Right to change the way math is taught


  • Education
  • Sunday, 15 Dec 2019

Amin showing off the Pisa 2018 report at the ministry.

A CHANGE in approach has led to better grasp of mathematics among students.

By ensuring that primary pupils achieve a minimum standard instead of focusing on the School Average Grade (GPS) in the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR), the teaching and learning of mathematics has became more effective, said Education director-general Datuk Dr Amin Senin.

Amin, who has a mathematics degree from Universiti Sains Malaysia, was appointed D-G in 2017.

Since then, emphasis was only given to the minimum standard achievement meaning that pupils are required to obtain at least a ‘D’ in all subjects.

The move, he said, was necessary to arrest the decline in uptake of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects at secondary level.

“I addressed the root of the problem (which was the teaching and learning of mathematics at primary level).

“We found that in 2016, some 400,000 pupils sat for the UPSR but 95,000 didn’t even meet the minimum standard - meaning E - which is very bad.

“I realised we had to focus on this group because it will impact interest in STEM, ” he told reporters following the release of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) 2018 results in Putrajaya on Dec 3.

The shift in priority led to a huge 23,000 drop in the number of UPSR pupils who failed to achieve the minimum standard in mathematics.

“After adopting a different approach, this year only 72,000 pupils did not reach the minimum level which was a great improvement, ” he said, adding that the ministry would not rest on its laurels.

“Of course we’re not satisfied yet. But you see, when we stress on making sure pupils reach a minimum standard instead of assessing schools based on the GPS, even the number of those who scored As increased.”

He said the GPS wasn’t helpful in getting teachers to adopt a more pupil-centred, project-based and discussion-orientated approach in class.

If teachers are busy targeting the GPS, they won’t change the way they teach, he said.

“When there’s no GPS, they’re not stressed anymore. This more open way of teaching benefits both the high and low achievers, ” he said, adding that the ministry’s strategy of stressing on creativity in classrooms instead of exams has proven fruitful.

In Pisa 2018, Malaysia scored 440 in mathematics, the most notable improvement in the three domains assessed.

Pisa is administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) every three years since 2000 on 15-year-olds in both OECD and non-OECD countries, assessing students on their reading, mathematics and science literacies.

The performance gap of Malaysia’s mathematics scores and the OECD average last year was only 49 points compared to 92 points in 2009.

Pisa 2018 also found that some 59% of students Malaysia attained Level Two or higher in mathematics (OECD average: 76%).

At a minimum, these students could interpret and recognise, without direct instructions, how a simple situation could be represented mathematically – for example, comparing the total distance across two alternative routes, or converting prices into a different currency.

Two percent scored at Level Five or higher (OECD average: 11%) meaning that they could model complex situations mathematically, and can select, compare and evaluate appropriate problem-solving strategies for dealing with them.

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