Millions for Schools

Seriously, do we have that much of money to toss around or is Christmas simply early this year?

(Think of it as an investment for the future – schools that does  not have enough money to run is going to greatly impact its students and their performance in education. Image source: http://www.connectmidmissouri.com)

If there is one thing I take with great concern, it has to be on the direction of the education system in this country. And in the last few weeks, there has been major development in regards to this – one was the unrevealing of the national blueprint for 2013 – 2025 and the other was this:-

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has announced an allocation of RM30mil for the development of Chinese national-type secondary schools (SMJK) in the country. During his address at the MCA annual general assembly here Sunday, Najib said he had discussed the matter with Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the Education Minister, and they had agreed to grant RM30mil for the schools.

Earlier in his presidential address, MCA chief Datuk Seri Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek had appealed to the Prime Minister for assistance for these schools, saying there was currently no allocation for them. “There are 78 conforming schools with more than 125,000 students. They should be given an allocation of RM50mil next year,” he said.

(Source)

It is not the first or last time we have heard of this kind of “sincerity” from the Government especially when the general election is coming up soon:-

For how long more we can keep giving away the money when source of fund is truly limited?

In the first place, we have yet to see any concrete plans from anyone to merge the various “types” of school in this country into one common type where it will be easier to manage them under the same policy and consolidated funding. What we have seen so far is perpetuation of this segregation and any attempts to introduce any form of integration of schools) are often met with passionate, angry response from certain community leaders and compounded with undue political pressure. Sometimes illogical reasons like quick diminish of the mother language & culture with the younger generations feeds the fear of change, sometimes the grave concern of the difference of quality between the various types of school makes the segregation sounds valid (argument that Chinese schools teachers are more responsible and more concerned about the students’ development, an argument to keep the Chinese schools still relevant, on the other hand is utter rubbish).

Why we have not been able to integrate the schools after 55 years of independence? Is it a question of emotion or actual concern? Tony Pua in 2007 wrote this:-

The recently launched National Education Blueprint 2006 by Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein focuses purely on “strengthening the national schools”, with vernacular schools representing just a statistic in Malaysia’s education landscape. Vernacular schools are often neglected or treated with suspicion due to their ethnically Chinese or Tamil nature. There are widespread fears that the strengthening or even the presence of vernacular schools in Malaysia is antithetical to achieving national unity.

Chinese and Tamil educationists on the other hand, fear the strengthening of national schools will erode the future character and viability of vernacular schools. For many of them, every facet of the existing vernacular education must be protected at all cost. Otherwise, they fear detractors will pounce on any signs of weakness to destroy vernacular education in this country.

As a result, parties on both sides of the equation treat the issue of national versus vernacular schools as a zero sum game — one party’s gain is the other’s loss. However, such views are certainly flawed and works against the interest of a multi-racial and multi-cultural country like Malaysia. They are bred through mistrust and hardened by years of negative experiences.

Vernacular school educationists are also, understandably, unconvinced by the “national unity” argument because the government has taken steps to build and expand MRSM secondary schools which are almost exclusive domains of ethnic Malays.

Rita Sim in August 2012 also talked about the strength and weaknesses of Chinese schools in the country. And one of her argument for the existence of Chinese School is this:-

From the economic perspective, the rise of China puts a global economic superpower in our immediate neighbourhood and we would be foolish not to harness Chinese schools to enhance cultural and linguistic capital for our national professional, commercial and diplomatic advantage. Every Malaysian has the opportunity to benefit because our Chinese schools are not discriminatory.

Are you saying that if Afghanistan becomes the next global economic superpower (let’s run with our wild imagination, shall we?), we should drop everything and start Pastho/Dari schools? We have yet to put our foot down on ensuring good command of English (p.s. the language of many economic superpowers in the world – Japanese, French & Spanish is another) in our national education biosphere and here we are only focussing on the Chinese language. And if we apply the same argument for Tamil schools, then why we are not learning Hindi? So why not just address the reasons to maintain the vernacular schools – come up with the best win-win solution for students, teachers and students whilst still maintaining the high standard of education all around with good emphasis on the issue of language (let’s have Chinese & Tamil classes on the daily basis & on extra hours if we still insist on equipping ourselves with language of the economic superpowers) and force all to be converted into national school where it can be fully funded by the Government?

It is a fact that not all Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools are fully funded schools; they need to apply to the Government for the additional funding and this is where the problem usually starts. The schools have to rely on the Government and by some extension, politicians to get the necessary funding for schools and this has not been easy for some schools especially Tamil schools. And those who have decided that they will remain as vernacular schools despite these improvements and resists all attempts for national integration should be left standing on their own. And in the end, we will only have 2 types of school in this country – fully funded public and self funded private schools.

Of course, announcing millions of ringgit for the vernacular schools is one thing (after all anyone can announce anything under the sun), the vernacular schools seeing the actual dough (or sometimes land) for its expansion & non-Government funded operations is another thing all together. It takes too long for these schools to get the money but the problems facing them simply compounds on daily basis especially for the students. Sometimes the actual disbursement of the funds – the final amount and the time it is finally disbursed is made slightly complicated with the presence of “middleman”. There is a high chance of the money is passed from the Government to middleman to be managed and only trickles are passed on to these schools at the end of the day.

Giving away money to school is just a short term fix to a long term problem – yes, it provides an immediate relief to the problems that the school are facing but it does not really provide the long term solution to long term problems. It does not really address the issue of sustainability of money for schools. The Government does not have deep pockets to keep giving away money to schools on yearly basis and there are other areas of the administration that the Government need to look into as well (healthcare, defence, crime-fighting, etc but not the plans like BRIM which simply gives out money but does not really address the issue of low income in the long run). The state of the country’s economy and management of the money that we have also dictates how much these schools is going to get its share of the pie in the future and one cannot guarantee a high performance economy all the time.

There is only so much that the schools can do to self-manage funding for schools – the yearly school fees, donations from parents & other individuals (many prefer to donate to temples than to schools), fund raising activities and perhaps (to those who have the right infrastructure) rentals collected from booking of school halls for other functions & sports activities. Some even advise automation & going green as part of the cost cutting measures. Those schools with the right connection can look into additional funding from State Government and perhaps sponsorship from some private organisations on land, equipment and money but it does not apply to all schools especially those tucked away in deep rubber estates.

The more viable option would be to convert themselves from partially funded schools to fully funded schools and that means to change from vernacular type school to national type school where the main language of the day is Bahasa Malaysia and English with high importance to Mandarin & Tamil. This will also resolve another factor that contributes to dwindling number of students in some of the vernacular schools (and thus directly the funding for schools). When all are national schools adhering to the same standards and policies, it will be easier to distribute the students as well (some schools are now overcrowded, others barely have regular students).

One must remember that at the end, the one who truly suffer due to inconsistent funding and difference in policies are the students. Not the Minister, the Ministry, the politicians who is looking for an opportunity or community educationalists who insist on priority of language & culture without looking for a long term solution especially when it comes to funding to schools.

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