Education inequality in Malaysia – a myth or a fact?

Education inequality in Malaysia – a myth or a fact?

“Bro, saw your post on Projek Kalsom’s mission to eradicate education inequality. Is it really a thing and how serious?”

This question was posed to me by a friend of mine last week. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to answer this simple yet essential question as I am not well informed about the matter either. The answers that I could possibly offer him were limited to stories passed through word of mouth that I gained through my volunteering experiences at the motivational camps in Kelantan and Sabah. After giving it a thought, I found this hardly convincing and insufficient in painting a clear picture of the actual situation that is happening within the Malaysian education landscape. The statement has to be backed up with solid facts and data obtained through the proper conducts of research.

In the light of that concern, it surprises and worries me that some of us who have been given the privilege of access to good education are not aware of the reality of education inequality in Malaysia and its severity. Some might be aware of the issue but they might not have sound understanding regarding it and think that the cause to such problem is only limited to the gap in quality and accessibility of education between rural and urban area. I would agree that rural-urban gap is one of the factors contributing to education inequality, however it is not the biggest contributor. Socio-economic class is for a fact the biggest driver that leads to this social disparity[1].

Students from low-income families are often confronted with educational disadvantages. How much their parents earn per month has a direct correlation to their academic achievement. The study to see the correlations between socio-economic background and the students’ performance has been done and the results show that students from poor families demonstrate poorer academic performance compared to students from low-income and medium-income families. Schools with more low-income students also tend to fall in the categories of Band 6 and 7 schools[1].

The possible reasonings to this pattern are that parents with medium and high income tend to send their children to extra classes and lessons and provide constant support and motivation due their awakened general awareness of the importance of education itself. Saying this does not mean parents with low income do not give support and encouragement, but there are constraints in their attempt to provide such assistance due to their economic circumstances. For example, their children might have to work straight away after finishing their secondary school in order to lessen their parents’ burden and in some cases, to entirely support their families.  This prevents them from pursuing a higher level of education and attaining more knowledge to be able to secure a more fulfilling job. Also, these students do not have role models to look up to if everyone in their community comes from the similar low-income family background. Sometimes hardship could be a motivation and drive to them as well but that is not always the case.

Once we have addressed the main contributing factor to education inequality, then comes the geographical factor. As derived from researches, the academic achievement of students in rural areas is lower than the students in urban areas. The following graphs are the UPSR and SPM results for students living in rural and urban areas:


From these graphs, we can clearly see that the achievement gap between students in these different geographical areas is significantly large, despite the display of improvement over time, especially for UPSR results. The reasons to explain these data include the lack of availability and access to facilities such as tuition classes, computers and internet connection as well as the lack of experienced teachers. Studies found that chances that a teacher would move or be willing to teach in a low socio-economic status school is four times lower than one with a high socio-economic status[2]. However, I am sure that there are still dedicated teachers being located in rural areas.

Why do we need to end education inequality?

Based on a study[3] on the relationship between school inequality and economic growth, it is found that when inequality in schools increases, the average GDP per capita of our country would consequently decrease. Drop in average GDP per capita means that the average income of a family decreases, making the poor families to become even poorer. This results in a bigger gap of education inequality due to socioeconomic reasons as previously explained. This vicious cycle will continuously repeat, forming one part of the poverty cycle. Statistically speaking, when inequality within primary education increases by 1%, the average GDP per capita would decrease by RM149 whereas it would decrease by RM323 for secondary education. This is due to different subjects being taught in both primary and secondary schools. In primary schools, subjects that are taught such as Reading, Writing and Mathematics are not enough to meet the labour needs. Subjects like ICT and ‘Kemahiran Hidup’ that are taught in secondary schools are more likely to prepare the students to meet our country’s labour demand[3]. Malaysia’s industrialisation policy has changed the country’s economy from agriculture dependant to technology dependant, requiring skilled labour force. Therefore, primary school subjects are inadequate in preparing them for jobs with such demands which explains the lower average GDP per capita’s drop as a result of inequality in primary schools.

Therefore, we can conclude that education inequality leaves a big negative impact to our country. Education is important in increasing the human capital in the economy. It is part of our responsibility as the more privileged students, who are able to study in universities taking diploma, degree, masters or Ph.D. whether sponsored or self-funded, to help eradicate this crucial problem our country is facing.

I would like to quote the late John F. Kennedy to illustrate our belief at The Kalsom Movement in our mission to improve the situation by inviting the community to join this noble movement: “Divided, there is little we can do.”

In the Quran, Allah says “Indeed, Allah loves those who fight in His cause in a row as though they are a [single] structure joined firmly.” [61:4] This verse also implies that we should work in a groups and communities so that bigger things can be achieved.

Join us in The Kalsom Movement and apply as a facilitator today to help eradicate education inequality!


  1. Education, M. (2012). Preliminary Report Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025. [online] Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Education. Available at: [Accessed 10 Apr. 2016].
  2. Krei,  M.  S.  (2000). Teacher Transfer  Policy  and  the  Implications  for  Equity  in  Urban  School  Districts.  American Educational Researchers Association, New Orleans, American Educational Researchers Association.
  3. Rao, R. and Jani, R. (2008). School Quality, Educational Inequality and Economic Growth. International Education Studies, 1(2).


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