While leaders squabble, pupils struggle with termites and floods

SK Ulu Bawan suffers frequent flooding, with waters up to 3ft (1m) deep.

KUCHING: While political leaders squabble over repairs to Sarawak schools, daily life at Ulu Bawan national primary school boils down to a struggle between floods and termites and a lack of facilities.

From a distance, the school building looks clean and beautiful. But it will not be long now before the school is flooded again during the rainy season, damaging the facilities and most of its plants.

SK Ulu Bawan is located about 50km from Kanowit town, an hour’s journey, and is one of the more critically dilapidated and flood-prone schools in Sarawak.

Termites have eaten away at the walls of the teachers’ quarters.

It has an enrolment of 139 pupils formed into one class per standard, and 16 teachers and 7 non-teaching staff.

A parent who wished to remain anonymous told FMT that the school had been flooded more than 10 times this year. “Every year, the school will be flooded during the rainy season. It has been going on since the late 1990s when the roads were constructed and villagers nearby no longer depended on river transport.”

The last flood was in July. “The river nearby is blocked by branches and the water cannot flow properly and overflows the banks,” the parent said.

The classrooms are not affected but the school’s foyer, football field, computer lab, sepak takraw court and multipurpose hall would be submerged – in as much as three to four feet of water (1m-1.4m) and the football field is no longer a field. It would turn into a lake,” he said.

The wall at the headmaster’s room infested with termites.

“Gotong-royong” clean-ups are held to clear the school compound of mud, but many school facilities are left damaged.

Termites are another problem, having eaten their way into the two wooden school buildings which were built in the 1970s. The school’s dining hall ceiling would have collapsed had there been no pillars to support it, the parent said.

School officials used part of a RM20,000 donation from the assemblyman for Ngemah to build the supporting pillars at the dining hall, repair worn-out hostel beds and the foyer. The donation was made to buy 57 mattresses for the pupils who live at the boarding school. The pupils had to bring their own pillows and blankets from home.

SK Ulu Bawan also lacks facilities such as computers and internet connection. There is a computer lab but no computer. There is no staff room or canteen. An unused classroom was turned into the teachers’ staff room.

There is only one male and female toilet for pupils, but the toilets are currently out of order, he said. “There are three female outhouses and two male outhouses at the hostel. The female ones are still in good condition but the male ones are in bad shape.”

Teachers’ quarters were also in poor condition with holes on the walls and rotten floors.

It is understood that a tender was issued in June to build two blocks of classrooms.

The boarding school’s dining hall ceiling is supported by two pillars to prevent it from collapsing.

There are 1,454 schools in Sarawak, of which 1,020 are dilapidated and 415 in critical condition. Money for the repairs have been held up in a tussle between the federal and state governments.

Education Minister Maszlee Malik has pledged to resolve the issue over the next two years and state minister for education, Michael Manyin, has said that repair works might start soon on at least five critically dilapidated schools.

The repairs had been held up by the federal government demanding a loan repayment of RM1 billion. Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg has said he had agreed to pay RM350 million as part of the settlement, so that money would be released for the repairs. “But when I asked Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng to release the funds, he said it was necessary to set up a committee first,” the chief minister was quoted as saying.