Better thinking helps Malaysia move up in PISA ranking

Tunku Munawirah Putra, secretary of the Parent Action Group For Education.

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia has shown some improvement in the latest international rankings for science and mathematics, but an education activist says Malaysia still has a long way to go to match the top one-third of the PISA rankings.

Malaysia’s scores improved this year from its performance in 2012, when Malaysia last took part in an international study on trends in mathematics and science.

Tunku Munawirah Putra, secretary of the Parent Action Group For Education, said the improved score this year was because of pupils being able to answer questions requiring higher order thinking skills (HOTS).

Based on the results released, Malaysia achieved a mean score of 440 in mathematics, 438 in science, and 415 in reading, better than in 2012 when Malaysia scored 421 in mathematics, 420 in science and 398 in reading.

Munawirah said Malaysia’s scores are still below the average of advanced countries – 489 for both mathematics and science, and 487 for reading.

“Our students are gradually being exposed to more HOTS questions to inculcate the thinking culture,” she said. “However, teachers are still calling for more training on how to tackle such questions in order for students to be more familiar and thus tackle such questions within the stipulated time.”

Better teaching methods will be necessary to ensure students know how to apply what they learn in different situations.

“In this day and age, students need to learn to work in groups, collaborate and be better problem solvers, they have to think, it’s not just about rote learning,” she added.

She said that chasing scores is not the primary goal of the rankings by PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, which tests pupils aged 15 to evaluate the education system applied by participating countries.

“It’s an indicator of the education system, it’s about applying the knowledge that is learnt to real life situations.”

Asked if the culture of scoring As could be the reason why students are “rote learners,” she said it cannot be helped because universities have standards to meet.

Therefore, she says it’s important to strike a balance between formative and summative assessment in order for students’ to excel academically and apply their knowledge well when the situation calls for it.