Thursday, January 2, 2014

PISA 2012 - Does it really matter ?

Please take note that these are compilation of few articles derived from various Malaysian dailies together with my points on the subject.

Wrong to compare results

The curriculum in Malaysia and the other countries are not the same. For example , the Year Six students in Singapore are studying Mathematics which is at the level of that being undertaken by oue Malaysian students whi are in either Form 2 or 3. So you can see the vast difference between these two countries that took part. We cannot say that Malaysians are less intelligent?

It was stated that, “A difference of 38 points on the Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) scale was equivalent to one year of schooling. A comparison of scores showed that students in Shanghai were performing as though they had four or more years of schooling than 15-year-olds in Malaysia.”

This is worth careful attention and further deliberation by all concerned stake holders.

What is meant by the “equivalent to one year of schooling”?

Are we to think that our 15-year-olds (who are in Form Three) should be performing like students in Form Six? Or, is it that their thinking skills are of a much lower order, way below par?

First, we need to examine the real breadth and depth of the curricula and syllabi being taught in our classrooms today.

How are the knowledge contents of our subjects, Sciences and Mathematics in particular, compared to those adopted in better performing countries, in terms of quality as well as quantity?

This is not to advocate that we need to cram more into our school curricula and syllabi. It is about better and more efficient and effective organisation as well as presentation of the necessary teaching and learning materials.

Would students be able to cope if “more” are added?

It is a known fact that in our independent vernacular Chinese secondary schools, students are doing Mathematics that is syllabus-wise “years” ahead of that in our national schools.

In Singapore, students study Physics, Biology and Chemistry (not General Sciences) from Year One in secondary school.

Obviously then, with a greater knowledge base, they can tackle more questions with added confidence.

So perhaps, we need to ponder: “Have our students learnt enough, Sciences and Mathematics in particular, to tackle all Pisa questions?”

Secondly, are our teachers delivering to their classes the depth required? We often hear of cases where teachers just skim over a subject topic and some even ask students to read up chapters on their own!

There are also complaints of teachers who are themselves not competent in the subject of their first option; never mind about teachers who are made to teach subjects not of their own options.

In the urban setting, there is a heavy reliance on tuition centres. These centres, however, focus mainly on scoring local examination grades; they do not help to upscale our Pisa rankings.

Thirdly, what about the lack of “higher order thinking skills (HOTS)” amongst our students, a factor that has long been touted as a main cause of our lackadaisical Pisa performance?

If a particular subject topic is not taught in your years of schooling up to the time you take Pisa, no amount of training in thinking skills will be able to help you answer a question on that topic.

I would not object to students being given “special” training in higher order thinking skills. I would also think that properly conducted Science and Mathematics lessons would have many elements of HOTS already incorporated in them.

Do we still emphasise in our Science and Mathematics classes, skills such as observation, systematic data collection, tabulation and graphical presentation, interpretation, comparison, inferences, analysis, projection, induction, deduction, synthesis and others?

A Science and Mathematics question of substance and quality, at any level, demands one or a combination of the skills mentioned above. So you can say, the higher order thinking skills are already in our classrooms; they just have not been fully exploited.

To bring them out requires much perseverance and sacrifice, from both students and teachers.

We need competent and quality teachers.

Many seem to agree with the declining standards of the Malaysian education system.

If the “leaning indicator of Pisa” is to be accepted as the true picture, Malaysian education seems to be heading towards a calamity.

There was also talk that since Malaysians were not up to the mark, there were none who earned a spot in Harvard University in the United States.

Is failure to gain entry into Harvard the measurement of failure of education in a country? However, let us give credit where credit is due.

Malaysia has done relatively well in using her natural wealth to build her economy.

We managed to transform from a country that relied on the export of natural resources to one that exports manufactured goods.

The success of our transition can be credited to our heavy investment in education.

Education gives birth to human capital. The 25% allocation for education in the budget simply means the importance stressed by the Government on human capital.

Economists have come to believe that the central determinant of a nation’s economic growth is the skill and entrepreneurial courage of the population.

Just look at countries like Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Singa-pore. They are successful for the simple reason that they have put so much emphasis on the quality of their schools.

Comments and actions taken by the pessimists have been shocking. We see parents sending their children to international and private schools.

Well, it is their right. They have the means. Most of them flock to schools that use English as the medium of instruction.

So where does that put Malaysian schools as a start to creating human capital?

If one reads and scrutinises the criticisms on the Malaysian school education system, one will think it produces dullards of the worst kind.

The criticisms seem to show that our school system is a national disgrace.

The strings of As every year in the SPM have been branded as over inflated and not reflective of the actual academic standards of students.

If that is the case, then how is it that local students can achieve excellent results when they sit for pre-university exams conducted by foreign agencies, prior to pursuing studies at high-ranking institutions abroad?

How can this paradox be explained?

Their performance shows that the education system here is a lot better than what the critics say.

So, there must be something right in our school system that contributes significantly to human capital later on.

Simply put, the education system is not as bad as it is painted out to be.

We are a pessimistic lot. We are ever so willing to criticise despite the dynamism and sustained growth performance in many sectors shown over the years.

Compared to many countries, those in our cohort could envy us. Had our education been poor, we would not have been where we are today.

Some may say that the good performances by several sectors may be due to them being highly populated by officers who graduated from overseas’ universities.

If that is so, how did they gain entry into these universities?

The A-Levels, Edexcel, International Baccalaureate and other matriculation exams sat by governing bodies abroad are tough.

So how did our students manage to get the high grades needed in these exams to gain entry into many good universities in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States?

Nobody questions over inflated grades simply because they are conducted by foreign agencies.

Didn’t the formative years in the primary and the secondary schools here contribute to their good performance in those exams?

If so, it shows that our education has helped the students have what it takes to gain entry to reputable colleges and universities.

Many may argue that the excellent performance of the students at the pre-university exams may be because of the good colleges they attended.

My answer is simple, those entrusted to teach at these colleges were no wizards. They could not do wonders within one or two years.

The argument could then go on to the high standards that the foreign universities they attended had maintained.

While we accept that not many were able to make it to the Ivy League, our students and many from around the world have made it to other established varsities.

What does this all mean? If our students are bad, they would not have gained entry into these institutions.

Yes, there is a decline in the standard of English among our students and graduates.

There is much to be desired in communication and social skills. Their general knowledge is very embarrassing.

These are also the type of comments made by other countries on their present generation of graduates.

Malaysia is not alone in facing the drop in the standard of education. Yes, even the British and the Americans are complaining that their students’ command of grammar of their own mother tongue is shameful. Their general knowledge is abysmal.

All these should heighten concerns about the quality of the teaching of language and subjects like history and geography, as well as the syllabuses in those subjects in their schools as well as ours and in stressing a two-way communication in classes and improvement in soft skills.

Those skills that are lacking can also be acquired as the graduates move along in organisations they work in.

The problem with organisations is that they expect graduates to be perfect from the first day that they step in as employees.

Organisations expect all shortcomings of the graduates to be overcome at the universities they attend but do not realise that universities too have their limits.

The rest is up to the graduates and the organisations to turn potentials into real human capital.



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