IDEAS Event Report
Giving Voice to the Poor Briefing Session
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Post-Graduate Conference Room, Level 3, Faculty of Economics and Administration, University Malaya
On Tuesday 11th March 2014, IDEAS held its first Giving Voice to the Poor briefing at University Malaya on the unprecedented nationwide survey that it conducted in November 2013 on parents of the bottom 40% with respect to the educational issues their children continue to face. The Centre for Poverty and Development Studies kindly assisted in hosting the meeting venue. The session was well attended, with over 40 individuals present representing various organisations, including the Ministry of Education (MOE), non-governmental organisations, education-related foundations, universities, and the media.
Tricia Yeoh, COO of IDEAS, who chaired the session, kicked off the first public briefing session on the Giving Voice to the Poor project with some brief introductory remarks. This was followed by a presentation, by Tamanna Patel, Senior Researcher for the Education Unit at IDEAS, on the results of IDEAS’ “Giving Voice to the Poor” project.

IDEAS Senior Researcher Tamanna Patel presenting the findings of the Voice of the Poor Survey

The presentation focused on the data collected from the survey of 1,207 parents from low-income households across six states. The survey queried parents about their perspective of the education system, the current education needs of their children, andthe aspirations for their children’s education. The five main findings that emerged from the data collected are summarised below:
1. Information Gap: There is an information gap between government education plans and the information received by the poor.

2. Accessibility to Education Aid: Government education aid is not reaching the needy.

3. Drop Outs: Lack of interest in school continues to drive students to drop out at an early age.

4. Education Expenses: Education related expenses continue to be a burden for parents from low-income households.

5. School Accessibility: Accessibility to schools continues to limit choice for parents.

Following the presentation, the panel members shared their comments on the findings. The panel consisted of two members who are involved in the social enterprise realm of education; NikMohdFahmeeNik Hussein, Head of Programme Management at ariseAsia and Tan ShieHaur, Strategy and Operations Director at Teach for Malaysia (TFM).
NikFahmee noted that schools are dynamic and various other stakeholders also need to be looked at besides parents. They would include the community at large, those at schools such as administrators, headmasters and teachers. For example, in the case of dropouts, he noted that change needs to happen in the entire school ecosystem not just in the area of pedagogy. In the case of teachers, he did however mention that they need toimprove on their basic theory of knowledge of pedagogical methods. He also observed that parents need to be “educated” as well – to be taught skills that will help improve the levels of involvement with their children and their education.
ShieHaur began by commending IDEAS for undertaking such a project. He noted that as TFM fights to reduce education inequity, there is minimal data to prove and support the levels of inequity and that this study could possibly provide some more evidence to support the problem of inequity in education in Malaysia. He also observed that the data collected will probably raise big questions on the state of education in the country.

Participants of the briefing

In summary, both panellists saw a need for a stronger support system for parents as well as for similar research to be conducted to further understand the underlying problems faced by low-income households with regards to education.
Once the panellists had shared their feedback, the floor was open to comments from the other attendees. There were a range of interesting and insightful comments. Below is a summary of points raised, in relation to the data presented, during the open discussion:
• Data and policymakers – it was suggested that various government agencies, including the Education Performance and Delivery Unit (PADU), MOE, and the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), use the data collected by IDEAS.
• Transportation/accessibility – anecdotal evidence was shared on the transport issue – it was related that the school accessibility issue is in fact the reality for many in rural part of Malaysia, which leads to absenteeism.
• Further data analysis – suggestion was made to dissect the data in many other ways. For example, to look at only the bottom 10 percent of households, or only the rural areas in Sabah or Sarawak, or even a split between urban and rural.
• Parents’ buy-in – workshops can be held with parents, especially those in rural areas, to get their buy-in so that their interest and excitement about education is carried forward to their children, especially those who are uninterested in school.
• Students’ perspective – it was observed that a missing element in this survey was the perspective of the students, and the data from parents could be further corroborated with that of students.
• Data within the context of the Malaysian Education Blueprint-– how would the lack of parental interaction with schools impact the recently implemented School-Based Assessment system, especially since this system would require heavier involvement from parents in order for their children to truly excel?
• Community involvement – clarity on community’s ability to engage with schools and assist with problems faced. It was noted that the MOE does not have clear guidelines around this issue.
• Volunteerism – to address many of the problems the civil society can be leveraged upon to help out.
• Board of governors for schools – members can help address the problems of the specific school. Additionally, experience and participation of successful alumni can help the school improve. It is currently unclear as to why the government restricts the board of governors model to only private schools, whereas this should be opened up to the public school sector as well.
• Lack of parents’ participation – can be impacted by social norms. A suggestion was made to cross triangulate data presented with data from non-poor parents to see if social norms were at play.
• Dropouts – need to be looked at closely. There is no consistent data on the rate of dropouts and any indication of the point when, during their schooling career, students dropout the most.
• Low cost private schools – there was a question on why there are no low-cost private schools in Malaysia.
• Choice – how do poor parents choose? There seems to be no mechanism in place for parents to make informed decisions on where they can send their children. Parents need to be provided with more, and a voucher-system was suggested as one way improve parental choice.
• Special needs – a suggestion was made to look into the education challenges for those with special needs.
The chair then wrapped up the discussion with a summary of points,and noted that IDEAS believes that the data collected will provide valuable insights for education policy-makers at state and federal levels, and be useful to non-governmental organisations, companies and foundations looking to make an impact on the lives of the underprivileged children in Malaysia.

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