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Education Malaysia 2020: Breaking Down OECD’s PISA Big Data


(Based on the data source from OECD, hopefully in 2020, the Education Minister will focus more on the changes that is more relevant for the modern world than on religion and race. We need to wake up and smell reality irrespective where we come from. Image source: TheStar)

Wow, finally Dr Maszlee Malik had stepped down as the Education Minister (rare ones who own ministerial responsibility & resigns – I truly respect him for that) and I hope whoever replacing him will immediately drop the petty experiments like introduction of Jawi for BM and relook into propelling the younger generations to meet the reality of a dynamic future world.

Education is serious business for any parents who still have kids in school. And it is the same for me. I am always thinking of their future and ways to ensure that they get the best in education based on my capability and means. As parents, we had never said “no” when our kids wanted to buy any books.

Siti Kasim Article

So when I read Siti Kasim’s article titled “The ashes of our education”, it echoed the same concerns and frustration I had with the current Education Minister. The selected portion of the article (a full read of the whole article is a must) as follows:-

Based on results released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Malaysia scored 440 in Mathematics, 415 in Reading and 438 in Scientific literacy in PISA 2018. Amin said that our country is thus above other Asean countries, except Singapore.

Dear citizens of Malaysia, please see the chart given by OECD in their PISA result and how we stand and what it really means.

What is so difficult about calling a spade a spade, being honest about the state of affairs, having the integrity and courage to admit the problems and the issues; and then having the leadership and vision to lay out the exact remedy, strategy and plan to execute the corrective measures, improvement and development?

Looking at the PISA results, I doubt that we would still be at the same level today if a proper review was done. Look at where we stand in relation to Great Britain: a 67-point difference in science and a 62-point difference in maths. For goodness sakes, we are 40 to 50 points below the average for maths and science.

Singapore used to be the same level as us but within 40 years they are more than 100 points ahead in each of those categories. This is a complete embarrassment and a damning indictment of our education policy, system, administrators, teachers and schools. Not to mention the governance of our society.

By the way, should any one one dare to point out that Singapore is a small country and easier to manage and centralise their education etc. I would point to China.

China’s figures are even higher than Singapore and much far ahead than us.

China was in a precarious situation in the 1990s, socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union was collapsing and the future of China under the Chinese Communist Party was at a breaking point. They were far behind Malaysia in terms of development and education.

Did Deng Xiaoping embrace an increase in Taoist or Confucius “pondoks” or “madrasahs” and increase such classes in their schools?

Did they incorporate religious elements in teachings? NO. They went scientific.

They threw their youth out to the best schools in the West, most to study in the sciences and come back and rebuild their schools and universities on merit. They don’t spend wasted taxpayer funds to send their young for religious “education” nor do they tolerate teachers or universities that bring religion into education. They bring evidence-based knowledge, they bring maths and science.

We meanwhile have watered down our curriculum to make it easier to pass and handed out A’s by the bushels. Just look at the number of straight A’s per school every year when the results come out. It does not make statistical sense.

We need a new scientifically- minded technocratic policymaker as Education Minister. One who is willing to dismantle the hegemony of religious influence in curriculum and racial mindset in educational opportunity.

We need a minister who understands that primary and secondary education is about imparting the basics of 21st century thinking knowledge, which can only be provided by maths and the sciences.

Focus on the basics.


Let’s focus on the statistics on PISA from OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Note: Malaysia is NOT an OECD member country but rather partner country who participated in PISA assessments.

Under the PISA assessment, there are 3 core assessments which is reading, mathematics and science performance where students are tested based on specific guidelines and compared against others. Some 600,000 students completed the assessment in 2018, representing about 32 million 15-year-olds in the schools of the 79 participating countries and economies.

Reading performance

Reading performance, for PISA, measures the capacity to understand, use and reflect on written texts in order to achieve goals, develop knowledge and potential, and participate in society. The mean score is the measure.

(A comparison of the changing trend in reading in the last 10 years. Even students are no longer reading magazines and newspapers but instead moving towards to online information and instant messages. In other words, they are making full use of information at their finger tips which is faster & updated)

The PISA 2018 framework identifies four processes that readers activate when engaging with a piece of text. Three of these processes were also identified, in various guises, in previous PISA frameworks: “locating information”, “understanding”, and “evaluating and reflecting”.

The fourth process, “reading fluently”, underpins the other three processes. The inclusion of tasks that assess reading fluency independently of other processes is new to the PISA 2018 assessment.

(Estonia ranked first in the reading performance with a median score of 523 against an average score of 487)

The above is the chart for some of the key countries and the comparison Malaysia with the average median & some of the ASEAN countries on this assessment are as follows:-

2009 – Malaysia (414), OECD Average (499), Indonesia (402), Singapore (526), Thailand (421)
2012 – Malaysia (398), OECD Average (493), Indonesia (396), Singapore (542), Thailand (441)
2018 – Malaysia (415), OECD Average (487), Indonesia (371), Singapore (549), Thailand (393)

Mathematics performance

Mathematical performance, for PISA, measures the mathematical literacy of a 15 year-old to formulate, employ and interpret mathematics in a variety of contexts to describe, predict and explain phenomena, recognising the role that mathematics plays in the world.

The mean score is the measure. A mathematically literate student recognises the role that mathematics plays in the world in order to make well-founded judgments and decisions needed by constructive, engaged and reflective citizens.

To succeed on the PISA test, students must be able to reason mathematically and use mathematical concepts, procedures, facts and tools to describe, explain and predict phenomena. PISA seeks to measure how well students can extrapolate from what they know and apply their knowledge of mathematics in a range of situations, including new and unfamiliar ones.

To this end, most PISA mathematics units refer to real-life contexts in which mathematics abilities are required to solve a problem. The focus on real-life contexts is also reflected in the possibility of using “tools”, such as a calculator, a ruler or a spreadsheet, to solve problems, just as one would do in a real-life situation.

(Japan ranked first in the mathematics performance with a median score of 532 against an average score of 489)

The above is the chart for some of the key countries and the comparison Malaysia with the average median & some of the ASEAN countries on this assessment are as follows:-

2009 – Malaysia (404), OECD Average (492), Indonesia (371), Singapore (562), Thailand (419)
2012 – Malaysia (421), OECD Average (490), Indonesia (375), Singapore (573), Thailand (427)
2018 – Malaysia (440), OECD Average (489), Indonesia (379), Singapore (569), Thailand (419)

Science performance

Scientific performance, for PISA, measures the scientific literacy of a 15 year-old in the use of scientific knowledge to identify questions, acquire new knowledge, explain scientific phenomena, and draw evidence-based conclusions about science-related issues. The mean score is the measure.

The PISA assessment of science focuses on measuring students’ ability to engage with science-related issues and with the ideas of science, as reflective citizens. Engaging in reasoned discourse about science and science-based technology requires a sound knowledge of facts and theories to explain phenomena scientifically.

It also requires knowledge of the standard methodological procedures used in science, and knowledge of the reasons and ideas used by scientists to justify their claims, in order to evaluate (or design) scientific enquiry and to interpret evidence scientifically.

(Estonia ranked first in the science performance with a median score of 530 against an average score of 489)

The above is the chart for some of the key countries and the comparison Malaysia with the average median & some of the ASEAN countries on this assessment are as follows:-

2009 – Malaysia (422), OECD Average (498), Indonesia (383), Singapore (542), Thailand (425)
2012 – Malaysia (420), OECD Average (491), Indonesia (382), Singapore (551), Thailand (444)
2018 – Malaysia (438), OECD Average (489), Indonesia (396), Singapore (551), Thailand (426)

PISA Summary on Malaysia


(On overall, OECD remarked that Malaysia had improved performance for mathematics and science in 2018. However we should take this as the first step towards achieving higher score in the coming years)

Source of text, data & tables

OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Results (Volume I): What Students Know and Can Do, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, Note – there is no reporting for some of the years for some of the ASEAN countries. The detailed PIS report is here


The next PISA assessment results will be out in 2021 (if I am not mistaken) so we have some time to years to further improve. Overall, we are still below the OECD average median score and far below Singapore although we had improved in 2018 compared to 2012. I hope the Ministry did not get the top students to participate in the 2018 assessment otherwise if on average, we would have gotten even lower score.

The question will we have a greater improvement in 2020?

Looking at the current Education Minister who seems to be more interested in pushing religion related policies into the schools, the future seems bleak. Already there is a battle going-on for the implementation of khat lessons in vernacular schools which will drain resources & time.

There is no greater push for Mathematics and Science to be taught in English. The Form 4 students have now streamless option to pursue their studies – hopefully it does not backfire by pushing more students to take up non Science related streams.

In an earlier post, I have already mentioned that out of the many PH ministers out there, one of the main ones that needs to be replaced is the Education Minister and for obvious reasons.

To be fair, he may not been responsible for the poor score for PISA before 2018 but then again, this is the benchmark that we need to achieve in the coming years.

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