Malaysiakini News

After Baram fire, ministry must get priorities right on S'wak schools

Irene Chang  |  Published:  |  Modified:

ADUN SPEAKS | The demise of primary school teacher Catherine Janet Tiwi should be the last wake up call for both the state and federal government to work together to install and upgrade all the basic necessities of all Sarawak's rural schools.

In the just-concluded Sarawak legislative assembly sitting, the state education, science and technological research minister Michael Manyin Jawong informed the august house that there were 428 rural schools in the state which still do not have treated water supply, and 371 schools which were still fully dependent on generator sets and therefore cannot enjoy 24 hours supply of electricity.

Besides this unacceptable lack of basic necessities for our rural schools, the recent years have also seen much publicity concerning the 1,020 schools which were in dilapidated condition and which had obviously contributed to mishaps, like the collapsed hostel at SK Punan Ba in Belaga in 2011.

The previous BN federal and state governments had failed to allocate sufficient funds to repair and rebuild these schools.

While it is now good that the new education minister is brainstorming on school reforms and policies, I urge the ministry to put their priorities right, especially where it concerns the schools in the rural and interiors of Sarawak.

These schools require a much more urgent attention of being provided with the basic necessities of clean water, 24-hour supply of electricity and proper schools structures with good facilities rather than policy reforms.

These schools are being neglected to the point of being a danger, and pose a daily threat to the teachers and students.

Although it is still not known what caused the fire at SK Batu Bungan in Baram, and which had killed Catherine Janet and injured two other teachers, the ministry has to realise that the appalling conditions of most of our rural schools are potential health hazards to both teachers and students.

And these potential risks have to be removed or minimised as soon as possible.

The Education Ministry is urged to set up a health and safety committee with an advisory role on the safety of these schools, especially where there are complaints of old wirings in the buildings which can contribute to short circuit and fire incidents.

This committee should consist of local stakeholders working in tandem with both the state and federal ministries and should have the authority to participate in the annual visual inspection of the schools concerned.

I also refer to Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg’s remark of not understanding why the Education Ministry was not taking proactive measures to connect schools to available power grids but to choose to use diesel-powered generators.

The chief minister’s remark was misleading and inappropriate to say the least, as he should know that the problem of dilapidated schools and lack of basic necessities was the result of poor administration of both the previous BN federal and state governments.

And this problem had been highlighted again and again by our state Harapan assemblypersons over the years, and to which the state government had always brushed them aside by saying that it was a federal matter.

What we see today is the rotten fruits of yesteryears’ mismanagement by the BN government.

It is therefore in bad taste that the chief minister should make the remark in the public domain to try to belittle the Harapan government when it has a handful cleaning up the mess made by the previous government.

IRENE CHANG is the state assemblyperson for Bukit Assek.

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

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