Malaysia deserves a new Education Minister who is fully committed to resolve the national education crisis with a practical and achievable action plan

The Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is trying to minimise the enormous damage caused by the three-week-long thunderous silence of the Deputy Prime Minister-cum-Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to the “triple whammy” of relentless erosion of educational standards in the country, viz:

  • 2011 TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study);
  • 2012 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment); and
  • World Bank’s adverse Malaysia Economic Monitor themed “High-Performing Education”.

In his Facebook post yesterday, Najib said Malaysia is capable of providing the best education system for all with the co-operation of all stakeholders, i.e. parents, educators and students themselves.

Describing the issue of education as closest to his heart, he also acknowledged that various efforts had to be taken to empower the national education system which “encompasses all aspects of human capital development inclusively as well as bridges the education gap between the urban and rural students”.

He said: “We can only produce excellent human capital through a holistic education system. Therefore, I support any education development effort, such as that formulated in the National Education Blueprint.”

The education system is another infamous example of the breach of Najib’s promise of “Janji Di Tepati”.

The Prime Minister has made a valiant attempt to salvage public confidence in the national education system and in particular the 13-year Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) to transform the Malaysian education system from a mediocre one stuck in the bottom third of the countries into a world-class quality system.

But Najib’s effort is a totally inadequate response to the national educational crisis when he has an Education Minister who has shown utter unconcern, indifference and disinterest to Malaysia’s deteriorating educational standards as Muhyiddin has not said a single word on the “triple whammy” on deteriorating educational standards in the past three week.

Neither Muhyiddin nor Najib has been able to explain the “unique character” of our national education system, where year after year Malaysian students make great strides in their educational quality and standards according to local examinations like SPR and PMR, every year achieving increasing hordes of students scoring straight As in all their subjects, but at the same time suffering serious erosion of educational standards and quality according to international educational assessments like the quadrennial TIMSS and triennial PISA.

For instance, when Malaysia first participated in TIMSS in 1999, our 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.

However, 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.

Neither Muhyiddin nor Najib has been able to offer a cogent and acceptable explanation for such deplorable deterioration of educational stadards in our schools, whether TIMSS or PISA, in the past decade.

Neither can the Prime Minister nor Deputy Prime Minister explain how the government and the Education Ministry could spend RM20 million to get foreign consultants to prepare the Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) with a “fairy tale” objective which requires Malaysian students to perform three miracles in the Three Waves of the 13-year blueprint to catapult from the bottom third to the top third of the PISA and TIMSS system – a “double quantum jump” in educational standards which no other country on earth had ever achieved!

When I had repeatedly asked Muhyiddin whether he is serious and thinks that it is practical, achievable and do-able for Malaysian students to set a world record of catapulting from the bottom third to top third of the PISA and TIMSS systems in 13 years, there was complete silence not only from Muhyiddin and the Malaysian education planners in the Education Ministry, but most interestingly, also from McKinsey & Co, the foreign consultants who were paid RM20 million to prepare the MEB!

Malaysia deserves a new Education Minister who is fully committed to resolve the national education crisis with a practical and achievable action plan to transform the country from a mediocre to a world-class education system.

If Muhyiddin still thinks that he is a good Education Minister, then he should welcome and ensure the convening of a special meeting of Parliament in January on the national educational crisis to prove his mettle and worth as the education czar in the country.

Otherwise Najib should take the opportunity of the imminent Cabinet reshuffle to appoint a new Education Minister who can do justice to the country and future generations as the quality of the education system of a country is intimately and intricately linked with its economic future.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah