Maszlee: Need to relax varsity entrance criteria for rural, poor students

PETALING JAYA: There is a need to relax university entrance criteria for students who are from rural areas or who come from poor families, Education Minister Maszlee Malik said today.

Maszlee said students with such backgrounds could not be compared with their more affluent counterparts, including those who lived in urban areas or attended boarding schools.

“For those who come from affluent families, they have more money to take tuition classes, to get the books, as well as the best teachers to teach them. Similarly in boarding schools.

“But this is not the case for students from poor families or rural areas, in Sabah and Sarawak.

“To me, even if their results are not as good as their urban counterparts, but if they are given the opportunity to get quality education, with good teachers, adequate facilities and infrastructure, they can truly excel in the future,” he said in a video interview.

Maszlee had recently made a working visit to four Sarawak schools which are falling into disrepair due to various reasons: SK Terasi, SK Abang Man, SMK Sri Sadong and SMK Sadong Hilir.

Among the main problems faced are building structures rotting away due to frequent flooding, which occur as a result of blocked drains and poor maintenance, water supply issues, vandalism, decrepit science laboratories and teachers’ quarters, and a lack of toilet cubicles.

Maszlee expressed sadness seeing the poor state of schools in the suburban areas of Sarawak, and he has yet to visit the interior.

“This is 2018, but the situation is similar to 40 years ago. When I was small, this was the situation of the school along with its facilities and infrastructure.

“But at the same time, I am heartened to see the teachers in high spirits about their jobs. Even when they live in really decrepit quarters, and teach in schools in equally poor condition, they are passionate to teach their pupils, to educate them,” he said.

The Simpang Renggam MP said he was impressed with the talent and capabilities of the students, even when they came from rural areas and studied in underprivileged conditions.

“They show drive to study and learn. When I asked them to read English poems, they were able to do so.

“There are those who are interested in science, even when their laboratories are in such bad shape and ill-equipped. There are also those with leadership skills.

“I am confident that if they are given the opportunity, with the right facilities and infrastructure, they will excel. All this while, they have not been getting the same opportunities as their urban counterparts or those in the peninsula,” he said, stressing on the need to provide better facilities and infrastructure so that they could study more comfortably.

Maszlee has also vowed to resolve the problem of teacher shortage in Sarawak, and wants the teachers to have good quality training to ensure they can train the pupils to be excellent.

“We will also try to help the schools in Sarawak to get good quality books, notably English books. When I visited the schools, I stressed to the students on the importance of mastering English.

“And truly, even though they study in rural schools, they show resolve and interest in the language,” he said.

The recent Sarawak visit, Maszlee said, would not be his last. There will be followup visits to Sarawak, to ensure that projects to repair and reconstruct schools in bad shape, as well as saving problematic projects, can be done.

“I have only visited some rural areas. I have not even gone into the interior. I believe there are many poor schools in the interior and rural Sarawak that need attention,” he added.