PAGE: World Bank report wrong, PPSMI did not cause education slide

Muslim schoolgirls sit in a circle around their religious teacher as they recite verses from the Quran on the occasion of ‘Nuzul Quran’ in Putrajaya on July 26, 2013. — Reuters pic
Muslim schoolgirls sit in a circle around their religious teacher as they recite verses from the Quran on the occasion of ‘Nuzul Quran’ in Putrajaya on July 26, 2013. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 13 — An English-language lobby group has shot down a World Bank report that attributed the decline of Malaysian students’ science and mathematics scores to the switch in the language of instruction from Bahasa Malaysia to English.

Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, chairman of the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), pointed out that the 14-year-old students, who were tested in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), were still studying the subjects in the national language when their scores were found to have dropped sharply in 2007.

“The PPSMI only started in 2003. So, in 2007, they were only in Standard Five,” Noor Azimah told The Malay Mail Online when contacted yesterday, referring to the Policy of Teaching Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI).

She said that Malaysia’s decline in TIMSS in 2007 and further in 2011, which was noted by the World Bank’s “Malaysia Economic Monitor: High Performing Education” report, was likely caused by the poor quality of school teachers and insufficient teaching hours instead.

Noor Azimah said according to the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, a 2011 research study on 41 schools showed that half of the lessons taught were unsatisfactory, while 38 per cent were dubbed satisfactory, and only 12 per cent were found to be of high standards.

The blueprint also revealed that based on the Education Ministry’s education management information system database, school teachers spent only between 2.4 and 2.9 hours a day teaching in the classroom, which was 40 per cent lower than countries within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average, she said.

Parent Action Group for Education chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim.
Parent Action Group for Education chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim.

“Just based on these two points, it’s evidence enough that it has nothing to do with language, but with the quality of teachers,” said Noor Azimah.

“The quality of teachers is the most significant school-based determinant of student outcomes,” she added, quoting the blueprint.

She acknowledged that Malaysia’s drop in TIMSS in 2011 could also be due to teachers struggling to adapt to PPSMI.

“This was only the second cohort. For those teachers teaching these kids, it was a learning process. You can’t expect teachers to be excelling immediately,” she said.

She noted, however, that the questions in TIMSS were bilingual.

Noor Azimah also pointed out that according to the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey - which gave students the option of answering either in English or Bahasa Malaysia - she was informed that schools which answered in English ranked at the same level as schools in developed nations, whereas those which answered in Bahasa Malaysia scored very poorly.

The recently released global education benchmark registered declines in Malaysian students’ reading ability and science scores, albeit with improved mathematics scores, and ranked Malaysia overall 52nd out of 65 countries, far behind Singapore that placed second in the assessment.

“We want the Education Ministry to reveal the school rankings in PISA,” said Noor Azimah, adding that PISA had only publicly revealed the country rankings.

PPSMI was discontinued in 2012, but the Education Ministry has made it mandatory for students sitting for the Form Five SPM  examination to pass the English-language subject beginning 2016.

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