There are perks aplenty for parents, teachers and students but it is the implementation and sustainability of these rewards that matter.
PLEASE don’t judge our situation by how nice our furniture is,” says Raginah Abdul Rahman, gesturing around her home at the Sri Pahang low-cost flats in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.
“Most of these things here have been donated to us; people have been good enough to give us nice things.”
With the floral rubber flooring, cheery curtains and functional chairs and tables, the 35-year-old’s home is humble yet average enough.
But a closer look reveals paint peeling off walls, chipped utensils stacked on an old rack in the kitchen, and everyday items held together by tape and rubber-bands.
“That doesn’t really work,” says Raginah, pointing to an admittedly large television set at the corner of the room.
“Someone was kind enough to give it to us, but we can only see a few channels after adjusting it for about half an hour or so.”
Raginah serving her children (from left) Rauf Mujahid, Rafi and Rasinah with a home-cooked lunch.
Raginah explains that she sells stickers and knick knacks at night markets, while her husband does odd jobs at Rela-organised events.
“My husband injured himself in a motorcylce accident last month, so he’s at home for now; he can’t get any other work because he can barely read or write.
“Aside from that, the only other money we get is my disability allowance of RM350 per month. It’s hard, but we do what we can to manage,” says Raginah, whose disability was caused by a road accident.
With three of her five children in primary school, Raginah explains that schooling expenses are a great strain on her household budget.
“The school that my son goes to keeps reminding us to pay, but if we don’t have the money, what can we do?” she says.
With an average family income of RM300 a month, Raginah is but one face of Malaysia’s so-called “bottom 40%” – a segment of society that stands to immediately benefit from the recent Budget 2012.
Tabled in Parliament by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the budget unveiled a host of incentives under the theme of “National Transformation Policy: Welfare for the Rakyat, Well-Being of the Nation”.
Among the benefits offered are a one-time RM500 assistance to households earning less than RM3,000 a month, a one-off schooling assistance of RM100 to all students from Year One to Form Five and the abolishment of additional fees currently charged by schools.
Some claim that these incentives indicate an “election budget” and criticise the lack of long-term plans to assist the underprivileged, but some Sri Pahang flat residents say that they will take whatever they can.
“I work as a clerk in the welfare office here,” says single-mother Norlela Abu Yazid, 39.
School boys playing a game of checkers
“I make about RM1,000 a month, but with four children (their ages ranging from 10 to 21 years) to care for, any help is a relief.”
Another Sri Pahang resident, Rosalina Baharom, says she pays almost RM120 for her daughter’s secondary school fees.
“And there are other things to pay for; uniforms, exercise books, workbooks, school bags and so on.
“Even the bus fare from Bangsar to Brickfields is RM40 a month; for just one child!” exclaims the 33-year-old mother of six.
Rosalina shares that she is her husband’s third wife, and occasionally receives money from him.
“He comes by twice a week, sometimes he brings the children gifts.
“But I earn what I can by selling nasi lemak, and if I’m lucky I can make about RM350 a month,” she says.
While candid when describing her life, Rosalina’s voice cracks at the mention of her eldest son.
“He got kicked out of school, and started doing petty crime around the area,” she says, dabbing her eyes with the corner of her headscarf.
“I had to send him away to live with my mother in Shah Alam, and he’s working in a factory there.
“He seems to be doing better, and he’s going to apply for a certificate in electrical wiring next year.
“I worry about him all the time – he’s only 16.”
Even as they welcome the incentives however, almost all the interviewees imply that the implementation of these benefits may see problems.
Raginah claims for instance, that one of her sons has yet to receive welfare assistance despite being qualified for it.
“My son stopped receiving Baitulmal (schooling) assistance, and when I checked with their (the fund’s) office, they told me that their records say that he’s been expelled from his school – this is completely untrue!
“In my experience, it feels that some teachers pick and choose students seeking financial aid; the assistance is not being handed by need,” she claims.
Meanwhile, Rosalina says that her application to the welfare department to start a small business had been rejected.
“But I found out that my child’s pre-school teacher managed to get the approval because she had the right contacts within the department,” claims Rosalina.
“We appreciate these handouts, but we don’t want to live off them forever; aside from some immediate assistance, we need to be able to make a living on our own.
“We need help to stand on our own feet.”
Schools and teachers
Out of the overall Budget 2012 allocation of RM232.8bil, a total of RM50.2bil has been allocated for the education sector.
From this, RM1.9mil will go towards the development of schools, while a further RM1bil will be used as a special fund for the construction, improvement and maintenance of schools.
The special fund provides RM100mil each for Chinese, Tamil, mission, religious and Mara schools, and the remaining RM500mil is allocated for national schools .
Teachers meanwhile, as with the rest of the civil service, have a headstart in enjoying the perks oulined in the Budget 2012 – a half month bonus with a minimum payment of RM500 this December.
Prior to this in August, a halfmonth bonus of at least RM500 was paid out. With an estimated 1.3 million civil servants in the country the total Government spending on civil service bonuses this year would be at least RM1.3bil.
Additionally, the retirement age for civil servants has been raised to 60 years from the current 58 years.
But the biggest change for the civil service is the introduction of the New Civil Service Remuneration Scheme (or known by its Malay acronym SBPA) to replace the present Malaysia Remuneration Scheme (SMM).
Under the SBPA, civil servants will see improved salary scales and annual pay increments over a longer period of time, said Najib.
Those who opt for the SBPA will receive an annual increment between 7% and 13%, while those remaining under the SMM will receive annual increments between RM80 and RM320.
The SBPA also includes a new exit policy for underperforming civil servants.
While the actual SBPA guidelines are yet to be made public, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said details would be available soon.
“I will announce the content of the new scheme for teachers in early November,” said Muhyiddin in his press conference after the tabling of the budget.
Salary benefits aside, civil servants also stand to benefit from tuition fee assistance to further their studies on a part-time basis.
In this regard, a total of 5,000 Masters scholarships and 500 doctoral scholarships at local tertiary institutions have been allocated to the tune of RM120mil.
An additional sum of RM80mil (for the initial year) has been set aside for 20,000 diploma teachers to pursue their undergraduate studies locally.
While the Government may pride itself on the abolishment of current school payments, involving an allocation of RM150mil, the trend of doing away with schooling costs has been going on for some time.
In 2007, fees for examinations such as the UPSR, PMR, SPM and STPM were abolished.
The following year, school fees (RM4.50 for primary pupils and RM9 for secondary students) and examination fees for the Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia (STAM) were scrapped.
While the move was initially heralded as a provision of free education in government schools, parents still generally had to pay “additional fees” and “Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) contributions”
In a circular dated Oct 26, 2009, the Education Ministry stated that schools may still charge additional fees for the following items; co-curricular activities, Malaysia Schools Sports Council fees, sports, internal test papers, insurance, and Islamic Education or Moral Studies activities.
These additional fees varied based on parents’ income.
Later that year, then Education director-general Tan Sri Alimuddin Mohd Dom announced the standardisation of additional fees at RM24.50 for primary pupils and RM33.50 for secondary students from 2010 onwards.
A subsequent circular on the matter, dated Oct 27, 2010, reiterated that schools wishing to impose additional fee charges must first seek approval from their respective PTAs.
Meanwhile, the ministry’s education bulletin in December 2010 clarified that parents who could not afford PTA contributions or other payments could seek exemption from the school, and such fees would be charged per family instead of per student.
With under-equipped libraries and the high cost of imported reference books, Form Six and tertiary students see the one-off RM200 book voucher as an unexpected gift.
Engineering student Marvin Lim (not his real name) says he forks out about RM300 every semester for his reference books.
“We need to buy them because there are not enough copies in the library; it will certainly ease our financial burden.
“Besides reference books, students who are living on their own have to pay for other expenses such as rent, food and transportation,” shares the Sarawakian currently studying in Subang Jaya.
Universiti Malaya student representative council president Mohd Syahid Mohd Zaini says the cost of reference books differ according to the courses that students take.
“Students in the Science stream usually have to pay more for reference books compared to those in the Arts stream,” says Mohd Syahid.
The Islamic Political Science student says the books for his course are not very expensive, with each costing about RM30.
While welcoming the incentive, Mara College student Aina Munirah Helwany says the distribution of the book vouchers should be based on students’ individual needs.
“Instead of providing for every student, perhaps the government should give more to students who come from lower income families,” says the 18-year-old. In a bid to increase youth employability, a total of RM520mil was allocated for youth training; of which RM320mil is for general youth skills training and RM200mil for the Strategic Action for Youth (SAY) 1Malaysia skills training programme.
The “general” training encompasses practical skills, leadership, resilience and entrepreneurship, and this allocation includes contributions to the Malaysian Youth Council as well as state and district youth councils.
SAY 1Malaysia on the other hand, is specifically targeted at youths who “don’t continue schooling”; presumably this refers to those who either lack post-secondary qualifications or have dropped out of school.
The scheme will involve skills training by institutions such as community colleges, Institut Kemahiran Mara, Institut Latihan Perindustrian and Giat Mara.
Those who join the scheme will then be offered practical training in Government-linked companies (GLCs) and private firms.
The Key Indicator of the Labour Market Malaysia, 2001 – 2010, published by the Department of Statistics in June, implies a dire need to provide such skills training.
According to the report, out of an 11 billion-strong Malaysian labour force in 2010, 3.6% had no formal education; 16.5% had not completed primary education, 55.7% had not completed secondary education and 24.7% had no tertiary education.
These statistics may be skewed, as the report defines “labour force” as those between the ages of 15 and 64, but they seem to support the figures shared by Talent Corporation Malaysia’s Strategic Programmes general manager Mohamad Kamal Nawawi at the Education Nation Conference 2011 in September.
“We lose 45,000 students every year when they fail to make the transition from Year Six to Form One.
“An additional 14,000 students then go on to drop out from secondary school annually,” said Mohamad Kamal.
While we may rejoice at the goodies provided, every attempt should be made to ensure that these benefits reach the truly deserving ones.