LAST week, the Education Ministry announced that our students had shown good improvement in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa). It was noted that we achieved higher scores in all three subjects, namely Mathematics, Science and Reading.
However, it has since been pointed out that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the body that conducted the tests, had opined that “the weighted response rate among the initially sampled Malaysian schools (51%) falls well short of the standard Pisa response rate of 85%. Therefore, the results may not be comparable to those of other countries or to results for Malaysia from previous years.”
In other words, our scores for this round have fallen short of being fully recognised.
It would be prudent to leave the Education Ministry to sort out this delicate situation with the Pisa supervising body, and we hope our continued participation in future assessments will not be jeopardised or else we may lose a very reliable yardstick for measuring our success in academic pursuits as defined in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013 – 2025.
Meanwhile, there are lessons to be learned from the “scores” that the Education Ministry quoted.
Firstly, we have improved in all three scores, which is good. However, each of the three scores is below their respective global average. This is bad. Moreover, if the 51% of schools that took the tests represents the better students from the earlier selected and designated population, we are indeed in dire straits. The numbers show that even our best performed below the global average standard.
Secondly, we have always attributed our poor performance in Pisa to the lack of higher order thinking skills (HOTS) among our students. So, teachers are sent for HOTS courses so that they can better train their students in these aspects.
I would argue that without the necessary content knowledge, no amount of thinking skills will help a student to tackle a question in Mathematics and Science. He/she may be just talking or writing “hot air” instead!
Perhaps it is time we refocus on and re-emphasise pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Teachers must truly know their subjects. They must urgently acquaint themselves with the latest effective teaching methods and technologies so that their lessons are better delivered and more interesting to follow. Teachers must be able to impart true and full understanding of the topics they teach to their students.
Students wouldn’t be able to solve a Mathematics or Science problem that demands first and foremost the basic knowledge and understanding of the topics covered. No amount of motivational talks and/or training in problem-solving skills can help a student solve a simultaneous equation in Mathematics if he/she has not learnt the basics of equations and has had enough practice in solving them.
Thirdly, we need to encourage speed reading among our students. Start them young. Teach them the techniques and encourage them to read “wild and broad”. This skill will certainly help them to confront tests of high quality, such as Pisa, that demand intellectual agility. Time saved in reading and comprehending a question will give them more space to tackle the problem and figure out a solution.
Fourthly, many of the top performing countries in Pisa are east Asian nations. These are our neighbours. We can better identify with these nations in terms of culture, tradition, language and history. We can study and even adopt their systems more easily and comfortably. There is no need to send our education officials to Finland or other countries in the West to learn. We have the best models nearer home. It would also be cost effective.
We have to pick ourselves up and move on. Liong Kam Chong The STAR Opinion Letters 14 December 2016