Think tank warns of grim outlook for Malaysian education following poor ranking

December 18, 2013

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of Ideas. - The Malaysian Insider pic, December 18, 2013.Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of Ideas. - The Malaysian Insider pic, December 18, 2013.A think tank has urged Putrajaya to urgently address what it said was a crisis in the Malaysian education system, following the recent findings that Malaysian students scored poorly in an international assessment test.

The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), referring to the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which saw Malaysia ranked 55th among 65 countries, said the test scores revealed that the country was behind less developed countries such as Vietnam.

Ideas chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan also cited a recent World Bank report titled High Performing Education, which showed a connection between the country's future economic growth and access to quality education.

"This is an important point, access to education is no longer the main issue.  The real issue is access to quality education," Wan Saiful said, urging the public to pay closer attention to the looming education crisis.

According to Saiful, however, survey findings by Ideas on Malaysian parents' perception of their children's schools, revealed that a vast majority were happy with the system.

"In fact, between 80% to 90% felt the schools were effectively run and teachers know their subjects very well. They trust the government is providing a good education.

"This appears to be a positive finding, but in reality it is extremely worrying," said Wan Saiful, who added the nationwide survey polled parents in the bottom 40%.

He said it showed a wide gap between perception and reality as was revealed when the students were internationally assessed.

"Those in power seem to be very good at shaping how the poor view the quality of education their children receive but the trust among the poor should not be taken advantage of.

"They need true school reform to help the next generation  break away from the poverty cycle," he noted.

Saiful called on the public to demand immediate and real improvements in the quality of education in the country, saying there were too many "illusions of reform" created by the government's announcements.

"We must remember there are only announcements, when the reality is that nothing has happened yet and no real benefit has been realised in the system," he pointed out.

He said to safeguard the future of Malaysian children, the gap between perception and reality must close, noting that currently, the reality "looked rather grim".

Pisa, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), tested 510,000 students aged 15 last year, covering the subjects of mathematics, science and reading.

Malaysia obtained a mean score of 421, below the average mean score of 494. In reading, Malaysian students fared poorly, scoring 398 (average: 496). In mathematics, they scored 421 (average: 494), while in science, 420 (average: 501). - December 18, 2013.