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Education struggle for poor Sabah natives
Published on: Sunday, February 04, 2024
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S­tudents have to walk through mud.
SABAH, a land of diverse landscapes and cultures, is grappling with persistent challenges that hamper the development of education.

In the remote areas of some districts, teachers and students must walk on muddy roads to get to school, and the journey can take hours sometimes.

If that was not bad enough, some of the schools are just crumbling infrastructure that do not provide a conducive atmosphere to learning.

Administrative decentralisation (transfer of decision-making powers from the federal to state government) has been proposed as a remedy to these problems.

As one advocate put it, “decentralisation would empower state education departments to collaborate closely with schools, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders to address the challenges faced at the grassroots level, ensuring a more efficient and effective educational framework”, “Return education autonomy to Sabah, PBS leader urges ministry after absentee teacher case” (The Star, July 19, 2023).

But while decentralisation is enticing, it risks oversimplifying the intricate web of challenges facing education in Sabah that are beyond the traditional purview of the Education Ministry.

For example, the Education Ministry’s Digital Education Policy (DEP), which was launched in November last year, will be difficult to implement unless issues in digital connectivity in Sabah are addressed.

It was reported that some students in Tawau travelled 30km or 40 minutes by motorcycle to find better Internet connection so that they would not miss the home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) online lessons during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The DEP requires secure and stable access to Internet connectivity throughout Sabah so that digital education can be implemented efficiently either inside or outside the classroom.

Based on available data from the Communications Ministry, the third quarter of 2021 witnessed a rise in 4G coverage to 83.9pc in Sabah’s populated regions. 

This is an improvement from the 73.41pc recorded in the second quarter of 2020 before the introduction of the National Digital Network (Jendela) initiative.

It is hoped that all schools in Sabah, even in the most remote villages, will have Internet connection because the DEP is meant to be implemented in every education institution under the Ministry.

It is also well known that household socioeconomic status influences academic performance. 

Therefore, all the relevant stakeholders, from ministries and departments to local community leaders and even the private sector and NGOs, will need to find ways to uplift the socioeconomic standards of the people, particularly those in the low income groups who need financial assistance to educate their children.

Attention must also be given to providing the necessary resources and infrastructure for economic development, especially in the rural areas. 

Without basic infrastructure, these areas will not attract investments that will provide job opportunities for the people.

Findings from international studies suggest that the outcomes of education decentralisation can vary significantly between countries. Among those where decentralisation of education is considered statistically significant, only Canada, Qatar and Turkiye have experienced a positive impact on student achievement.

In contrast, in Austria, Lebanon and Trinidad & Tobago, decentralisation has led to negative effects on student outcomes. And even in countries like Russia, Slovenia and Thailand, where decentralisation is statistically significant, it has been found to have adverse implications on student achievement.

Policymakers and advocates of partial decentralisation in Sabah must be aware of these facts. 

While it is a positive development especially as autonomy in this regard has been long overdue, an interdisciplinary mindset and inter-ministerial efforts are required to tackle the issues in education currently faced by Sabah. 

Auzellea Kristin, Kota Kinabalu

(The writer is coordinator of HIVE Educators, a Sabah-based independent education think-for-action tank.)


- The views expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Express.

- If you have something to share, write to us at: [email protected]



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