PORT DICKSON, Nov. 15 (Reuters) – Former Assistant Secretary of Education Datuk P. Kamalanathan has pledged to resume Barisan Nasional (BN) education initiatives, which have been abandoned by both the Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Perikatan Nasional (PN) governments.
Among others, Kamalanathan said the relocation of Tamil schools, particularly to rural areas, required immediate attention.
According to the MIC Central Working Committee member, many Tamil schools need to be relocated as they are located on plantations and difficult to access for students mainly due to urbanization.
“Parents who lived on plantations moved and came to urban areas, but the schools remain.
“BN had (then) taken some initiatives to relocate the schools. The money was approved in late 2017 or early 2018.
“At my handover to then-Deputy Minister of Education Teo Nie Ching (during PH administration), I explained to her that the funds were available and that I should please write to them so that they can be sent to you.
“Unfortunately, that wasn’t investigated at all, so not all of the funds were used,” he said Malaysia Post during an interview at the Umno state headquarters here.
No more preschool assignments
In another initiative, Kamalanathan said, as part of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (Pelan Pembangunan Pendidikan Malaysia) BN had planned to set up more pre-schools in Tamil schools.
“The preschools will later help to increase the number of students in primary school.
“Then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak gave us a special allocation of RM10 million to build 50 preschool classrooms and we completed this in 2018.
“The plan was that RM10 million would be allocated for pre-school development in Tamil schools every year for the next five years so that by the end of the fifth year all Tamil schools in the country would have at least one pre-school each.
“Unfortunately, that plan was discontinued in 2018, so there were no more preschool assignments,” he said.
During Kamalanathan’s tenure as Deputy Minister of Education, his portfolio included the welfare of Indian middle schools, while then Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid was responsible for the national schools. MCA’s Datuk Chong Sin Woon, the second deputy minister of education, received the portfolio of Chinese middle schools.
Referring to education-related issues in Negri Sembilan, Kamalanathan, who will run for the Port Dickson parliamentary seat, also claimed that school allocations in the state were not distributed fairly, to the detriment of Tamil schools.
“In Negri Sembilan there are more than 14 Tamil schools in Port Dickson. The total amount I allocated as Deputy Minister of Education from 2013 to 2018 was about RM2.5 million for 14 schools.
“I have been informed that the Negri Sembilan state government, I think even last year (it has 61 schools), the total allocation for Tamil schools was around RM500,000-600,000 – for the whole Negri Sembilan.
“If you extrapolate, you get an average of 6,000 to 7,000 RM per school. How fair is that?” he said, questioning the lack of funds being channeled to Tamil schools in Port Dickson.
In describing fair allocations, Kamalanathan gave the example that when he was Deputy Minister of Education, funds were allocated to all schools, regardless of whether the parent-teacher association or school board was pro-government or not.
“We made sure we got all the funds because the funds were for the children and infrastructure maintenance.
“We didn’t care or we didn’t care who (got the funds). While they weren’t our backers, the most important thing was that we had to get those funds across,” he added.
He also pointed out that not much has been done for schools in need of support over the past four years while the PH and PN have been in office.
“When we handed over to the government back then, we didn’t see a lot of effort in those areas.
“Many schools needed development funds, more classrooms, science labs and technology labs. These weren’t dealt with,” he said.
Even when PN came into the picture, Kamalanathan said there was no improvement.
He claimed that this was due to the mismatched ideals of the various governing parties.
“It is different to have a government that is entirely under the BN administration than a coalition government.
“If it is a coalition government, the process is different. Their priorities may not be our priorities and the coalition was formed because we didn’t want a government dissolution at the time,” he said, referring to the “Sheraton move.”
The term “Sheraton Move” emerged in 2020 when political defectors caused the collapse of the PH government.
The collapse saw PN rise to power unelected, before the coalition itself was forced to yield to BN, which was voted out in the 14th general election last year.
The school is a safe place
Other concerns, Kamalanathan said, included the decline in enrollment of matriculation students after taking over PH administration in 2018.
“In 2017, the BN government approved 2,200 places for Indian students to continue enrolling. This was an increase from 1,500 in 2012 and to 2,200 in 2017.
“This increase of 700 enrollment places means you can admit another 700 students in public universities,” he said, recalling the government’s goal of enrolling at least 7 percent of Indian students in public universities.
The following year, when PH took over, Kamalanathan said the number had dropped to 1,000.
“Most of the B40 students were affected. This is very shocking. The 2,200 enrollment places, most of the applicants are B40 kids because they can’t do private education, so the BN government education path is the most constructive and right for them, and about 1,200 students couldn’t get that at that time,” he said .
Kamalanathan said if he returned to the Ministry of Education there would be a focus on making school buildings “livable”.
He said students must go to school without fear and parents must be able to send their children without fear.
“A school must be a safe place of education. A school campus needs to be a place where the child is happy to go to school the next day and sad to leave at the end of the day.
“That’s the kind of environment we want to build and that’s what I’m going to work towards,” he said.
As part of the education plan, Kamalanathan said the BN government has started talks to digitize education.
At the time, the process stipulated that the goal should be achieved by 2025.
When Covid-19 hit the country in 2020, the pandemic showed the importance of digitizing education.
“What Covid-19 has taught us is that we have digitization running at high speed. So learning from home has now become a culture. Students need technology and gadgets.
“These are part of the educational plan that was designed,” he said.
One of the steps to digitize education was 1BestariNet.
However, it was scrapped entirely when PH administration took over in 2018.
“1BestariNet was totally politicized. This was an excellent plan for Malaysia to go digital. I’ll tell you why One of the first people I met when I became Deputy Minister of Education was the Finnish Minister of Education.
“We all know that Finnish education is among the top 10 in the world. So their minister came all the way to Kuala Lumpur just to understand how our 1BestariNet system works.
“How did we do that? Because we are on a very brave front. We wanted to implement this in all 10,000 schools. Nowhere in the world would that happen, and they usually do a pilot first,” he said.
Kamalanathan further explained that technology is a means to ensure equality in education for all students in the country.
“We left massively because the only thing that can ensure equality in education is technology.
“We cannot have the same infrastructure development in a school in an urban area compared to rural or inner schools, so we implemented 4G 1BestariNet online education to deploy across the country.
“In certain areas where there is no transportation, only river, there will be a school there. So we need quality education, the same education; For example, a fifth grader in a school in Kuala Lumpur needs to have the same standard in a school, say in Bario, Sarawak. That’s equality,” he said.
Unfortunately, he said, it’s highly politicized.
“People tend to believe information that is half-truths. But it no longer exists. We stopped it and so far it hasn’t started anything.
“So I think if this had continued, Malaysia would have become a leading player in technology and advancement in education.
“It was really unfortunate. Of course, when we were in the ministry, we would have continued it, but the moment we lost the 2018 election, the new government stopped doing it,” he said.
In November 2014, the Auditor-General’s 2013 Report (Series 3) found that internet connectivity to 4,176 locations was delayed for up to just over a year from the date the 1BestariNet was run, with no time extension or late penalty was imposed.
More than half of the 501 schools tested, or 58 percent, indicated that 1BestariNet access did not cover the entire school area.
The audit also found that the 1BestariNet project, awarded to YTL Communications, failed to provide satisfactory bandwidth connectivity to 89.1 percent of the 46 schools tested.
Kamalanathan will face off against Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Aminuddin Harun, who replaced incumbent MP Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who will instead face former Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu in Tambun.
The Port Dickson seat went through a by-election in 2018, in which its then-incumbent resigned to make way for Anwar, who returned to the political arena.
For GE15, Port Dickson will see a five-man contest featuring Perikatan Nasional’s Rafiei Mustapha, independent contestant Rani Kulup and Gerakan Tanah Air’s Ahmad Idham Ahmad Nadzri.