By GAYLE JOKININ
COMMENT: I refer to the Education Minister Maszlee Malik’s announcement of the free breakfast programme for primary school children which will start in January 2020 and will cost between RM800 million to RM1.67 billion.
Minister Maszlee Malik said the purpose of the programme is to ensure that primary school students were provided with a nutritious meal to start their day, provide the opportunity for teachers and students to bond when having breakfast together and to improve racial unity among the students as well as with teachers.
This programme which was inspired by the Japanese schools is a good programme but there are certain concerns which must be addressed before its full implementation.
We are constantly told that our nation has serious financial constraints. If this is so, we have to get our priorities right in spending. Waste of resources for those who do not need the assistance.
Firstly, do all 2.7 million of our primary school children need assistance with breakfast? Certainly not! There is a substantial number of families who do not need the government to provide breakfast for their children.
These children can bring their own food to school and be taught and encouraged to eat and share together. Food science should be emphasised in schools and parents can be encouraged to prepare healthy meals.
On top of that, unlike Japanese homogeneous society, we are a multicultural society who have different preferences for meals. Many have different requirements – vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and etc.
All of these factors need to be taken into account. For those who cannot afford, yes, the government should assist.
There is already a RM289mil annual budget in place under a food scheme for students from underprivileged families in all schools where free meals and milk is supposed to be provided.
How successful has this programme been? This has to be evaluated and results reported before embarking on a new programme with an explosive budget.
Especially for the poor students in the deep interiors of Sabah and Sarawak, have our pupils benefited from this programme? In short, spending on those who are not in need is a waste of our resources.
PRIORITIES FOR SCHOOLS IN SABAH
While in West Malaysia, people complain of schools without air-conditioning or fans, in Sabah we have schools without power and water supply and hundreds of dilapidated buildings which need urgent repairs.
The Sabah Education Ministry has estimated that Sabah needs more than RM3 billion to repair 587 dilapidated schools and this includes 91 schools which have been condemned as unsafe.
This is an urgent need! However, recently, it was announced that Sabah will get only RM78 million to repair 19 dilapidated schools for its first phase for replacement schools. And in Friday’s Budget 2020, RM783 million was announced to restore dilapidated schools – this budget is for the whole nation.
While RM1.67 billion can be allocated for free breakfast for all students, only RM783 million is set aside for urgent basic building facilities and amenities? As to how much will be allocated to Sabah and Sarawak, we have to wait and see.
Inculcate national unity through curriculum, co-curriculum and extra-curriculum activities. Breakfast for all to improve racial unity is flimsy reasoning. Let’s not scratch the surface in addressing the elephant in the room.
While we have political leaders calling for the triumph of one race over the rest, how does breakfasts of 7 to 12-year olds catch up for a cure for national unity?
Seriously, our curriculum, including our co-curriculum and extra-curriculum activities need a revamp. We need subjects on culture and unity and practical focused activities towards this goal. But let’s start with our history books, they need a total overhaul.
Be honest with our history and anthropology and we will be on the right track.
* Gayle Jokinin is with the Community Empowerment Initiative Sabah (CEI). CEI is a civil society organization formed under The Trustees (Incorporation) Ordinance of Sabah. Its primary objective is to engage and empower the community to work intellectually, creatively and collaboratively on selected social, political, educational and economic issues of common interest to Sabahans and Malaysians.