Poverty, non-citizenship top reasons for high illiteracy rate in Sabah

Junaenah Sulehan, director of University College Sabah Foundation Institute of Borneo Studies.

KOTA KINABALU: A study by a local university showed that poverty and citizenship status are the top contributors to the high illiteracy rate in Sabah.

The illiteracy, which in some places reaches as high as 85%, is found among communities, said Junaenah Sulehan, the director of University College Sabah Foundation (UCSF) Institute of Borneo Studies.

“I conducted a three-year study in a village in Paitan and found that the majority of the villagers are illiterate because they cannot go to school since they are stateless,” she said.

Prior to this year, undocumented children in Sabah were barred from attending public schools.

Most of them contribute to the population of around 500,000-800,000 illiterate citizens.

This is 21% of the total state population and the highest in the country.

While most of them are the children of illegal immigrants, there are many natives whose parents have failed to register their births.

The parents, Junaenah said, can’t send their children to school due to poverty.

“Many have to send their children to schools far away from their villages. For example, in Paitan, the children would have to go to Beluran to go to school, which is 150km away.

“Some of these students get to stay in hostels, thanks to the initiatives of teachers or NGOs.

“But many slip away and end up stuck in their villages with little hope of ever getting out of the vicious poverty cycle,” she said.

Junaenah also welcomed the federal government’s decision to allow stateless children to attend public schools.