Theses and Dissertations


Hui Peng Liew

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Parisi, Domenico

Committee Member

Xu, Xiaohe

Committee Member

Morrison, Emory

Committee Member

Jones, D. James

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Sociology


Malaysia’s preferential policies have reduced the educational attainment gap between ethnic groups. However, we know less about their effects on ethnic differences in academic achievement. With this point in mind, the overall goal of this study is to examine inter-ethnic differences in mathematics and science achievement based on the cohort of eighth grade (Form 2) Malaysian students who participated in the Third International Mathematics and Sciences Study Repeat Project (TIMMS-R). It sought to determine the extent to which theoretical propositions of the structural and cultural perspectives developed to explain achievement differences in the United States are applicable in Malaysia. Malaysia is an interesting setting for the purpose of the present study for three reasons. First, the interethnic differences in educational outcomes were historically linked to occupational structure and class-and ethnicity-based residential segregation during the Brisish colonial rule. Second, Malaysia is one of the few countries (i.e. Fiji, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Uganda, India, and New Zealand) that have strong public policies to rectify the historical ethnic inequalities in access to education. However, the difference between Malaysia and these countries seems to be in the relative status of the formerly disadvantaged ethnic group in question. Finally, as a new member of the New Industrialized Countries (NICs), Malaysia is in the process of making the transition from an agricultural economy to an indutrialized nation. As such, the importance of mathematics and science education increases along with socioeconomic and technological advance and the discrepancies in mathematics and science achievement can have important implications on socioeconomic disparity among ethnic groups. The primary contribution of this dissertation is that it holistically examines how individual, family and school characteristics affect mathematics and science achievement of the eighth graders in Malaysia. The multilevel modeling analyses showed that Non-Malay students performed significantly better in mathematics achievement than Malay students, even after controlling for family and school characteristics as well as students’ perceived importance of mathematics and educational expectations. Overall, the results suggest that the structural and cultural perspectives work differently for Malay and Non-Malay students.