Early investments in education pay off for Malaysian girls today
KUALA LUMPUR, 28 April 2005 – Girls in Malaysia today have equal opportunities and choices with boys to succeed in life thanks to the Government’s foresight in prioritising and investing in an “Education for All” program as early as in the 1950s. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) “Progress for Children” Report released here today, the primary net enrolment / attendance ratio for girls is 95.3 per cent as compared to boys which is 95.1 per cent, indicating more girls than boys are completing their primary education.
“The Government’s commitment towards education is seen in the consistency of expansion policies in all of Malaysia’s five-year national development plans since Independence. The success we see today is attributable to many factors including the political will of leaders to have in place institutional and policy frameworks that help create an environment that is conducive to primary education. Additionally, the Government’s efforts have been supported at the family level by parents who have perceived education as an opportunity for providing upward mobility and a better life for children”, said UNICEF Representative to Malaysia, Gaye Phillips.
Some of Malaysia’s successful strategies to create an enabling environment for children, especially those from low income families and rural areas, to enrol in primary education were the:
The Government’s commitment to education, as a prime contributor to national development is evidenced by the continuous and large capital investments in educational infrastructure and supported by substantial recurrent expenditures in the period since 1970. The proportion of development expenditure on education more than doubled between 1980 (7.5%) and 1990 (15.3%) and then nearly doubled again by 2003 when the amount increased to 25.9 per cent.
Despite Malaysia’s overall success in its primary education, the challenge is to overcome the low enrolment rates in remote and sparsely populated areas especially in Sabah and Sarawak which have areas with concentrations of low income groups. Families in these communities are often not able to afford the opportunity costs of sending their children to school, and may need their children to work to help supplement the family income. Remote areas where indigenous people live present further challenges for the Government in terms of building schools and hostels, and providing teachers.
Added challenges include increasing enrolment and retention rates of boys as well as improving the quality of primary education and ensuring the relevance of curricula to meet the new threats such as the risk of HIV/AIDS which young people face in today’s society.
Access to universal education
“UNICEF is confident that Malaysia will move forward to ensure that access to universal education continues to be available especially to the poor, and those in remote and sparsely populated areas; and that future public policies on education will be sensitive to the possibility of an increasing urban-rural digital divide. Malaysia’s track record and commitment to education and the proven political will to ensure the best for its people are testimonies to our belief”, Ms. Phillips elaborated.
Malaysia is one of 125 countries out of 180 countries (for which data were available) that is on course to reach gender parity by 2005 - a target set by the UN as part of the Millennium Development Goals. The apparent impressive gains made by these 125 countries however masks huge pockets of inequity in several parts of the world, namely in three regions - Middle East/North Africa, South Asia and West/Central Africa – where there are low rates of gender parity. UNICEF’s latest Progress for Children report reveals that disparities are keeping 115 million children – the majority of whom are girls – out of school.
At the current rate of progress, most countries in the Middle East/ North Africa, East Asia/Pacific and Latin America/Caribbean regions are on track to achieving universal primary education by 2015. At the other extreme, most countries in sub- Saharan Africa and many in South Asia won’t come close unless they greatly accelerate their rates of progress.
Determinants for low enrolment
Some of the determinants to low primary school enrolment are poverty, cultural beliefs, prevalence of HIV/AIDS, child labour, civil conflict, child trafficking and natural disasters. On the other hand, a child has a stronger chance of being enrolled in primary education based on whether or not the mother has herself benefited from some education. In developing countries, 75 per cent of children out of primary school have mothers with no education, thus underlining the critical importance of getting as many girls and future mothers into school as soon as possible and encouraging them to stay on to complete their education.
“Gender parity is a prerequisite if the world is to achieve universal primary education by 2015, the target date set by the UN for a key Millennium Development Goal. The shrinking gender gap has helped reduce the total number of children denied a primary education. Making universal primary education and gender parity in schools a reality will require some radical shifts in thinking and policies. All countries must begin to view education as a fundamental human right, not as an optional add-on where budgets allow”, added Ms. Phillips.
UNICEF, as one of the lead agencies in the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), is committed to narrowing the gender gap in primary and secondary education by 2005 and to ensuring that by 2015, all children complete primary schooling. UNGEI is a partnership that embraces the UN system, governments, donor countries, non-governmental organisations, civil society, the private sector, and communities and families.
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NOTE TO EDITORS
About Progress for Children
Progress for Children is a “Report Card” that is issued by UNICEF to track the progress of countries in relation to specific Millennium Development Goals relevant to children. This issue measures the world’s advances towards universal primary education and gender equality and women’s empowerment. The report emerges at a vital time: 2005 is the year by which the first Millennium target – to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education – is to be met.