Sabah has more pressing needs than khat, says minister

Sabah Rural Development Minister Ewon Benedick (left) speaks to Education and Innovation Minister Yusof Yacob at the state assembly building today.

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah has told the federal education ministry to focus on more pressing issues, particularly the dilapidated schools in the state, instead of coming up with “questionable” policies.

Sabah Rural Development Minister Ewon Benedick said school infrastructure and teachers’ welfare were among the issues the ministry should prioritise.

He said there were 587 schools in Sabah still considered as dilapidated.

“The focus now should not be on changing the colour of school shoes or introducing the khat calligraphy as a compulsory subject for Bahasa Melayu in schools,” he said at the sidelines of the state assembly sitting here today.

Benedick said there were a number of school projects undertaken by the education ministry that had been categorised as “problematic” or “delayed”.

“There are some that have been abandoned and others that have been completed but without adequate facilities, for example, a new school block that does not have a teachers’ room or a new hostel with no toilets,” he said.

He said school hostels also needed repairs and improvements.

The irony, he said, was construction of schools implemented through the state Public Works Department was more satisfactory.

Yesterday, Sabah PKR chief Christina Liew, who is also the deputy chief minister, called on the education ministry to allow the state to decide on the introduction of khat in schools.

Liew said Putrajaya should not force its policies on Sabah, adding that the ministry should only make khat an optional subject instead of a compulsory one.

Agreeing with Liew that khat should be an optional subject, Benedick said the ministry should work instead on improving the standard of English among school students, university undergraduates and teachers.

Another issue that warranted attention, he said, was the number of unemployed graduates produced by the “countless educational institutions in the country”.

“I believe there are institutions that are only interested in profits but care little for their students’ future,” he said.

Benedick also reminded the ministry that there were villages that did not have access to education because the nearest schools were hours away by foot and did not have dormitories.