Side Views

Malaysia will need to improve its performance in education — Tunku Munawirah Putra

April 09, 2012

APRIL 9 — Our deputy prime minister/minister of education announced that the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitive Index (GCI) report 2011-2012 for Malaysia ranks the quality of our education system at No. 14 out of 142 countries. Malaysia should be proud of this accomplishment which is above many developed countries including the United Kingdom, the US and Germany.

We really should give ourselves a pat on the back for being ranked at par with these First World nations. But instead, many have voiced their concern over the misrepresentation or misinterpretation of the data by the minister. Many are not amused but aghast.

The WEF CGI report has, for three decades, been perceived as the world’s most respected assessment of national competitiveness, by leading business executives around the world. The control sample is based on the opinion of 87 senior-level management in the business community in Malaysia. It is a snapshot of what they believe is true and they believe that Malaysia has one of the best education systems in the world.

Therefore, their opinion is credible and the report is not for dispute. The information is to be helpful for business communities to evaluate the viability of Malaysia as a global player in the corporate world, and specifically to serve the needs of this niche group only.

To put the WEF opinion poll into better perspective, the respondents would have belonged to the top echelons of the business community. It can be safe to assume that they are among the elite — high income, highly educated and living in the urban areas, specifically Kuala Lumpur, with their children in private and international schools and a plan for overseas tertiary education thereafter.

Therefore, to be ranked 14th would have highly likely been based on the quality of private and international education, and not the overall level of the Malaysian education system as a whole. The choices of good private and international schools are plentiful and thanks to the relaxation on local students’ enrolment, these schools are available in every high-income housing area, making such schools very accessible to this group.

To determine overall students’ performance and the education system as a whole, the international standardised test, Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in Mathematics and Science Survey (TIMSS) for Malaysia, would be a more accurate determinant of the current state of affairs in education.

The number of students assessed in Malaysia for PISA 2010 is 4,999 and TIMSS 2007 is 4,466. Cognizance and modesty would point us to evaluate our entire education internationally via PISA and TIMSS. Unfortunately, the reality is that we performed below average in both tests.

One would err to interpret the WEF GCI Education ranking report in isolation without considering the control environment of the sample and generalising that it represents the whole education system when it clearly does not. The WEF CGI shows a true picture of only a cross section of the population whilst PISA and TIMSS covers a wider spectrum.

At least now, nationally, we have been apprised of our ability to compare the level of education available to the wealthy minority versus what is available to the less fortunate majority. This goes to show that we have the capability to provide quality education locally and we should strive hard and work towards that benchmark.

Without doubt, these private and international schools offer mathematics and science in English. We wonder what the opinion would be if the following question was asked: “How likely are you to send your children to schools which offer science and mathematics in English?”

* Tunku Munawirah Putra is the honorary secretary of PAGE Malaysia.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.