Govt must urgently tackle teacher absenteeism in rural Sabah, says lawyer


KOTA KINABALU: A Kota Kinabalu High Court declaration on the case of teacher absenteeism involving a Kota Belud school is a clear message to act on the problem, especially in rural Sabah.

Lawyer Sherzali Herza Asli said the court decision on the case by three former students against their former English teacher and four others, including the school principal, reflected negligence and a lack of conviction to provide education to the young.

In this case, he said, the teacher and principal as well as the Education Ministry and the government had failed in their duties and violated the rights of the students to guaranteed access to education under the Federal Constitution.

“It is of utmost importance for the government to realise and recognise its deficiencies, while taking decisive action to formulate effective policies that ensure accountability of errant teachers,” he said on Wednesday (July 19).

ALSO READ: Sabah students win suit against absentee teacher

“The well-being and prospects of our future generation hinge on the success of this."

The High Court here ruled in favour of Rusiah Sabdarin, Nur Natasha Allisya Hamali and Calvina Angayung, all 22 years old, in their suit against their former teacher and four others including the government on Tuesday (July 18).

They had in December 2020 sued their former English teacher Mohd Jainal Jamran; Suid Hanapi, in his capacity as SMK Taun Gusi principal; the director-general of Education; the Education Ministry; and the government.

The trio had sued their teacher at the school in the northern Kota Belud district, some 100km from here, for failing to turn up and teach them for seven months in 2017, when they were still 16.

High Court judge Justice Leonard David Shim held that the defendants had breached their statutory duties and violated the former students’ constitutional guarantee to education.

The judgment was made via e-review on Tuesday and made available to the media by Sherzali on Wednesday.

Altogether, the court awarded RM150,000 in total damages to the plaintiffs.

As for Sabah-based NGO Tiada.Guru, which initiated the campaign on teacher absenteeism, it is now asking to hold an engagement session between Putrajaya and their whistleblowers.

They wished to meet up with Law and Institutional Reform Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek and Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Nation-Building, Education and Human Resource Development chairman Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah.

In a statement on Wednesday, the NGO said its campaign’s fight against corruption, abuse of power, anti-whistleblower attacks, and the culture of fear at the Education Ministry continues unabated.

ALSO READ: Absentee teacher case: Sabah students hope court ruling a lesson to all

“There cannot be more victims. These plaintiffs were enough for a lifetime.

“As a whistleblower-led organisation, Tiada.Guru requests engagement sessions with the Federal Government to implement clear, effective and popular reforms.

“The critical reforms to fast-track effective change on the ground, especially but not only in rural communities, include broad and independent whistleblower protection, an independent and hard-hitting public ombudsman, and a humanising and critical education curriculum,” it said.

The lawsuit by the plaintiffs was one of two lawsuits by former SMK Taun Gusi students against the same teacher.

Former student Siti Nafirah Siman had filed the first one in October 2018, and the hearing is scheduled to resume at the High Court here on Aug 16.

The suits came about through a campaign started by Tiada.Guru, which has been pushing for students’ right to quality education and awareness of teacher absenteeism, especially in rural Sabah.

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