Education inequality in Malaysia is not an unfamiliar topic and has been undeniably exacerbated by the pandemic. We have a long way to go to ensure that every student receives the equal quality of education they deserve. However, mitigating such a deep-rooted and multi-factorial problem isn’t easy, especially if we are looking to establish a long-term solution. In order to address these inequalities, we need to try to understand some of the main causes of the problem.
Written by : Siti Nurzahirah
1. The rural-urban disparity
Rural communities have always been at a disadvantage compared to their urban counterparts, mostly due to the lack of proper infrastructure, accessibility, and general neglect. Many rural schools receive insufficient funding, students often having to travel miles on rough terrain just to get to school, and not receiving the same opportunities as those in urban areas. This disparity has worsened with the pandemic as students in rural areas face difficulties in obtaining a reliable Internet connection to keep up with school. This digital divide also means that the level of computer literacy among students in these rural areas is most likely little to none, affecting their ability to transition to online classes.
Poverty is one of the key factors of education inequality. On top of the disadvantages of the rural urban disparity, students in rural communities tend to come from a lower socioeconomic class as compared to their urban counterparts. As a result, more students from rural areas tend to drop out of school or do not pursue higher education in order to work to support their families. These issues are also prevalent among the urban poor, where life's struggles mean that they simply can’t afford to prioritise education.
For poorer families, the environment at home can be non-conducive for learning which can further hamper their performance with the move towards e-learning. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) survey, up to 48 per cent of students in the country do not have access to computers at home for educational purposes. Even if students are able to attend school, affordability remains a pertinent issue as those in poverty struggle with being able to afford lunch, let alone afford extra tuition, reference books, broadbands and e-learning devices to keep up with their peers.
3. Race-based policies
Many students across Malaysia face unequal access to opportunities on a racial basis. In the past, race-based affirmative action, specifically for the Bumiputera, was deemed essential in order to alleviate their socioeconomic status as Malaysia’s least wealthy racial group. Throughout the years, more often than not these policies only seem to be giving an unfair advantage to well-to-do Malay Bumiputera, while those who the policies are meant to help i.e. B40 communities, find themselves increasingly dismissed. With quotas, students are often denied entry into good boarding schools, as well as public universities due to their race. Those who cannot afford private universities are then left with very limited options and opportunities when pursuing tertiary education.
So, why care about education equality and what can we do about it?
Education has the power to spur socioeconomic mobility and break the vicious poverty cycle. An increase in education attainment of the population will also encourage economic growth and development of the country, enabling us to allocate more funding for vital sectors, including education itself. As youths, we can contribute through the many established organisations that have been working hard to bridge the education gap, such as Charisma Movement, by volunteering or donating. Inform yourself and spread awareness of the many forms of education inequality so more people will call for change. It’s time to move away from our prejudices, reform our policies, and help all Anak Malaysia exercise their right to education.