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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3 Responses

  1. Sadly, so true, so very true all that’s pointed out up there.
    The politicos preach, but from my personal experiences- are very distanced from reality sadly.

  2. […] As they were trying to look for options, they were given the runaround by government ministries, officials, and schools as everyone was given conflicting information. It wasn’t until they threatened to send a press release exposing their inefficiencies that they got anywhere with the Education Department. But this girl is still not in school – and if she doesn’t get enrolled, her mother may go to jail. […]

  3. I got a mention?! I wanna claim royalties! hahahaha!

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