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Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Take inspiration from Vietnam to boost Pisa scores, says varsity chief


Mushtak Al-Atabi
Mushtak Al-Atabi of Heriot-Watt University Malaysia calls for a long-term plan aimed at cultivating students’ critical thinking skills, which will ultimately boost the nation’s Pisa scores.

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia should take inspiration from Vietnam’s improved performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) scholastic rankings and work towards improving its own scores, says an academic.

Mushtak Al-Atabi, the provost and CEO of Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, said Vietnam showed steep improvement over the years, with more than 70% of its students achieving proficiency in reading, mathematics and science.

It now ranks second in the Asean region after Singapore, despite experiencing a drop in its scores between 2018 to 2022, a trend observed worldwide that could be partly attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mushtak Al-Atabi.

On the other hand, Malaysia has fallen behind Vietnam, Singapore and Brunei in overall Pisa scores, according to deputy education minister Wong Kah Woh.

“Vietnam is a country that we don’t necessarily associate with being rich or full of resources. So if Vietnam or Indonesia can do something, hopefully, this can inspire us to do better,” he told FMT.

In last year’s Pisa report, 15-year-olds in Malaysia scored 409 in mathematics (down from 440) and 416 in science (down from 438 in 2018). In reading, Malaysians scored 388, down from 415.

The figure is equivalent to only 1.2% of Malaysian students excelling at math, and 0.5% at science. Less than half of them, just 42%, were good at reading.

Mushtak, who is also the chairman of the Vice Chancellors’ Council for Private Universities, said Malaysia could also take a leaf from Finland, which had established a successful education system, even though its Pisa scores had been on a decline since 2006.

Finland had not always had a high level of achievement but made changes that were relevant to them. “The most important thing here is that this situation can be remedied,” he said.

No time for pointing fingers

Mushtak said now was not the time for anyone to play the blame game over the drop in Pisa scores.

“We have to sit down, come up with a very well-thought-out plan and stick with it. We need to be very patient and realise we are not just dealing with the future of our youths, but also the future of the country.”

Academics previously slammed the government for its inaction after Malaysia’s drop in its Pisa scores, with education minister Fadhlina Sidek citing the Covid-19 pandemic as one of the factors that contributed to the decline in students’ performance.

Mushtak urged educators and national leaders to commit to a long-term plan aimed at cultivating children’s “higher-order thinking skills” as soon as they enrol in kindergarten.

He said this would ultimately lead to improvements in the nation’s Pisa scores.

“Many people think a low Pisa score means our kids don’t know math or science, and that they can’t read. It’s not exactly that. Pisa focuses on what we call higher-order thinking skills, which refers to the application of knowledge to real-life situations.

“Are we developing informed citizens who are able to discern what is correct and what is designed to deceive?”

The Pisa study serves to gauge the readiness of 15-year-olds who receive formal education to seamlessly adapt to contemporary society.

Mushtak said the government would first need to make teaching a highly respected and well-paid profession before tackling the issue of dismal Pisa scores.

“We need to ensure the youth, who are passionate about teaching and possessive of ‘higher-order thinking skills’, are interested in joining the profession.” - FMT

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