We meet again after a long while. I have to apologize for not updating the web site. But that's the inherent problem about having a web presence.... someone needs to update the site regularly. Unfortunately that task is totally dependent on me at the moment. Hopefully we can get volunteers to do this soon.

So... what's new? As far as I can see, nothing much has changed in the education front in Sungai Petani. I've been here just over 5 years now. And I have not seen much improvement in the education for special children apart from having an additional primary school with a special education programme. We have been screaming for other schools to start the programme especially the Chinese and Indian schools. There was some excitement last year when we received a positive reply from the Deputy Minister of Education. Unfortunately the State Education Department disagreed with The Right Honorable Deputy Minister, citing lack of Chinese and Indian Teachers interested in special ed as the main reason.

That excuse seemed rather lame when they appointed a Chinese teacher to teach Special Ed in Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Layar last year. In any case we have submitted an appeal. Quite honestly I don't expect much from the appeal. If a Deputy Minister cannot put request through, how can we expect ours to go through?

Then there was this compulsory education thing beginning 2003. I was so happy and pleased with this change in the Education Act. With compulsory education, all we need to do is register our children at our neighbourhood school and that's it - end of story. But we still hear of schools "advising" parents to transfer their special child to schools with special ed programmes. It does not matter that the school is 10km or 30km from home. It does not matter that our children will not be studying with their friends and peers from the same village. It does not matter that they have to study in an alien environment with total strangers. Even their parents feel awkward in the alien environment as they know no one there!! And now they talk of making schools the centre for community activities! As the Malaysianized Red-Indian would say to the Cowboy: "Kimasabi.... you speak with forked tongue lah!".

I am not a lawyer. And maybe someone trained as one can clarify here. Surely when compulsory education is enforced, all parents need to do is to register or enroll their child in school. The State must then be responsible to provide quality education to that child - and I am talking of all children here, not just special children. If the State requires the child to study in another school then it should be the responsibility of the State to provide the means and security for that child to attend the non-neighbouhood school. Don't get me wrong... I am not begging for the State to provide transport for the child. But just hear this out - which school bus will ever agree to take a child to school so far out of the way from the bus's normal route - even if one is willing to pay the school bus to do so??!! I don't think the Road Transport Department will even allow a school bus to operate say between Tanjung Dawai and Sungai Petani (about 35km).  The school bus could be under suspicion of operating an illegal "private sapu" business! Some may argue that the child could take a normal stage bus for the daily trips. Well, all outstation stage buses stop at the Sungai Petani central station. The child must switch buses there for the journey to school. Even if you can train a 7 or 8 year-old child to be able to do this (If a special child could do this, that child would really be SPECIAL, wouldn't he??!!), who will then be responsible for the child's safety? Who shall be responsible if the child is kidnapped, raped or got lost as the child got on the wrong bus?

The other point about compulsory education that I would like to raise is on the quality of education the child receives. I see compulsory education as "contract" between the Parent and the State. On the first part, the parent must register their child in a school for education and that that action of registering their child in school is beneficial for the child. Parents who fail to register the child in school without express permission from the authorities are depriving their child of this benefit and shall be punished in accordance to the law. The other part involves the State being responsible in providing quality education to that child. My question here is simple enough. What happens if the State fail to fulfill their responsibility? Can the State be punished for failing to provide quality education? Think about it..... Previously education was not compulsory. We send our children to school and if we feel that they are not receiving good education, we tend not to complain very much because somehow we feel that it is not within our rights. At most, we just ask for a transfer to another school or for those who can afford, transfer their children to private schools. Surely with education being made compulsory, parents can complain if their children receive poor quality education - either through lack of basic facilities or poor pedagogy? I am not just talking of special children here but of all children, special or otherwise. Maybe some lawyer somewhere can give us a clearer picture (??).

So... have things changed? No.

Will it naturally change? I have no idea.

Can things change for the better? Yes.
Who can we depend on for these changes to happen? No one but ourselves.

Why ourselves? Because not many bureaucrats care. There are a million and one problems that need to be solved. Ours is just one of those. At the moment our problem is not the priority. So let's just get together to help ourselves help our children.

Disclaimer: The writings above are the personal opinions and expressions of the author.

Author: Syed Ahmad Fauzi

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