Self-identity is an issue that has been discussed at length by researchers in the field of social sciences ( Brouillard & Hartlaub, 2005). According to Erikson (1968), building self-identity is a lifelong process that begins in adolescence and continues to be important until early adulthood. Although self-identity can be seen as a psychological unification, it is important to understand its multi-dimensional nature. According to Turner (1986), self-identity comprises two different components namely personal identity, consisting of certain individual characteristics such as talents or abilities, and social identity which forms the individual’s self-awareness, membership in a community group, and emotional importance of being in the group. Despite extensive discussion on the topic of self-identity, very little research has been done to investigate its relationship with academic achievement ( Bennett, 2002).
Within the Malaysian context, self-identity is a relatively complex issue because the country embraces the diversity of races, religions, cultures, and languages ( Ibrahim, 2010). In this regard, Hussin (2006) stressed that aspects of personality development need to be balanced with academic excellence. As a student, academic achievement is an important task for adolescents ( Ghasempour et al., 2018). Hassan & Safar (2010), in their study, concluded that a strong personality and self-identity can lead to academic excellence which will subsequently reveal the leadership qualities in the students. In view of this, it can be concluded that self-identity has an influence over the academic achievement of students. Statistics released by responsible parties prove that adolescent social problems are on the rise and are worrying ( Azizan & Yusoff, 2017). Many adolescents fall prey to unhealthy and negative cultures, and this can be seen as a result of deterioration of self-identity among adolescents ( Hamzah et al., 2012). The strength of self-identity among the younger generation is often a parental concern (Abd Rahim, 2006), as well as a societal concern in general ( Othman et al., 2012). Previous studies have found that social problems, to some extent, damage the development of students’ self-identity ( Mustari et al., 2004). Therefore, the issue of self-identity needs to be examined carefully to understand the current situation of teenagers.
Previous studies have only focused on aspects of improving the self-identity of students in institutions of higher learning (Paimah et al., 2003), and issues relating to language variables ( Hassan, 2009; Azmuddin & Ibrahim, 2011; Maisarah & Latifah, 2012), emotions ( Hesmondhalgh, 2008), cross-cultural psychology ( Spering, 2001; Schmitt & Allik, 2005), and national spirit ( Othman et al., 2012). Additionally, studies have been concerned with race or ethnic issues ( Rummens, 2001; Mohd Shahrul Imran Lim, 2014), as well as race and nation-building ( Burbank, 2010; Ahmad Munawar et al., 2012; Zakarai et al., 2012). This leaves a gap in the literature to be addressed particularly concerning the relationship between self-identity and student academic achievement. Based on the current literature on issues of self-identity, there has yet to be a study that focuses on secondary school students in Sarawak. Thus, the purpose of this study is to identify the level and relationship of self-identity and academic achievement among secondary school students in the state of Sarawak.
The findings of this study can shed light on the level of self-identity among secondary school students in the state. Therefore, these can serve as useful input for authorities in enhancing the self-identity among the younger generation, especially among students. This study may just be tapping on the surface of the issue, but it can potentially become a guide and reference to more in-depth studies in the future.
Building self-identity is an important aspect that is emphasized in the national education system because it produces young generations who are pillars of progress and prosperity for the country in the future (Muhyiddin, 2010). Furthermore, the study’s outcome can help teachers understand the aspects that form a student’s self-identity. This effort can strengthen the function of a school in line with the vision and mission of the Ministry of Education Malaysia and those of the country.
2. Literature Review
In Malaysia, research on self-identity has remained relatively scarce or limited ( Othman et al., 2012). Based on the studies that were highlighted, a small number of self-identity studies have been conducted in Malaysia, particularly those making use of specific self-identity questionnaires. Previous studies of self-identity have focused on language variables ( Hassan, 2009; Azmuddin & Ibrahim, 2011), emotions ( Hesmondhalgh, 2008) and cross-cultural psychology ( Spering, 2001; Schmitt & Allik, 2005), as well as ethnic-related issues ( Rummens, 2001). In this regard, Rummens (2001) explains that considerable research has been done in Canada focusing specifically on self-identity issues. However, these research materials are relatively difficult to access as it tends to be placed under overly general and diverse search terms, including “cultural identity,” “social identity,” “ethnic identity,” “racial identity,” “group identity”, and “self-concept”.
In view of the scarcity of self-identity studies in the Malaysian settings, other studies related to self-concept and identity were used to explain the relationship between self-identity and academic achievement. These studies include research by Bennett (2002), Brouillard & Hartlaub (2005), Harper & Tuckman (2006), Chavous et al. (2003), as well as Thierry & Cruz Torres (2007).
Simon (2002) conducted a study on 72 Māori students from Massey University which aimed to identify the relationship between cultural identity and academic achievement of university students. The findings showed that there is a consistent negative relationship between student problems and academic achievement. The results also revealed that cultural identity has a moderate effect on academic achievement, specifically, high level of problems in relation to the decline in average grade value among respondents with low cultural identity. Among respondents with high cultural identity, high level of problems have little negative effect on the average grade value.
Additionally, Brouillard & Hartlaub (2005) examined the relationship between ethnic identity, academic achievement and self-esteem among Mexican-American students in several European-American universities. This study was conducted on 516 college students. It was found that that high scores for ethnic identity correlates significantly with self-esteem for both Mexican-American and European-American students. Nevertheless, these relationships did not predict academic achievement either for the overall grade point average, gender or age. However, the high level of self-esteem is always coupled with the level of ethnic identity which is also high among the students. Thus, it was concluded that identity and self-esteem do not have a significant relationship with the measure of academic success.
In this regard, Harper & Tuckman’s (2006) study explored the relationship between racial identity beliefs and academic achievement of black students. An analysis conducted on a separate sample of grade 9 students and grade 12 students found that there were three of four groups of ethnic identity profiles as identified by Chavous et al. (2003). Furthermore, this study found that between both grade 9 and grade 12 students, students in the Alienated group significantly had higher achievement than students from the Idealized group.
In addition, Thierry & Cruz Torres (2007) carried out a study to identify the relationship between self-identity and academic achievement among Latin students in college. This study focused on ethnic identity and its significance towards academic achievement. The results of the first study found that more college students identified as Latin (relative to white students) and Latin stereotypes had low academic achievements (compared to white students). While the second study found that college students who were identified as more Latin than others and seen differently had high academic achievements.
3. The Relationship between Self-Identity and Academic Achievement
Evidently, studies relating to self-identity within the Malaysian context have been few and far between. In view of this, studies related to self-concept and identity were used in explaining the relationship between self-identity and academic achievement. These include studies by Ahmad (2008), Azizi (2008), Conelia (2009), Yahaya et al. (2010), Yangkok (2010), Ramli & Jusoh (2011), as well as Jusoh & Ramli (2011). Azizi et al. (2010b) found a significant relationship at the level of 0.01 between self-concept and achievement with a weak “r” value of 0.19. The analysis showed that the correlation between students’ academic self-concept and PMR achievement was significant although very week at 0.01 level.
Yangkok (2010) identified the level of self-concept and academic achievement of students as well as the relationship between the two variables. The study involved 152 form four students in Lahad Datu district, Sabah. The value of Pearson Correlation coefficient indicates a weak but significant relationship between self-concept and academic achievement. The analysis also revealed that only the self-dimension of the family and the self-dimension of the moral attributes showed a significant relationship with academic achievement.
Wan Sallha et al. (2010) investigated the factors that influence young Malay men and women in determining their Malay identity. The sample selection was done at random. The study found a positive relationship between the factors of parental influence, economy, peers, education, and mass media with the formation of self-identity in Malay boys.
Nevertheless, a study carried out by Ramli & Jusoh (2011) found that attitudes, self-concept, motivation, and locus of control have no significant relationship with students’ academic achievement. The study’s aim was to identify the relationship of attitudes, self-concept, motivation and locus of control among Religious Stream students, with their academic achievement.
Hamzah et al. (2012) examined activities of youth organizations and their relationship with Islamic identity in terms of faith, worship, and morals in developing the identity of Muslim youths. A survey was carried out involving a total of 304 teenagers from 12 youth organizations in the area of Serdang and Hulu Langat, Selangor. The results showed that Islamic identity among youths in terms of faith (mean = 4.66) and morals (mean = 4.40) were at a very high level while the Islamic identity in the aspect of worship is was merely at a high level (mean = 4.14)
In another study, Mohd Yusof et al. (2013) found that only 54.6 percent of respondents have a high level of self-identity. Moreover, there were significant differences in terms of self-identity based on ethnicity (k < 0.001). It was concluded that the level of self-identity of the study population was quite alarming. The study aimed to examine the level of self-identity of students of selected public institutions of higher learning (IPTA) around the Klang Valley. A total of 800 students from four public universities from various years and streams of study were selected. Students from three main ethnic groups were selected as respondents.
In addition, Mahamod et al. (2017) conducted a study to identify the level of understanding, appreciation and practice of self-identity among students within the education stream in five Public Universities with Research University status. This study involved a total of 1000 students who were further divided into groups of 200 for each Public University. The findings revealed that the students generally still maintain their self-identity in all seven constructs that were assessed. In terms of understanding, appreciation and practice, only the language aspect was at the level of still maintaining self-identity, while six others (religion, knowledge, values, culture, unity and the spirit of nationalism) are at the level of permanent (strong) self-identity. UM students were found to be the lowest in terms of understanding, appreciation and practice of their Malay identity compared to students in other Public Universities. On the other end of the spectrum, USM students showed the highest levels in terms of understanding, appreciation and practice for all seven constructs studied.
In conclusion, several studies have revealed that self-identity can be associated with academic achievement ( Melissa, 2003). Nonetheless, because of the difficulty in finding studies that associate self-identity with academic achievement, researchers resorted to studies relating to self-concept and academic achievement to explain the issue. Although some studies showed a significant relationship between identity variables and academic achievement, others revealed contrasting findings. A study by Kao (1999) found no significant difference between self-identity and grade achievement among students. Nonetheless, on the whole, studies associating identity variables with academic achievement in the Malaysian setting have remained scarce and limited in number. Most studies involving identity variables have mainly been discussed within the context of language, history, patriotism, and culture. Consequently, studies involving self-concept variables and academic achievement formed the basis of discussion in the present study.
This study employed the survey method via the distribution of a questionnaire. Konting (2005), Dyer (2006), Hoyle et al. (2002), and Khalid (2003) stated that the questionnaire method enables the collection of data in a detailed, organized, standardized, easily-administered and cost-efficient manner. The questionnaire comprises sections on background, self-identity and academic achievement of the students. The questionnaire method was used to facilitate data analysis as it involves the correlation between independent and dependent variables. For the purpose of this study, the Self-Identity Instrument (IJD) questionnaire was developed to measure the level of self-identity in students. There is currently no existing questionnaire that seeks to measure students’ self-identity. The questionnaire was formed based on the culture and way of thinking of the Malaysian society in comparison to the ones used for foreign psychological tests that are more relevant to western culture and values. It was built upon existing literature and questionnaires in the areas of emotional stability, personality, self-concept, and personal values. There are 49 question items covering two dimensions of self-identity namely the Loyalty dimension and the Self-Strength dimension. These two main dimensions of self-identity are further divided into sub-dimensions of identity. The Dimension of Self-Strength consists of four sub-dimensions, namely the sub-dimensions of self-resilience, personality, mental strength, and ethics. Each sub-dimension has seven (7) question items. The item details for each dimension of Self-Strength assessed are shown in the following Table 1.
The questionnaire uses a five-point scale with a score of one to five as shown in Table 2. Each respondent is required to provide a response based on their attitude and thinking by selecting one of the frequencies. All items in this Self-Identity Instrument (IJD) questionnaire (49 items) are positive items.
Data was analyzed using correlation analysis to determine the relationship between self-identity and academic achievement of secondary school students. The population consisted of form four students throughout the state of Sarawak excluding form four students in special education schools, vocational schools, private schools and independant schools (please check term). Simple random sampling was employed in the study. According to Ghafar (2003) and Chua (2006), proportional systematic random sampling is used to ensure that each unit or subject in the population had an equal opportunity to be selected as the
Table 1. Dimensions in self-identity instrument questionnaire.
Table 2. Score for each dimension in the self-identity profile.
study respondent. Based on the design of the study, the researcher carried out two phases of sampling, in which the first phase involves quantitative methods in which respondents were required to answer the questionnaire provided. The subsequent phase involves a qualitative method whereby interviews with selected respondents were conducted.
This study involved 391 form four students. The distribution of respondents based on gender, stream and school location are shown in Table 3. A total of 155 individuals were male (39.6%). Of the total, 88 (22.5%) were from urban areas and the remaining 67 (17.1%) were from rural areas. A total of 41 (10%) male students from the city were from the arts stream, while the remaining 47 (12%) were from the science stream. In addition, a total of 27 (7%) male students from rural areas were from the arts stream, while the remaining 40 (10%) were from the science stream.
As for female respondents, there were 236 in total (60.4%). Of the total, 136 (34.7%) were from urban areas and the remaining 100 (25.5%) were from rural areas. For urban female student, 65 (17%) were from the arts stream, while 71 (18%) were from the science stream. As for the rural students, 58 (15%) female students from rural areas were from the arts stream, while the remaining 42 (11%) were from the science stream.
In sum, a total of 224 (57.3%) students are from urban areas. Of the total, 106 people (27%) urban students were from science stream, while the remaining 118 (30%) were from arts stream. There were 167 (42.7%) students hailing from rural areas. Out of the total, 106 (27%) urban students were from the science stream, while the remaining 118 (30%) students were from the arts stream. An overview of the distribution of respondents by gender, stream and location is shown in Table 3.
6. Quantitative Data Analysis
Level of Self-Identity among Secondary School Students in Sarawak
This section answers the research question on the level of self-identity among secondary school students in the state of Sarawak. Students’ self-identity in this study is based on the students’ feedback on the Self-Identity Instrument (IJD) questionnaire. The level of student identity is described through two main dimensions of self-identity, namely the Self-Strength dimension and the Loyalty dimension. To describe the overall profile of students’ self-identity for each dimension, the total mean is calculated and divided by the number of items to produce a standard mean. The interpretation of the mean score used is shown in Table 4. 1.00 - 1.80 Very Low, 1.81 - 2.60 Low, 2.61 - 3.40 Medium, 3.41 - 4.20 High, 4.21 - 5.00 Very High (Joriah 2009). The overall mean score of self-identity is 4.00 and standard deviation is 0.43. When the scores were collapsed according to the main dimensions, Self-Strength was found to be 3.80 (SP 0.43) which translates as high level. As for the Loyalty dimension, the mean score was 4.21 (SP 0.57) which is at a very high level. This finding shows that secondary school students in Sarawak possess a high level of self-identity.
Analysis of the sub-dimensional score of Self-Strength among secondary school students in Sarawak can be seen in Table 5. The mean score for the sub-dimension
Table 3. Distribution of respondents by gender, stream and school location.
Table 4. Mean and standard deviation level of the main dimensions of student self-identity (n = 391).
of Self-Resilience as a whole is at a high level, with a mean of 3.66 (SP 0.51) while the mean scores for Personality, Soul Strength, and Ethics are 3.94 (SD 0.49), 3.73 (SD 0.56) and 3.86 (SD 0.50) respectively. In sum, the four sub-dimensions of Personal Strength are at a high level. The findings of the study, thus, suggest that secondary school students in Sarawak possess a high level of Personal Strength in their self-identity.
Table 6 shows the analysis of sub-dimensional scores of Loyalty in secondary school students in Sarawak. The mean score for the sub-dimension of Patriotism as a whole is at a very high level with a mean of 4.21 (SD 0.62), while the mean scores for National Culture and National Language are 4.31 (SD 0.51) and 4.09 (SD 0.72) respectively. Although the mean difference is small, the sub-dimension of National Culture seems to be more dominant among secondary school students in Sarawak. These three sub-dimensions of Loyalty are either at a high and very high level. This shows that secondary school students in Sarawak generally possess a high level of Loyalty in their self-identity.
The findings of the study show that secondary school students in Sarawak generally have a high level of self-identity. Both the dimensions of Self-Strength and Loyalty were found to be at high and very high levels. These findings seem to suggest an important role of educational institutions in the construction of individual identity ( Othman et al., 2012). The implementation of a strong curriculum and co-curricular activities in schools based on the National Education Philosophy can contribute in producing well-balanced and competitive individuals if implemented well and in an organized manner. Strengthening the education system and policy by introducing the Malaysian Education Development Plan
Table 5. Mean, standard deviation and sub-dimensional level of self-strength (n = 391).
Table 6. Mean, standard deviation and loyalty sub dimensions.
which outlines the national identity as one of the national education transformations also aids in strengthening the self-identity of students.
In this regard, Chua Kheng Hoe (2007) explains that one of the important goals of a national education policy is to create a national identity or to serve as a tool for nation building. Academic subjects on values, ethics and spirituality such as Islamic Education, Moral Education, Civic Education and Citizenship as well as Physical and Health Education play an important role in cultivating the values that uphold the core of students’ self-identity. Therefore, the role of education is very important in shaping the personality and self-identity of a student. There is, thus, a need for the role to be constantly improved from time to time in line with the ever-increasing challenges faced by today’s youth.
Students who have a high self-esteem should be able to face the challenges and pressures from external factors that can affect their resilience and self-identity. Such students are more focused on personality development and self-potential to move forward in various aspects and fields. This is because, students who have a high level of self-identity possess a high level of personal strength to be a resilient individual with a strong personality, has inner strength, and good ethics. These students are expected to not only maintain a strong sense of self-identity, but also mirror similar strength in their learning process and achievements in various fields such as academic and co-curriculum.
These students also have a high level of loyalty to the country and thus become an important asset to the development and progress of the country in the future. As Malaysia moves towards becoming a developed country, having students with a strong self-identity is very crucial in ensuring that this unique Malaysian identity is sustained following and beyond the “developed” status.
This finding is in line with Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological theory which explains five environmental systems that influence the development of an individual. In this aspect, the microsystem, mesosystem and ecosystem environment systems have a direct influence on the self-development of students. For example, in a microsystem system, parents play an important role in educating students with the existing values and ethics that they uphold in their lives. This type of informal of education forges the basis of personality and identity development in children. Microsystems are the closest layer to children and contain structures that children have direct contact with. This structure is the environment in which children spend the most time. As for the mesosystem, students’ personality and personality are influenced by the peers in their environment. Friends in school or neighborhood are an important resource for individuals in the process of self-development. This includes teachers who are a crucial part of a student’ personal life. Finally, the ecosystem is an experience with an environment that does not directly involve children. For example, certain situations that occur to parents may have an indirect effect on children. This situation also changes the pattern of parental interaction with children.
The results of the present study are further supported by a study carried out by Othman et al. (2012) who found that students in public universities acquire a high level of self-identity. Students at institutions of higher learning are crucial to the country’s future development. They carry the hope of the nation on their shoulders to ensure that the country remains developed in its own mold without having to sacrifice the nation’s identity that has been built for so long. A study conducted by Rorlinda et al. (2016) found that talented and intelligent students have a high level of self-identity. These are students who will be the source of the country’s professional manpower. Professionals without a high level of self-identity are prone to move abroad to for higher income in comparison to what is offered locally. This finding may be due to the fact that these intelligent students are more focused on achieving goals and selective when choosing what is best for themselves and their future.
In the present study, it was found that all sub-dimensions of Self-Strength namely Self-Resilience, Personality, Soul Strength, and Ethics as a whole are at a high level. These findings are in line with the study of Rorlinda et al. (2016) who found that talented and intelligent students have strong personality traits that are translated through their values, religious beliefs and character. Meanwhile, the sub-dimensions of Loyalty namely Patriotism, National Culture and National Language are at very high and high levels. These findings also resonate with Rorlinda et al.’s (2016) in which students who are talented and intelligent were found to have strong personality traits in cultural aspects and a high spirit of patriotism. This may be due to the fact that these students were generally smart in choosing information needed to achieve goals in the area of education. It may also be the result of family influence of being more concerned with both their personal development and academic progress. Consequently, they are generally more focused on achieving goals in the academic field as well as in the co-curricular aspects.
Hamzah et al. (2012) in their study found that Islamic identity among youth in terms of faith and morality is at a very high level while Islamic identity in terms of worship is only at a high level. The study aims to identify the activities of youth organizations and their relationship with the identity of Islam in terms of faith, worship and morals in developing the identity of Muslim youth. The role of youth organizations is very important in providing various activities and programs that suit the social and emotional needs of adolescents and youth. Programs based on identity development are very necessary from time to time.
The findings from the present study, however, contrast those of Othman et al. (2012) who found that the level of identity of the study population was quite alarming. Continuous efforts need to be made to strengthen the identity of the people, especially for students. This situation may be due to external environmental factors such as peers, family and the local community. The lack of attention given by the family, especially the parents to the children, coupled with the influence of stronger peers, will certainly diminish the identity of these teenagers.
In addition, Mohamad Khairi et al. (2011) found that aspects of high school student identity measured through the element of integrity in the practice of good values are only at a moderate level. This condition may be due to changes in the social behavior of adolescents today. For example, family pressure on academic achievements over others may have affected the cultivation of life values. It is very common for people to believe that values can be learned as they mature into adulthood.
Chai Pik Yee (2006) in his study found that the level of students’ self-concept is at a moderate level. Similarly, Conelia (2009) also found that students’ self-concept is at a moderate level. The study aimed to examine the concept of self and its relationship with the academic achievement of bumiputera students of the Faculty of Education in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. This difference may be due to changes in the thinking patterns of the society, particularly parents who are beginning to realize the importance for children to have a strong self-identity to face various challenges that are increasingly challenging today. This awareness is evident as more parents begin sending their children to personality building programs especially during the school holiday season. They are starting to realize that children’s personalities have to be nurtured apart from academic achievements for them to excel.
While Musa (2008) in his study also found that the Malay identity is starting to wear off in terms of values, but still remains in aspects of the religion, science and students. This difference in findings may be due to parents who are too focused on the academic success of their children compared to the nurturing of values that are thought to be less important and can be learned eventually. It also gives the impression that the nurturing of values in the society is depreciating. The modern environment of today’s living with its individualism and indifference has resulted in an uncaring society.
Yangkok (2010) also found that the level of students’ self-concept is moderate. This may be due to the increasing influx of foreign cultures, especially through the mass media which to some extent has weakened the self-identity of adolescents. The lack of control by the authorities on the spread of these foreign cultures make them easily accessible to various age groups including teenagers.
8. Implications of the Study
The findings of this study support the initial process of the theory of Psychosocial Theory put forward by Erik Erikson (1963), on human development which leads more towards identity development. He asserts that the development of human personality occurs continuously throughout life (Woolfolk 2001). In other words, students’ identity can affect various aspects of their lives. Although there are not many studies related to identity and academic achievement, but there have been findings in other studies that looks into the relationship between self-concept and academic achievement that can be the basis of this study (Ishak 2004). The findings of this study also contradict the Humanistic theory of Carl Rogers (1959) who sees the individual self as an independent identity which is a major factor in oneself development. Attitude towards oneself is more important in the formation of behavior than external factors. This situation may be due to the advancing wave of technology that is advancing and moving forward that leads teenagers in becoming more exposed and vulnerable to the world without borders. This has affected the formation of the adolescents’ identity.
In conclusion, the level of students’ self-identity in the state of Sarawak is generally high. This high level of self-identity contributes in making students an important asset to the development of the country in the future. The efforts of all parties should be increased to ensure that the self-identity of students remains at a high level and can have a positive impact on society and the country. This is important as identity plays an important role in achieving the vision of the country, the goals of the Education Development Master Plan (PIPP), Ministry of Education Malaysia (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2010), as well as producing quality and world-class students while maintaining the Malaysian personality traits. This is progress in its own mold as desired by the leaders of the country. The findings of this study indicate that identity variables are related to academic achievement. Thus, the findings of this study can help various parties to consider the factors of self-identity development among students, especially at the secondary school level. Building a strong self-identity not only produces students who love the country and possess good personality, but it is evidently an important contributing factor to academic success.
I would like to express my grateful to my supervisor Dr. Shahlan Surat for his guidance and support in the writing of this manuscript and to Faculty of Education Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, under Grant GG2019-020 for financially support this research. I would also express my gratitude to all the staff of this school especially the teacher who was involved in this research which their contribution was essential.
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