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Image description: Jonathan (gray shirt) sharing from a whiteboard with a class during his volunteering stint at SK Tumunda.

AS I penned an open letter to the Education Minister for an upcoming article submission, I could not help but reflect on a book recommended by an educator - Pedagogy of Solidarity by Paulo Freire.

In the first few paragraphs, Freire introduces three questions:

  • “What is education?”

  • “What can be done with education?”

  • “What is the basis for the practice of education as understood by us and human beings?”

With this being my inaugural article for Charisma Movement’s (CM) Journalism Team, I felt it was appropriate that I pay tribute to how Project Anak Malaysia, a programme organised by CM, changed how I see the word “education”.

Having reached as far as university education and taught in both paid and voluntary capacities, I thought that I had gone through what was meant by “education”. But in fact, we forget that everyone has a different experience.

Prior to MEASAT’s service expansion as recent as September 2023, barely a few months ago, internet speed at the 10,208 schools nationwide were as low as four megabytes per second (Mbps), compared to the Unifi Turbo 100Mbps enjoyed by those who live in the comfort of cities.

Or do we forget that there are uncompleted computer labs at schools in Sabah, even though they began construction as early as back in 2003? Or as recently as 2020 there was a reported 1,216 science labs across the country which are uncompleted and rundown?

Freire discusses in a later chapter that education should not be implemented by force. If it is forced upon people, it will not be “education” anymore, but cultural imperialism.

What is sad is we cannot even discuss cultural imperialism, as described by Freire, because the system I witnessed while volunteering has yet to even attain the minimum or most basic status - which is to provide basic infrastructure.

If unstable internet connection persists for students, we cannot expect teachers to prepare students to face the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

If computer and science labs remain unequipped, we cannot expect them to emphasise science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in schools either.

These are all insights that I would not have if not for my experience volunteering at SK Tumunda Salimandut in rural Kota Marudu, Sabah.

We subconsciously comment on education issues based on our background and experiences, without pausing to consider that someone else may have a completely different one. Reaching even further, it may not be grounded in the wider reality.

For example, how should we formulate a policy to raise the teaching standards of STEM subjects when Internet speeds at schools are slow and science labs continue to be incomplete?

In my open letter to the Minister, I concluded my recommendations by urging Fadhlina Sidek to pay attention to rural areas and for two to three years, pour in significant resources to reduce the education inequality gap to a level determined by the ministry. 

Unequal resources mean unequal student outcomes, particularly for areas the administration is trying to lift the standards of. 

To illustrate this point, an interaction with a teacher at SK Tumunda changed how I viewed the abolishment of UPSR, and standardised exams as an extension.

“If you were to pit a student from my school against a student from the city, especially when it comes to secondary school enrolment, my student will not stand a chance,” she lamented.

So while abolishing exams as done recently may be a step in the right direction of improving our education system, there are many more systemic issues that need to be addressed.

The Minister said in August that the key issue preventing children from receiving education is poverty. I urged her to look deeper and recognise that among the root causes of poverty is accessibility. 

Attending school is a privilege for many of the children at SK Tumunda. Some of the pupils wake up as early as 4 am to get ready for school and have to journey on roads which are not in good condition.

Do we build more schools, or improve the access roads? The cost benefit analysis to that is something the Minister would have to discuss with her other members of the cabinet.

So, let us be more inclusive and conscious the next time we discuss “education”, shall we?

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