By Salahuddin Hisham
SCHOOL re-opened this week.
As with this, one could hear parents lamenting how much money they have to cough out to get their children ready for the new school year.
School fees, school uniforms, sports attire, outfits for uniformed groups like girl guides, scouts as well taekwondo. Also there are stationery, textbooks, neck ties, coats, school badges, canteen fees, and transport, not to mention extra tuition for children sitting for important public examination and examination fees.
Those with more children returning to school will have to multiply the amount to be spent. And more for Bumiputera children selected to enter boarding schools.
It is on the first day of school that it will be chaotic with parents registering standard one children and making sure their logistical arrangement to and return from school runs well. In the midst of the chaos, there will be parents sorting out at the last minute the transfer of their children from one school to another school.
In the midst of the cacophony of the first day of school, one could hear parents grousing over rise in education cost. Over social media, there are those exploiting the sentiments over the rising prices of consumer goods to complain about compulsory school fees. Thought school fees and even examination fees have long been abolished.
They published the receipt, showing payments for exercise book, stationery and contribution for the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA).
In my day, our parents had to spend money for textbooks. Today, the school provides for free.
As for contributing to the PTA, it is not compulsory and optional. It does give parents credibility to speak and participate in the PTA. It is one way parents can help to improve by contributing to provide better facilities and add on other programs for the school which indirectly benefit their own children.
In developed countries, PTAs and local community participate actively and contribute in the upkeep of the schools.
In one social media post that went viral, one parent complained about paying RM250 per month for hostel food. That comes to RM9 per day.
Back then, it was RM45 per month that our parents had to pay — RM30 pocket money and RM15 contribution for food, lodging and school back then. Today, it is not expensive considering it is usually for three meals a day, two tea breaks and late night Milo before turning in. Time has changed.
The nastiest political stunt to take opportunity of school re-opening must be the viral video of a father making his child walk over a rundown bridge when there is a proper bridge that their car could use.
If the nominal amount needed to be forked out is too burdensome, let’s hope Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad-led Pakatan Harapan would promise free education without anything to pay. They promise free tertiary education but don’t see them implementing it in Selangor and Penang.
There were several promises for contribution to education but have yet to be implemented. Promising is easy, but delivering is not as easy. Public expenditure will always be limited and competing over other priorities. .
For 2018, the federal government budgeted RM3.1 billion to assist schools and school children from needy families. They categorise it as RM941 million as general assistance, RM1.7 billion for specific assistance and RM400 million as one-off assistance.
Still, it is tough for parents when retailers take advantage of the sudden gush of demand to flout the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2010.
Coming from a large family with both parents, uncles and aunties, cousins and in-laws who are teachers or university lecturers, it is sad to see there are still Malaysian parents being petty on the education of their children.
It is encouraging to have a friend comment on our Facebook expressing this decisive words, “I just leave the naysayers on their own. While they complain and complain I’m going to guide my family and whoever else who want to follow to build on what we have around us. We are going to create our own opportunities.
“My message to my family has always been – you are responsible for your own success or failures. Laziness and whining and complaining are of no use. Negative attitudes get you nowhere. You are responsible for your own destiny.”
Teachers were not well paid back then. Parents had to pay for more items than today. They did not whine and complain like certain parents today.
What our parents did was to buy our school uniform off season and long before school started. Sometimes mum would sew the uniform herself.
We economised with hand-me-downs of clothes and textbooks. So we learnt to keep our textbooks clean and tidy for others to use later. The younger siblings would pass theirs to the younger cousins.
We hardly spent money at the school canteen. Food and water were brought from home – healthy and home cooked. The daily pocket money was 10–20 sen.
Even that, we were encouraged to save. For every cent saved, our parents topped up the same amount every time we broke open the bamboo piggy bank to deposit into the Post Office Saving Passbook.
We walked or rode a bike to school. When we moved to a home further from school, we went to school in jam-packed transportation without air-conditioning those days.
Sometimes we wonder why parents still need to send their children to boarding schools.
We went to boarding school to get better facilities as a 2-bedroom home was a wee bit packed for two parents, eight children and an amah. It was necessary for a better and regimented educational environment.
Today, normal day school in the urban and semi urban areas has as good facilities as any boarding school back then.
Back then, boarding schools were meant to make you independent and responsible. Each of us are responsible for our own upkeep. We washed our own clothes, dried and folded them. Cleaned and kept the room and public toilet clean.
We were made to be responsible for our own studies. Strict adherence to prep hours and self-driven to chase the grades. Parents hardly came to visit us. Some students especially the one from far away Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak never received any visitor.
Today parents come every fortnight to bring clean clothes and collect dirty laundry. There are now coin-operated washing and drying machine.