Thursday, August 6

Sarawak education, beyond the ordinary


c_pc0019190MOBILE phones are banned in schools – for the good of the school children.

All parents know that. But school administrators are always bothered with confiscating devices, keeping them, listening to pleas of parents, drawing up rules and notices. Unnecessary hassle that will never go away, it seems.

A tech-savvy mother offered this solution: a smartwatch for children which can double as a tracker and locator with attractive band that cannot be removed without a special tool.

Very much a cyber nanny or police, the smartwatch is installed with a GPS system to pinpoint the exact location of the child with a location map on the smartphone or computer of the parent.

There is also the feature of geo-fencing that the parents can set up areas at home and school that they will send out distress alerts when the child leave those perimetres.

With cellular connectivity, the advanced version of a smartwatch allows a child to send an SOS message to a designated smartphone, most likely his or her parent, who can send messages to him or her, reminding him or her to take meals, drink water, and may be to stop running around as the locator would show active movements.

“Can I get one for my child? The smartwatch has a band that cannot be removed without a special tool,” the mother asked.

“Why do you need to put such a monitoring  gadget on your child?” The school principal was visibly amazed by the degree of “care” this mother has for her child.

I was shocked. It is an understatement.

The school is completely fenced up, to a height that one will need some skills of Renaud Lavillenie or Yelena Isinbayeva and a pole to vault over it but still risking to break a leg.

The security details at the few entrances were way younger and fitter than those stationed in many banks and government buildings. And the police station is just a stone’s throw away. A bird can fly in or out of that school, certainly not a pupil, I have thought.

“By education beyond the ordinary, we will help the children to grow and learn, not only to inculcate and develop their intelligence but also to inspire and build up their characters as well,” the principal had explained the divine-designated vocation of all educators.

I am a ‘product’ of this great school. But there are thousands of others who were and are better testimonies for the excellence of this exemplary learning institution, aptly referred to as a ‘family.’

The school has not changed. It smells the same as it had many decades ago.

Have our expectations as parents changed?

It remains top priority for parents to care for the upbringing and educational needs of our children.

Since time immemorial, all parents want their children to grow and learn, wishing for the teachers to inculcate and develop the intelligence of their children, and to inspire and build up their characters.

Two thousand four hundred years ago, the mother of Mencius (Mengzi or Master Meng) moved their house three times for the sake of Mencius’ upbringing.

This great Chinese philosopher was born to a poor family dwelling next to a cemetery. Having lost his father while he was very young, his mother did odd jobs for others to keep food on their table.

Little, but intelligent Mencius had yet to attend classes but he had quickly master all the rituals and formalities of burying the deads.

Discovering it to her horror, Mencius’ mother decided that living next to the cemetery was not good for her child’s upbringing.

She quickly brought Mencius to a town, renting a room. Within a short time, the gifted little boy had learnt all the vocabularies, jargons and tricks of a merchant. The mother did not want Mencius to be a merchant.

After some tremendous efforts, Mencius’ mother built themselves a little house next to a school. Sure enough, the boy acquired all the knowledge that any teacher could depart and was an exceptional scholar at a young age.

Encouraged by his mother to travel to different parts of the country to learn from different masters, he became one of the greatest Chinese philosophers, interpreting and teaching the ideals of Confucianism to the commons as well as the aristocrats and the nobles.

‘Schools’ are important to Mencius for he believed there is innate goodness in all human beings and such goodness of human nature can be cultivated and developed through education and self-discipline.

Two thousand four hundred years later, the parents’ intuitive desire for their children’s education has not dwindled.

Cynthia and Uding are two Penan mothers from two settlements in Baram. They have no knowledge of such requirements as to obtain a national identity card for themselves, or to register the births of their children.

But when their child attains school-going age, they went to the school which is a day’s walking distance from their settlements to register the admission of their child.

Faced with rejection, for want of documentations, they travelled to Marudi, Miri, and came to Kuching, places they have never been to in their life, to carry out the arduous and challenging tasks of late registration of birth certificates for themselves and their child, with the sole purpose to admit their children in schools.

Living off the land and rivers, they know best that the children must learn to fish rather than being given fish. Faced with the incursion of radical authorities, they knew better that education would make them better beings and more capable of defending their little universe.

The diligent Minister of Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing Datuk Fatimah Abdullah revealed that the State Cabinet had formed a Sarawak Education Consultative Council (MPPS) to focus on transforming education in Sarawak holistically.

Besides giving specific attention to disadvantaged rural schools, special attention should also be given to disadvantaged children of the rural community settlements to facilitate their educational needs.

Looking at the ‘greater things’ envisaged by our Chief Minister, the MPPS should also reveal its plans and programmes to support all public and private learning institutions that provide an environment conducive to the teaching and learning of English in Sarawak, thus enabling our children and future generations to compete with others on the global stage.

Our educators remain committed to their callings but how much have we done to put our words into actions?

How and when are we to exercise our autonomous power to empower and facilitate our Sarawakian schools to provide better educational environment for our children to grow and learn in, and for the teachers to inculcate and develop the intelligence of our children, and to inspire and build up their characters?

Stop caging our little ones, or put them on a cyber latch. That does not make our education extraordinary.

Let them have their space of freedom to explore, to query and to learn in schools as schools were to us and as they should be for them.

Let all our Sarawakian children enjoy their education – beyond the ordinary.


AFTER this article was submitted, the terrible news came that our much loved former CM had left us.

This most honourable statesman was a strong advocate for freedom in education. From the day he assumed the highest office in Sarawak three years ago, to his last Christmas message to Sarawakians three weeks ago, he had shown his passion and conviction for education autonomy in Sarawak.

His administration was committed to support and fund mission and private schools in the teaching of the English language besides the official recognition of the UEC certificates in Sarawak – all for the betterment of Sarawakians and Sarawak – “to ensure a more efficient and competitive human capital development on par with global advancement,” in his words.

In its excellent tribute to the great statesman, The Borneo Post has aptly distinguished him as “The man who rekindles the Sarawakian dream.”

Indeed, Sarawakians have awakened and Adenan Satem had inspired us to work and walk on the journey to live the dreams for our Fairland Sarawak.

Every Sarawakian would wish that he is with us for a longer time but he has given his all for the Sarawak that he had loved dearly.

Nobody lives forever – the goal is to create something that will.

That is the legacy of the late CM.  It is now up to all Sarawakians to continue the cause for a greater Sarawak, to honour this great statesman.