PISA results highlight urgent need for education push in ASEAN

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Arno Maierbrugger
By Arno Maierbrugger

The latest global student survey of the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, issued last week, has not been all too flattering for Southeast Asian countries. In Malaysia, some experts expressed their “shock” about the country’s slump in the ranking, as it not only showed that Malaysia’ 15-year-old were nowhere capable of competing on an international level, but they also trailed behind their regional peers, especially Singapore, and some among whom come from less advanced economies. While Thai students’ skills slightly improved, the country still ranks low, remaining well below the international average in reading, mathematics and science. Brunei has not been ranked in the test.

Officials and critics in Malaysia and Thailand stated that “urgent reforms” in the education system were necessary, as bad PISA results reflected structural weaknesses in the education process rather than the assumption people would be too dumb. In fact, Thais and Malaysians are as intelligent as any. But observers of the Thai university life, for example, say that many Thai professors are not capable of facilitating effective learning, lacking real-world experience and are merely book teachers, sticking religiously to often out-of-date material, teach rote learning, and so on. The effect is that there are not few examples of university degree holders ending up selling noodle soup on Bangkok streets or driving taxis.

What does this mean for Brunei? The education system in Brunei is not bad in comparison and follows a holistic approach, boasts a vital mix of government and private schools and learning institutions – and, most of all, citizens of Brunei enjoy the benefit of access to free schooling at all levels at government schools, including university training abroad – a great difference to Thailand and Malaysia. However, while even the World Economic Forum has conceded that the standard of education in Brunei is very high, challenges of globalisation, economic development and demographic changes demand both continuity as well as changes to meet these new challenges.

The examples of Thailand and Malaysia show that, if an education system does not prepare students for the coming next decades of intensifying global competition, it has failed and will not lift any country from its developing status. Especially weaknesses in science and languages are a major obstacle on that way. Schools and universities all over Southeast Asia need to shift their focus to applications and the understanding of concepts when educating students, instead of emphasising on memorising facts without understanding the logic behind them. They need to kindle the curiosity needed to solve problems and to create and invent.

This is particularly important for Brunei. While the country’s economy is still mainly dependent on oil and gas, there is an increasing need for economic diversification and to prepare young Bruneian graduates for the rapid changes expected over the next generations in the employment market. The immediate focus should be set on science and technology education, as well as on graduates who are competent in management and industrial skills. It’s not a good vision to see Bruneian university graduates being forced to sell noodles on the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan in absence of a job that fits their skills.

This comment is part of Inside Investor’s weekly column series in Brunei’s leading newspaper Brunei Times and is published every Monday.

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

By Arno Maierbrugger

The latest global student survey of the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, issued last week, has not been all too flattering for Southeast Asian countries. In Malaysia, some experts expressed their “shock” about the country’s slump in the ranking, as it not only showed that Malaysia’ 15-year-old were nowhere capable of competing on an international level, but they also trailed behind their regional peers, especially Singapore, and some among whom come from less advanced economies. While Thai students’ skills slightly improved, the country still ranks low, remaining well below the international average in reading, mathematics and science. Brunei has not been ranked in the test.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Arno Maierbrugger
By Arno Maierbrugger

The latest global student survey of the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, issued last week, has not been all too flattering for Southeast Asian countries. In Malaysia, some experts expressed their “shock” about the country’s slump in the ranking, as it not only showed that Malaysia’ 15-year-old were nowhere capable of competing on an international level, but they also trailed behind their regional peers, especially Singapore, and some among whom come from less advanced economies. While Thai students’ skills slightly improved, the country still ranks low, remaining well below the international average in reading, mathematics and science. Brunei has not been ranked in the test.

Officials and critics in Malaysia and Thailand stated that “urgent reforms” in the education system were necessary, as bad PISA results reflected structural weaknesses in the education process rather than the assumption people would be too dumb. In fact, Thais and Malaysians are as intelligent as any. But observers of the Thai university life, for example, say that many Thai professors are not capable of facilitating effective learning, lacking real-world experience and are merely book teachers, sticking religiously to often out-of-date material, teach rote learning, and so on. The effect is that there are not few examples of university degree holders ending up selling noodle soup on Bangkok streets or driving taxis.

What does this mean for Brunei? The education system in Brunei is not bad in comparison and follows a holistic approach, boasts a vital mix of government and private schools and learning institutions – and, most of all, citizens of Brunei enjoy the benefit of access to free schooling at all levels at government schools, including university training abroad – a great difference to Thailand and Malaysia. However, while even the World Economic Forum has conceded that the standard of education in Brunei is very high, challenges of globalisation, economic development and demographic changes demand both continuity as well as changes to meet these new challenges.

The examples of Thailand and Malaysia show that, if an education system does not prepare students for the coming next decades of intensifying global competition, it has failed and will not lift any country from its developing status. Especially weaknesses in science and languages are a major obstacle on that way. Schools and universities all over Southeast Asia need to shift their focus to applications and the understanding of concepts when educating students, instead of emphasising on memorising facts without understanding the logic behind them. They need to kindle the curiosity needed to solve problems and to create and invent.

This is particularly important for Brunei. While the country’s economy is still mainly dependent on oil and gas, there is an increasing need for economic diversification and to prepare young Bruneian graduates for the rapid changes expected over the next generations in the employment market. The immediate focus should be set on science and technology education, as well as on graduates who are competent in management and industrial skills. It’s not a good vision to see Bruneian university graduates being forced to sell noodles on the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan in absence of a job that fits their skills.

This comment is part of Inside Investor’s weekly column series in Brunei’s leading newspaper Brunei Times and is published every Monday.

brunei_times_logo

 

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