Side Views

Pisa results and stark reality of Muslim countries – Anwar Ibrahim

The results for the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) that were presented in early December showed that of the 10 countries that topped the performance, not one of them is a Muslim country. As a matter of fact, of the final results tabled, not one Muslim country was placed in the top 40.

Half a million pupils in 65 countries and local administrations were tested in the three core areas of mathematics, science and reading. Shanghai scored the best result with 613, followed by Singapore and Japan.

With the exception of Turkey which took the 43rd spot scoring the highest among the Muslim countries followed by UAE, of the rest of the Muslim countries that took part such as Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Qatar, Jordan, Tunisia and Indonesia, suffice to say that they were placed within the bottom 50 and 60 jostling with Columbia, Peru and Albania for the award of worst performer!

Before anyone jumps the gun by blaming this OECD study as essentially biased and Eurocentric, let us be reminded the top three performers are Asian. It is indeed noteworthy that the results for 2012, 2010, and the 2009 Assessment showed that Shanghai students scored the highest in all categories.

According to the OECD, this study considers Shanghai a pioneer of educational reform, having transformed their approach to education. Instead of focusing merely on the elite, it appears they have adopted a more inclusive system. In other words, the democratization of access to quality education is a key factor.

Below is the table for the 2012 results:

Programme for International Student Assessment (2012)

Maths

Sciences

Reading

1

Shanghai, China

613

1

Shanghai, China

580

1

Shanghai, China

570

2

Singapore

573

2

Hong Kong, China

555

2

Hong Kong, China

545

3

Hong Kong, China

561

3

Singapore

551

3

Singapore

542

4

Taiwan

560

4

Japan

547

4

Japan

538

5

South Korea

554

5

Finland

545

5

South Korea

536

6

Macau, China

538

6

Estonia

541

6

Finland

524

7

Japan

536

7

South Korea

538

7

Taiwan

523

8

Liechtenstein

535

8

Vietnam

528

8

Canada

523

9

Switzerland

531

9

Poland

526

9

Ireland

523

10

Netherlands

523

10

Liechtenstein

525

10

Poland

518

11

Estonia

521

11

Canada

525

11

Liechtenstein

516

12

Finland

519

12

Germany

524

12

Estonia

516

13

Canada

518

13

Taiwan

523

13

Australia

512

14

Poland

518

14

Netherlands

522

14

New Zealand

512

15

Belgium

515

15

Ireland

522

15

Netherlands

511

16

Germany

514

16

Macau, China

521

16

Macau, China

509

17

Vietnam

511

17

Australia

521

17

Switzerland

509

18

Austria

506

18

New Zealand

516

18

Belgium

509

19

Australia

504

19

Switzerland

515

19

Germany

508

20

Ireland

501

20

Slovenia

514

20

Vietnam

508

21

Slovenia

501

21

United Kingdom

514

21

France

505

22

Denmark

500

22

Czech Republic

508

22

Norway

504

23

New Zealand

500

23

Austria

506

23

United Kingdom

499

24

Czech Republic

499

24

Belgium

505

24

United States

498

25

France

495

25

Latvia

502

25

Denmark

496

26

United Kingdom

494

26

France

499

26

Czech Republic

493

27

Iceland

493

27

Denmark

498

27

Austria

490

28

Latvia

491

28

United States

497

28

Italy

490

29

Luxembourg

490

29

Spain

496

29

Latvia

489

30

Norway

489

30

Lithuania

496

30

Luxembourg

488

31

Portugal

487

31

Norway

495

31

Portugal

488

32

Italy

485

32

Italy

494

32

Spain

488

33

Spain

484

33

Hungary

494

33

Hungary

488

34

Russia

482

34

Luxembourg

491

34

Israel

486

35

Slovakia

482

35

Croatia

491

35

Croatia

485

36

United States

481

36

Portugal

489

36

Iceland

483

37

Lithuania

479

37

Russia

486

37

Sweden

483

38

Sweden

478

38

Sweden

485

38

Slovenia

481

39

Hungary

477

39

Iceland

478

39

Lithuania

477

40

Croatia

471

40

Slovakia

471

40

Greece

477

41

Israel

466

41

Israel

470

41

Russia

475

42

Greece

453

42

Greece

467

42

Turkey

475

43

Serbia

449

43

Turkey

463

43

Slovakia

463

44

Turkey

448

44

UAE

448

44

Cyprus

449

45

Romania

445

45

Bulgaria

446

45

Serbia

446

46

Cyprus

440

46

Serbia

445

46

UAE

442

47

Bulgaria

439

47

Chile

445

47

Thailand

441

48

UAE

434

48

Thailand

444

48

Chile

441

49

Kazakhstan

432

49

Romania

439

49

Costa Rica

441

50

Thailand

427

50

Cyprus

438

50

Romania

438

51

Chile

423

51

Costa Rica

429

51

Bulgaria

436

52

Malaysia

421

52

Kazakhstan

425

52

Mexico

424

53

Mexico

413

53

Malaysia

420

53

Montenegro

422

54

Montenegro

410

54

Uruguay

416

54

Uruguay

411

55

Uruguay

409

55

Mexico

415

55

Brazil

410

56

Costa Rica

407

56

Montenegro

410

56

Tunisia

404

57

Albania

394

57

Jordan

409

57

Colombia

403

58

Brazil

391

58

Argentina

406

58

Jordan

399

59

Argentina

388

59

Brazil

405

59

Malaysia

398

60

Tunisia

388

60

Colombia

399

60

Argentina

396

61

Jordan

386

61

Tunisia

398

61

Indonesia

396

62

Colombia

376

62

Albania

397

62

Albania

394

63

Qatar

376

63

Qatar

384

63

Kazakhstan

393

64

Indonesia

375

64

Indonesia

382

64

Qatar

388

65

Peru

368

65

Peru

373

65

Peru

384

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take-home lessons

If we take ourselves off the intellectual pedestal, let us ask what lessons we can take home from this study, apart from other indicators in different studies.

Firstly, there is no basis for the conventional argument that because Muslim students have to attend extra classes for religious studies over and above the routine academic lessons in the schools, they have less time to study and prepare for exams and hence perform not as well as non-Muslim students. In Malaysia, for example, Chinese students who also attend extra classes for Chinese-based subjects over and above the national-type syllabus do just as well in both.

Pedagogy and quality of teaching

Finland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland were among the best of the European nations. Studies have shown that students from Finland produced very good results in various subjects when compared to students from the United States and other countries. This was attributed mainly to the fact that in Finland, the very best graduates were recruited to become teachers.

Also important is the question of content and curriculum, including pedagogy. The quality of teachers is a matter of concern. The teaching profession needs to be given greater priority by the state.  A proper incentive scheme must be introduced and to restore the profession to its earlier recognition. As it stands, apart from infrastructure constraints, Muslim countries suffer from a shortage of good teachers. But the issues should be more than that just a question of material resources.

Spending on education

The conventional belief that greater spending on education would yield better performance was also shown to be not always true. Thus, the analysis of the 2003 results showed that Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Japan and South Korea, which had spent less on education than the United States actually did better. While this should not be taken as an excuse to spend less on education, allocation of such funds for Muslim countries must be beefed up with the rider that the resources are to be spent effectively.

Governance

The issue of governance remains a serious problem in Muslim countries. For example, cases of misappropriation of funds allocated for poorer students continue to be a source of embarrassment. Poor governance also breeds corruption which then leads to wastages and leakages. Where financial resources get mis-channelled or misused, schools suffer and students become victims.

Bad governance in the running of schools also impacts on the quality of teaching when for example school authorities haphazardly transfer teachers to other areas without considering the effect on both the teaching and the teachers themselves.

Confucian ethic

Yet another lesson is probably the obvious one considering that the top three performances are connected one way or the other to the Confucian model of learning. Surely, Muslim countries should be able to draw some lessons from this phenomenon. Muslim intellectuals worth their salt must get off their high horse and study the Confucian model, adapt it according to Muslim requirements, if need be, and start preaching a culture of diligence in the pursuit of knowledge. The defensive response about reminding people of Islam’s glorious history of learning and advancements in science serves no purpose if all it does is encourage us to rest on past laurels.

Conclusion

While it is known that Muslim countries are facing a crisis in higher education, this study is significant in showing that even in the formative mid-secondary school stage, we are seeing a crisis of alarming proportions. The fact of the matter is that Muslim countries are occupying the bottom rungs in higher education and advancement in science and technology. The Pisa results are therefore a precursor to worse things to come.

Failure to take immediate remedial action may lead to a deeper crisis. In this regard, we call on the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to take the lead in addressing this problem. -  January 4, 2014.

* Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is the parliamentary Opposition Leader and Permatang Pauh MP.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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