Go To School – Or Go To Jail

Malaysia’s Deputy Education Minister Datuk Noh Omar has stated that parents who do not enrol their children for Year One/Standard One may be fined or jailed. He cites Section 29A of the Education Act:

Deputy Education Minister Datuk Noh Omar said Section 29A of the Education Act 1996 stated that parents who did not enrol their children in school could be fined RM5,000 or jailed six months.

He notes that the Government has set up a Poor Student Aid Fund to assist those in poverty – RM200 would be given for fees, and the monthly aid will be raised from RM50 to RM70. Free breakfasts would be allocated, and the budget for meal aid will be increased.

The Government’s aim – to encourage those living within poverty to attend school – is admirable; indeed, Education In Malaysia’s Tony Pua seems very pleased with the idea. However, I am more wary, as there are more questions that need to be solved.

Firstly, where does this put homeschoolers? Tony says that it’s good that “education is compulsory” – sure, education is a must for the world, but does education always mean school? There are people and families who would rather take control of their own education, which may mean not enrolling into school.

As this very animated Metafilter discussion about unschooling, homeschooling, and public schooling shows, education means different things to different people. Should parents of homeschoolers and unschoolers be sent to jail just because their idea of education differs from the mainstream?

Secondly, would the Government’s aid be enough for those in poverty? School, even government schools, can get very expensive – books and materials, transportation, uniforms, fees, even compulsory “donations” can really add a strain to a family’s budget. There are many families in Malaysia that don’t even have enough for themselves and can’t even fathom going to school – it may not even be an idea they’ve considered.

Also, for many of these poverty-stricken families, they need their children to go and work to obtain money – sending their children to school means an increase in cost but no increase in income. This may not seem like very good long-term planning, but for these families, the short term matters more. This links into a bigger problem of poverty, respect, and care – how else are those in poverty supported? Do they have homes? Jobs? Food? Are their needs met? There are so many factors to be considered – forcing them to send their children (often their only resource) to school without considering everything else is short-sighted.

Thirdly, are our Malaysian schools actually providing good, comprehensive, useful education? Livejournaller Ahmad Hafidz has doubts about the current Malaysian system, citing the need for security, well-maintained facilities (especially for the disabled), student welfare, health, and so on – things many Malaysian schools lack. Indeed, Malaysians schools and the Malaysian education system itself is in dire need of change, as noted through the two “Doing School” posts (1, 2) and the responses.

Sure, there is aid given to the students, but what about the schools? Are they given enough resources and support to provide quality education and support to these students? Will they be able to support a growing student body, with all its needs and differences?

There are so many factors that need to be considered before making schooling compulsory. Forcing parents to enroll their children to school – whether they’re really able to, or whether it’s the best choice for them – is merely a band-aid to bigger problems such as poverty, support, choice, and welfare. Jail terms and hefty fines are unusually harsh, especially when the main point is to support those living in poverty – if you can’t afford school, how can you afford the fine?

Let’s look at everything holistically and thoroughly before undertaking drastic measures that don’t really help in the long run.

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Greenpeace Organizing Team ’07 – Applications Open

I was notified about this by the folks at Greenpeace through their MySpace profile, and it sounds rather interesting:

Greenpeace is accepting applications for the Spring 2007 semester of the Greenpeace Organizing Team, which they describe as a semester of “ACTION, TRAINING, & TRAVEL”. From their message to me:

The Greenpeace Organizing Term is an action-filled semester and the best hands-on training for students to become environmental leaders. You’ll be making an investment in your leadership skills and training in grassroots organizing, media, direct action, and campaign strategy. You’ll travel abroad with Greenpeace and join a team of incredible activists working to protect the planet. Many students are also able to receive class credit for the semester.

This semester involves training at their offices in Washington, DC and San Francisco, CA and travel to other parts of the world to meet local activists and visit the country. Their training is in-depth, covering everything from event management, organizational skills, media strategy, campaign skills, direct action – even driving boats, using communications equipment, and climbing.

Spaces are open to students aged 18 and above, through freshmen and sophomores (first and second years) are preferred. There doesn’t seem to be a country limit, though it is largely US-based. Tuition is $3,500 and covers travel costs and expenses; limited scholarships are available.

For more information, visit the Greenpeace Organizing Team website or their MySpace Profile. You can also email them at got@wdc.greenpeace.org or contact Samantha Corbin at +1 202-319-2468.

Thanks guys!

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International Youth Volunteering Summit ’07 – Apply Now!

The International Youth Volunteering Summit is a new annual summit aimed at getting young people around the world together to discuss issues based on volunteering, non-profits, and helping the world. It is part of a planned series of activities, such as fellowships and foundations, to get youth to make a difference internationally and in their communities. From their website:

IYVS is a place for young people who care deeply about global progress to come together to understand the challenges and opportunities for their engagement; to hone the skills and mindsets that will enable them to better plan, execute, and participate in change-focused projects, and connect with like-minded peer communities from around the world.

Currently they are calling in applications for delegates for their second annual summit:

International Youth Volunteering Summit ’07
Dates: Feb 22-25, 2007
Location: Northwestern University, Chicago, USA

While the participants will be predominantly American, they are recruiting 10 international youths aged 18-25 to be part of this summit as well. Applications are free: you will need contact details of a reference, as well as a 400-500 word project proposal on a possible project to be funded by the IYVS; guidelines are available on their application form. Chosen participants will be eligible for up to full scholarships for travel and housing (based on financial need) as well as eligibility for further grants upon completion of the summit.

Details about last year’s summit can be found at their prospectus, which explains their mission and vision, a schedule of events, future plans, participating bodies, sponsors (such as TakingITGlobal, UNESCO Youth, and perhaps Rotary International) and much more. Although it is for the 2006 summit, it is still relevant background for the 2007 summit too.

IYVS seems like a great way to get community-minded youths from everywhere mingling, networking, and exchanging ideas on how to impact the lives of those around them. Opportunities like this don’t come too often, so act quick – closing date for applications is November 10th, 2006.

Good luck!

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