In 2013, IDEAS, a cross-partisan think tank with ECM Libra Foundation as one of its sponsors, embarked on the “Voice of the Poor” project with the following objectives:
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% in education.
From the survey, it was established that many of these parents are passionate about education. Quite a few cried and wept in the discussions as they expressed their feelings to the interviewers. They feel neglected and ignored. None of the respondents know anything about the national consultation to draft the education blueprint and they were not aware that they could participate.
They are keen to speak up, but they almost never get the opportunity to do so. The schools are not providing them with adequate channels to speak up. Thus many feel resigned to the situation, saying that they cannot do much to propel their children out of poverty and they just have to make do with whatever they get from the system.
These parents feel powerless. They know that they need a better teaching and learning environment for their children. But they cannot move out from this trap. There is usually no alternative school in the area, and they just simply have to accept the school that their children are allocated to by the District Education Office. Even if there are alternatives, the transportation costs would make it inaccessible for them.
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 has attempted to address some of the concerns of low-income families, 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%. Otherwise, our policies will continue to suffer from middle-class capture.
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 works
4. Discriminatory school environment
5. Bad or under performing teachers
6. Language barrier in vernacular schools.
For details on findings of the survey and its corresponding report, please go to www.ideas.org.my