In The Mass Media

Ong: ‘Missing’ boys in public varsities cause for concern

The career trajectory of the “missing” boys must be considered together with the potential negative impact on crime and other social indicators.

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KUALA LUMPUR: Female enrolment in public universities may have far surpassed male enrolment but that does not mean that gender discrimination against females has disappeared, cautioned Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming in a statement citing Penang Institute figures. “Malaysia is far from the top ranks of indexes which measure gender equality.”

For example, he said, Malaysia ranks 111 out of 145 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. On the UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index (GII), Malaysia does somewhat better, coming in at 62, out of 188 countries. “Just because more females are in public universities, compared to males, it does not mean that the wage gap between females and males has been abolished,” added Ong.

He called for research to evaluate if the significant female-male enrolment disparity in the public universities translates into significant differences in socio-economic indicators in the country. In addition, he stressed, careful attention needs to be paid to see if the recent emphasis on technical and vocational education and training (TVET) was sufficient to narrow the gender disparity in post-secondary education.

While Malaysia can be proud of the rapid rate at which the gender disparity between men and women entering university has closed, he conceded, the presence of a reverse gender gap in public universities raises other concerns. These include the career trajectory of the “missing” boys and potential negative impact on crime and other social indicators.

He pointed out that the reasons for the significant and growing gender disparity in public universities are still not well understood in the Malaysian context.

One reason, he said, could be the academic achievement gap between boys and girls that exists from a young age.

He recalled that one UNICEF report on the region found that Malaysian girls outperformed boys in all key subjects such as English, Mathematics, Science and Bahasa Malaysia. “The achievement gap begins in lower secondary school and widens as children grow older,” he cited.

In the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), he continued, Malaysia was one of five countries out of 65 tested countries in which boys were outperformed by girls in mathematics.

Malaysian girls also did better in science and reading.

As a result, said Ong, girls drop out of secondary school at a lower rate than their male counterparts. “This gap between female and male education enrolment rates increases from the secondary to the tertiary level,” he lamented.