Malaysia’s Education System Downfall

A study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that Malaysia ranked 52 out of 76 on test scores of 15 year-olds in maths and science. Countries included in the study ranged from Singapore (1) to Ghana (76). It argues that the standard of education is a “powerful predictor of the wealth that countries will produce in the long run”.

Published last year, the top five spots of the biggest global rankings in education were dominated by Asian countries spearheaded by our beloved rival, Singapore.

In 2012, 52 out of 65 was the position Malaysia held when PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) was published. Back then, the focus was on more affluent industrialized countries. However, Malaysia performed second worst in the Southeast Asian region behind the likes of Vietnam and Thailand.

Here’s an interactive map that shows the standards of education across the world.

The question still remains: should Malaysians be worried?

It depends on how austerely you take these rankings. For some, the ranking system serves no purpose except to demotivate and trivialize our government’s efforts. Comments that ring “Our criteria for economic success isn’t measured by science and maths!” can be found on tweets and Facebook posts.

However, experts beg to differ.

“Poor education policies and practices leave many countries in what amounts to a permanent state of economic recession,” remarked Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s Education Director. “Today’s 15 year-olds with poor problem-solving skills will become tomorrow’s adults struggling to find or keep good jobs.”

The dismal ranking of Malaysia represents a bigger fact that we Malaysians refuse to accept: there’s something seriously wrong with our education system.

Frankly, this is embarrassing. Wawasan 2020 is 4 years away, and it seems like we are nowhere near it. Reformation after reformation has been promised to the people of Malaysia, yet our results in comparison to our Asian counterparts say otherwise.

World Bank economist Frederico Gil Sander even mentioned that the performance of Malaysia’s school-going children was “much more alarming than the (household) debt situation”.

Whose fault is it?

Should all fingers be pointed to the lack of effective educational reforms? Or is it the people’s fault for not taking these rankings seriously? Debates still spark around the issue of PPSMI – the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English. The inception of PPSMI was in 2002 where Dr. Mahathir, the Prime Minister at the time, introduced a policy to teach Mathematics and Science in English. However, this policy was reversed in 2012.

On whether the country’s students had suffered as a result of the policy reversal or not, Dr Mahathir said he had received complaints that the quality of local graduates had fallen.

“Their poor English proficiency means they cannot interact with people effectively, which is a problem especially if they work in foreign affairs, for example,” he said.

Mainly, the proponents of anti-PPSMI (Gerakan Mansuhkan PPSMI, GMP) insisted that English proficiency should not be prioritized over the usage of our national language, Bahasa Melayu.

English is deemed as a “bahasa penjajah” and any policy that is aimed to amplify the usage of English will be considered a direct attack on Bahasa Melayu.

What GMP fails to grasp is how significant the importance of English proficiency as it can directly affect the employability of Malaysian graduates. How do we expect to expand our worldwide views, or understand critical discoveries that happen on a daily basis if we can’t seem to understand them? How do we burst our bubble of ignorance if we cannot understand any reading material that was written in any language other than Bahasa Malaysia?

Whether you like it or not, English is one of the most spoken and used languages in the world (behind Mandarin and Spanish). Bahasa Melayu? 14th top used language. We cannot possibly dream of fulfilling the country’s aspirations and improve our standings in education if we ignore that simple fact. The endless politicization and sugar-coated promises of reformation won’t do us any good.

The consequences will have to be faced by our future daughters and sons of Malaysia, not the current politicians.

Our beloved country’s future is at stake here. Unless something is done – where a pragmatic solution is added to the table – don’t dream of seeing a better number other than 52.

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