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Is the Ministry of Education handing out ‘A’s for examinations to meet the Government’s KPI?

Media statement by Tony Pua Kiam Wee and Dr Ong Kian Ming in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, 9th January 2013

We would like to congratulate all of the PMR students who successfully passed their PMR exams especially the 30,474 students who successfully scored straight As. We applaud their efforts in putting in the hard work necessary to achieve these results which were announced two weeks ago on 18th December 2012.

Based on the results released by the Ministry of Education, 28.8% achieved an ‘A’ in Mathematics while 23.7% did the same for Science. On the surface, Malaysians should be extremely proud that approximately a quarter of all our 15 year olds are able to achieve top results for the two key subjects.

However, when we compare the PMR results with the recently released Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2011 report, we find that only 2% of Malaysians managed “Advanced” scores in Mathematics, while another 10% achieved “High” scores.

Similarly for Science, only 1% and 10% of Malaysian 15 year olds managed to achieve “Advanced” and “High” scores respectively.

What worries Malaysians is the fact that compared to 1999 when 36% of our 15 year olds scored an “Advanced” or “High” scores in 1999, only a miserable 12% did so in 2012. For Science, this % has decreased from 24% in 1999 to 11% in 2011. (The breakdown is shown in the Table 1 below.)

The question to ask then is are our examination standards set so low that 28.8% of our students will score an ‘A’ in Mathematics even though by international standards, they are far from it?

While the above may be worrying, what is shocking is the performance of Malaysian students at the bottom. While the PMR examinations showed nearly 90% passing rates for students in Mathematics and Science, the TIMSS study exposed the fraud in our examinations.

The number of students who scored “Below Low” for Mathematics increased from only 7% in 1999 to an incredible 35% in 2011. For Science, the percentage rocketed up from 13 to 38. If the students who scored “Low” were taken into consideration, 64% and 66% of Malaysian students scored “Low” and “Below Low” in Mathematics and Science respectively.

The performance of the educational achievements of our students is unacceptable. The Ministry of Education and the Government has failed our young Malaysians. In the pursuit of quantitative Key Performance Indicators such as the number of “A”s or the percentage pass rate, the Ministry of Education has severely simplified our education syllabus as well as dumbed down our examinations at the expense of our students.

We call upon the Minister of Education Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to explain how our education and examination standards have declined so drastically over the past decade. He must also thoroughly review our examination system and our education syllabus to increase the standards of education for our young. We are also extremely concerned about the complete lack of urgency over our underperformance, as well as the lack of substantive measures in the preliminary Education Blueprint which has been launched at the end of last year.

Table 1a: Malaysian Students Performance for Mathematics (TIMSS 1999 to 2011)

Mathematics 1999 (%) 2003 (%) 2007 (%) 2011 (%)
Advanced (625) 10 6 2 2
High (550) 26 24 16 10
Intermediate (475) 34 36 32 24
Low (400) 23 27 32 29
Below Low (<400) 7 7 18 35

Table 1b: Malaysian Students Performance for Science (TIMSS 1999 to 2011)

Science 1999 (%) 2003 (%) 2007 (%) 2011 (%)
Advanced (625) 5 4 3 1
High (550) 19 24 15 10
Intermediate (475) 35 43 32 23
Low (400) 28 24 30 28
Below Low (<400) 13 5 20 38

Tony Pua Kiam Wee, DAP National Publicity Secretary & MP for Petaling Jaya Utara
Dr Ong Kian Ming, DAP Election Strategist

Student ‘Protection Fees’ is another example of poor policy making and implementation by the federal government

(Also published on Dr. Ong’s Facebook Page)

It was announced (here and here) on December 15, 2012, that the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) would start charging private universities, university colleges and foreign university branch campuses RM100,000 and private colleges RM10,000 in student ‘protection fees’. These fees are to be paid once every five years as part of the process of renewing their respective operating licenses and would commence in 2013. This proposal, announced by the Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin, represents all that is wrong about the policy making process in the country. It uses a wrong approach to achieve a very specific policy goal, it was done without consultation with the stakeholders and, as usual, the implementation details for this proposal were left out.

The purpose of this student ‘protection fee’ is to have a fund which can be used in the event that a private institution of higher learning closes down. This fund will be used to reimburse students in the event that the institution they are attending closes down suddenly. The affected students can then use this reimbursement to enroll and pay for school fees in another institution of higher learning, if they so choose. Not only does this proposed solution fall short in helping students stuck in such predicaments, it does nothing to tackle the root of the problem – which is the issuance of operating licenses to institutions without the necessary background run institutions of higher learning.

Imagine if you are a student studying in College X. At the end of your 2nd year, the college announces that it will cease operations. Assuming that the protection fees is sufficient to reimburse this student for the fees incurred in Year 1 and 2, there is no compensation available for having to repeat Years 1 and 2 in another college / university. A much better solution, in my opinion, would be for the MOHE to ask the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) to work with the private colleges / universities to come up with a mechanism to allow students from discontinued institutions to transfer their credits to an existing college / university. This way, the students will be able to continue their education process without much disruption and hopefully, financial cost.

Also imagine if a big university or university college with, let’s say 5000 students, announces that it will cease operations. With a conservative estimate that a student would have spent an average of 2 years and RM20,000, the compensation required would come up to RM100 million. With approximately 50 university and university colleges contributing RM100,000 and another 250 or so colleges contributing another RM10,000 each, this only comes up to about RM7.5 million for every five years, which is not even sufficient to compensate 500 students, what more 5000. (A full list of private institutions of higher learning can be accessed at

Of course, the likelihood of a big private university failing is much lower than that of a small college having to close down. In fact, almost all of those students affected by this problem have been enrolled in small colleges. What this means is that this ‘protection fee’ is in fact, a subsidy from the big private universities / university colleges to provide an insurance policy for small colleges. This is not efficient nor is it fair to the larger institutions. What MOHE should instead do is to re-examine the basis on which it approves operating licenses for those organizations wanting to set up and run private higher education learning institutions. It should examine whether or not organizations which have been given these licenses actually have the experience and financial resources to run their programs and their institutions. MOHE should work with MQA, through site visits and audits, to identify those institutions which are running into financial and operational difficulties and then take the necessary actions against these institutions. Again, the focus should be on helping students in failed institutions to transition to other universities / colleges rather than to focus on reimbursement. If there are costs which need to be covered, MOHE should attempt to set up mechanisms and processes to recover these from the failed institutions in question rather than to rely on ‘protection fees’.

The response of the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (MAPCU) Secretary General Dr Gan Eng Hong, indicates that this is a rehashed proposal that had been rejected by MAPCU in the past. What is more troubling is the fact that the MOHE failed to consult the stakeholders including the private colleges and universities as well as present and past students who are being or have been affected by this problem in order to find constructive and more effective solutions.

Finally, the fact that there are no accompanying details to this proposal shows that the MOHE has not properly thought out the implementation of this proposal. For example, who will manage this fund? Will MOHE appoint external managers or will it manage the funds itself? Does it have the capacity to manage this fund? How will this fund be replenished if they are depleted as a result of a payout? Does this mean that all students, Malaysian and foreign, will receive an explicit guarantee from MOHE that they will get back all of their academic fees in the event that their university / college closes down?

This is yet another example of poor policy and decision-making on the part of the federal government with ill-conceived policies that do not address the problems at hand and have poorly thought out implementation mechanisms. The Minister of Higher Education should immediately announce the suspension of this ‘protection fee’ in 2013. It should instead hold a dialogue with the stakeholders, especially with the private universities and colleges in order to identify more effective solutions to the problem of students being left in the lurch as a result of institutions of higher learning having to cease operations.

Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Elections Strategist, DAP

(In the interest of full disclosure, Dr. Ong is also a faculty member at UCSI University which is also a member of MAPCU)

The International Mathematics & Science Study (TIMSS) 2011 proved beyond doubt that the Barisan Nasional Government has completely destroyed our education system, causing Malaysia to suffer the biggest drop in results among all tested countries in the world for both subjects

The 2011 Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) which was released on the 11th of December showed a worrying and unacceptable fall in Malaysia’s ranking and average scores in Math and Science.

Malaysia’s ranking in Math fell from 20th in 2007 to 26th in 2011 while its ranking in Science fell by an ever greater margin, from 21st in 2007 to 32nd in 2011. Our average Math score fell from 474 in 2007 to 440 and our average Science score fell by an even greater degree from 471 in 2007 to 426 in 2011. The results are summarized in Table 1a and 1b below.

Table 1a: Fall in Malaysia’s TIMMs ranking in Science and Math, 2007 to 2011
















Table 1b: Fall in Malaysia’s TIMMs average score in Science and Math, 2007 to 2011

Average Score


















When we compare the results across all the countries, we suffer the ignominy of being the only country other than Jordan which suffered declines in scores in all content and cognitive domains for Mathematics (Content Domains – Number, Algebra, Geometry, Data & Chance; Cognitive Domains – Knowledge, Application, Reasoning) and Science (Content Domains – Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Earth Sciences; Cognitive Domains – Knowledge, Application, Reasoning) from 2007 to 2011.

However, the most damning outcome of the test is that Malaysia has suffered the biggest drop in test scores among all countries for both Mathematics and Science between 1999 and 2011.

For Mathematics, our score dropped by 79 points, compared to the next worst country, Thailand, by 40 points. For Science, our score dropped by 66 points, compared to Macedonia, which fell by 51 points.

The poor achievement of Malaysians students in Math and Science is clearly seen in the % of students scoring full credit for what should be basic Math and Science questions.

For example, for the simple algebra question of “What does xy +1 mean” (The answer is “multiply x by y, then add 1”), only 43% of Malaysian students answered this question correctly, ranking us 37 out of 42 countries (See Appendix 1 below).

In comparison, 94% of students in Hong Kong answered this question correctly. For a relatively simple Chemistry question, “What is the chemical formula for Carbon Dixoide” (The answer is “CO2), only 67% of Malaysian students answered this question correctly, ranking us 43out of 45 countries. (See Appendix 2 below) In comparison 99% of Japanese students answered this question correctly.

Given the above, it is no wonder that many parents are voting with their feet and their wallets by enrolling in private primary and secondary schools at an alarmingly increasing rate.

The drop in our Math and Science scores as measured by TIMSS an unmitigated disaster our national education system which has been destroyed by the Barisan Nasional education policies. In the context of the extent of our failing education system, the National Education Blueprint (Peliminary report) is clearly half-hearted in its attempted to reverse the decline and it has failed to address the primary issues of the severe in standards.

The Ministers of Education for Malaysia over this period, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad (1999-2004), Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein (2004-2009) and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (since 2009) must bear full responsibility for failing Malaysia’s young and the future of this country.

Joint statement by Members of the Pakatan Rakyat Education Taskforce (PET):

Tony Pua, MP Petaling Jaya
Nurul Izzah Anwar, MP Lembah Pantai
Dr. Ong Kian Ming, DAP Election Strategist

Appendix 1: Percent Answering “What does xy+1 mean” correctly

Appendix 2: Percent Answering “What is the Chemical Formula for Carbon Dioxide” Correctly