The latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) scores tumbled across the Asean region, with Malaysia recording the biggest drop compared to Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Globally, Pisa 2022 scores fell as compared to the 2018 as nations scrambled to cope with online lessons and the loss of learning brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Malaysia was no exception.
While the overall scores of Indonesia and Thailand decreased by 4.09% and 4.36% respectively, Malaysia dropped 6.26% from 431 in 2018 to 404 in 2022.
Singapore, however, held on to the region’s top spot, with Brunei charting the sharpest spike from 423 to 439 (3.78%).
Although the Philippines and Cambodia were at the bottom of the scoresheet, both nations saw an increase across all three domains assessed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – reading, science and mathematics, according to Pisa results released last month.
The only domain Singapore dropped in is reading, even that is a slight 1.09%
The biggest factor in the drop in marks across the globe is the learning loss caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures.
Yet, Malaysia had seen its scores drop more intensely, with our students faring the worst in reading in 2022.
Among the factors that led to Malaysia’s drop, said Universiti Utara Malaysia College of Arts and Sciences School of Education senior lecturer Dr Muhammad Noor Abdul Aziz, are changes in the curriculum and modifications to the academic calendar.
These changes, he said, may have affected the depth and coverage of certain topics taught during lessons as schools were forced to move online.
He said this potentially led to learning gaps that were made obvious in the Pisa assessment.
“The ministry’s curriculum department had called on schools to accommodate online learning and to ensure that students were able to catch up with their lessons but these plans may have been derailed either due to students not paying attention or worse, not attending the online lessons altogether,” he told StarPlus.
Muhammad Noor said insufficient teacher training may not have prepared them for a complete shift to virtual classrooms.
“Teachers may have had some training to embed technology and online learning in some topics in the lessons, but the training may not be enough for teachers to effectively conduct the entire syllabus via remote learning.
Teachers may have faced challenges in adapting to online teaching methods, and not all educators may have had sufficient training or resources to effectively conduct virtual classes,” he said, adding that the move to remote learning may have also posed challenges to teachers in assessing student progress and understanding, potentially leading to gaps in identifying areas of improvement.
He said countries like Singapore consistently do well in Pisa because they place a strong emphasis on teacher quality, recruitment, and professional development.
“Although Cambodia is not at the top of the heap, its government has been continuously investing in improving educational infrastructure, including the construction of schools and the provision of resources, as well as addressing challenges such as a high dropout rate, particularly in rural areas,” he said.
Universiti Sains Malaysia School of Educational Studies senior lecturer cum Bachelor of Science with Education Programme chairperson Dr Nur Jahan Ahmad said Singaporean students possess and demonstrate the highest-level of thinking skills and reasoning process as compared to other students from other Asean nations.
“Student who perform well in reading, mathematics and science tend to apply critical thinking skills more than the ones who do not.
“Also, achieving higher results in Pisa indicates that the students have a high ability to apply thinking and reasoning processes to solve complex real-world problems,” she said.
She said Pisa questions usually involve problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills (HOTS), typically presented in the form of complex texts.
“HOTS items in Pisa requires problem solving and the students must have a strong understanding of the given texts and reading habits will benefit them in doing so.
“Vietnam has a policy that heavily promotes reading habits so that is a possible reason for their improved achievement in reading,” she said, while calling on the Education Ministry to put more effort into initiating programmes that encourage intensive and extensive readings simultaneously in schools, communities, and households.
Such efforts and programmes should utilise both online and printed resources.
Newspapers, magazines and books – be it comic, fiction, or non-fiction, and ebooks, enews and estories are all important in cultivating threading habit, she said.
“The ministry should plan and implement reading projects that would give students easy and unlimited access to physical and virtual reading materials at schools, local community centres and homes,” she said.
Muhammad Noor stressed on the need to improve our evaluation and assessment mechanisms.
While exams and tests are important, he said alternative assessments that evaluate critical thinking and problem-solving skills are equally important.
He also said the curriculum needs to be aligned to learning outcomes and this can be done by allowing students to be involved in projects and community engagement.
“This presents opportunities for students to gain from various learning platforms and will empower students to do better in the next Pisa,” he added.
On Dec 7, Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek said elements in the new school curriculum can address Malaysia’s sub-standard performance in Pisa.
“We are aware that Malaysia’s achievements in the international assessment ‘Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)’ and Pisa have not yet reached the top third position as desired in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025.
“The Education Ministry has also examined the World Bank Report which shows that there is still learning poverty among students that needs attention.
“The new curriculum needs to focus back on the basic literacy skills of reading, writing and counting (3M) so that this learning poverty can be reduced,” she said in her speech on the 2027 School Curriculum in Putrajaya. – The Star