Saturday, December 21, 2013

No reprieve yet for Sarawak rural schools?

Anna Chidambar

KUCHING: The National Education Blueprint’s goal that all schools in the country meet the basic infrastructure requirements including access to clean treated water, at least 12 hours of electricity a day, along with sufficient toilets, classrooms, tables and chairs for the student and teacher population by 2015 starting with Sabah and Sarawak seems to be a pipe dream.

Already at the end of 2013, it doesn’t help that the education minister admitted earlier this year that rural schools in Sabah and Sarawak lagged behind in facilities and needed massive support to catch up with urban schools.

He had gone on record to say he agreed that education facilities in rural areas should be better and there should be no discrimination just because they were located in remote areas. The minister also announced that more powers had been given to the Education Departments of Sabah and Sarawak to speed up various projects such as the construction of new schools in both states.

Observers pointed out that federal funding, however, was inadequate reflecting the neglect of the federal government towards the development of rural schools in Sarawak over the years.

“The perception on the ground is that Sabah and Sarawak are deliberately being left behind and education being a critical component for the wellbeing of the state has been targeted as a tool of control,” said an observer.

He said: “If more powers have been given to the state education department, then why haven’t we heard any announcements to address the plight of rural schools yet? After all, the state education department is well aware of the situation in our rural schools so what’s restricting it now?”

The problem was not restricted to existing schools that were in dilapidated conditions. It also extended to construction of new schools being built in the state.

According to the third Auditor-General’s Report for the year, the National Audit Department for 2012 visited 16 rural schools under construction in Sarawak, and found that 15 were behind schedule. Only one was completed on time and deemed to have met minimum requirements.

The AG’s Report noted its personnel only sampled a fraction of ongoing education projects in the state.

It concluded that some 38 out of 56 projects worth a total of RM1.05bil were not completed within the stipulated time between 2008 and 2012.

Under the first rolling plan (2011-2012), the state education department had made applications for 32 projects, estimated to cost RM1.15 billion. While under the second rolling plan (2012-2013) 104 applications for projects were submitted, with estimated costs of RM1.94 billion.

Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How said: “It is a rude shock to me that, out of the 136 projects applied, only three projects were approved. Then, under the third rolling plan (2013-2014), out of the 94 projects costing RM1.5 billion applied for, only two projects had been approved.

To exacerbate the problem, the majority of rural schools in Sarawak have been placed under the average or below average category making students vulnerable and unable to compete with their counterparts in West Malaysia when it comes to obtaining scholarships.

Though education came under the purview of the federal government, considering the dangerous state of rural schools in Sarawak there is an urgent need to address the situation immediately.

Sarawak PKR chief and Ba’ Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian said: “Sarawak’s healthy financial status of RM22 billion in reserves should be channelled to elevate the deplorable conditions of schools in rural areas that are in dilapidated disrepair and without access to piped water or grid electricity.

“Of particular concern to me is the Physical Infrastructure Audit Report 2011 of the schools in severely damaged condition that 57% of all secondary schools and 28% of all primary schools have ‘very badly worn down electrical wiring’.

“This poses extreme danger to students and staff and needs to be addressed without delay. Lives are at risk from fire or electrocution. We can’t risk such mishaps.”

~ The Ant Daily

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