The Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) conducted by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students.
In 2015 over half a million students, representing 28 million 15-year-old's in 72 countries and economies, took the internationally agreed two-hour test. Students were assessed in science, mathematics, reading, collaborative problem solving and financial literacy.
When the PISA 2015 results were released on Dec 6, officials from the Education Ministry (MOE) were quoted in a news report as taking pride that Malaysia’s PISA’s scores for Mathematics, Reading and Science had improved from 421, 398 and 420 respectively in 2012 to 446, 431 and 443 respectively in 2015.
However, Malaysians have been stunned to discover the next day that Malaysia is one of 2 countries who took part in PISA 2015 which were left out of the overall rankings entirely.
The official reason given was “in Malaysia, the Pisa assessment was conducted in accordance with the operational standards and guidelines of the OECD. However, the weighted response rate among the initially sample Malaysian schools (51 percent) falls well short of the standard Pisa response rate of 85 percent. Therefore, the results may not be comparable to those of other countries or to results for Malaysia from previous years.”
In simple terms, this means that the MOE officials had attempted to manipulate the results of the Malaysian students by using a biased sample of schools which will not present a fair and accurate reflection of students’ performance in Malaysia.
My colleague, Dr Ong Kian Ming has already shown in his statement on 8 December that the MOE over-represents data from High Performing Schools (HPS) and Fully Residential Schools. For example, even though the number of Fully Residential School students comprise only less than 3% of all students in Malaysia, they were over-represented for the PISA tests at a whopping 30%.
There cannot be a bigger irony when our own Ministry of Education tries to cheat in its examinations, and actually expects to get away with it.
The disgraceful attempt to cheat the system underlies a bigger problem in the administration of our education system. It shows that those in-charge of the education of our children are more interested in form over substance. They are only interested in meeting statistical benchmarks – by hook or by crook so that they could crow about it, and are not interested in the real substantive quality and performance of our students.
This is consistent with the fact that the MOE (and its counterpart Higher Education Ministry) have been attempting to manipulate the rankings of our Malaysians universities by adjusting foreign student intakes to meet the criteria for the more dubious global university ranking matrix by QS World University Rankings. Other university ranking systems by the Times Higher Education and Shanghai Jiao Tong clearly require more qualitative academic performance input from our universities which were harder to manipulate.
Similarly, it has been an open secret that the annual increases in the number of “As” obtained by our students in examinations such as the SPM were a result of reducing marks required to achieve the relevant grades, and not a result of improving student quality.
Without a real transformation in the mindset of our officials in-charge of our education system, the quality of our schools will continue continue to deteriorate and we can only expect our students to be even worse off over time. As long as these officials who are only interested in artificial forms to pat themselves on the back and suck up to their superiors, no amount of beautifully crafted transformation blueprints will be able to “transform” the system for the better.
We call upon the Minister of Education, Dato' Seri Mahdzir Khalid to take stern action against all senior officials who were complicit in the attempts to cheat PISA. This will send a strong message to the entire Ministry that the Government is only interested in substantive quality of our students and not fake performance outcomes. The continued failure to let substance precede form is a certain formula to ensure a worsened outcome for our future Malaysian students.