Can Malaysia Make Progress On Its Education Problems?

A lawmaker for Malaysia’s DAP has poured contempt on the Education Ministry’s choice to form a special committee to improve the country’s education rankings. The decision came after Malaysia performed poorly in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Zairil Khir Johari, who is fairly critical of the country’s education system, wonders if the special committee would be yet another misuse of taxpayers’ money. He asks “Are they going to hire more consultants to address the poor performance?”

The hiring of McKinsey and Co — who are general management consultants, not experts in education — is what Bukit Bendera MP was referring to. They were hired for RM20 million to prepare the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025.  Three external consultant groups were also hired at RM270 million their job was to provide training for English teachers.

For the 2014 budget the ministry has been allocated RM54 billion. This makes up 21% of the total national expenditure. In terms of funding this makes it the largest funded ministry group.

Johari believes that:

“The ministry should instead get real problem-solvers and not waste public funds.”

He pointed out that the Education Ministry was the biggest spender, “without showing any results”.

He insists that:

“If they spent all this money on consultants and then showed positive results, then we would be happy. But instead, the education standards have gone down,”

The ministry responded to the PISA survey, by saying that the special committee would be led by the curriculum development section and would also comprise professional sections from the ministry.

The committee’s task is to recognize and examine initiatives to increase students’ performance in international assessments such as PISA.

The Education Ministry released a statement saying that although the recent PISA results were discouraging the authorities were certain that the Malaysian Education Development Plan 2013-2025 would help Malaysia to attain an improved ranking in the next PISA installment.

Veteran DAP Lim Kit Siang continued his claim against Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin accusing him of keeping quiet over the issue.

“The Deputy Prime Minister, who is also the Education Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, should ask the American consultants McKinsey & Co to answer the question how Malaysia is to become a ‘wonder nation’ and make the double quantum jump from the bottom third to top third of 2021 Pisa in four triennial PISA tests which had not been achieved by any country in the world from 2003 to 2012,” he said in a statement today.

The most recent PISA results show that Malaysia placed 52nd out of 65 countries. The 2012 PISA involved 510,000 students who were tested in reading, science, and mathematics.

The scores among Malaysia’s 15 year-olds were not only found to be below the international average in the three most critical subjects but were also labeled four to five years behind the other students in the top performing PISA countries.

Lim believes that Malaysia could be considered a “miracle nation” if it accomplishes its goals of reaching the top-third ranking.

“Malaysia will become the envy and even poster boy of all countries in the world if it can make a double quantum jump in educational transformation from a nation of mediocrity to a nation of excellence,” he added.

Lim pointed out that even though Brazil recorded the biggest improvement on the Pisa by scoring 35 points higher in the mathematics section (from 356 to 391), it still ranked in the bottom three.

The same can be said for the science section; Turkey had the biggest performance in the past four PISA tests (from 434 in 2003 to 463 in 2012) but only rose up from the bottom-third level to the middle-third level of the ladder. This still had them 48 points short from being at the top.

In the reading section Japan had the biggest improvement scoring 40 points higher in four PISA tests from 2003-2012. This still leaves them in the middle third of the benchmark.

“How then could Malaysia make the double leap for all three subjects from the bottom third to top third of the Pisa system in the Pisa tests from 2009 to 2021, when this had not been achieved by any country?” Lim asked.

Zairil insisted the reason behind the decline in education should be identified first before efforts are made to improve educational standards.

“It is no secret that poor teaching is the main reason why this is happening. Real changes have to be made to improve the quality of teachers.

“We can’t say the students are stupid. It’s because the teachers and the schools are not teaching them well,” he said.

He also acknowledged that he was disappointed about the revelation that students who responded to the PISA survey in English scored better than the ones who used Bahasa Malaysia.

“This just shows that the command of the national language is poor and that is disappointing,” he said.

12 22, 2013
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