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5:06pm 03/11/2023
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Are boarding schools and UPSR for needy children or middle class parents?
By:Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi

When the issue of the UPSR primary school examination was announced, both middle-class parents and Sarawak government maintained that they would prefer the UPSR to be re-implemented.

Their reason? So that we know anak kita pandai atau tidak.

Well..actually the real reason is…so that anak saya boleh masuk sekolah asrama penuh! Now isn’t that the real reason?

In today’s article, I want to ask Malaysians to vote for a government or at least support a government that has a more correct view of the sekolah asrama penuh agenda.

I had assumed, without doing any research on the subject matter, that the primary aim of the sekolah asrama project was to give quality education to the have-nots, so that in life these children can compete on a level playing field with children of the haves.

However, somewhere along the line, the boarding schools set up by the government began to reorient its role as the school of “budak pandai-pandai.” So, there was stiff competition to enter and only those with 5A or 4A would be considered.

However, the civil servants at the time were still very noble and made sure that a chunk of the have-not pupils coming from lower income group could come in with a 2A 3B minimum and that the village or kampung quota were considered sacred than the town quota.

What happened next? During my time, I was not able to get in a prestigious boarding school because I scored only 1A 4B. My father was a policemen of the lower rank. My friend got 3A 2B and he got in and his father was a teacher.

Both of us were from St. Marks Primary School in Butterworth, a relatively “big” town. My wife, Norhayati, was from Kajang and she scored 2A 3B. She was admitted into a boarding house in Kuala Lumpur to attend the famed Sekolah Menengah Convent Bukit Nanas, which is not a sekolah asrama penuh.

The dream of all Malay parents then and now was to have their sons or daughters taken care of by the government in boarding schools so that their entry into universities are assured as the children would have good food and lodging with the best teachers taking care of them.

The middle-class parents of the present also have the same dream.

Once your child goes into a boarding school nowadays, there is 99,99% chance that he or she will be accepted into a public university with minimal cost of education and onward be an engineer, doctor, architect or a sweet government job.

The boarding schools nowadays have also changed. Instead of helping the B40 make it to the university and help eradicate poverty among the Malays, these teachers and head teachers now have a totally different agenda.

Agenda number one is, of course, to get their own children in the boarding schools. Agenda number two, to make sure these children have access to “similar patterned” SPM questions that are distributed perhaps only within the boarding schools network.

I have many experiences and evidences of this aspect of the myth of the “success” of boarding schools.

I have interviewed enough students from these boarding schools to know that they are no better or even worse off than the day school pupils.

Thus, the teachers at boarding schools only want to have the best UPSR students so that these pupils can be easily trained, not taught, but trained, to recite the right answers for SPM.

The schools would then gloat of their 100% success rate. For me, what is there to gloat about?

Boarding schools receive the best funding and have the best infrastructure. The boarding schools have the “best” teachers.

Boarding school class numbers are probably 20 to 25 pupils, as opposed to day schools with 40 or 45 per class.

Boarding schools also have “assured help” in terms of practicing the art of answering SPM questions.

I have met many boarding school students in my time as a public university lecturer. Most are unruly, bullies and trouble-makers. My best students are all from day schools.

The boarding school pupils just pass. Perhaps it is because of the architecture discipline. There is no preparation for architecture education in any “patterned learning” to answer exam scripts.

Architecture deals with a creative way of looking at problems and coming out of the box solutions.

Architecture is hard work and more hard work plus sleepless nights doing presentation drawings and model making, and so, only the tough ones survive and thrive.

I feel that it is time that the Unity Government take the bull by the horn and make sure the boarding schools take in B40 students even without any A for their subjects.

I have seen urban poverty among the Malays and there is one family that has six children that I take care of with my Islamic Charity money directly.

These are the future pupils for boarding schools.

Boarding schools should not be cultivating the idea of getting 100% SPM first graders but leveling the field for needy students.

Middle-class parents must see that this act is both socially and spiritually important.

The UPSR is not the measure of who should go to boarding schools. Each student must be assessed within his or her capacity given the circumstance of life being dealt to them.

Grades are not the judge here, but character and the chance needed to be given in socioeconomic terms.

I think it is time we create a new pathway to sekolah asrama penuh and not reach for false excellence in numbers and grades but real success and contribution to social building.

All needy children from all Malaysians of all races must be awarded a fair playing field, and this must be the new mantra.

Boarding schools should not be for self-proclaimed “school geniuses” bred by tuition centers founded on thousands of ringgit and extra study hours.

Boarding schools should be the PLKN of rebuilding the nation, and so we do not need UPSR to judge which of our children should be admitted to a facility that would ensure the safety and successful future of citizens and professionals to rebuild the country.

(Prof Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at a local university and his writing reflects his own personal opinion entirely.)

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