Will Muhyiddin still say that our education system is better than the US, UK and Germany when Malaysia’s ranking has fallen in the TIMSS 2011?

Our Minister of Education and Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, said in March 2012 that our education system is better than that of the US, UK and Germany, using selective results from the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report’s statistics. His claims have now been totally repudiated by the recently released TIMSS 2011 findings.

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 1 below.

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

Ranking 2007 Ranking 2011 Ranking Fall in Ranking
Math 20 26 6
Science 21 32 11
Average score 2007 Average score 2011 Average score Fall in Average score
Math 474 440 34
Science 471 426 45

In contrast, the US and the UK were ranked 9th and 10th with an average Math score of 509 and 507 respectively. The average Science scores of 533 for the UK and 525 for the US put them at 9th and 10th in the ranking respectively. Both scores and rankings are far above that achieved by Malaysia. (Germany did not participate in this study)

Malaysia also shared the distinction of being only one out of 6 countries our of a sample of 42 countries participating in the Math study and 45 countries participating in the Science study to see falls in both our Math and Science scores and ranking! Most of the other countries either improved their scores and rankings or stayed at their previous levels.

This fall in the standard of Math and English is reflected in how many middle class parents in urban areas are voting with their feet and wallet by leaving the national education system in droves in enrolling in private primary and secondary schools. Unfortunately, the parents who cannot afford the high fees of private schools will continue to have to send their children to the national schools and receive a less than desirable quality of education.

I call on Muhyiddin to give a clear account of this serious and unacceptable fall in our TIMSS rankings and retract this previous statement that Malaysia’s education system is better than the UK, US and Germany.


Everyone knows that educational standards in Malaysia have deteriorated alarmingly. In the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which compares international standards of reading, mathematics and science of 15-year olds, 44% of Malaysian students failed to meet the minimum standards for reading, 60% failed to the meet minimum standards for Mathematics and 43% failed to meet the minimum standards for Science. Overall, the competency of 15-year olds in Malaysia was measured to be 3 years behind the international average.

We as a nation must bridge the gaps and overcome any educational deficits together, so that not only do we avoid the pitfalls from any brain drain, but permit ourselves to scale new heights towards a high income economy.

In the US, Americans worry about a fiscal cliff that could cause economic recession with global implications, Malaysians as a nation face a talent cliff that can hamper economic growth and cripple our efforts to transform ourselves into a high-income, knowledge-based developed country. Unless we grow and build human talent, retrain and retain them as well as attract new talent, we face the risk of not just falling behind from new developed economies like Singapore and South Korea but also being overtaken by neighbours like Indonesia and Thailand.

We hope to have not only the best and brightest, but also to create a rising tide of supporting talents of high standards. Let us ensure our schools and universities produce the best and brightest so that our children are not 3 years behind the international average but is on par. Only when we have a culture of merit and excellence can we ensure a brighter future for our children.

The latest 2011 TIMSS results only confirms the 2009 PISA study that our students are 3 years behind the international average and half of our students do not have an aptitude and command of knowledge of science and math. For Malaysia to succeed in transforming into a developed economy, a pre-requistie is a strong base in science and technolody. Accordingly Tan Sri Muhydin must draw up a crisis plan to address the deteriorating educational standards in science and maths or else jeorpardise Malaysia's ambitions of becoming a high-income, high value-added and knowledge intensive economy.

Lim Guan Eng DAP Secretary General & MP for Bagan