Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination is one of the most important exams in every Malaysian students’ life. This is because the result is a key determination on their future, ie: placement in foundation, scholarships, matriculation, etc.
Recently, in late November 2021, the schedule of the SPM examination was released. Despite being the usual examination timetable all Form 5 students will go through, the announcement sparked an issue. Students raised concerns regarding the schedule from 7-11 March 2022, the subjects involved will be English, History, Additional Mathematics, Mathematics, and Islamic studies.
Response from the Candidates
Due to the back-to-back examinations of core subjects, the candidates had taken their rage on Twitter. They demanded the Malaysian Ministration of Education (MOE) to review and change the schedule. As a result, the #SemakSemulaJadual2022 movement has gone viral on social media. It was even backed by the Muar MP, Syed Saddiq, and former Minister of Education, Dr. Maszlee Malik. The movement was well received by the citizens as many expressed their sympathy towards the candidates for having an absurd arrangement on the schedule for such an important exam. In addition, a petition titled “#SemakSemulaJadualSPM2022” was introduced and collected 20,000 signatures, demanding the MOE to take action.
Response from the Ministry of Education (MOE)
Senior Education Minister, Datuk Dr. Mohd. Radzi Jidin said that the Ministry had taken note of the issue and further discussion will be held with the Examination Board to revise the schedule. Datuk Radzi assured that a revised version of the SPM 2022 schedule will be released soon after the discussion.
The Mental Health of SPM Candidates
As the issue on the packed schedule was put to rest, we were again alarmed by a greater social issue among the SPM candidates. We are no stranger to news of SPM candidates committing suicide as they are unable to cope with the stress and pressure from the exam. Despite being a piece of common news to hear, these incidents should have been avoided at all costs.
On 20 January 2021, an SPM 2021 candidate from Kuching had attempted suicide on the first day of returning to school after online learning due to Covid-19. This incident has depicted the hardships faced by students, in addition to the burden of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the pandemic introduces uncertainties to their studies, students are often distracted as well.
One of the common problems faced by the students is the lack of essential electronic devices to study online, especially for the less fortunate. Following the outbreak of Covid-19, the education system in our country shifted entirely. Failing to cope with the stressful transition, students eventually developed depression and anxiety as they are unable to catch up with their studies.
The new hope: Repeal of section 309 of the Penal Code
As the Covid-19 pandemic broke the red tape of mental health issues among citizens in Malaysia, the Ministry of Health has planned to tabulate the amendment of the Penal Code to repeal section 309 that criminalises suicide attempts in Malaysia.
This is indeed a new and applaudable step made by the Malaysian government as mental health issues suffered by people are finally acknowledged by the country. Furthermore, the Ministry of Health will also introduce multiple programmes to help people who are suffering psychologically.
Under the issue of the packed schedule of SPM 2022, it puts a spotlight on the mental health issues suffered by students. The Ministry of Education should take a better look into the education system of this country and make reformations that are inclusive of all students notwithstanding their backgrounds.
Free Tablets for Needy Students! Wait, is it true?
Budget 2022 themed “Keluarga Malaysia. Makmur Sejahtera” (A Prosperous Malaysian Family) was presented in Parliament on 29th October 2021. The allocation for Budget 2022 is the highest in history which amounts to RM332.1 billion. Throughout the pandemic, university students continue to study in the new norm, where all the work highly relies on electronic devices.
Thus, the government has decided to collaborate with selected telecommunication companies to implement the PerantiSiswa Keluarga Malaysia initiative to provide a tablet to every B40 student in institutions of higher learning. The initiative will cost RM450 million provided by the government with an additional amount contributed by telecommunication companies up to RM65 million.
It is expected that a total of 600,000 students from B40 families will benefit from the initiative.
It shall be noted that there was a similar initiative last year called Tabung CERDIK by distributing 150,000 laptops to B40 school students. However, there are quite a few issues that catch our eyes.
Firsty, the distribution last year was not extended to university students, even though university students suffer, too. Sharing one device has become a norm, especially in families with more than one child. It directly affects the quality of online learning, and obviously, the issue occurs more often in B40 families. Although there were demands by student groups and organisations to include university students in the initiative, the demands did not come true. Without the assistance from the government, the University of Malaya Students’ Union (UMSU) acknowledged the struggle faced by students and launched the LaptopKita Initiative to assist students in need.
Secondly, the laptop distribution which was scheduled to be completed by February 2021, was only accomplished by September 2021. For those who are unable to afford a decent device for online learning, nine months were wasted. Pandemic has changed our education system significantly, but access to education is worrying due to unreliable internet access and technology struggle to participate in online learning. Loss of jobs and financial stress faced by students and their families should have been taken into consideration.
Thirdly, Tabung CERDIK Initiative in Budget 2021 was fully funded by Government Linked Companies (GLCs), Government Linked Investment Companies (GLICs), and private sector. In other words, the government did not spend a single penny. Some questioned the government over the issues as to why it was unable to allocate a budget to ensure that no one is left behind in the era of online learning.
Lastly, another concern is with regards to the quality of tablets provided by the selected telecommunication companies. With the expectation that 600,000 of university students will benefit from the initiative, the average allocation for a tablet will be RM858.33. The cost has created doubt as to whether the tablet at this price will be sufficient for students’ need and with enough quality. We shall not forget that there were several cases where smartphones by YTL Communications, sponsor of devices for students under the government-backed Jaringan Prihatin program, exploded. The safety of students must be given paramount consideration and the quality of tablets can never be compromised.
Due to the ongoing online learning mode for students in Malaysia, some Members of Parliament (MP’s) decided to aid this situation on their own.
We are not strange with the news where Muar MP, Syed Saddiq decided to shave his hair following a successful fundraising campaign for his parliamentary constituency. In October 2020, Syed managed to buy laptops with the money and distribute it to 500 needy families in muar who couldn’t afford it. To add the cherry on top, the laptops were all good quality which immensely helped the students to cope with the online classes ahead.
Shortly after that in January 2021, MP of Bukit Mertajam Steven Sim Chee Keong initiated a programme called “Asal Cek Mau Pi Sekolah” to help those underprivileged students in preparing their SPM. There were various campaigns under this campaign where the free laptops scheme was one of them.
Apart from that, Sabah State Government also planned to finance RM 15 million in June 2021 to give out 150,000 free laptops for B40 families in the State from 19 July to 18 October 2021. As the State with most of its people suffering from poverty, this is indeed a very good initiative from the State Government. However, it is notable that UMNO Supreme Council member Abdul Rahman Dahlan slammed the State Government for its decision. The former federal minister opined that there is no need to waste such money when the government is already distributing 150,000 laptops nationwide under the CERDIK initiative announced in the 2021 budget. Not only that, needy households from Sabah already received around 12,887 laptops, with more to be distributed by the government in September 2021.
Indeed, it is applaudable that the government is ready to allocate more fundings, especially giving out free tablets for needy students from the B40 family. However, the government must also take lessons from the CERDIK programme last year in distributing the tablets under Budget 2022.
There is a reason why Sabah Government and Steven Sim decided to take their own initiatives in helping the students in need. With online learning persisting due to the unsettled Covid-19 situation in Malaysia, having a proper electronic device is considered a top priority for every family with children in the country. With over half from the planned 150,000 laptops to be distributed only in September 2021, which is almost 9 months after Budget 2021, the wait is simply unacceptable. Those needy students can’t wait for 9 months, nor their studies.
On the other hand, the government should also be alerted of the issue of unequal MP allocations to develop their political constituency. Over the past few Budgets passed in the Parliament, it is a norm that Government MP’s are getting more fundings compared to the opposition MP’s. In fact, the government should take note of Syed Saddiq’s efforts in Muar by allocating funds equally for all MP’s. This may enable them to aid the government with distributing laptops, or any essential supplies for the needy families more effectively. With that, it will be easier and efficient to identify the needy ones with each MP’s working in their respective political constituency.
As Budget 2022 went on, it lit up new hopes for all needy families in Malaysia. The government’s planning of adding more initiatives in aiding needy families, especially the B40 ones is very welcomed, and appreciated. Besides, it is also noteworthy that university students are also included under this new initiative. Nonetheless, the efficiency in executing those initiatives also needed to be supervised and kept in track, so that every person in need can benefit in the shortest possible time.
Recently, the reappearance of Nur Sajat on social media once again sparked controversies as she revealed her new life in Australia where she was granted political asylum from Malaysia.
Nur Sajat is a transgender woman who has been facing backlash and legal actions from the Malaysian public authorities due to her gender status and lifestyle.
In 2016, she admitted that she was born a hermaphrodite and raised as a man, but preferred doing women's activities. Three years ago, Nur Sajat cross-dressed as a woman when she attended a prayer session in Shah Alam, the events that brought adverse legal consequences. In 2020, Sajat was dressed in female prayer attire whilst she was in Mecca to perform pilgrimage, later facing condemnation by the Malaysian officials and conservative groups.
Since earlier this year, Sajat has been facing a blasphemy charge under Section 10(a) of the Shariah Crimes (State of Selangor) Enactment 1995, that is said to have brought Islam into contempt.This offence of insulting Islam is punishable by a fine of up to RM5,000 or imprisonment up to three years, or both, upon conviction.
Sajat visited the Islamic Religious Department of Selangor as she was being summoned regarding this case. She was however being sexually assaulted by the officials during questioning, which acts were also justified because she was perceived as a man.
Due to fear of the extreme hostility, she was absent before the Shariah Court for a hearing in February and the judge issued an arrest warrant against her. A month ago, she was arrested by Thailand's authorities who were acting on request from their Malaysian counterparts, for an alleged immigration offence of possessing invalid passport. Since then, the Malaysian police had been working closely with Thailand to realise her extradition.
The former Criminal Investigations Department chief, Datuk Seri Abd Jalil Hassan also associated her with alleged offences under Section 186 and 353 of the Penal Code for obstructing a public servant in discharge of his public functions.
Subsequently, Sajat was granted refugee status by the United Nations that has deterred Thailand from deporting her. Sajat has been successfully granted political asylum in Australia where human rights are being prioritised over other factors. She is prepared to embark on her new life afresh, after being forced to give up her prominent business in her homeland.
The Greater Social Conflicts
The issue of Nur Sajat directly tackles the social red flag in this country. The LGBTQ+ community, where do they stand?
From the legal perspective, transgender and same sex marriages are not recognised in Malaysia according to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976. Furthermore, the act of having same sex relationships are prohibited in the Penal Code under the offence of ‘unnatural sex’.
The story does not end here. Malaysia runs a dual legal system whereby all 13 States have their own Islamic Legal System. Among these Syariah laws, there are some laws legislated to discriminate the LGBTQ+ people. One of the most discriminatory law is criminalising cross-dressing towards the transgender people. (see State Government of Negeri Sembilan & Ors v Muhammad Juzaili bin Mohd Khamis & Ors  6 MLJ 736).
In terms of social perspective, it seems that the conservative minded majority of Malaysia are still not ready to accept these groups of people. This can be seen when Ahmad Marzuk Shaary, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) said that the Government is planning to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act (Act 355) by adding heavier punishments towards LGBT-related offences.
Nur Sajat and LGBTQ+ community in general were prosecuted simply for being themselves. It’s as if “they” offended the law by simply existing in this country. It is time for Malaysians, especially the youths, to take the first step by thinking rationally & objectively instead of harassing an individual just because their values do not align with us.
Nonetheless, it is understandable that this issue will never be an easy discussion in our country. Aside from Islamic teachings, Christianity also prohibits any LGBT-related acts. However, it is basic human decency to respect every person regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation. Everyone deserves the right to live, free from any forms of discrimination.
The Minister of Higher Education, Noraini Ahmad seemed to have achieved a new level of disappointment in academia and the civil society when a 26-year-old MIC youth leader, Danesh Raj Nagarajan was appointed as a member of the University of Malaya Board of Directors.
According to sources, Danesh Raj is a former special officer (politics) at the Prime Minister’s Office and a former political officer of a senior UMNO politician. Danesh is also reported to be a member of Penggerak Mahasiswa, a pro-establishment student group in the University of Malaya in 2017.
This had casted doubts on potential political interference in local universities and whether Danesh has the adequate capacity to fulfill the responsibility as a board member of UM.
In response to questions regarding the said appointment, Noraini said this is to give opportunities to the youths to take up roles in public higher institutions. This is rather baffling to the public considering that Danesh is politically affiliated and his resume remains questionable.
The Malaysia Academic Movement (Gerak) stated that while age should not be a criterion, but knowledge, experience and the ability to contribute to the university should be essential criteria.
“Looking through his publicly available profile, we find nothing there aside from him being a youth leader in the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) with a Facebook page and an Instagram account.”
“Yet another political appointee, it would seem. A second politician to add to Rosnah Abd Rashid Shirlin from Umno, who was appointed to the University of Malaya board in May 2020.”
Instead of addressing real challenges faced by the students, the Minister appears to remain clueless by continuing the awful tradition of political appointment in local universities and hid it under the premise of youth participation.