Vital the poor have access to quality education

The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) has released a paper summarising the key findings from Stage 1 of their 'Voice of the Poor' research project.

The aim of the 'Voice of the Poor' research project is to provide a bridge between the bottom 40 percent of with policy-makers and other key stakeholders in education policy.

Children who belong to the lowest income groups suffer the worst consequences of lower quality education.

They do not have the advantage of being able to opt for a private education system or a better school outside of the area that they live in, nor do they have adequate access to alternative sources of education such as the internet and private tuitions.

If neglected, they will continue to live in a vicious cycle that keeps them in their current socio-economic condition, thus hampering the country's mission to improve the living conditions of the bottom 40 percent.

Understanding the challenges faced by parents in this segment is crucial in developing a better education system that can adapt itself to the needs of the group that require the most help.

Unfortunately, this is also the very group that is most frequently neglected in any policy consultations.

It for this reason that Ideas, in partnership with Arise Asia Sdn Bhd, embarked on the 'Voice of the Poor' project to give voice to the bottom 40 percent. Specifically, we have two aims:

1. To provide a voice for the poor and underprivileged in national education policy-making process

2. To help the public policymakers, corporations and foundations understand the needs and aspirations of the bottom 40 percent in education.

From the work in Stage 1 of this project, we found that, as can be expected, poor families have high aspirations for their children, and social mobility is a vision shared by all.

Among the major challenges faced by poor families are (1) additional fees charged by schools exacerbate their financial constraints, (2) peer group pressure, (3) parents are ill-equipped to help their children with school work, (4) discriminatory school environment, (5) bad or underperforming teachers, and (6) language barrier in vernacular schools.

Poor parents see themselves as being trapped in a weak government school system.

Since they cannot afford private schools, they rely on private tuition to cover the shortcomings of government schools.

Poor parents from different ethnic backgrounds show different attitudes towards the vocational system.

They also worry about the ethnic segregation that their children have to endure.

Improving the quality of schools and ensuring that children from low-income families receive quality education are priorities that need to be addressed by the government and other stakeholders.

While the National Education Blueprint does contain some attempts to address these concerns, more attention needs to be channelled towards the specific challenges that face this community, particularly on the obstacles they face in ensuring that their children receive a quality education.

But this cannot be done without us actively going down to the ground and talking to the bottom 40 percent.

Otherwise, our policies will continue to suffer from middle-class capture.

The next stages of this project will take place as soon as funding becomes available. We appeal to donors and corporate foundations to financially assist us in completing this project.

The full report can be viewed here.


WAN SAIFUL WAN JAN is chief executive for the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas).