Quality education is a right that should be made accessible and affordable to all. It should be a universally basic human right.
It is only through a well-educated and professionally skilled population that we can maintain long-term sustainable development and growth. We are indeed fortunate that in Malaysia we have primary and secondary education that is essentially free.

However, the question we face over the years is whether the quality and educational policies we have are suitable and equitable.
In terms of quality of teaching, there is still room for improvement.

The commitment of the Sarawak government to this end is obvious as they have committed millions in funds towards enhancing and developing our teachers.

In tandem with skills enhancement of teachers, we need more facilities. The Sarawak government has made requests for federal funds, however, it can be seen that even the repairs to our dilapidated schools are being ignored.

The government has just announced that RM350 million of the first tranche of loan repayment has been made to Putrajaya. These repayment monies are meant to be utilised by Putrajaya towards the enhancement and repairs to our schools in Sarawak. Let’s hope at least this is one promise that they will keep.

We are also encountering many policy changes and blueprints that teachers and Parent-Teacher Associations seem to have a tough time keeping up and making sense of the education system.

One core problem seems to be the “one size fits all” approach. So what exactly can be done for quality and educational excellence in Sarawak? We in Sarawak should redouble efforts to gain educational freedom to manage and develop policies suitable for all. It must be recognised that although Sarawak is a “partner” in the federation, we have our unique requirements and needs.

Therefore, “one size fits all” should not be applied here. There can be some common elements but educational policies in Sarawak should be customised to suit Sarawak’s needs. It is only logical that since Sarawak is on a drive to diversify and expand its economy, only Sarawakian policymakers would understand and develop educational and skills policies.

The educational system for Sarawakians must dovetail with the requirement for our present and future needs. Our educational system also needs to minimise the negative impact of religious educational policies.

Personally, I do feel that the primary responsibility for the religious upbringing of our children belongs to the family and religious bodies. Our educational system should only play a minimum role in religious education and maximise its role in human values education.

Currently, even the smallest of issues seems to trigger controversies such as the recent proposal to teach Jawi calligraphy in standard 4. The learning of multiple languages and scripts are all good. The more the better as far as I am concerned. However, whenever the federal government makes such proposals it seems to generate a lot of heated debate with elements of religious sentiments. I am sure this is due to mistrust by some segments of society towards the federal authorities. I am sure if the Sarawak government had similar proposals it would not attract this level of heated debates.

Sarawak also has a good set of guidelines it can pursue. These were developed by the United Nations and are known as the United Nations’ Global Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development that encompasses 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Goal 4 is of specific relevance and it states, “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

Very clear targets have been set and just some of the many objectives that must be achieved worldwide by 2030 are as follows:
• All must have completely free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education.
• All must have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education and there must be “equal access” … to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education.
• There must be a substantial increase in the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.

I am sure our educational authorities are on the way to achieving these objectives. What is of prime importance is that we are not left behind again.

The Sarawak government has made progress on some of the objectives independently due to the commitment of the chief minister and his team.

We as Sarawakians must carry on providing strong support to our chief minister and his team to ensure that the educational needs of our children are kept a priority. This can only be achieved via the “Sarawak First” concept.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.