SARAWAK FOCUS: It all boils down to money and the political will – or the lack of them, even as Sarawak slogs on to develop its education.
The immediate task is to provide education for everyone, yet even here the road is long.
And longer still is the road to education autonomy, if indeed there is such a plan in the works.
Sarawak Teachers’ Union (STU) president Jisin Nyud hopes that 2015 will have the answers to critical issues faced by schools in the state.
He is especially concerned with the slow progress to repair dilapidated and old school buildings, and upgrade facilities like the Internet.
“By the end of 2013, critical repairs and upgrading should have been completed across 1,608 schools. However, towards the end of 2014 how many schools in Sarawak have been repaired or upgraded?
“With another year to go for the ministry to meet the target of implementing repairs and upgrades, we hope that this super catch-up plan can be met,” he was quoted as saying in the first week of the new year.
Jisin doesn’t sound too confident that schools in Sarawak will fare any better in 2015.
If he has his doubts, it is probably because he sees what remains to be done in the next 12 months, which are things that the government should have done but failed to accomplish according to plans the last time.
The fact is many schools in Sarawak are in a sorry state – buildings already declared unsafe still used, satellite dishes that never worked from day one of their installation and computers stacked over each other in dark and airless storerooms waiting to be repaired.
“Teachers would like to begin the year with renewed vitality and optimism,” said Jisin.
But can they, really? When practically everything they do must eventually be done online whereas Internet connection remains a major issue among most rural schools in the state.
No wonder, therefore, that sometime in the middle of last month, Dec 17 to be exact, Welfare, Women and Family Development Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah was saying that at this juncture, Sarawak could not entertain the idea of reclaiming its education autonomy from the federal government.
Fatimah, who is minister in charge of education in the state, was quoted as saying: “The cost to run the education system is very high, which includes infrastructure development, preparing sufficient amount of human resource and education syllabus.
Most importantly, she said, the government needs to ensure that education reaches everyone, including rural students and disadvantaged children because “education is inclusive and … it requires money and proper planning”.
“We will hold more dialogues with the federal government on school repairs and upgrades, facilities improvement, building new buildings to reduce the number of schools with double sessions, developing more pre-schools in rural areas and also building more classes for special needs students,” she said.
Money indeed is the problem.
Fatimah’s statement was in response to state DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen’s suggestion that Sarawak claim its autonomy on education.
Education is point 15 in the 18-point Sarawak Agreement and 20-point Sabah Agreement, the list on the proposed terms for the incorporation of the two states into Malaysia.
Point 15 says: “The existing education system of Sarawak (and North Borneo) should be maintained and for this reason it should be under state control.”
However, both states have given up their autonomy on it to make education a federal matter.
Chong, who is Kuching MP and Kota Sentosa assemblyman, said Malaysia’s education system was filled with Umno political indoctrination such as ‘ketuanan Melayu’ (Malay supremacy) and that there was a glaring omission of the history of Sarawak and the formation of Malaysia in the History syllabus.
Fatimah agreed that there is a common ground between the state opposition and the state government on the matter.
“What we learn when compared to my time, it has to be changed. Sarawak has to be incorporated in the history lesson. It merits more than what is mentioned at the moment. Some of the facts are inaccurate and this has been pointed out.
“We are in a more open environment today, we have been given the space and opportunity to voice out our concerns and what need to be corrected. History is based on facts and these need to be written appropriately.”
It’s all words, but the political will doesn’t seem to be part of the rhetoric.
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