A recent article on a survey that showed that Muslims are more highly educated than non-Muslims in Malaysia has understandably caused some ripples across the internet today.
There are certain accusations being tossed around about the implications of the article and it has caused some outrage in certain circles.
But should we take the data that presented at face value?
Before anyone gets any ideas about the statistics derived, it is important to look into the how valid the survey itself actually is.
Conducted by Pew Research Center, some have questioned the credibility of the research. However, despite certain hiccups, the Pew Research Center is generally an accepted hub for statistical information across even academic circles.
The data might be true, but looking into the parameters in the methodology may prove to reveal some background behind the statistics generated. The methodology refers to the method used for a particular study.
For example, what are the parameters used by the study to measure an “educated” group? How are religious groups quantified?
Quantity Over Quality
According to the methodology of the stats, “This report measures educational attainment but it does not measure quality of education.”
Simply said this research is a look at how many people received any secular education at all rather than the quality of knowledge gained. The assumption that higher education levels equates to better educated population is a logical leap. It may take a whole new research to verify the connection between education reach and quality of education between populations.
This is not even mentioning the constant paradigm shifts in the education structure in Malaysia, leaving Malaysian children to a lot of inconsistency.
Many netizens have also noted that affirmative action for the Bumiputras may just be the reason for the higher percentage of Muslims with more formal education years.
Questioning The Term ‘Formal Schooling’
What the study considers as ‘Formal Schooling’ does lead into slight bias with the number of years Muslims have been in school for.
According to their methodology again the study considers “education in religious schools that conform to state or government educational standards and requirements and teach both secular and religious subjects generally is categorised as “formal schooling” in this study. This category includes, for example… some modern Islamic schools (madrasas).”
Since Madrasah learning can start when a child is 3–4 years of age, that would clock Muslims in with more years of formal education compared to other races in the same country.
It might be only a couple of years worth of difference in education, but the difference between most races for this survey is smaller than what it’s been hyped up to be. According to the article, the difference between the education levels of Muslim men versus Buddhist men is 0.2 years, and the difference between a Muslim woman and a Hindu woman is just 0.7 years.
What might be interesting to note is that those unaffiliated to any religion seemed to have much fewer years of schooling on average (8.2 years for both men and women, as opposed to 10.6 years for Muslim men and 9.8 years for Muslim women). This ties in with the interpretation of formal schooling including education in religious institutions, which is why the unaffiliated are clocking fewer years.
In the end what this survey did was to provide some data. The survey was done with a global focus, with no fixed conclusions for individual countries.
The Real Issue
When all is said and done, another survey shows that “nearly four-in-ten (36%) Muslim adults still have no formal schooling at all. That includes 43% of all Muslim women and 30% Muslim men. At the other end of the spectrum, 8% of Muslim adults—including 10% of Muslim men and 6% of Muslim women—have a post-secondary education.”
The survey quoted in the article was hardly conclusive of anything, and looking into context is important.
In fact, the research lacking a conclusion simply means that it is intended to serve as a hub for any researcher or writer who may need access to such surveys to form important conclusions, and perhaps to even end up spreading help to the communities who sorely need access to education.
All this goes to show that Malaysians need to develop a healthier sense of scepticism when consuming news content. The logical leap about the years in education equating to a better educated population was all down to readers’ interpretation, rather than any outright statement within the report.
Therefore instead of this culture of easy outrage, it is crucial for us to instead cultivate a better culture of fact-checking the more sensationalised articles on the internet. At the very least, this will prevent any racial sentiment from being formed from misleading sources.
Feature Image Credit: safwanmansor.wordpress.com