MIRI: Local political leaders in the Baram parliamentary seat in interior northern Sarawak have submitted proposals to the Federal Cabinet asking for at least RM2bil in financial allocations for this vast constituency for the next five years under the 11th Malaysia Plan.
The sum they are asking for is huge, because the needs of the rural communities are still aplenty, even for the very basic facilities.
Among the top three on the list of priority needs is education.
Aside from creation of jobs, and provision of basic amenities like electricity and piped water, the improvement of educational facilities like school buildings, boarding quarters for students, improvement of teaching aids and teachers’ quarters must be given greater attention.
The Baram parliamentary constituency is as big as the state of Pahang. It has two state constituencies – Telang Usan and Marudi.
Telang Usan is the size of the state of Johor.
State Assemblyman for Telang Usan Dennis Ngau told Sarawak Metro that he had submitted, among others, the proposals for the creation of “centralised schools” in his constituency during the 11th MP.
He said the centralised-school concept was a school where kindergarten, primary school and lower secondary school were built within the same compound.
Ngau, who is also Barisan Nasional youth chief for Baram, said the enrolment of native children in primary schools in ulu Baram in northern Sarawak had dwindled by worrying margins, especially among the Penans.
He has expressed his concerns over the prevailing situation, as it is not a healthy development for the native communities.
The main factors causing the dwindling number of pupils in ulu Baram might be due to negative mindset of rural parents and also the prevailing social and economic standstill in the interior regions, he said.
“Firstly, some native families in the interior settlements are still too ‘relaxed’ about matters pertaining to education and they feel that it is alright even if their children do not go to school, since they are able to survive from hand to mouth in the rural settings.
“The other reason may be due to dropouts, while another is due to the mass rural-to-urban migration where families leave the rural longhouses en-masse for the cities and towns.
“Whatever the reasons, the fact is that there is a worring decline in the number of students in most of the primary schools in ulu Baram.
“If we can have schools where kindergarten, primary school and secondary school are combined within one compound, then I am sure the pupils there will stay for the long haul, at least until they complete Form Three.
“There is a school in Long Bedian where we have a kindergarten, primary school classes from Primary 1 to 6 and secondary classes from Form 1 to 3 located in the same compound.
“The drop-out rate is not serious. This shows that if we can arrange for schools that can provide a holistic range of classes from kindergarten to at least Form 3, then the rural kids will be encouraged to stay longer,” he stressed.
Ngau said that at present, the Penan students usually dropped out after a few years at the primary schools.
Even those who continue to study up to secondary schools, their results are usually poor because they are not consistent in their effort.
“As it is now, some Penan pupils study at their boarding schools for three or four months and then leave and will come back only after a few months.
“They go home to work in the farms. Their parents also adopt a carefree attitude towards their children’s education.
“That is why the progress of education in the remote parts are still very slow,” he said.
Ngau has urged the teachers in the ulu schools to help create greater awareness among the rural residents on how important education is for the future of their children.
“There is a need to drum the message across of the problems that can crop up later on for those rural children who don’t want to go to school now or who drop out early,” he stressed.
Ngau also urged rural-based teachers to keep themselves updated on the latest development issues in the ulu parts of Sarawak, especially with regards to the socio-economic projects that the government was planning to implement there.
He urged them to play a role in convincing the rural folk to accept projects coming their way and not to view all mega-projects in a negative light.
“We need to bring in big projects to ulu Baram to create jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurship development in the ulu so that we can prevent rural-to-urban migration,” he said.
Ngau said his proposals for the 11th MP would deal with a comprehensive range of needs, including all the very basic amenities still lacking in Baram.
He hopes that the Federal Government will substantially increase the allocations for rural Sarawak because the needs here are massive.