CfBT Education Malaysia said the biggest return on investment comes from continuous upskilling of teachers while calling the other initiatives "fool's gold".
In 2011, Malaysia spent about 3.8% of its gross domestic product on education, making up around 18.9% of total government expenditure.Last year, in announcing the Budget 2014, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the education sector will be allocated RM54.6 billion or 21%, in an effort to enhance education excellence.
The 3.9% is more than twice the average 1.8% in Asean, it was reported.
CfBT also listed four myths about education, that have come up from policy debates, which were not necessarily accurate, including that "the more you invest in education the better the student outcomes".
"Some commentators, citing Malaysia’s declining performance in international education surveys, have called for increased public expenditure on education.
"The implicit assumption is that more money can 'buy' more education and that the funding will enable the Ministry of Education to hire better teachers, purchase better quality textbooks and employ other tactics that will improve the overall quality of education," CfBT director Dr Arran Hamilton said in a statement today.
He, however, revealed that education economists have come up with findings, based on their research on the relationship between the level of education expenditure and student outcomes, that each additional ringgit spent actually reduces rather than increases the quality of education.
"Often this is because the spending goes on big ticket items like reducing class sizes or improving the physical infrastructure of schools, which have negligible impact on student achievement."
The other myth, Hamilton said, is that reducing class sizes will result in better education outcomes as people believe that if the teacher divides their time between a smaller number of students, each child would get more individualised attention.
However, extensive research – 164 controlled-condition studies on impact of reduced class sizes in more than 40,000 separate classrooms involving more than 940,000 students – showed that the impact of this is actually very meagre.
“These studies have found that reducing class sizes costs billions of dollars in additional teachers and physical infrastructure but showed that smaller class sizes do not have a meaningful impact on student achievement until the ratio gets below 15 students to one teacher, which is an investment few public education systems can afford to make,” he said.
“Instead, focus should be on providing additional training for teachers to change the way they interact with students, which is more cost effective and results in greater student achievement than reducing class sizes.”
Hamilton also said popular belief or myth that improving the physical infrastructure of schools could improve student outcomes was not accurate as well.
“The argument is that if Malaysia’s schools had the same level of facilities as schools in Europe, North America and some of its Asian cousins – air conditioned classrooms, language labs, libraries stacked with books and beanbags and world class science and computer labs – student achievement would skyrocket.
“Granted there are still cases, particularly in rural schools, where the infrastructure would greatly benefit from additional investment including access to electricity, stable internet and running water.”
But beyond this basic investment, Hamilton said the radical overhauling of school infrastructure was not necessary to see better student achievement.
“Recent CfBT Education research found that classrooms that have good lighting, acoustics and reasonable temperature control provide sufficient conditions for good teaching and learning to take place. Anything beyond this is nice to have but not really necessary,” he added.
Hamilton reiterated that what matters is the quality of teachers, noting that it was both cheaper and more effective to invest in upskilling teachers rather than "attempting to turn government schools into physical replicas of top international schools".
He also listed another myth – overhauling initial teacher training will radically increase student achievement – saying that more on-the-job training was more crucial than formal training.
“There have been 53 major controlled condition studies that have compared student outcomes for teachers who have undergone formal training and those that learnt on the job. Almost without exception these studies have shown little or no difference in student outcomes between trained teachers and those that went into the classroom without any initial training.
“Most teachers learn their trade on the job – after they have left training college. Their first three years in the profession are the most crucial, when educators develop their standard repertoires,” he added.
Hamilton said the results showed that it would be possible to reduce the length of initial teacher training to around six weeks, provided that right candidates were selected and the cost savings were re-invested in training these teachers once they enter the classroom.
"This type of in-service training works best when teachers are directly observed and coached in their own classroom by a master teacher, who models best practice and gives teachers feedback on their pedagogy."
The Malaysian education system have come under fire for the wide disparity between Malaysian students and its counterparts in other developing countries in international assessments in Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).
According to the PISA's 2012 results, Malaysian students scored below average and ranked 52 out of the 65 countries. In contrast, Vietnamese students ranked 17 out of 65.
Recently, a World Bank senior economist said that the poor quality of Malaysia's education system was more worrying than the debt level of its households.
Malaysia's continuous dismal performance in international assessments highlights the weaknesses in the country's schooling system, despite the fact that education gets the largest share of funds every year from the national budget.
Critics said that the PISA results had contradicted Putrajaya’s insistence that Malaysia has a world-class education system. – April 30, 2014.
~ The Malaysian Insider