KUALA LUMPUR, May 13 ― The mathematics and science proficiency among Malaysia's 15-year-olds is comparable to counterparts in poorer and less developed countries, according to a new study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The study, based on students' test scores in the two subjects, ranked Malaysia 52nd out of 76 countries, several rungs behind Thailand (47), Kazakhstan (49) and Iran (51).
Singapore was ranked first, followed by Hong Kong and South Korea while Japan and Taiwan were joint-fourth, in an Asian dominance of the top five spots in the study.
Also scoring highly were Finland (6), Estonia (7), Switzerland (8), the Netherlands (9), Canada (10), Poland (11) and Vietnam (12).
The OECD study noted that the US (28) performed poorly in mathematics and science, on par with recession-wracked Italy, and also highlighted a decline in Sweden's (35) education system.
The worst performing countries were almost all from the African continent: Morocco (73), South Africa (75) and Ghana (76). The other two countries are Oman (72) and Honduras (74).
The study was aimed at providing a wider global representation of education standards compared to OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and is expected to be formally presented at the World Education Forum in South Korea next week.
In the 2012 edition of the PISA, Malaysia ranked 52nd overall out of 65 countries due to a dip in reading ability and science.
Reading ability fell the most, plunging to an average of 398 in the 2012. Malaysian students in the previous edition had recorded a score of 414, while the current OECD average was 496.
Science scores saw a minor decline versus the older findings, with Malaysians getting an average of 420 marks against the 422 that the batch three years ago managed; students in the 34 OECD countries received an average of 501.
Malaysian students recorded an average score of 421 in mathematics, a slight improvement from the 404 they scored in the PISA 2009+ edition, but still far below the 494 mean score for OECD countries.
Last March, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin admitted that Malaysia's education system is "not that good", but stressed that it will take at least several years before any improvements will yield results.
His statement was a departure from Putrajaya's repeated declarations that Malaysian universities were among the best in the world despite consistently falling out of global rankings.