Responsibility/Fault: System or Individual?

Today, I facilitated my 11th workshop at the school to talk about change-making and how children can change the world to be the better world they want for themselves. I have met many champions at school, be it the students and teachers who are passionate of their students’ potential. But today, the headmistress of the school open up to me why she wanted to request for more workshops with us in the future.

We talked about many things, her students’, the families’ backgrounds, poverty that leads to many issues and problems and how certain system disables her to solve issues. And after observing the situation from all the other programmes that we run, I’m beginning to question how the system work and who’s fault is it that we cannot have a better nation.

She told me how she has one student who were registered but did not attend first day of school. But when she contacted the parents, apparently the parents could not afford to buy school shoes so the student was too ashamed to go to school without a proper/decent pair school shoes. So she lent her money for the parents to buy one. A week after that she checked on the teacher, she was informed that the student only attended the first two days of school and went absent again.

There were other situations when she tracked students who were absent for days and months, went to their houses only to see the dire state of their living conditions — family of ten siblings in a small two bedroom flat with a mother who doesn’t know the where-abouts of her children and a father who kept on going in and out of prison for many different charges.

When we’re dealing with kids, two parties play important roles in their lives. Their parents and their educators/teachers.

When we’re dealing with situations and issues, two parties play important roles in making/bringing change. The government and the enablers — parents, teachers, society.

The situation that is apparent in urban poor is that families can’t afford necessities. But urban poor in Malaysia also is very complacent as they are the main beneficiaries of government handouts and zakat (zakat is obligatory charity in Islam) distribution. But these handouts are only given to parents and guardians because they are the adults and most of the time in cash or cash vouchers.

So there are three different parties that can make a difference in this situation where parents can’t afford to provide education or send their kids to school. The Zakat Board, the Welfare Department (Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat which falls under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development purview) and Ministry of Education.

Earlier on I had this discussion with my partner about the system, how it can be further improved — only if these three bodies streamlined the funds and the structure of their system. Every Muslim in Malaysia is obliged to contribute zakat every year which means that the Zakat Board HAS THE MONEY/FUNDS. Records of people who need welfare help is with the Welfare Department. And schools under Ministry of Education need to make sure that every child goes to school and receive sanctuary through education.

The Zakat Board need to look beyond immediate needs of these at-risk communities and start developing long term programmes for them to get out of poverty.

The Welfare Department need to work on solutions that could solve a lot of domestic issues that comes from poverty.

Ministry of Education should make sure that the education that the system provide for the nation can raise the standard of the nation’s knowledge.

What if the Zakat Board can channel the funds straight to the children’s education benefit to Ministry of Education with the help of the Welfare Department? Imagine the schools situated in at-risk areas can already provide free bags/school supplies/uniform/shoes/books for every student in the school, complete with free food during recess time. This would give the parents no excuse to not send their children to school. Schools should be a haven where children are provided the opportunities to be educated and realise their potentials when their family are not in a position to do so. No more cash/monetary handouts to parents. All being streamlined to schools to enable these students access to free education — wholly.

For these students, they need to make schools as their refuge. Not a place they feel obliged to go to, where no one cares, and another problem that they cannot afford — which involves cost for food during recess, studying material, peer pressure, and teachers’ pressure.

Coming from a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that execute programmes for the children, we could only do as much as the funds channeled by our sponsors allow us to; and observe what we wish could have been for the children.

And I do hope parents are more hands-on with their children. If you have ten children, it should have enabled the family to take better care of the members where you have more people to play a role in the household while the adults go out to work for household income — a privilege where family with one or two children don’t have.

Because we all know,

Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world.

— Nelson Mandela