I WENT to one of Kuching’s lesser academically accomplished secondary schools, SMK Sungai Maong. Between 1997 and 2001, the school was a far cry from what it is today.
Back then, the computer lab had just three second hand, near obsolete computers, and the school did not even have a multi-purpose hall.
Assemblies were held between car parks and the main gates. These would be cancelled whenever it rained.
The canteen was so small and cramped that I rarely patronised it. When it was eventually expanded, parts of it were turned into makeshift classrooms to ease the overcrowding.
The school had a basketball court that had seen better days (the metal hoop was rusty and was without a net) and the football pitch was really nothing more than an open field.
The school, when I was there, also suffered from an obvious shortage of teachers. I cannot recall the number of Moral Education teachers we had, except that there were many.
The one teaching Additional Maths also conducted Physical Education. In fact, extra Additional Maths lessons were usually given during Physical Education time slots, especially when examinations were near.
And when the Additional Maths teacher did offer to give us a sporting activity or two, he chose to let us play ping pong — and this part is neither a lie nor an exaggeration — in the boys’ toilet.
Yes, the toilet.
There were four at the time, two for boys and two for girls. The two for the boys were next to each other, between the Science block and the overgrown football field. The ones for the girls were further away, near the school canteen.
Only one of each boys and girls toilets was used — the other two were used as storage rooms and locked all the time. The toilets were also where we boys would use as changing rooms but they were so dirty that most of us preferred to change outside.
Between the two rows of urinals was where the ping pong table stood. Once in a while, when we actually had an activity outside the classroom, we were ironically confined to the toilet. It was disgusting, really — a lopsided education if there ever was one.
Even back then, I knew the public education I was receiving was below par. I knew — not that I cared much — that there were better learning environments. For most of the time, I was a frustrated student, albeit I did enjoy the company of my friends.
When I finished Form Five, I only got two As, one in English and the other in Basic Maths. The rest of the results were dismal.
It was not until circa 2004 or 2005 that I returned to the school to collect my certificate, which had been damaged during a flood. (The clerk told me that my certificate was kept in the lowest rung of the filing cabinet.)
So with this lengthy story about my former school, I got quite mad to learn about last week’s controversy over SK Sri Pristana’s pupils eating in the school’s changing room, which was first thought as a toilet.
Education really matters and yet it is such a neglected issue in Malaysia. The controversy gave me the impression not much has improved since I finished Form Five more than a decade ago.
The photos, which circulated widely on the Internet, showed pupils and teachers sitting and eating at tables next to sinks and in front of shower rooms. According to school officials, the arrangement was temporary due to overcrowding at the canteen.
The episode has made a mockery of our leaders’ insistence that Malaysia will soon become a developed nation. It is a reminder that, as a nation, the fundamentals are not being well taken care of.
We live in a country where on one side we have a grand Formula One circuit to host races between the world’s fastest cars, but on another we also have schools that are still overcrowded.
For the past week, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the canteen/changing room debacle. It boggles my mind that since I left school, our public education system is still below par.
Meanwhile, there are a record number of 4.0 CGPA school-leavers this year who were rejected by Malaysia’ public universities. And yet according to the latest statistics from the Education Ministry, between 30% and 40% of university graduates are either unemployed or facing job mismatch.
Where do we even begin the fixing?
YU JI The STAR Online Community 31 July 2013