21,316 Students Dropped Out Of School During The Pandemic : Possible Reasons Why

From March 2020 to July 2021, 21,316 (0.22%)  dropped out of school [1]. Despite the uproar of many, the Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon stated that number is lower compared to those who dropped out in pre-pandemic years [2].

There is evidently a decreasing trend over the years when it comes to school dropout rates. In 2020, the percentage stands at 0.10% for primary school and secondary school at 1.13%, a major improvement whlen compared to 2016 as indicated on the figure below [3]:

Source: Bahagian Perancangan dan Penyelidikan Dasar Pendidikan, retrieved from Laporan Tahunan Pelan Pembangunan Pendidikan Malaysia 2013-2025

21,316 dropouts may be just a drop in the ocean, when compared to the approximately 5 million school-going population. Notably, the 0.22% is drastically lower than the dropout rate recorded for the four years but a cause of concern if it were to refer to the primary school student dropout rate.

Parent Action Group for Education president Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim conveyed that the figures may also be “grossly under-declared”  as the numbers during pre-pandemic hover around 60,000 students a year [4].

The 0.22% stated did not come along with a proper breakdown of students involved, for example, their socioeconomic status, whether it is more concentrated amongst primary or secondary level or is there a rural vs urban divide? 

And it is important to also consider the reasoning behind the numbers.

“Many students were unable to learn due to limitations. Therefore, it was easier to drop out of school rather than to endure the difficulties of catching up.” Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, Parent Action Group for Education president [4]

Let’s dive in deeper and address the possible reasons why students would drop out of school:

#1: Not all students participated in online classes (PdPR). At least 37% of Malaysian students did not have the necessary digital devices to attend their classes during the pandemic. Many had to take turns with their siblings and families to study, do their homework and participate in assessments [5]

#2: The Internet connection during each online lesson may be sparse or even lag at times as students compete with the rest of their siblings for its reach. Mobile data isn’t necessarily affordable for many students out there.

  •  Despite the government’s subsidised telco packages through Program Jaringan Prihatin, there is also the issue of Internet penetration to many areas in Malaysia. 
  • In rural areas, students have struggled to enter the worldwide web. A seemingly absurd occurrence in 21st century Malaysia. 
Source: Malay Mail/ Wide TV

#3: Schools in Malaysia may be free but is it affordable? The pandemic had only pushed many households to the brink of economic crisis. In continuing survival, education and schooling expenses are set aside.

  • UNICEF (2020)’s study on KL/Selangor urban poor shows that the financial situation including putting food on the table and giving their children a proper education,  is on top of the list for 44% of parents [6]
  • Dusun Tua assemblyman Edry Faizal Eddy Yusof stated that Selangor recorded a high school dropout rate (35.3%)  at the start of 2021. 8 out of 10 were from families in the B40 income group [7]
Source: New Straits Times


#4: Prolonged remote learning has only caused children to lose interest in school. 1 in 4 parents found that their children are disinterested in school [6].

  • 4% of lower secondary students and 7% of upper secondary students have planned to not return to school [8].

#5 : The rate of school dropout may also be related to 445 teens who left school to tie the knot [9]. Child marriages are seen as an alternative to poor families that are unable to afford education.

#6 : Schools in Malaysia reopened in early November 2021. Yet, at least 1,311 schools nationwide are in conditions that are unsafe for learning to take place [10]. Additionally, students in many parts of Malaysia are still struggling to arrive safely at their schools. Many have to travel the distance, and that sometimes includes dealing with muddy roads.

The Ministry of Education launched “Program Sifar Murid Cicir” aiming for zero dropout in 2019 [10].  Thus far, the progress has been slow going. 

The number could increase and decrease each year, but 21,316 school dropouts also mean a missed opportunity of fulfilling a child’s full potential. 

Explore our sources:

  1. F. Zainal. (2021) Over 20,000 students dropped out of school from March 2020 to July 2021, says Education Ministry. New Straits Times Link.
  2. Bernama. (2021). Student dropout rate during pandemic lower than in 2018. Astro Awani. Link
  3. A. Lai. (2021). Call to probe dropout issue. The Star. Link
  4. Ministry of Education. (2021). Laporan Tahunan Pelan Pembangunan Pendidikan Malaysia 2013-2025. Link
  5. F. Azman. (2020). 36.9 per cent of pupils do not have electronic devices – Radzi Jidin. Astro Awani. Link.
  6. UNICEF Malaysia and UNFPA. (2021). Families on the edge: Issue 4. Link.
  7. UNICEF Malaysia and UNFPA. (2020). Families on the edge: Issue 2. Link
  8. N.Mahpar. (2021). Selangor has highest number of student dropouts. Free Malaysia Today. Link
  9. FMT Reporters. (2021). 445 teens left school to get married in 2020. Free Malaysia Today. Link
  10. A.Yunus. (2021). 1,311 unsafe schools in Malaysia, says Education Ministry. New Straits Times. Link
  11. Maszlee Malik Twitter post (2019). Link

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