It's difficult enough to have to leave your kids in boarding schools far away from home. For parents of the students in rural Sarawak's SMK Sundar, it's double the heartbreak as they are greeted with pitiful living conditions year after year.
Not only were the students forced to sleep on old and stained mattresses, they are said to have to fight over the limited number of free textbooks made available to the school - most of which are already well-used and torn
"In the parent’s own words, “Mereka berebut dengan buku tex seperti ikan makan baja… siapa dulu dia dapat” (They scrambled for the textbooks like fishes going for food, first come, first served)," said Sarawak opposition chief and Ba'Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian in a statement.
Bian had highlighted the issue after receiving the distressing photos from a parent who was sending his son off for a new school year in SMK Sundar.
"How can the parents have any confidence that their children will fare well when they have to put up with Third World conditions?" Baru Bian questioned, pointing out that rural students in Malaysia are already far behind their international peers.
"Their young inquiring minds are ready for learning and development but they are not given proper textbooks to use. Their growing bodies need proper rest but they are given mattresses that are torn, stained, smelly and unhygienic," he said. "Does the government really expect our schoolchildren to thrive and excel by subjecting them to this squalor? Is it any wonder that our rural students are performing worse than Vietnamese rural students in the Pisa assessment tests?"
Despite receiving constant media attention and numerous calls to build a new school in Sarawak, Baru Bian said that the government has yet to act on improving the sorry state of rural schools other than making "appropriate comments"
"I have brought up the need for building SMK Long Semadoh on numerous occasions, including during the last Sarawak assembly sitting. Land had been acquired in 2003, but until today, the school has not been built," he recalled.
"Time and again, the press highlights the dilapidated conditions of our rural schools. The minister-in-charge, and sometimes even the chief minister, makes the appropriate comments but that is it. There is absolutely no change," he added.
"There is no political will to improve the rural schools. There is no money from the federal government."
Baru Bian also said that the appalling state of rural schools stemmed from "decades of mismanagement and corruption" by Barisan Nasional (BN), adding that the government has failed in bringing meaningful development to the country
"Is this the development that the BN government is so proud of achieving? The shocking state of our rural schools is the only indicator we need of the failure of the BN government. Without proper education for the people, there can be no meaningful development in a country," he said.
He further added, "The BN government should be thoroughly ashamed of this ‘achievement’ brought about by decades of mismanagement and corruption. Our children deserve better than this!"
Stressing on the urgency of rectifying the situation, Baru Bian urged the government to expedite the development of SMK Long Semadoh, which has been on hold since 2003, as well as to investigate and improve conditions in SMK Sundar
"I would like the minister for women, family and community development to place the highest priority on the building of SMK Long Semadoh," he said. "I request the minister to investigate the conditions at SMK Sundar and to make immediate improvements, such providing proper textbooks and new mattresses and pillows and whatever basic amenities that may be necessary."
For far too long, people living in rural areas of East Malaysia have been subjected to deplorable living conditions despite the government's promises to make improvements: