA.

Instead, he got the Education Ministry to come out with a statement a week after the release of the 2012 PISA results which befuddled rather than clarified the educational woes faced by the country.

An unsourced and unquoted Education Ministry statement on Tuesday, 10th December said:

“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 MEB, which was launched on Sept 6″.

According to the statement, as an immediate move, the ministry had set up a special committee to elevate the ranking of the Malaysian students in PISA.

This Committee on Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and PISA would be led by the ministry’s Curriculum Development Division and would identify and monitor the initiatives needed to be implemented for a programme for international student assessments.

Who are these faceless, nameless and headless “miracle people” who will be responsible for the double quantum jump of Malaysian students in the bottom third to the top third of international educational assessments like PISA and TIMSS?

This is in fact a most dishonest and irresponsible statement as a special task force on PISA and TIMSS had been formed not after the 2012 PISA results were released on Dec. 3, 2013 but after 2007 TIMSS and 2009 PISA to ensure that Malaysia can improve on our performances in the 2011 TIMSS and 2012 PISA.

But this TIMSS and PISA Task Force was a dismal failure, as both the 2011 TIMSS and the 2012 PISA results were even worse for Malaysia than their previous counterparts, i.e. 2007 TIMSS and 2009 PISA.

Malaysia participated in TIMSS for the first time in 1999. The country’s scores on both Mathematics and Science (519 and 492 respectively) were above 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.

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).

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.

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.

For PISA 2009 and 2012, Malaysia performed in the bottom third for maths, science and reading, 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. More than half of Malaysian students do not reach proficiency levels in maths – or in simple terms, they failed.

The Education Ministry TIMSS and PISA Task Force to improve on Malaysia’s performances in the 2011 TIMSS and 2012 PISS as a prelude to the implementation of MEB was therefore a big flop, and gives no cause for the unwarranted complacency and unfounded over-confidence in the Education Ministry statement of Dec. 10 about Malaysia “capable of getting a better position in PISA 2015 through the implementation of MEB”.

In fact, Muhyiddin owes Malaysians an explanation why the Education Ministry’s TIMSS and PISA Task Force was such a failure in failing to improve on the performances of Malaysian students in the 2011 TIMSS and 2012 PISA.

The Education Ministry is guilty of sophistry when it implies that it would be satisfied if Malaysia improves on its scores in the PISA 2015.

Let us examine what is promised in the MEB. Malaysians have been promised “three waves of reform” in 13 years in the MEB educational transformation – Wave 1 (2013-15), Wave 2 (2016-2020) and Wave 3 (2021-25).

Wave 1 is to “turn around system by supporting teachers and focusing on core skills”; Wave 2 to “accelerate system improvement” and Wave 3 to “Move towards excellence with increased operational flexibility.”

By Wave 2 (2016 – 2020), Malaysia’s performance will be at par with the international average at the next PISA and TIMMS cycle and by Wave 3 (2021-2025), Malaysia performance on PISA and TIMMS will be in the top third of the systems.

What does this mean in practical terms?

If Malaysia is to at par with the PISA international average (500 Points) in Wave 2 (2016-2020), then Malaysia must achieve at least 500 points in the 2018 PISA.

Malaysia is presently stuck in the bottom third of the PISA system for all three subjects, i.e. 421 for maths, 420 for science and 398 for reading or occupying the middle or lower half of the bottom third of PISA scores.

If Malaysia is to attain the PISA international average of 500 points in 2018 PISA, then in the next 2015 PISA, Malaysia must at least elevate from its lowly bottom-third ranking to the middle-third ranking, which means getting at least 450 points for maths, 446 for science and 442 reading so that it could be positioned in Wave 2 to elevate its scores to be at par with the international average of 500 points in the 2018 PISA.

This would mean that in the 2015 PISA, Malaysia would have to achieve a miraculous performance and improvement of at least 29 points for maths, 26 points for science, and 44 points for reading; and another miraculous performance to reach the international average of 500 points and improvement of at least 50 points for maths, 54 points for science and 58 for reading in the 2018 PISA.

Malaysia will have to perform a third educational miracle if we are to achieve Wave 3 objective to reach the “top third” of PISA, as the threshold to get into the top third of PISA will be 532 for maths, 511 for science and 508 for reading.

No country had ever achieved even one such educational miracle in improvement of PISA scores but Muhyiddin expects Malaysian students to perform three educational miracles in the next 13 years!

All these figures are based on the 2012 PISA results, as from the four triennial PISA tests of 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012, the threshold for each third bracket of the assessment rises, for instance, the top performer in maths in 2003 was Hong Kong with a score of 550 while Shanghai topped the 2012 PISA with 613.

What does the Education Ministry mean when it says it is confident that Malaysia can do better in the 2015 PISA?

As Malaysia 2012 PISA score for maths is 421, science 420 and reading 398, would the Education Ministry claim vindication if the 2015 PISA scores are one-point improvement for each subject, i.e. 422 for Maths, 421 for science and 399 for reading.

This will completely ignore the 13-year MEB objective to reach the top third of PISA score in 2021, which would require Malaysia in Wave 1 of MEB and the 2015 PISA to achieve a minimum score of 450 for maths, 446 for science and 442 for reading!

Can Muhyiddin’s MEB achieve three educational miracles for Malaysia in the next 13 years?

On further reflection, the description of Muhyiddin’s MEB as “ Miracle Education Blueprint” is quite appropriate and pertinent.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah