What are our weaknesses?

By Lim Mun Fah (Translated by Soong Phui Jee), Sin Chew Daily

The results for the 2010 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) have been released recently and 363 candidates from government schools obtained A+ in all subjects, 49 more candidates compared to 2009. When the Education Ministry and the people were immersed in excitement, the just-released Government Transformation Programme (GTP) Annual Report for 2010 have unexpectedly given us a rude awakening.

The report stated that Malaysian education outcomes have fallen behind countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. In 2003, only 5% to 7% of Malaysian students have failed to achieve the minimum Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) benchmarks but it have surged to 20% in 2007.

The Malaysian student outcomes have dropped by 13% in five years and no wonder the report has acknowledged that such outcomes are worrying.

If the report could be viewed as a health check of Malaysian Education, the result was undoubtedly a fail.

When more and more Malaysian students cannot even achieve the international minimum benchmarks, how could we be so excited for a few students who scored well? Instead of focusing on a small number of excellent students, aren’t we suppose to be concerned with the widening gap between outstanding students and poor performing students?

No examination or assessment is perfect. It is sometimes not necessarily a bad thing if the performance is not satisfactory or the rankings have dropped as we can see our gap with others from there. Most importantly, we must be aware of our own weaknesses and reflect on whether our education system is heading towards a wrong direction.

Last December, Singapore students rated fifth in reading, second in mathematics and fourth in science among students from 65 economies in the test under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) while students in Shanghai topped every league table in the test.

“It gave the Europeans and the Americans quite a shock to suddenly discover that the Chinese in Shanghai are at such a high standard,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed a month later.