FROM 4 to 10 Oct 2008, the Chinese media highlighted the plight of Penan children, the crisis at New Era College and the Gerakan elections.
Wong Meng Chuo’s Merdekareview.com article on 8 Oct titled Hurdles Faced by Penan Students Increasing said that though under Budget 2009, about RM10 billion is allocated for education and training, the education of Penan children is still dismal.
Wong said when he visited a Penan settlement at Long Ajeng, Sarawak in 1995, many children who were of schooling age did not attend schools. Thirteen years later, when he revisited the village, half of the children at the settlement were still unable to attend school because of the schools’ distance and the lack of transportation.
Some Penan parents told him they did not want to send their children to schools that mainly comprised Kenyahs or Kelabits. The Penans feared that as a minority group, their children would face discrimination in Kenyah-dominated schools. At the same time, Kelabits opposed the Penan’s anti-logging stand.
Wong said the Penans did not take education lightly, noting that some are university graduates. “Many families strive to send their children to school. Some of them have to walk two to three days or pay for costly transportation by boat,” he said, adding that this was a heavy burden for them.
Many Penans wanted the government to set up primary schools within their area, Wong said. “Residents at Long Ajeng, Long Lamam and Long Muboi have sent letters to the authorities asking for a primary school there, but they did not receive any answer.”
Wong said many Penan children relied on logging companies’ vehicles to get to school. However, drivers are not available during the festive holidays.
On top of that, ever since the Penans set up road blocks to stop logging companies from encroaching on their land, loggers have become unfriendly towards them.
In recent years, Wong said there were many complaints of sexual abuse of Penan teenagers by these workers. He cited a case of a female student who was picked up while she was on her way home and allegedly raped in a logging camp.
Wong said Canberra Times senior journalist Paul Malone reported that workers use the pretext of watching television to lure the teenage girls to their camps.
“However, up to now, the logging companies and police have not taken any action. Is this really because the authorities are far away, and thus are not efficient about taking action?” Wong asked.
Problems at New Era College
In his Oriental Daily column titled Extremely Surprised on 9 Oct, Low Chee Cheong commented on the fight brewing between the academic staff and the management in New Era College.
Low said he was surprised at the statement by the United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) president Dr Yap Sin Tian that the college had hidden the fact that it failed to attain university status.
Yap claimed that New Era College principal Dr Kua Kia Soong failed to inform the directors or relevant committees about the government’s decision not to upgrade the institution.
However, Low noted that the government’s decision was already a well-known fact. He cited the April 2008 statement by Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Hou Kok Chung when he visited the college.
“Hou confirmed that the college failed to comply with several criteria, and thus could not be upgraded to a university for the time being. The newspapers reported it. How can Yap then claim that he only learnt about it after reading the newspaper on 3 Oct?” said Low.
Low added that the minutes and recordings of meetings at the college also demonstrated that Kua had reported the college’s failure to attain university status.
He questioned whether Yap understood that his accusations would only undermine the college which was set up by Dong Jiao Zong (the Chinese education movement). “Why does he want to lift a stone only to drop it on his own feet?”
Low called on all parties to join hands with the public to focus on how to upgrade the college into a university instead of fuelling the conflict among Chinese educationists.
Unhappiness over candidates
In Sin Chew Daily‘s 10 Oct exclusive interview with Selangor Gerakan vice-chairperson Datuk Dr Lim Thuang Seng, he said the candidates for Gerakan’s vice-presidency were unhappy with the proposal for a racial quota to be put in place for the vice-president’s race.
Lim said if implemented, the move would be a step backward for democracy. “Once this starts, Gerakan will in future have to choose its leaders based on racial quota.”
The suggestion sounds good, Lim said. “However, if studied in detail, it is against the party spirit. Gerakan is not a race-based party. It opposes the quota system and promotes meritocracy regardless of race,” he added.
Lim said if the vice-president’s posts were filled up by the three different races to reflect the party’s multiracial ideology, it would only be cosmetic and result in “another quota system”.