KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 12 ― Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders today accused the Barisan Nasional (BN) government of failing to adequately educate Malaysians during its half-century rule, pointing to Malaysia’s “distinction” of being the “worst-performing country” in the latest international mathematics and science survey.
The lawmakers demanded Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin explain why Malaysian students were the only ones among those in the 59 countries tested in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2011, to suffer drops in scores for every component in both subjects between 1999 and 2011.
“We scored a distinction for dropping in every single category,” DAP election strategist Dr Ong Kian Ming told a press conference at the party’s headquarters here this morning.
DAP publicity secretary Tony Pua also warned that this would adversely affect the country’s future and economy, adding that “irreversible damage” was being done as these foundering students could not be forced back into schools.
“We are losing this generation of our young Malaysians, our ability to build human capital to help us grow the economy.
“It is irreversible, irreparable damage... we have lost the opportunity to build up human capital,” he said.
Pua added that Muhyiddin, who is deputy prime minister and education minister, must explain what went wrong in the country’s education, instead of glossing over reports and trumpeting the government’s National Education Blueprint, which he described as “half-hearted”.
“This is not the first time we tried to bring attention to this... before this, four years ago in 2007, we raised the results of TIMMS in Parliament and sought an explanation,” PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar said.
“But today, we see another great decline among out students, raising the question on what has been done by our government to improve education standards,” she added.
In the just-released TIMSS 2011 survey, Malaysia dropped six spots from being ranked 20th in 2007 to 26th last year, and fell 11 spots for Science from 21st in 2007 to 32nd last year.
TIMSS is a four-year global assessment of the mathematics and science knowledge of fourth and eighth graders worldwide, or Standard Four and Form Two according to Malaysia’s education system.
However, Malaysian students were graded only at the secondary level in the survey.
The survey, which tested students in 42 countries for Mathematics and 45 countries for Science, involved a sample size of 5,733 Malaysian students from 180 schools. Students were also allowed to take the test in either Bahasa Malaysia or English.
For mathematics, Malaysia’s score dropped by 79 points from 519 in 1999 to 440 last year ― the worst drop of all the countries surveyed. The second-biggest drop was Thailand, which dipped by 40 points.
For science, Malaysia’s score declined by 66 points from 492 in 1999 to 426 in 2011, compared to Macedonia’s drop of 51 points.
The average score in the TIMSS is benchmarked at 500 points, with countries scoring above that considered to have improved their performance in the two subjects while those falling below that mark are regarded as underperformers.
Today, Nurul Izzah also pointed to the wide disparity between the genders in Malaysia, and demanded the government explain why female students were demonstrably outscoring their male counterparts.
She pointed out that the average marks for girls in mathematics according to TIMSS 2011 was 449, compared to 430 for the boys, which ranked Malaysia at 37th for gender disparity of the 42 countries tested.
For science, Nurul Izzah said the score difference between girls and boys was 434 and 416, placing Malaysia at rank 26 of the 45 countries tested, behind even Kazakhstan, which recorded a mere four-point difference.
“This is a worrying trend and it clearly pinpoints to the wide rift between our male and female students.
“We urge the education minister and his deputy to give us a concrete explanation behind this gender gap in education. If you cannot answer adequately, quit your posts,” she said.
Education lobbyists, including the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), have blamed the government’s flip-flopping education policies ― especially in the teaching of mathematics and science ― for the drop in education standards.
But the PR leaders today said the problem was more deep-seated than the purported backpedalling by the government on key economic policies.
The government recently launched the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025 with the aim to be in the top third of the Programme For International Student Assessment (PISA) test within the next 13 years.
The country is currently ranked in the bottom third.
But in its recent Budget 2013, the Barison Nasional (BN) government also slashed its education allocation from RM50 billion in the last budget, to RM38.7 billion, raising doubts about the ability of the educational blueprint in addressing the nation’s flagging education standards.
Analysts have also suggested that Malaysia’s aim of boosting its education standards through an ambitious overhaul of the national school system will not happen as long as politicians continue to be involved in drawing up its policies.
* A previous version of this article mis-stated that Malaysia’s mathematics and science scores dropped 79 and 66 points, respectively, from 2007. It has since been amended to reflect the actual year of reference, 1999.