THERE you are – it can be done. Malaysia is Truly Boleh. Judging by the various statements made by people in authority and in power in the state about repairing dilapidated schools in Sarawak, money for the purpose is no longer a problem.
I’m referring to the news – which is good news for a change – that if the federal government does not make the necessary funds available for the urgent repairs of some 1,020 schools in Sarawak, then the state government will use its own money first, and, then get the expenditure reimbursed by the Treasury at a later date.
Reimbursements will depend on how fast and how proper the money will be spent. This will save the Auditor General a headache when he looks at the books sometime in the future.
This reimbursement is akin to the concept of hutang mas as in the Malay quatrain:
Pisang Mas Bawa belayar
Masak sebiji diatas peti
Hutang mas dapat di bayar
Hutang budi di bawa mati.
Hutang budi is a mere moral obligation to settle but the debtor may forget to repay after some time. In real life, dealing with taxpayers’ money, payment in the form of budi is not on.
Reverse power devolution
However, if that sort of reverse devolution of power is feasible, why not? Try it out. It could be a working model for future dealings between the federal and the Sarawak state government during an emergency – solving an immediate problem like urgent repairs to schools.
But be careful though that this catching up exercise will not be cited as a precedent for future dealings involving other projects which fall under the purview of the federal government.
I prefer to call such a move a stopgap measure – a face-saving device used only in exceptional circumstances such as the repairs to school buildings awaiting to collapse.
Details of how the expenditure is to be reimbursed eventually are not normally made known to all and sundry nor should the public be unduly bothered because the finer points in the SOP as to how the claims to be made by the state government will be worked out by the financial boys at both Treasuries before the works on the schools can start.
As for the supervision of the repair works and certification of satisfactory performance of contractors, there must already be in place certain arrangements to govern the relationship between the builders and the relevant authorities – proper contracts of works drawn up and notice of tenders published for public information, among other requirements.
At the end of the day what matters to the public is the final product – the schools will be repaired or built according to specifications and the teaching tools supplied are useable and useful. And the teachers and students will be happy.
For this exercise, some RM1 billion of state funds may be made available for the purpose that we are talking about. With this money, work on some 260 dangerously dilapidated schools in the state can start as soon as possible. Could part of this money be used for the upgrading of electricity supply in schools that need to use computers? Incidentally, where are the computers supplied to schools without 24-hour supply of electricity some years ago – are they languishing in the corner of a store somewhere? Can they still be used, instead of buying new ones? It is all there in the plan, is it?
Improving quality of teachers, students
In the first place, are there enough quality teachers around? The closure of the teacher education institutes in Bintangor and Miri implies that there are enough teachers already? This can’t be right.
Certain universities in the country are supposed to train teachers. But then the graduates suddenly find out that they are classified as ‘temporary teachers’ and therefore must undergo interview after interview before they can be called ‘permanent’.
Does it imply that some of these university graduates are not as good as the teachers who are graduates of teacher education institutes?
If there’s a mismatch, and we do need more teachers, then we need good schools for teachers. Train them, not close their schools.
How are we going to ever achieve the ratio between the number of the teachers from the peninsula and those from local sources?
If all goes well according to plan, albeit a controversial one – two such colleges in Sarawak will close their doors to teacher trainees and begin to welcome people who will undergo vocational and skills training.
Where else can you train as a teacher in Sarawak? Can the remaining college, Teacher Education Institute Batu Lintang Campus, cope with additional students and additional lecturers?
I assume that the authorities have taken all these factors into consideration when they decided to stop using the buildings as teacher-training schools for other trainees.
Science and Maths
What’s the use of modern buildings and latest model of laboratory equipment, if there are no science teachers to teach how to handle the equipment? Good Maths teachers can do without digital calculators but no Science teacher can do without a laboratory.
The whole idea of education is to produce not only a literate person but also an educated individual so that he or she can survive in this world.
Can any teacher or a group of teachers improve the quality of the students? If you could solve the famous riddle of the chicken and the egg, you could answer this question well.
You may be proud of new school buildings; but it is the teachers who work in them who matter most. They should be the object of pride. They are more important than those buildings and those laboratories as such. I am proud of my teachers, who taught me in a dusty classroom converted from a former prison cell in Lundu in 1949, because they were good teachers – never complaining of hardship, never absenting themselves, never failing to instil discipline in themselves and in their students.
Working for a common purpose
One hopes that during the next few months, the working relationship between the ground implementers of the new method of going about repairing the dilapidated schools will be cordial – less of the red tape and more of latitude in attitude of finding a solution to an outstanding problem now that one problem is being solved. There’s no reason why there should be any delay in repairing those schools, if possible before the next year’s intakes of pupils.
To get back to the money question, which is where this started, I’d say, if we fix the buildings, we should also decide on the syllabus, and the staff selected to teach in Sarawak. Who pays the piper calls the tune.
In our case, is it that simple where education policy comes under the purview of the federal ministry of education?
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