Masing: State funding, mergers only way to solve rural school dilemma

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing

KUCHING: The Sarawak government’s move to fund rural schools and the consolidation of low enrolment schools is the only way to solve the state’s rural school issues once and for all.

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing said the state government would foot the bill first before claiming it back from the federal government.

He explained that the rural school issue is basically a ‘chicken and egg situation’.

“The low enrolment in Sarawak rural schools is in part affected by the change in demographic patterns in rural Sarawak.

“In the 60s and 70s, the rural population was widely scattered, and the Sarawak government in its effort to spread education to the rural populace had built schools for the remote communities.

“As demographic patterns changed due to better accessibility, the residents of the remote settlements moved to town centres, thus depriving the rural area of its population and the students to fill the schools.”

Masing who is also Chairman of the State Cabinet Council on Rural Schools, said the situation has been further aggravated by the reluctance of the federal government in giving the needed resources to improve these dilapidated rural schools.

“The government (federal) does not feel the need, understandably, to put resources into the low enrolment schools and the parents are reluctant to send their children to the dilapidated schools. So the situation spirals downward,” he said in a statement today.

To break the vicious cycle, the Sarawak government saw the need to intervene.

“The Sarawak government’s move to invest its resources to improve rural schools and the consolidation of low enrolment schools is the only way forward. It’s like taking the bull by the horns.

“Sarawak will bill the federal government on the cost to improve its schools,” said Masing, who is also Infrastructure Development and Transportation Minister.

Masing had recently disclosed that the fund would be derived from the huge increment of income from the premium rate collected from hill timber log exports after the state government increased the rate from 80 sen to RM50 per cubic metre, which is more than 6,000 per cent increase.

He said the new timber policy has increased the state’s income from RM9 million to RM300 million annually. The proceeds would go to the Sarawak Foundation which is managed by Yayasan Sarawak.

The state government would build and repair rural schools using this fund, he added.

Meanwhile, according to Education, Science and Technological Research Minister Dato Sri Michael Manyin Jawong, the state currently has 651 schools which are considered ‘under-enrolment schools’.