Best way to brand Malaysia is for Abdullah to honour his pledges to lead a clean, incorruptible, efficient, accountable, democratic and people-oriented administration

Speech   (9A)
on the Royal Address 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Khamis): The Prime Minister made another good speech on Tueday calling on the country to brand itself internationally as a corporate nation that emphasizes quality, security, service and efficiency.

He said that although there was a good story to tell about Malaysia, it was unfortunate that the country was consistently plagued by a perception problem, particularly among foreign investors.


Describing Malaysia as “truly a secret that needs to be discovered”, he said that clearly Malaysia was not doing enough to publicise its efforts and is therefore not realizing the full potential to effectively market and brand Malaysia.


Malaysia’s problem  is not just perception among foreign investors but also among Malaysians as to what brand the nation stands for – whether for excellence, meritocracy  and towering achievements or mediocrity, whether we can eradicate the “First-World  Infrastructure, Third-World Mentality” malaise and graduate to “First-World Infrastructure, First-World Mentality”.


The best way to brand Malaysia is for Abdullah to honour his pledges to lead a clean, incorruptible, efficient, accountable, democratic and people-oriented administration, and to show his seriousness of purpose, he should table a White Paper in Parliament on the second anniversary of his premiership on October 31 on his programme and achievements of political, socio-economic, educational and government reforms.


I was quite excited when Abdullah called for  an “education revolution” in his First Hundred Days.  In a dialogue with  National Economic Action Council  (NEAC) members, corporate leaders, professionals and academicians on 13th January 2004, Abdullah said  that Malaysia needs an “education revolution” in the quest to have a  world-class education  to produce talented human capital in an increasingly global and competitive environment. 


He posed the question:   “Is the younger generation passing through our national education system adequately equipped to thrive in an increasingly global and competitive environment? 


“I believe we will need nothing less than an education revolution to ensure that our aspirations to instill a new performance culture in the public and private sectors are not crippled by our inability to nurture a new kind of human capital that is equal to the tasks and challenges ahead.”  (Star  14.1.03) 

To me, the promise of an “education revolution” would be Abdullah’s  single most important pledge in his   “First Hundred Days” as the fifth Prime Minister because of its far-reaching and long-term impact on Malaysia’s competitiveness and prosperity and the well-being and progress of future generations. 


But the rhetoric was not followed by any action. Malaysians who had hoped that Abdullah’s call for an “education revolution” at the NEAC dialogue would be followed by a historic  Cabinet meeting to take  the necessary policy measures  to pave the way for an “education revolution” in Malaysia were greatly disappointed. 


The  then Education Minister, Tan Sir Musa Mohamad emerged from the Cabinet meeting after the Prime Minister’s call for an “education revolution”  to tell reporters that Abdullah’s call for an “education revolution” did not presage any “revolution” at all, but “more of a reminder to the Education Ministry to continue its present efforts to improve the education system”. 


Musa even sought to explain away Abdullah’s call for an “education revolution” by claiming that the national education system had been in the throes of an “education revolution” not only in the four years after the 1999 general election, but for the previous  decade – and that  “efforts such as the ministry’s 10-year Education Blueprint 2001-2010 and curriculum revamps were testimony to the Government’s effort to revolutionise the education system”.

Now we have a new Education Minister in the past one year after the 2004 general election, but we still await his  embracing Abdullah’s call for an “education revolution” to ensure an education system of quality comparable with the best in the world.


Last December, the Education Minister Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein was very pleased, and the Cabinet satisfied, with the achievement of Malaysian students in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003 involving 46 countries, with Malaysia ranking 10 in mathematics and 20 in science.  Malaysian students scored better than those from developed countries like Australia, United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand in the mathematics tests and Norway and Italy in the science tests.

The 5,314 Malaysian students who took part in the Eight-Grade  survey in TIMSS are to be commended for their results, as Malaysia’s average score for maths, which is 508, is well above the international average of 466, while our average score for science, which is 510, is also above the international average of 473.


I have a vested interests in the performance of Malaysian students in TIMSS, as I had  in 1996 emailed the organizers of TIMSS, the Netherlands-based International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), inquiring about Malaysia’s participation in TIMSS, and subsequently meeting the then Education Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to persuade him on Malaysia’s participation in the international study in time for its 1999 survey.


Hishammuddin should not however  be too easily pleased and the Cabinet too easily satisfied by the maths and science results of Malaysian students in internatilonal study survey until we are among the world’s five top performers.


Has  Education Minister established a special committee to analyse the results of the TIMSS 2003 for the eight-grade students (Form Two) to work out a strategy to emplace Malaysia among the top five scorers in future TIMSS surveys, as there is no reason why Malaysia cannot be ranked among the top five scorers whether for mathematics or science.  If so, I hope the Education Minister will submit a report to Parliament.


Asian students dominated the maths and science tests in TIMSS, with Singapore leading top performers in both mathematics and science, as illustrated by the following results: 



Grade-Eight Students:


Top Five in Maths (with score)

1. Singapore 605
2. South Korea 589
3. Hong Kong 586
4. Taiwan 585
5. Japan 570
International Average 466
Top Five in Science  
1. Singapore   578
2. Taiwan 571
3. South Korea 558
4. Hong Kong 556
5. Estonia & Japan 552
International Average 473


If Malaysia cannot squeeze into the top five, we should at least be world’s No. 6 in both the international  maths and science tests.


The 2003 TIMSS, which is conducted every four years to measures how well students acquired the mathematics and science knowledge that they have encountered in school, also assessed fourth-graders (i.e. equivalent to Std. IV).


Hishammuddin should make public the results he should have received from IEA on the performance of Malaysian Std. IV students in the TIMSS 2003  for science and mathematics for Grade Four students. 


Singapore students were not only the top performers in both mathematics and science in the world-wide TIMSS 2003 survey for the eighth-grade students, they also top the world in both subjects in the fourth-grade category, as illustrated by the following:


  Grade Four Studdents:
  Top Five in Maths (with score)
  1. Singapore  594
  2. Hong Kong 575
  3.Japan 565
  4. Taiwan 564
  5. Belgium 551
  International Average 495
  Top Five in Science  
  1. Singapore 565
  2. Taiwan 551
  3. Japan 543
  4. Hong Kong 542
  5. England 540
  International Average 489



What is Malaysia’s ranking in the TIMSS 2003  for fourth-graders for both mathematics and science?              


We have many things to learn from our participation in TIMSS, one of which is  the attainments of Malaysian students in these two subjects after the introduction of the educationally unsound idea of using English to teach mathematics and science in Std. One for national and national-type primary schools, resulting in the political compromise and contraption of the “2:4:3” formula for Std. One pupils in Chinese primary schools.


Right from the beginning in 2002, DAP had tried to bring to the notice of the educational authorities extensive  educational studies world-wide which show that using a second language as a medium of instruction from too early stages can impede the  development of thinking skills  of students resulting in low achievements in mathematics, science and languages. 


Studies by internationally-acknowledged educationists and researchers of bilingual education, like J. Cummins, M. Swain, M. Saville-Troike and   K. Anstrom show that a unitary cognitive academic proficiency (i.e. “thinking skills”) underlies all language performance, and may be expressed through either the first language (L1) or the second language (L2).  The “thinking skills” are developed primarily through the L1 in the early years, and may then be transferred to and expressed in an L2 later on.  If a learner’s L1 remains underdeveloped, then so does that learner’s “thinking skills”.


Thus, when that learner attempts to acquire an L2 and pursue studies through the medium of an L2, that learner will bring  lower “thinking skills” to the task and be disadvantaged. 


These studies show that if a learner uses and develops his or her L1 for several years, and then moves into an L2 educational system at a later stage, that learner will invariably perform better than a learner who entered the L2 education system from the very beginning. 


This is why Cummins and Swain, after reviewing extensive  research results in this field for the past few decades, reached the conclusion that an initial period of L1 education is imperative to achieve a higher level of mental maturity, which can then be transferred into L2 education. 


These findings are collaborated by the fact that in the long line of world distinguished Asian scientists, nearly every Asian Nobel Prize winner in the sciences whether Chinese, Japanese or Indian  had their elementary and/or even high school education in their mother-tongue, indicating that it is not vital or necessary to learn mathematics and science in English in the first year of primary school to distinguish in these fields in later life, provided that one acquires mastery of the English language in later years.


Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Germany  are examples of  students learning  these subjects in their own languages with  the countries still advanced in science and technology.  Unless the home language is English,  a student in Malaysia should first have a strong command of his mother tongue to learn Science and Mathematics effectively.


South Africa is the best example of a country where the use of English to teach mathematics and science instead of the mother tongue has ended in an educational disaster. As illustrated by the results of the  Trends  International Mathematics and Science Survey 1995, 1999 and 2003,  South Africa came out last for mathematics and science in both ­ and this is traced to the  use of  a second language, English, as a medium of instruction from too early stages which impeded the  development of thinking skills  of students resulting in low achievements in mathematics and  science. 


We should not make the mistake of South Africa, and for this reason, I call for a serious review of the use of English language to teach mathematics and science in Std. One. As for the Chinese primary schools, the alternative formula is for  all the nine periods in the  “2:4:3” formula for Std. One in the Chinese primary schools to    be devoted to the teaching of English – which will yield better end-results in the long run.  There is no dispute about the importance of Malaysians acquiring proficiency of  the English  language, mathematics and science  to ensure greater competitiveness in the era of globalization and information and communications technology, but what is the best way to achieve these objectives.


Education should be depoliticized to avoid political solutions which are educationally unsound to be given to educational questions, like the political contraption of the “2:4:3” formula for Std. One Chinese primary school pupils.  The same applies to the issue of the building of new Chinese primary schools to meet increasing student enrolment needs.


It is unacceptable that this question has been reduced from a policy issue into an administrative question, with the ball kicked to the Education Ministry when the highest policy-making body in the country should make a policy decision in the formulation of the Ninth Malaysia Plan to build new Chinese primary schools to meet increased enrolment needs, and that it does not conflict with the objective to strengthen national primary schools as the choice of the rakyat as they are not a zero sum game, where one can only be attained by  doing injustice to the other.


I would advise UMNO Ministers and leaders not to be trigger-happy in making baseless allegations questioning the loyalty of parents who send their children to national-type primary schools, when there are many among them who have no confidence in their own  national education system by sending their children to international schools  in the country or even for schooling abroad.



*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman