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Malaysian Education – Negative Transformation?

When the SPM results for 2012 were announced there was a lot of news about the performance and achievements of students and schools. Unfortunately the Director of Education announced that there has been a decline in the performance of students in general. The Grade Point Average came down from 5.04 to 5.08. The total number of students involved were 472,541. He said that the decline was not alarming as it was only a difference of 0.04. It would have been different had it been 0.05! He said he was going to explain later.

Apparently the GPA is a big deal! I think this GPA stuff has gone over the heads of most if not all parents. It would be great if the reporter or the DG of Education had given some clue as to how to go about understanding the situation so that all concerned can wrap their heads around this “big deal”.

GPA is derived from converting grades achieved by students in the form of alphabets like A, B, C, D etc into numerical values of 1 to 9 (or some such equivalent) with lowest score starting from A (in our case). The point to note therefore is that lower is better. If a student offers 10 subjects in an examination, we take his alphabet grades and assign the appropriate numerical value. Let us say that his total score from 10 subjects is 46. To get the GPA we divide 46 by 10, which equals 4.60. If we do this for all the students we can compare the relative performance of the students.

To calculate the GPA of a group of students in a school, district, state or country, we add all the scores (numerical) of all the students in all subjects and divide it by the number of subjects and then by the number of students. To illustrate, let us assume that we have 100 students in our school, each taking 10 subjects. The total number of scores we add is from 10×100 = 1000. Lets say the total score in our school is 5236. To get the GPA for the school we have to divide it by the number of subjects which is 10 and the number of students which is 100. Effectively this means 5236/1000 = 5.236.

We are told that the GPA of 472,541 students in 2012 is 5.08. In a general way we can say that the GPA is an indicator of the academic ability of our student population. Alternatively we can say that efficiency of the school system or the competency of the teachers has declined. Is 0.04 a cause for concern? What was the GPA for the years before 2011? A 0.04 decline for an individual student may not be much but extrapolate for 472,541 students could be huge. We wait to hear from the DG the statistical implication of this decline.

We should all be surprised that there is a decline at all! All the talk is about transformation. There are endless claims of transformation. We have heard many grand announcements. We know of great spikes in expenditure. We also have a new DG of Education. More plans, more resources, more costs ….and we are becoming worse off? Or tell us we have nothing to worry about?

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