The issue of dilapidated schools in Sarawak came up again this week when it was announced that the state was requesting funds from the Federal Government to address those needing urgent attention.
According to Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah, an audit done by the Education Department categorised 486 schools in the state as dilapidated. Of this number, 183 are deemed “very dilapidated” and in urgent need of repair.
The audit also found that 437 schools needed rewiring – no small matter as four school fires reported this year had been caused by a short circuit.
“We are hoping that in the coming Budget, our request for allocation to address the very dilapidated ones as well as the rewiring will be considered.
“We are aware that it will cost a lot, perhaps billions of ringgit. To be practical and realistic, we know that it has to be done in stages because the numbers are huge,” Fatimah told reporters on Tuesday.
These are staggering figures but I suspect they come as no surprise to many Sarawakians. This matter of dilapidated schools, along with the need for funds to repair them, has been brought up over and over again.
Earlier this year, SK Kampung Buda, a rural school in Spaoh, collapsed into the Saribas River due to erosion. Thankfully no one was hurt in the pre-dawn incident, which affected the classroom block, science and resource rooms, pre-school,surau and teachers’ quarters.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said at the time that this should serve as a wake-up call for the Education Ministry to immediately resolve similar issues facing other schools in the state.
Pointing out that another school in his Betong constituency was also located on a riverbank where there was erosion, he appealed to the ministry to take immediate action before any untoward incident occurred.
Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem has also weighed in on the issue, lamenting on several occasions about schools collapsing and others without clean water and electricity.
He said the state would push for better education policies, including building better schools.
“I’m sick and tired of appealing to the Federal Government to make better schools in Sarawak. I’m sick and tired of hearing about schools that collapsed into the river, schools with no water supply, schools without electricity and those that got burnt.
“If we are left behind by 10 or 20 years, I can understand but if we are behind by half a century, I cannot tolerate that anymore,” he was reported as saying last month.
To be sure, the state has been fighting to get more money and urgent action from the Federal Government to improve school facilities, but it often seems as though our requests are falling on deaf ears. The question now is how we can be more assertive in our demands so that we get what is due to us.
Indeed, previous Budget allocations for schools in Sarawak have been disappointing. What does it say about the Government’s priorities if it cannot provide sufficient funds to rebuild dilapidated schools, many of which are located in rural areas?
Moreover, as Ba’Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian said, it is “galling” to read about the millions involved in the Sabah Water Department corruption case or the RM650mil for the proposed Taman Tugu in Kuala Lumpur when children in Sarawak do not have proper schools to study in.
He also noted that various sums had been promised by Federal and local political leaders for a number of schools in the run-up to the state election this year and hoped they would not become “empty promises.”
“The Federal Government has to show us more respect and sincerity,” he said, urging that promises be fulfilled and sufficient allocations ensured to implement the Education Blueprint plans.
“We can never claim to be a developed nation when we subject our schoolchildren to studying and living in damaged, decaying and derelict buildings.”
We will find out on Friday whether our request for more funds to repair dilapidated schools has been heeded when the Budget is tabled.
In the meantime, let us think of ways we can help some of those schools in the most urgent need. Perhaps we can set up an emergency fund to provide immediate assistance to these schools. NGOs can partner Parent-Teacher Associations to carry out fund-raising drives and rebuilding initiatives.
Of course, we recognise that education comes under the Federal Government and it is ultimately their responsibility to allocate funds and provide assistance. But while we keep pushing for allocations, let us also start taking action where we are in a position to help.