Which assessments should Malaysians believe – PMR or PISA/TIMSS?

I join the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in congratulating the top scorers in this year’s Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) examination, in particular the 30,988 or 7.33 per cent of the over 462,940 PMR candidates nationwide who scored Grade A in all subjects – an increase of 0.41 per cent or 514 candidates over last year’s 30,474 Grade A straight scorers.

However, both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have been singularly silent over the 2011 TIMSS and 2012 PISA results which show Malaysian students very low down in international educational standards, and they should explain the reason for the vast discrepancy in the local PMR examination results with international educational assessment results like 2011 TIMSS and 2012 PISA.

With 7.33 per cent of students scoring straight As in all the PMR subjects, this should mean that the Malaysian national education system has produced over seven per cent of our students who are world-class “top scorers” comparable with their peers in the rest of the world.

However, this is not reflected whether in the 2011 TIMSS or 2012 PISA results.

The 2011 TIMSS showed that only two per cent of the Malaysian students who participated reached the topmost performing grade of “Advanced International Benchmark” for maths as compared to 49 per cent for Taiwan, 48 per cent for Singapore, 47 per cent for South Korea, 34 per cent for Hong Kong, 27 per cent for Japan and 14 per cent for Russian Federation.

What is even more disconcerting is the international assessment results reflect a relentless deterioration of educational standards of Malaysian students especially in the past one-and-a-half decades as the percentage of Malaysian students reaching the TIMSS “Advanced International Benchmark” for maths had fallen drastically from 10% in 1999 to 2% in 2011, while the top-performing countries have improved in the percentage of students in this top scorer category, e.g. from 1999 to 2011, Taiwan improving from 37% to 49%; Singapore from 42% to 48%; South Korea from 32% to 47% and Hong Kong from 28% to 34%.

Why is Malaysia regressing while the best and most competitive of the national educational systems in the world are making phenomenal progress in the past decade-and-half?

In the 2012 PISA, only 1.3 per cent of students in Malaysia made it to the “top performers” bracket in maths, i.e. (reaching Level 5 or 6) as compared to Shanghai-China (55.4%), 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.

Even the top 5 per cent of Malaysian students perform only in line with the average Korean or Japanese pupil.

Most worrying, more than half of Malaysian students (51.8%) do not reach basic proficiency levels in Mathematics (i.e. Below Level 2).

Can Najib or Muhyiddin explain such a vast discrepancy in the results of local examinations and prestigious international educational assessment tests?

Which examinations or assessments should Malaysians believe – local ones or international educational benchmarks?

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah