Malaysian Youth Index – Absolute Rubbish

The Malaysian Youth Index is an analysis of surveys done on 4087 young people in Malaysia aged 15-40 in 2006. The idea was to get a feel for how young people in Malaysia are faring and what they get up to in their spare time.

It’s absolute RUBBISH!

The Index does not tell you anything about what young people are doing, feeling, or thinking – it’s stuck in moralising and patronising tones and is completely filled with bogus assumptions. The only good thing about it is that it reveals that most of the backlash against youth is just a big moral panic – though I’d disagree with their assertion that it’s the media’s fault and say that it’s mainly the Government pushing such anti-youth views in the first place.

Here’s what’s wrong with it specifically:

The Survey in General: Firstly, Malaysia seems to be the only country that defines youth as 15-40 years old. (there’s tons of problems with that act already but that’s worth a separate post.) The United Nations defines it as between 15-24 (with the Rights of the Child declaration going up to 18) and recommends separate analysis of teenagers and young adults. Those above 24 – or even 30 to be more permissive – have very different lifestyles; they are more likely to have worked for a while, started a family, and be more settled, whereas youth are still developing themselves and seeking their life path. This disparity is evidenced by the age range of people in the Youth sections of Malaysian political parties – most of them are closer to 40 than 14. This does not give an accurate representation of youth at all.

Also, the language use in the website is deplorable. I understand that there may have been language barriers, and that the document was most likely originally drafted in Malay. However, for a Government publication, editing and proofreading is crucial. Presentation is important, and the lack of care for the language shows a lack of care for the project overall.

The numbers and terms used in the analysis are very vague – what’s the difference between “good” and “very good”? How do you define those terms? Is a 70 “good” or “neutral”?

There is also no demographic information at all – what are the typical age ranges of the youth surveyed? Are they studying, working, having a family? What race are they? (I personally do not want this question to ever be asked, but it’s such a common thing in Malaysian research that it seems odd not to consider it.) Are they in urban, suburban, rural areas? What are their interests? Basically – who are the youth being surveyed? This would have a major impact on the results, as it could indicate a major skew in demographics.

Self Development: The terms used here are vague and open-ended. What do they mean by “Self-Esteem” and “Self-Efficacy”? Are the interviewees the best source of self-reflection? What does it mean to have “good Emotion”? Why is “Depression” on there – why not consult medical records? (Though it’s unsurprising to see a low number for that and for “no stress”). How do you measure those things anyway? It would be better to ask them in terms of activity or reaction – “if this happened, what would you do?” or “how would you react if…”?

Social Development: Why is the ONLY category here “relationship with parents”? Where are the measurements for relationships with friends, loved ones, other relatives (inc siblings), schoolmates, teachers, colleagues, mentors? What about those whose parents have divorced or separated, or who are orphans? What about those who consider other people as their parental figures? Again, how do you measure a “good relationship” – number of heart-to-heart chats? Good will? Presents bought?

Identity: Again, this just involves very vague terms and does not accurately reflect how youths really identify themselves. How about asking about their choice of clothing, associations, media? (this does get asked but in a later section.) How about their choice of friends or activities? Marketing people are usually good with this sort of thing.

The report claims that volunteerism and political activity is low – well, firstly, it’s not necessarily easy to do such work in Malaysia when it’s illegal for university students to join outside societies or political parties (the proposed amendments apparently make it easier, but there’s still a prohibition against blacklisted by the Home Minister, which could be anything) – if they did so, would they admit it in a Government survey? The demographic information would be very useful here – they may have deliberately targeted a more politically apathetic subsection (I certainly haven’t seen any open calls for youth census info). Also, many young people get involved in things that they won’t necessarily immediately associate with volunteering – such as Interact/Rotary/Kiwanis work, school clubs, or just helping a friend out. Asking specific questions about activities is crucial here.

Health: Why are they asking the youth themselves for this info – isn’t this what medical records are for? Anyway, they’re asking about really major diseases that don’t often happen amongst young people. However, this doesn’t mean that youths are necessarily healthy – it’s not diseases but habits that indicate that. Do they exercise? Do they eat well? What do they eat? How do they take care of themselves (do they)? There was a survey some time back about how artists perceive their health as being good yet reported all sorts of symptoms that could lead to moderate/major illnesses (sore muscles, headaches, low appetite, etc) – could this be happening here too?

Self Potential: Very, very vague. How do you measure entrepreneurship? Leadership? Skills? What skills? What about skills – how much do they know, how much are they willing to learn, how do they learn? This section would have been better off being measured through external evaluations and observation – people can have skewed perceptions of their own abilities.

Media Penetration: The results show what sort of media youths use, but it doesn’t reflect how much information they absorb or what they do with the media. “Computers and Internet” is unnecessarily broad – there are vast uses, from blogging to gaming to creating own works. How about alternative media? Oh wait – that’d get you arrested.

Leisure Time: The survey results imply that youths do nothing with their time. However, there’s obviously more to life than sports, exercise, or clubs! Young people hang out, they work, they meet friends, they travel, they read, they help their familiesm they indulge in their own hobbies, they do all sorts of things. Limiting it to three is not helpful, and will of course show that youth are “lazy” – when indeed they are extremely productive and have contributed heaps to the national economy. (That report, produced by a Canadian agency for the UN, is much more reflective of Malaysian youth issues.)

Deviant Behaviour: Hello moralising! With that tone, who’s going to admit they partake in “deviant behaviour”? What if they don’t find it deviant? (Don’t give me the tripe about “all religions and cultures believe the same things are deviant” – this ignores the vast diversities in Malaysian culture.) Some of these measures shouldn’t come from asking young people – they should come from medical and police records. Besides, what’s “obscene” or “loitering” specifically?

With extremely vague categories and a distinct lack of categories in some sections, lots of moralising, and generally awful methodology, it’s pretty obvious that the Ministry of Youth and Sports have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. They’re planning an International Conference on Youth Research at UKM in December – I can’t decide whether to go or not. On the one hand, I could set them straight and get proper insight; on the other hand, if this is how they do their research, it could all just be a huge mess.

%d bloggers like this: