Education for all


WHILE there is nearly full enrolment of girls in preschools and primary schools nationwide, females tend to drop out of the education system – at the secondary and tertiary levels – for socio-economic reasons.

INTI International University senior professor Prof Dr Leong Wai Yie said despite advancements, women and girls still encounter numerous obstacles to equitable access to high-quality education because of their gender and the intersections of their gender with other variables including age, ethnicity, poverty and disability.

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“This encompasses obstacles to quality education at all levels, as well as those found in educational systems, settings and learning environments,” she told StarEdu.

Prof Leong, who is the first Malaysian woman elected a council member at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), United Kingdom, added that primary level enrolment is higher than secondary level enrolment because the former is compulsory in Malaysia while the latter is optional.

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However, there are still children who do not enrol, or drop out of school. She said 2017 statistics showed some 100,000 children were not in primary school and another 250,000 children were not in secondary school, for various reasons.

The government, she said, should consider giving flexible schooling hours to cater to the needs of the students who face difficulty attending school.

“The family’s socio-economic status, parental involvement and attitude towards education impact their children’s school performance and perceptions. When families face economic and social adversities, schooling becomes less important and expectations for the children’s academic performance can be low.

“Parents will then withdraw their children from school since education is not seen as a good investment and children can be put to work right away,” said Prof Leong.

Prof Leong: Women and girls still encounter numerous obstacles to equitable access to high-quality education.Prof Leong: Women and girls still encounter numerous obstacles to equitable access to high-quality education.

She also said that while the latest Statistics Department (DOSM) data showed that women had surpassed men in terms of educational attainment, they still do not have equal economic opportunities or political empowerment.

“This is an area that the government must focus on by implementing programmes to target these issues and ensuring that education translates into tangible advantages once girls have left the school system and entered the workforce,” she added.

Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (Arrow) executive director Sivananthi Thanenthiran said a common way in which girls from poor backgrounds can be motivated to stay in school is through provision of school meals, ensuring access to health services such as vaccination, regular check-ups, and dental care, and providing menstrual hygiene products.

Recently, Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa announced her ministry’s plans to provide free sanitary pads to underprivileged women and girls to combat period poverty.

It was revealed in the first Kotex Period Poverty and Stigma study that one in two female students wanted to skip school during menstruation.

The study, which involved about 750 girls aged 10 to 24 nationwide, also indicated that 5% of girls could not afford sanitary pads.

Sivananthi: While free primary and secondary education has helped ensure girls have equal opportunities to access education, there continue to be groups of girls who are marginalised from access to education.Sivananthi: While free primary and secondary education has helped ensure girls have equal opportunities to access education, there continue to be groups of girls who are marginalised from access to education.

Sivananthi noted that while free primary and secondary education has helped ensure girls have equal opportunities to access education, there continue to be groups of girls who are marginalised from access to education.

These are due to poverty or citizenship status including stateless children, refugee children and children of migrant workers, she added.

“Reform of our laws and policies to ensure stateless, refugee and migrant children are able to access education will go a long way as these children will grow up and be part of Malaysia’s future workforce,” she said.

Sivananthi also had suggestions for those who fell off the bandwagon because of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns that greatly affected students who did not have access to digital devices and Internet connection.

“As digital learning components will only increase, we can anticipate that providing access to quality devices and good Internet will enable the most needy children to access education,” she said.

Universiti Malaya Gender Studies Programme senior lecturer Dr Vilashini Somiah said at least 50% of women and girls in Malaysia miss out on school or work when they are menstruating.

Vilashini: Proper government-aided programmes to end period poverty nationwide will undoubtedly help school-going females eliminate one major challenge in accessing their right to education without fear of cost and stigma.Vilashini: Proper government-aided programmes to end period poverty nationwide will undoubtedly help school-going females eliminate one major challenge in accessing their right to education without fear of cost and stigma.

“This is why we hear so many school-going girls making difficult decisions to skip school on certain days,” she said.

She added that prior to Dr Zaliha’s pledge to provide free sanitary pads to women and girls in need, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs) were already working hard to provide sanitation products and education to girls in need.

“NGOs and CSOs, alongside the public, must hold the government accountable in ensuring that the programme is rolled out for the female population in Malaysia soon,” she said, adding that proper government-aided programmes to end period poverty nationwide will undoubtedly help school-going females eliminate one major challenge in accessing their right to education without fear of cost and stigma.

Vilashini also said there have been other attempts to create intervention plans for implementing gender equality standards in schools by former deputy education minister Teo Nie Ching.

She noted that Teo had wanted to promote respect and care among male students towards the female classmates, integrate a 21st century education plan through the application of High Order Thinking Skill (HOTS) into their curriculum, and combine technology and communication in a holistic and more competitive way, by introducing the Humanity Generation Alpha programme.

Lai: Students facing domestic or sexual abuse have had their education disrupted.Lai: Students facing domestic or sexual abuse have had their education disrupted.

This, however, was never put into action due to the fall of the Pakatan Harapan government just 22 months after they won the 2018 election.

Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) Penang programme director Karen Lai said we need to look at more than just whether the girls stay in school.

Rather, she said, we need to look at the quality of education they receive.

“This would have an impact on their grades which have some impact when they go out to the workforce,” she said.

WCC provides counselling and other advisory aid to women and children of domestic and sexual abuse.

Lai said students who came in for help have had their education disrupted.

“It will have an impact on their education and even if they remain in school, they sometimes need to transfer to another school, which further disrupts their studies because they need to move away from the perpetrator,” she said, adding that there are already many policies to support girls going to school but we fall short when it comes to policies in the workplace.

She said what should be considered is whether these girls are benefiting from these policies in the long term.

Keeping girls safe

If financial constraints are the obstacles to girls getting educated up to the secondary level, the relevant authorities need to provide financial aids for them.

This is where school counsellors step in as they play an important role to identify these students. Besides that, girls who get pregnant must be allowed to continue their education.

Do away with the narrow-minded practices that stop pregnant girls from continuing their studies.

It is important for these girls to obtain an education because they are mothers who will play an important role in nurturing and guiding their children at home.

Naive mothers may not be able to nurture the future generations who are more vulnerable in the digital world.

Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin

Females make up half the population. It is important that girls are educated for them to be financially independent and contribute to the growth of the economy.

Child marriages continue to exist because families view them as a way out of poverty for their daughters. Education will keep females in school and out of child marriages.

For girls who get pregnant, their families may need financial aid, day care and medical assistance, which can be provided by the state until the girls no longer need to be at home and are able to go back to school.

An educated mother will in turn produce educated children who will not depend on state welfare and instead, be able to contribute positively to the economy, community and society.

Parent Action Group for Education chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim

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