A PRIMARY or secondary school is a children’s place of learning. Especially in the daytime, when classes are being taught, it is neither a public space nor a venue for activities that will not benefit the students. We can all agree on that.
It is almost a sacred duty to ensure that the children can focus on their studies as much as possible while in school. And that duty does not just rest on the shoulders of the Education Ministry and school administrators. Parents have a role as well, as do those who regularly visit schools.
Among these visitors are senior government officials and other VIPs.
Last year, the ministry issued a directive asking government schools to go easy on the pomp and protocol when organising events, particularly those built around guests of honour.
For example, an opening or closing ceremony should be over within two hours. The same goes for visits by the Education Minister, his deputies or other senior ministry staff.
It is best that these events are held during co-curricular hours so as not to eat into study periods. The number of students involved in greeting the VIPs and their rehearsal time should be kept to a minimum. As the ministry pointed out in the circular, the core activity of schools is to be a centre of learning and teaching.
The circular addresses how these events are put together, but there is another dimension to these VIP visits that is equally important in protecting the sanctity of schools as places of learning – the visitors’ conduct.
This has become a subject of public discussion after Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng complained that the state Education Department rejected his request to visit a Chinese vernacular school in Bukit Mertajam late last month.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Chong Sin Woon said when Lim went to the schools to attend functions or to hand over allocations, he tended to use these occasions as a platform to talk about politics.
When people inappropriately turn visits to schools into leverage for something very different from education, it is not difficult to support decisions to bar them from going to schools.
The rationale should apply across the board, regardless of political allegiance.
When a VIP steps into a school, he must recognise that his words and actions will likely be heard and seen by students and teachers. The messages he conveys and the examples he sets can have a lot of impact.
State governments are, of course, key players in our education system and they have every reason to be involved in schools. But a crucial part of political leadership is to understand that politics has no place in a school.