Friday, June 06, 2008

In praise of good research on race and education

Very often, we talk about issues of race and education without having much survey to back up our rhetoric. I'm sure that myself and Tony are guilty of this more often than not. This is not to say that we should not discuss issues of race and education. Sometimes, there are important links there. Sometimes, there are not. What we need is more quality research into these questions, research which is currently not happening in Malaysia.

This article in the Economist caught my eye the other day. It discusses the state of African Americans / Blacks in the US and how certain policies or cultural practices have helped or hindered their social progress.

One person they highlighted was a young Black economist by the name of Roland Fryer, who at 30, is already a professor at Harvard. He's done some really interesting work on issues of race and education by using pretty interesting research methods. For example, he sampled high school kids to try to find out how popular white and black kids were depending on their kids to test the hypothesis that 'studiousness is stigmatised among black schoolchildren' and found that this was indeed true.

He also has some pretty interesting policy suggestions on education such as giving kids cash incentives for doing well in exams and even giving them free mobile phones.

There are a million and one things which we can do both qualitative and quantitative work on in regard to the education realm in Malaysia. For example, I'd be interested to find if there is a link between spending in schools and exam results. And then I'd use these results to identify the outliers and find out why some schools succeed despite having not much money spent on them and why some schools fail despite having a lot of money spent on them. I'd like to look at the performance of students from the matriculation stream versus STPM and test to see if one was better than the other (even after controlling for race).

One of the main obstacles to better research in this area is that a lot of the data is deemed sensitive by the MOE, the MOHE, the schools and our public universities. If the government were more liberal in their attitude towards this kind of data, they could release this data to certain researchers and then work with them to come up with better education policies.

With this kind of research in hand, one would be able to speak more conclusively and authoritatively on matters of race and education and more importantly come up with innovative solutions to improve the quality of education across the board.


Anonymous said...

Research without touching on meritocracy is the main stay of Malaysian academia. It is an inferiority complex since time in memorial and will not go away like fairy dust. Incidently, if it is Bumi it is hyped up and if not it doesn't deserve a mention.

Anonymous said...

As far as i know, when you do research at schools you need to apply to MOE first, and they will definitely reject your application if your research have something they deemed "sensitive". A friend of mine was in this field. They have a list of things that they deemed sensitive, and was even stated in the application form. Just to show how shallow minded our MOE are.

Anonymous said...

One case in point - the often umno quoted statement of no other countries in the world offer government aids for minority educational schools, ie vernacular schools like our SRJK & SMJK.

This is a fallacy that can easily disproved via the many educational departments of various European & north American countries.

John Lee said...

I don't know how fair a comparison that is, Anonymous@10:04:00AM. In the US for example, the education system is highly decentralised, so educational policy is primarily set by local districts rather than the central government; comparing this to our highly centralised education system is a bit like comparing apples and oranges.

One thing I will say, though: if we want to compare Malaysia and the US, how about the fact that in the US they generally accept the usage of minority languages like Spanish in the classroom, and the best schools actively teach foreign languages from French to Latin to Chinese?

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming

I absolutely agree with you, but is that the way things are done here?

Having good data and analysis AND formulating policies based on real information is critical not only in education, but in every area of policy-making. How to get this done?

The issue is deeper? it's a cultural / political thing?