Education group: Unreasonable to deny Chinese schools federal funds, land

Ida Lim
UCSTAM urged the Pakatan Harapan government to adopt a more comprehensive and inclusive approach towards Chinese vernacular schools. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 11 — Putrajaya should allocate federal funds and land for new Chinese primary schools or SJKCs like those for national schools, said a Chinese education group.

The United Chinese School Teachers’ Association of Malaysia (UCSTAM), otherwise known as Jiao Zong, said the previous Barisan Nasional government had made it arduous for the Chinese community to gain approval to build or relocate the SJKCs.

It then urged the Pakatan Harapan government to adopt a more comprehensive and inclusive approach towards Chinese vernacular schools.

“Abolish the unreasonable requirement that land reserved for schools can only be for the building of new national primary schools and national secondary schools, and systematically add new SJKCs according to the growth in Chinese population and the demands of society,” the group said in a report.

Jiao Zong added that the government should not discriminate against SJKCs and favour only national schools for fund and land allocations, and called for transparency in how schools are relocated so that smaller schools will know how to initiate these.

Citing an imbalance in demand and access to some schools, it also asked the government for a long-term solution to this. The report highlighted how some SJKCs were struggling to fill classrooms yet others had to turn prospective students away.

“Therefore, the Ministry of Education should call for meetings, invite Jiao Zong, Dong Zong and the related SJKCs’ board and parent-teacher associations to jointly study and replan the distribution and development of SJKCs according to society’s needs, and ensure SJKCs can develop in a more comprehensive way,” it said.

Micro-schools

Jiao Zong said 796 or 61.3 per cent of the 1,298 SJKCs are located in rural areas whereas 70 per cent of students are in urban centres, and blamed this distribution for the mismatch in demand and availability.

According to Jiao Zong’s 2018 statistics, student populations at SJKCs can vary wildly, ranging from those with fewer than 10 students to some with over 3,000.

Jiao Zong noted that rural SJKCs were vulnerable to closure due to dwindling student numbers and needed the boards, principals and teachers of such schools to take inordinate measures to ensure their continuity.

It said the “unfair” education system forced the Chinese community to fight hard and retain every SJKC as the difficulty in securing approval for new schools meant any closure would result in a net loss in numbers.

“Even if there are no source of students, they also have to think of ways to bring in students from other places, even recruiting non-Chinese students to study to ensure the school will not close down, showing their love and dedication to Chinese education,” it added when describing the efforts by those striving to keep the micro-schools running.

Jiao Zong said the ethnic Chinese community has managed to preserve 40 micro-schools since 2000 by relocating these to areas with denser ethnic Chinese population.

Jiao Zong pointed out that the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 already listed the relocation of micro-schools as a proposed solution, but said the Education Ministry has yet to draw up a mechanism for those wishing to relocate.

The “10+6” deal

In an update of the “10+6” plan launched under the previous BN administration for 10 new schools in Selangor and Johor as well as the relocation of six, Jiao Zong said the new government has chosen to move one of the five SJKCs from Johor to Penang.

Apart from two new SJKC sites in Johor where work started prior to the general election, Jiao Zong said the new government still has not announced the exact locations of the remaining eight.

The six micro SJKCs will be relocated according to the original proposals.

Jiao Zong said Education Minister Maszlee Malik’s announcement of RM20 million to build and relocate the SJKCs was insufficient if it was meant for those under the “10+6” plan, adding that it felt that the government should bear the entire costs for the projects.

Jiao Zong further said the new government should directly approve the building of new SJKCs in areas urgently needing such schools such as in Penang’s Batu Kawan, instead of taking it from the “10+6” plan approved by the previous federal administration. This would be a start of a more systematic and needs-based approach to building new SJKCs, it said.

It listed areas that currently need new SJKCs such as in Selangor (Puchong Utama, Bandar Bukit Puchong, Bandar Mahkota Cheras, Kota Kemuning, Setia Alam, Bukit Tinggi with the latter three falling under the Klang and Shah Alam area), Kepong and Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur, and Penang (Batu Kawan, Bukit Mertajam, Nibong Tebal).

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