KUALA LUMPUR: Canteen operators in schools should maintain operations during Ramadan to allow non-Muslim students to eat properly, says Fadhlina Sidek.
She said this is the Education Ministry's response to operators who have said that they will not open for business if the non-Muslim student population of the school is lower than 10%.
"We also have Muslim students who are not required to fast as well, so there's no need to close the canteen. I don't want to see kids eating beside drains or in a storage room," she said at a press conference on Wednesday (March 22).
On the issue of reverting the start of the academic year to January, Fadhlina said it is coming soon and the ministry is working on the issue.
"We need some time because we have to adhere to the policy of a minimum of 190 school days a year and we have to make sure a few big examinations – especially SPM examinations – do not interrupt these children. There are also a few other economic factors," she said.
Fadhlina said this after officiating the Yayasan PETRONAS' back-to-school programme at Sekolah Pendidikan Khas Jalan Batu (L) Kuala Lumpur.
The programme is targeted to benefit 21,000 students from low-income families across Malaysia.
Fadhlina said the ministry will always welcome support from the corporate sector that will help marginalised and underprivileged children.
"This type of programme will be very helpful to lift a heavy load off parents in terms of school expenditure," she added.
The back-to-school programme will see school uniforms and materials being distributed to 12,460 primary and 8,540 secondary school students across the country.
Each student will receive one voucher for a set of a school uniform, a pair of black shoes, socks and sports attire.
Students will also receive a classroom kit comprising one school bag, colour pencils and a stationery set. An addition of a scientific calculator will be given to secondary school students.
The programme is expected to run until May in all 14 states and federal territories in Malaysia.
On a separate issue, Fadhlina said special-needs education will be revamped, adding that her ministry will be doing engagement sessions with relevant parties.
"At the ministry, we want to ensure that our curriculum complements the needs of the children and the current needs of our society," she said.
Fadhlina also addressed the issue of teachers retiring early, adding that it is increasing due to push-pull factors such as health issues, financial stability and wanting to spend quality time with family.
“The ministry ensures teacher placements are filled up quickly should we have early retirement. We will also work on increasing the professionalism of existing teachers and provide social and emotional support for teachers who are struggling,” she said.