Education in Numbers

Pre-school education is considered optional in Malaysia. The number of registered private pre-schools slightly outweighs that of the government pre-schools, accounting for 54.8% of all kindergartens in Malaysia. In Penang, private kindergartens make up 73.2% of the state’s kindergartens, with 70.0% of total pupils attending private kindergartens, compared to the national percentage of 60.5%.1

The student-teacher ratio is often used to measure a teacher’s workload and allocation of resources. While Malaysia has an overall student-teacher ratio of 11.6 in primary schools, Penang recorded a slightly higher ratio of 12.3 (Table 1). This stands at a reasonably healthy level, as developed countries such as the US and Singapore recorded higher ratios at 14.5 and 15.5 respectively.2

Penang holds a lower student-teacher ratio across all types of secondary schools, with the exception of vocational schools where it is higher, and national schools, where it is equal (Table 2).

Although there are more male students enrolled in Malaysia’s primary schools, the gender disparity is not pronounced. Male students in national and national-type schools outweighed female students by only 2-3%. Meanwhile, there are more female students in religious schools; the same trend is observed for both Malaysia (49.8% males, 50.2% females) and Penang (48.0% males, 52.0% females).3

Secondary schools, on the other hand, see more female students than male students. However, more male students enrolled in technical schools (Malaysia: 51.5% males to 48.5% females; Penang: 55.3% males to 44.6% females) and in vocational schools (Malaysia: 64.2% males to 35.8% females; Penang: 71.3% males to 28.7% females).4

Though the proportion of female students in religious schools at the national level was significantly higher than primary enrolment (42.1% males, 57.9% females), there are more male students enrolled in religious secondary schools in Penang (50.6% males, 49.4% females).

For tertiary education, female enrolment and female graduates in higher education institutions outnumber males. This applies to public universities, private colleges and institutes of teacher education. However, there is more male enrolment in community colleges and polytechnics, but female graduates outweigh male graduates in polytechnics.

Looking at public universities, male enrolment and graduates of PhDs are higher than females, as depicted in Figure 1. For other levels of study, the size of female enrolment and graduates is larger than their male counterparts, accounting for more than 60% of overall enrolments and graduates.

There are more female teachers than male teachers in primary schools. In Penang the biggest gender gap is found in religious and Chinese national schools, with about 88% and 87% female teachers respectively (Figure 2).

In secondary schools the gender gap of the teaching staff is higher than that of primary schools. As with Malaysia, Penang observed a decrease of male teachers in national schools. Interestingly, 74.2% of the teachers in technical schools for Penang are female, compared to the national percentage of 56.9%, which is significantly lower (Figure 3).

At the primary level, Penang’s religious schools recorded the highest proportion of teachers without tertiary education (47.1% nongraduates; 11.8% untrained) followed by Chinese schools and Tamil schools (Figure 4). Penang also holds the highest percentage of tertiary-educated teachers in national schools.

Secondary schools, on the other hand, have a significantly high percentage of teachers who have tertiary education compared to those in primary school. With the exception of religious schools, over 90% of the school teachers are tertiary-educated (Figure 5). Non-graduate teachers are mostly centred in religious schools (Malaysia: 8.2%; Penang; 8.1%) and vocational schools (Malaysia: 9.4%; Penang, 8.9%).

Women also represent the majority of academic staff in higher education institutions. However, the disparity is much lower, as male academic staff are much closer to achieving gender parity. For instance, the male-female percentage for academic staff in public universities stands at 44.9% to 55.1%, and for private higher education institutions, it is recorded at 47.8% versus 52.2%.5

In terms of academic qualifications, public universities boast the biggest majority of PhD holders as academic staff, where 48.5% of their staff hold a doctorate degree, followed by 43.6% with a Master’s degree. However, the majority of teaching staff at private higher education institutions (40.0%), community colleges (63.6%) and polytechnics (57.3%) have bachelor’s degrees. Diploma holders also act as teaching staff in community colleges and polytechnics, although the percentage is low.

With the exception of PhD holders, the percentage of qualified female staff is higher across all higher education institutions and all academic qualifications. This is expected, seeing, as discussed earlier, that more men enrol in and graduate from PhD programmes.

1Department of Statistics Malaysia, Social Statistics Bulletin 2017.
2UIS Statistics,
3Ministry of Education, Malaysia Educational Statistics 2017.
4Ministry of Education, Malaysia Educational Statistics 2017.
5Ministry of Education, Malaysia Educational Statistics 2017.

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