On politicians and schools


  • Metro News
  • Saturday, 07 Dec 2019

Education, Science and Technological Research Minister Datuk Seri Dr Michael Manyin

DESPITE coming from a different political coalition, Sarawak's Education, Science and Technological Research Minister Datuk Seri Michael Manyin has met his federal counterpart Dr Maszlee Malik several times to discuss education issues – notably dilapidated schools and the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English.

Now, Manyin is seeking another appointment with Maszlee – this time to review the conditions imposed on Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) elected representatives attending functions in schools.

Approached by reporters on Friday (Dec 6), Manyin said two circulars were sent to the state Education Department in May and November stating that GPS representatives needed to get permission from the director if they wanted to go into a school.

"Sometimes, the director of education cannot give permission and has to refer it to the Education Ministry. There is also a hint that we can go but are not allowed to make speeches, and we are welcome to contribute (funds)," he said.

Manyin said he brought this up to the state Cabinet, which directed him to meet Maszlee to review the conditions.

"I have written to the Education Minister and hope to meet him on Dec 9 or 10. So far, my relationship with him is very cordial and I want to maintain that."

There has been some back-and-forth in Sarawak about this issue in the past week or so, as GPS politicians aired grievances over a purported ban on their entry into schools after Pakatan Harapan came into federal power. The Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP) was particularly vocal, calling it "ridiculous and discriminative" to bar state ministers and GPS lawmakers from attending functions in schools.

In response, Sarawak Pakatan chairman Chong Chieng Jen issued a statement saying that Opposition MPs and assemblymen were not prohibited from visiting schools in Sarawak but were required to seek permission to enter as a matter of procedure.

This rule also applied to Pakatan lawmakers, he said, adding that in the past one year, GPS and Parti Sarawak Bersatu representatives were granted permission 515 times to enter schools, compared to only 170 times for Pakatan reps.

Chong also pointed out that during the previous Barisan Nasional administration, Opposition lawmakers were "totally banned" from entering schools – not only in Sarawak but also in Pakatan-ruled Selangor and Penang.

"Previously, the GPS leaders were bringing in party logos and giving political speeches in schools during Parent-Teacher Association events, treating schools as their political platforms.

"Under the new government, this is no longer allowed and it applies equally to Pakatan leaders as well," he added.

Manyin retorted that this was not correct.

"We never brought our flags, we never touched on politics. Any YB who goes to a school and touches on politics, I think it will backfire. We always talk about the importance of education, we never talk about politics."

This episode raises a few points worth thinking about.

First, it should be made clear – given Manyin's explanation on the circulars – that GPS reps aren't barred from entering schools but need to apply for permission to do so. It's disingenuous to decry a total ban when there isn't one in place. (Which is why we shouldn't take everything politicians say at face value.)

Second, and more importantly, Government policies and procedures ought to be fair to everyone, even those from the Opposition. It should be acknowledged – based on Chong's statement – that the requirement of seeking permission to enter schools applies equally to Pakatan and Opposition reps.

Of course, the same criteria for granting permission or imposing entry conditions should be applied fairly in all cases, without showing favour to anyone.

And speaking of fairness, it's ironic for GPS politicians to complain now while conveniently forgetting that the previous Barisan government – which they used to be part of – did not allow Opposition reps to enter schools.

By no means should we condone tit-for-tat politics, but it's worth reflecting that if you want to be treated fairly, you should also treat others fairly.

Finally, perhaps we need to rethink this matter of politicians visiting schools. If it's to hand over financial allocations, can't this be channelled to the schools without organising a function for a politician to attend, which might disrupt the school day? But politicians like to be seen doing these things, which possibly explains why the complaints are being made.

On the other hand, schools may want to invite their local representatives to officiate a function such as prize-giving day. Is there really a need to regulate all such visits on suspicions of what the politicians would say, especially if they're from the Opposition? Sure, we may not want them to be actively campaigning about politics, but it would be unfair to restrict speeches to only government reps, and what's to stop them from talking politics anyway?

Ideally, we should educate our children to think critically, so that even if a politician gives a political speech they would not accept it unquestioningly but be able to evaluate it for what it's worth. Then perhaps we wouldn't have to be over-suspicious about who gets to visit and speak in schools.


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