DURING his Budget speech a few years ago, Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, among others announced an allocation of RM33.4 billion for education and training. This accounts for 21 percent of the total Budget.
This was mainly for operational and development expenditure, of which RM6.7 billion was allocated for primary education and RM6.2 billion for secondary education.
A total of RM1 billion will be channeled to 22 new primary and secondary schools set for opening next year and for the building of 198 more schools, including fully-residential secondary schools.
Another RM90 million has been allocated for two new Mara junior science colleges (MRSM), and equipment for existing MRSM facilities.
To increase the number of computer-literate students, RM288 million has been allocated under the smart school program to equip schools with more computers.
About 1.5 million children from low-income families will receive higher monthly school allowances - RM50 for those in primary school and RM70 for secondary school students, up RM20.
The monthly allowance for children with special needs has also been increased from RM25 to RM50.
Abdullah also mentioned the abolishment of fees for public examinations in government schools. Students sitting for the Primary School Assessment Test (UPSR), Lower Secondary Assessment (PMR), Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM) and Malaysian Higher School Certificate (STPM) and can take their examinations free of charge from next year (2007).
To many, this development was good news for them. They said it was a good move by the government in easing the burden of parents from the lower and middle income groups. Parents and those in the field of education applauded the move, saying it was timely when the majority of the people were facing hard times.
But some had different views. They said abolishing the fees meant degrading the value of the examinations. They said it was normal for every valuable and good thing to have a price for it.
They said it was all right to pay for the good things in life. They were afraid that without the entrance fee for the examinations, students and parents would no longer look highly upon those who had sat for the tests.
They were afraid pupils who sat for such 'free examinations' would be looked down upon and the paper qualifications not of much value while the students would not be too concerned about their studies. The students wouldn't care because they would not have to sweat to pay for the fees.
In is normal in our society - free products being treated like unimportant items and looked down upon. The public doesn't give much attention to such items. Usually people like to sample free products but after a while, they will throw it away. But for products that had to bought from money saved, then they would be used to the maximum.
From my experience in giving tuition to primary school children during the weekends since 1998, I realize that the ones dispensed on a complimentary basis were not taken seriously by the pupils and even their parents.
Free to some means low quality. The children would come to class once in a while and play truant. They wouldn't pay much attention during lessons and I would have a hard time disciplining them.
On the other hand, if you imposed a fee, the children and even their parents showed their concern. The parents became serious because they had to dig in for money from their pockets. If you charged monthly fees, they would make sure their children attended classes.
To cater for the poor children, I gave them free lessons. Many were not interested and shied away from classes. They played hide and seek - once in a blue moon, they would turn up and then disappear without a word.
I am not sure about the results of the voucher tuition scheme for poor students launched by the Ministry of Education not long ago. A study should be done to determine the effectiveness of such a program.
From my observations students seem not keen to follow the classes held during weekdays and weekends.
Since the year is going to end in a fewl months time, students would be gearing up in their studies in facing the coming public examinations. In my small tuition class of English (I only teach children between Standards 1 to 3), I ask the boys and girls to write compositions. A topic given would be about 'Myself' and I append below some the 'master pieces' without being edited.
1. My name is Nur Syuhada binti Khalid. I am nine years old. I school at a Sekolah Kebangsaan Semabok. My birthday is 23-6-1997. My teacher name is Noraini binti Nordin. She so beautiful and good teacher. My ambition is doctor. My hobbye is are reading books and swimming.
2. My name is Luqman Hakim bin Roslan. I live at 952 Batu 3 Jalan Muar 75050 Melaka. My hobbies are play computer and play badminton. My ambition is police. I study at Sekolah Kebangsaan Bandar Hilir. I have many friend there. They are Syed Aliff, Shafiq, Salihin and Haziq.
3. My name is Muhd Airifin bin Abu Hasan. I am nine years old. School is Sekolah Kebangsaan Semabok.
4. My Siti Nur Zahirah binti Mazlan. Ia am seven years old. I sekolah kebangsaan Semabok. My live in Semabok. 84441.A. My teacher name is Noraini binti Nordin. Se so beaoitis and good teacher. My andtions is doctor.
5. My name is Iffatul Auni Shamsudin. I am eight years old. I school at Sekolah Kebangsaan Convent Infant Jesus (1) Melaka. My home address is 1291-3 Jln Muar 75050 Melaka. My teacher name is Pn Ong Keng Seng. She is very fierce. She is beautiful and good teacher. My hobby is read book. My birthday is 21.5.1998. My ambition is lecturer.
6. My name is Nurul Afiqah Auni bt Mohd Azhar. I live at No. 9 Jn 16 Taman Seri Duyung. My hobby is a play basket ball. My ambitionis is a teacher. I study at Sekolah Kebangsaan Seri Duyong. My best freind are Nur Farah Diyanah and Nur Akma Fatihah. My favourite is chicken rice.
7. My name is Muhammad Atif Naquuddin b. Mohd Azhar. I live at No. 9 Jln 16 Taman Seri Duyong. My birth is 3.May 1997. My hobby is play ball. My Ambition is scientise. I study at Sekolah Kebangsaan Seri Duyong. My favorite is chicken rice. My favorite water is Milo. My favorite friend is Haffizahir, Umar, Azim, Luqman, Azhar and Amir. My favorite colour is red. I like a cat to.
From their compositions, readers should be able to gauge the standard of our pupils in the English language. They are still young and their ability to write in English proves that they are capable of improving their language in the near future. To my former students who had sat for UPSR and will be sitting for their PMR, SPM and STPM this year, all the best to all of you!