The government should urgently deal with teacher absenteeism in rural Sabah, the lawyer said

KOTA KINABALU: The Kota Kinabalu High Court’s declaration on the case of teacher absenteeism involving a school in Kota Belud is a clear message to act on the problem, especially in rural Sabah.

Lawyer Sherzali Herza Asli said the court’s decision in the case of three former students against their former English teacher and four others, including the school principal, shows negligence and a lack of conviction to provide education to young people.

In this case, he said, the teacher and principal as well as the Education Ministry and the government failed in their duties and violated the students’ rights guaranteed access to education under the Federal Constitution.

“It is very important for the government to realize and acknowledge its shortcomings, while taking decisive action to formulate effective policies that ensure the accountability of errant teachers,” he said on Wednesday (July 19).

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“The well-being and prospects of our future generations depend on its success.”

The High Court here ruled in favor of Rusiah Sabdarin, Nur Natasha Allisya Hamali and Calvina Angayung, all 22 years old, in their case against their former teacher and four others including the government on Tuesday (July 18).

They sued their former English teacher Mohd Jainal Jamran in December 2020; Suid Hanapi, in his capacity as principal of SMK Taun Gusi; the director-general of Education; the Ministry of Education; and the government.

The trio sued their teacher at the school in the northern district of Kota Belud, about 100km from here, for not showing up and teaching them for seven months in 2017, when they were 16 years old.

High Court judge Justice Leonard David Shim asserted that the defendants breached their statutory duties and breached the former student’s constitutional guarantee of education.

The judgment was made through e-review on Tuesday and made available to the media by Sherzali on Wednesday.

In total, the court awarded RM150,000 as total damages to the plaintiffs.

As for Sabah-based NGO Tiada.Guru, which initiated the campaign against teachers’ absenteeism, it is now calling for a communication session between Putrajaya and their whistleblowers.

They want to meet with Law and Institutional Reform Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek and Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Nation-Building, Education and Human Resource Development chairman Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah.

In a statement on Wednesday, the NGO said its fight against corruption, abuse of power, attacks against whistleblowers, and the culture of fear in the Education Ministry continues unabated.

ALSO READ: Absentee teacher case: Students in Sabah hope the court’s decision will be a lesson to all

“There can’t be more victims. These plaintiffs have had enough for one lifetime.

“As a whistleblower-led organization, Tiada.Guru is calling for engagement sessions with the Federal Government to implement clear, effective and popular reforms.

“Critical reforms to fast-track effective land reform, especially but not only in rural communities, include broad and independent whistleblower protection, an independent and tough public ombudsman, and a humane and critical education curriculum,” it said.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit is one of two lawsuits filed by former students of SMK Taun Gusi against the same teacher.

Former student Siti Nafirah Siman filed the first in October 2018, and the hearing is scheduled to resume at the High Court here on August 16.

The lawsuits came about through a campaign started by Tiada.Guru, which advocates for students’ right to quality education and awareness of teacher absenteeism, especially in rural Sabah.

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