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Do we need swimming lessons in our schools?

COMMENT | “Ma, what do you think of the Education Ministry's plan to introduce swimming lessons in schools?” my son asked me recently.

“I am more interested to hear about your opinion,” I said.

“I think it’s a bad move,” he answered short.

I asked him to explain.

“Well, honestly having swimming lessons in school would be kinda cool. But it should not be a priority, at least not at this time."

So I naturally asked him what, in his opinion, should be considered a priority.

"There are many basic things lacking in schools today which should be a priority," he explained.

I listened to him as he came with this following list.

  • Schools should have qualified teachers to teach Physical Education (PE) lessons:

“Teachers in my school who taught us PE throughout primary and secondary classes were not only unqualified, but they never seem to be bothered about the importance of physical education. They never change their attire to something appropriate, and most of the time all they do is sit and observe the students playing by themselves.

  • Each school should have a proper field, which is regularly maintained:

“My primary school had no field – we had to carry out our PE activities on our school tarred road, next to our teacher’s parked cars. During sports day, we had to use some other school’s fields.

“My secondary school, on the other hand, had a shared field with two other neighbouring schools – as a result, the overly utilised field is always not well maintained, has bumpy grounds and dangerous for sports such as football.”

  • The size of the school canteens should be sufficient to accommodate number of students:

“From primary school to secondary school, I have never seen a day where no students had to eat their food during recess while standing up. For the past 11 years of schooling, including three of the years where I was a prefect on duty during recess, the biggest problem associated with the school canteen is the insufficient space to sit and eat properly.”

  • Assembly halls too small to accommodate the numbers of students:

“Both my primary school and my secondary schools had assembly halls which were too small to accommodate the entire number of students, so it has been a common practice to have our assemblies on the tarred road.

“The most irritating thing about this is being forced to sit on the dirty surface before the morning assembly and to stand under the scorching sun during after-recess assembly.”

  • Lack of toilet facilities:

“In both my primary and secondary schools, I had a tough time going to the toilet. The toilets are not only always dirty, stinky and wet - most of the facilities were always broken and unusable. It is so common to have the locks not working, water tap at wash basin not working, flush not working and the doors broken.”

  • No proper changing rooms:

“During PE lessons, we are always required to change our clothes in the dirty toilet since there is no proper changing room allocated for student use. While girls would usually close the windows and doors of our classroom before changing their attire, we boys would sneak into the teacher’s toilet and surau to do so.”

  • The library is always closed:

“Libraries should always be open for students who wish to make use of them. Sadly, in all the schools I’ve been to, libraries only function during recess, after school or when relieve teachers are too lazy to teach.

“A library should be the heart of a school. Sadly, schools don’t have the means to hire a proper librarian to be in charge throughout the school hours.”

  • No free water dispenser machines:

“Children are always reminded to drink enough water but how many schools offer clean water for their students’ consumption? I have seen many students without money to buy mineral water at the school canteen resorting to drinking the tap water. Why can’t schools provide something as basic as drinking water to all students?”

  • Lack of school funds:

“I have taken part in school telethon and canteen days in order to collect funds for the school. The proceeds from the fund have been used to take care of plumbing costs, library upgrading, re-painting the school walls and building roofed pathways.

“When teachers were asked why we, as students, had to help the school seek funds, we are told that requesting allocations from the ministry isn’t easy and would take a very long time.”

My son, who had just left school last year, made some valid points - and I wonder if our education minister is even aware of all these issues in our schools.

Of course, the education minister has called for students to wear black school shoes (to prevent wasting time washing white school shoes), watch P Ramlee movies (to help improve Bahasa Malaysia) and proposed swimming lessons in schools (to prevent students from drowning). However, none of them are of priority as those in the list from my son.

When our Education Ministry cannot even provide our children with basic school facilities such as clean toilets, well-maintained fields, functioning canteens/assembly halls/libraries and free drinking water, why are we even thinking about swimming pools and swimming lessons?

Clearly, our minister needs to stop cherry-picking practices from schools in Finland and Australia to be implemented here in Malaysia. After all, I am sure schools in Finland and Australia also have clean toilets, proper fields and other basic facilities, which many of our local schools are deprived of.

Perhaps it is time for our education minister to pay some attention to our local schools. Plan unannounced visits to schools and conduct spot checks. Talk to the students without the presence of their teachers. Make a real effort to learn about the real issues.

After all, a teenager understanding the issues affecting students in our country, better than the minister himself, is something the Education Ministry should be embarrassed about.

FA ABDUL is a passionate storyteller, a growing media trainer, an aspiring playwright, a regular director, a struggling producer, a self-acclaimed photographer, an expert Facebooker, a lazy blogger, a part-time queen and a full-time vainpot.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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