10 Significant Facts About Education And Poverty

In Malaysia, 8.7% of households with children live below the poverty line[1]. It is likely that the numbers can be higher as an aftereffect of the pandemic. And to many of these families, their daily expenses hold a higher priority than ensuring their children are in school.

The national primary school dropout rates were at 0.15% and 1.21% for secondary school students in 2018[2]. Of the total number of dropouts, 29,000 are from Sabah [3]

Education is a vital human right and should be awarded to every child in Malaysia. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specified that all persons shall have the right to free and compulsory education, at least in the elementary stages[4]

Here are 10 significant facts on how poverty affects education: 

Will I Be Able To Attend School Tomorrow?

#1: Children are forced to travel far to earn their education, namely, in the poorest districts in the country.

  • For example, in Tongod, Sabah, 58.2% of primary and secondary schools are over 9km away from their houses. It is 4 times the distance to travel to any school in Sabah[5]
  • Rural students in Malaysia see going to school as an adventure. With school bags on, they trek for hours, travel on muddy roads, get on boats and makeshift sampans to be in a classroom. 

#2: It is clear that  there is a divisive line between the rich and poor when it comes to accessing education, and the pandemic has only exacerbated it. 

  • 37% of Malaysian students in primary and secondary schools did not have the appropriate devices to attend online lessons[6].  Some had to resort to sharing devices with their siblings or other family members to attend classes. And, many are still wondering if the 150,000 promised laptops to the B40 students have reached their new owners.   
  • Digital devices are one part of the problem.  Limited internet connection in rural parts of Malaysia has forced students like Veveonah Mosibin from Pitas, Sabah to climb trees just to get better internet connectivity for her online classes and exams. 

#3: Despite the nation’s promise that each child has the right to education, there are those excluded and denied their rights; the stateless, undocumented and refugee communities are an example. 

  • Reportedly, only 30% of refugee children of schooling age are currently enrolled in alternative learning centres (ALCs)[7].
  • Alternative Learning Centres are established and sustained by changemakers and via public funding. Despite the good work, many of the centers have been subjected to closure from authorities. At the same time, the quality of education provided at ALCs are not standardized making it difficult to gauge the literacy and competency levels of the students. 

Additional Cost Of Schooling 

#4: Gaining a primary and secondary school education in Malaysia is free. However, there are hidden costs such as transportation, uniforms and books.

  • There is a strong correlation between family socioeconomic status and school attendance. Each family member living in a poor household is obligated to chip in or earn additional income for the sustainability of the family [8]
  • An increase of RM1 in school expenses is enough to deter families from sending their children to school[9].  The free breakfast programme  that serves as an aid and a motivation for children to attend school has sadly been axed. 
  • The obligation to assist their family may lead to non-enrollment of the children, especially to secondary school as compulsory education in Malaysia is only up to primary 6 (or 12-years-old)[10]
  • Alternatively, it could affect their school attendance. For example, Cikgu Nakiah’s 17-year-old student who worked part-time to assist his family’s daily expenses.

When The Roof Can Fall Down Anytime 

#5: Poor school infrastructure has a part to play. In 2021, the Ministry of Education stated that 1,311 schools in Malaysia are deemed unsafe and dilapidated. However, this number could be under-reported [11].

The Need For Quality Education 

#6: Poorer states are faring worse than richer states.

Source: New Straits Times
  • Schools in Sabah and Sarawak on average perform poorer academically in comparison to states with lesser rural schools. There is a gap of 27% in the primary school examination, Ujian Peperiksaan Sekolah Rendah (UPSR)  and a 19.2% gap in Sijil Pendidikan Malaysia (SPM) performance in Sabah when compared to the highest performing state, that is, Wilayah Persekutuan Putrajaya [2]
  • In 2018, only 64.3% of rural school students passed their UPSR examination compared to urban school students with a 70.3% passing rate (scoring at least a grade D in all subjects) [14]
  • However, at the recent Sijil Pendidikan Malaysia (SPM) 2020. Sabah recorded a 0.04 point improvement, their best performance since 2017 also a better passing rate at 90.42% compared to 87.79 % in 2019 (an increase of 2.63%)[15]
  • Sarawak also showed better performance based on the National Average Grade (GPN) of 5.07 compared to 5.18 in 2019. The passing rate saw an increase of 3.22% from 84.61 to 87.83% [16]. The progress may be slow but there’s hope for rural schools to perform just as well as their urban counterparts.

#7: Rural schools are often handed the shorter end of the stick when it comes to school facilities. 

#8: Rural schools are thankfully blessed with educators that are passionate to ensure their students would progress further. 

  • A study conducted in 2017 highlighted no significant difference between teachers’ competencies in both urban and rural schools. What differentiates them is the lack of ICT skills attributed to the lack of resources and accessibility to digital devices[19]
  • Notably, rural teachers were found to be more competent and creative in integrating Science, Technology, English and Mathematics (STEM)[19]. Some gems that are worth mentioning are the likes of Cikgu Angela Joseph in Labuan.

#9:The rate of learning loss among students in Malaysia is the highest across all developing Asian countries at 0.95 years (11.4 months)[20]. But students that were hit the hardest are from the B40 community and living in rural areas.

  • Students from a well-off background had the option of seeking private tutoring to supplement their learning. However, for 50 to 60% of B40 households, seeking tuition on top of their normal schooling to help their learning are not on the cards. Additionally, during the lockdown, families were confined at home and having a conducive learning environment was near impossible[21].

Without Gaining Proper Education 

#10: The repercussions of not having an education and being trapped in a poverty cycle are many.

  • The lack of school accessibility and affordability has pushed many children from poorer backgrounds to drop out, young students to enter into the workforce prematurely at a young age or worse, young girls being married off at a young age to lessen the financial burden on their family.
  • Arguably, many social ills are related to poverty and education being out of the equation. The urban poor community are tied to “blue-collared” jobs that live on a meagre amount. Their children are exposed to crimes in the neighbourhood. 
  • Ironically, education is required to escape the poverty cycle. But, being poor also limits their ability to get an education. Thankfully, there are numerous changemakers creating positive waves in the education front for the marginalised and underserved. They are; Teach For Malaysia, Edvolution, Rakan Tutor, Connect.ED, The Banana Club and Fugee School

Explore Our Sources:  

  1. Khazanah Research Institute. (2021). Building Resilience: Towards Inclusive Social Protection in Malaysia. Link
  2. Ministry of Education Malaysia. (2018). Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025. Link.
  3. UNESCO. (2013). Malaysia Education Policy Review. Link.
  4. United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Link.
  5. Wiki Impact. (2021). District Spotlight: Tongod, Sabah. Link
  6. F. Azman. (2020). 36.9 per cent of pupils do not have electronic devices – Radzi Jidin. Astro Awani. Link
  7. UNHCR. (n.d.). Education in Malaysia.  Link.
  8. UNICEF. (n.d.). Children Out of School: Malaysia: The Sabah Context. Link
  9. United Nations Human Rights Office Of The High Commissioner (2019). Statement by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, on his visit to Malaysia, 13-23 August 2019. Link
  10. CommonLIII. (1996). Malaysian Legislation. Education Act 1996. Link
  11. A.Yunus. (2021). 1,311 unsafe schools in Malaysia, says Education Ministry. New Straits Times. Link 
  12. N.Chan.  (2020). ​589 dilapidated schools in Sabah unsafe.  Daily Express Online. Link 
  13. S.Ling.  (2018). ​Manyin: 415 schools in S’wak considered critically dilapidated. The Star.​ Link
  14. Ministry of Education Malaysia. (2018). 2018 Annual Report: MEB 2013-2025. ​Ministry of Education Malaysia,​ 1–192. Link 
  15. E.Anjumin. (2021). Despite challenges, Sabah performs well in 2020 SPM. New Straits Times. Link 
  16. I. C. (2021). Sarawak records better performance in SPM 2020. The Borneo Post. Link 
  17. Wiki Impact. (2020). Children From Poor Families Have A Higher Tendency To Dropout From School. Link 
  18. Deli, M. M., & Yasin, R. M. (2017). Community-Based Learning Center of Renewable Energy Sources for Indigenous Education. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences. Link.
  19. Khairani, A. Z. (2017). ​Assessing Urban and Rural Teachers ’ Competencies in STEM Integrated Education in Malaysia .​Link 
  20. Bait Al Amanah. (2021). Malaysian School Closures cost RM80 billion a year. Link 
  21. V.  Tan. (2021). IN FOCUS: Prolonged school closure in Malaysia due to COVID-19 shakes up learning experience.Channel News Asia.  Link.

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