Chinese vernacular students down 110,000 since 2008

Ida Lim
Students in a class at a national-type Chinese school. According to a report, student numbers at the 1,290-odd Chinese-medium primary schools started falling below the 600,000 mark from 2011. — Picture by Razak Ghazali

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 — National-type Chinese school (SJKCs) pupils are now 110,000 fewer than 10 years ago, reaching a new low for the period and coinciding with an overall decline in the country’s birth rates.

In its latest report on SJKCs based on Education Ministry data, the United Chinese School Teachers' Association of Malaysia (UCSTAM) or Jiao Zong noted that student numbers at the 1,290-odd Chinese-medium primary schools had peaked in 2004 at 645,862 students.

This started falling below the 600,000 mark from 2011.

In the 10-page report made available to Malay Mail, Jiao Zong tracked the shift in student numbers at SJKCs from 2008 to 2018.

“Among the changes are SJKCs had a total of 518,543 students in 2018, if compared with the 630,572 students in 2008, it has declined by 112,029 or 17.77 per cent,” the report said.

Earlier in its report, Jiao Zong cited various possible reasons for the decline, including the Chinese community's lower birth rate despite its growing population, an ageing society in certain areas, and the growth of international and private schools.

It also noted a similar correlation between falling birth rates in other communities and a general decline in school populations including in national primary schools (SKs) and national-type Tamil primary schools (SJKTs).

The report noted that SK student numbers fell from close to 2.3 million in 2008 to nearly 2.1 million now, a decline of around 8.5 per cent. For SJKTs, this fell 22.5 per cent over the same period to reach 81,488 this year.

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia's figures, there has been a general downward trend in recent years in the national crude birth rate at 17.6 per 1,000 population in 2011, 17.8 (2012), 16.7 (2013), 17.2 (2014), 16.7 (2015), 16.1 (2016) and 15.8 (2018).

Past news reports have said Malaysia is set to be an ageing nation as early as 2030 owing to this fall in birth rates.

Bucking the trend

In its breakdown by state of SJKC student numbers, Jiao Zong noted that Labuan was the only location to register an increase in the 10-year period, adding 197 additional students that represented a growth of 15.7 per cent.

Student numbers in all 14 states declined during the past decade, with Perak leading in terms of proportion (32.3 per cent), followed by Kedah (29.35 per cent), Terengganu (25.6 per cent), Pahang (22.4 per cent), Negri Sembilan (20.8 per cent), Perlis (19.9 per cent), Melaka (19.7 per cent), Penang (19.3 per cent), Kuala Lumpur (18.9 per cent), Johor (18.7 per cent), Kelantan (17.2 per cent), Sarawak (15.9 per cent), Selangor (9.4 per cent), Sabah (1.5 per cent).

In absolute terms, Johor SJKCs lost the most students from 2008 to 2018 with 21,637 fewer now. This was followed by Perak (-21,136), Sarawak (-11,601), Selangor (-11,516), Penang (-10,908) and Kuala Lumpur (-10,055).

Other states registered smaller drops: Kedah (-8,191), Pahang (-5,216), Negri Sembilan (-5,026), Melaka (-4,035), Kelantan (-1,132), Terengganu (-777), Sabah (-530), Perlis (-466).

Non-Chinese majority in Sabah schools

Highlighting Sabah as suffering the lowest decline, Jiao Zong noted that non-Chinese parents in the state are increasingly sending their children to SJKCs there.

“Therefore, despite the decline in ethnic Chinese student numbers, because of the increase in non-Chinese student numbers, it has resulted in the state's SJKCs still having a regular source of students,” it said in its report.

Showing statistics from the Sabah SJKCs' principals association, Jiao Zong said the proportion of non-Chinese students in recent years already exceeded that of ethnic Chinese students in such schools in the state, with the gap continuing to widen.

As of 2018, non-Chinese students accounted for 58.1 per cent or 20,722 of the total 35,668 students in the 83 SJKCs in Sabah, far more than the 41.9 per cent or 14,946 Chinese students there.

For the non-Chinese students, this is an increase from 56.2 per cent in 2017 and 51.24 per cent in 2016, according to the report's figures.

Despite the fall in student numbers over the years, Jiao Zong's report also highlighted the imbalance in the distribution of SJKCs that did not match current needs, with some schools having fewer than 30 students while others must turn away prospective students.

Citing the Education Ministry's data, Jiao Zong said 46.2 per cent or 600 of the existing 1,298 SJKCs nationwide have fewer than 150 students, including 87 schools with between 10 and 30 students as well as 10 with under 10 students each.

On the other end of the spectrum are 360 SJKCs with 151 to 500 student population, 196 schools with 501 to 1,000 student population, 112 with 1,001 to 2,000 students, 23 with 2,001 to 3,000 students, and six schools with over 3,000 students.

The report stressed the need to build new SJKCs in a list of areas that currently did not have such schools despite demand from parents, including in new residential areas, and a need to relocate SJKCs to areas with higher demand.

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