Free education achievable, but takes time by @PKamalanathan

EDUCATION is the most valuable asset in one’s life. In my opinion no cost is too high when it comes to education. After all, education leads to the birth of innovation and gives rise to a society that is intellectual and enlightened. Free education refers to education that is funded through taxation or charitable organisations rather than tuition fees. Malaysian government has been and is still providing free education from primary to secondary school. The government also bears 90 per cent of the cost of tertiary education.

Malaysians should appreciate and be thankful for what the government has done so far. It has made education accessible to all. The government is still providing free education for Primary 1 up to Form 6 whereby parents are no longer required to pay for their child’s school fees. Moreover, text books are also provided free and examination fees have been abolished.

In the year 2012, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak made an announcement of free education for the first time in Malaysia’s history. The policy was lauded by the nation. Year One students who enrolled in 2012 were excluded from paying the school fees. About 5.3 million primary and secondary students benefitted across the country through this free education policy last year. In addition to this, students also enjoyed RM100 that was given to them to assist them in preparing for the new school term.

Before this policy was introduced, the school fee for a primary and secondary students was RM24.50 and RM33.50 respectively. The fee was for co-curriculum activities, Malaysian Schools Sports Council fees and internal examination papers. Recently, RM50.2 billion was allocated in the 2012 budget for the education sector along with an additional RM1.9 billion for further development.

For the year 2013, an amount of RM12.1 billion is allocated for higher education. The government acknowledges that education is the key for growth and prosperity of the nation. To support this agenda, a huge share of the country’s annual budget is allocated for education. This includes allocation for new schools, repair and maintenance of existing infrastructures, equipment, upgrading of teaching and learning materials.

Students who missed the opportunity to secure JPA scholarship for tertiary education can still enjoy full scholarship since PTPTN is willing to convert loans into scholarship for first class honour students. Many first class honours achievers have benefited from this decision made by the government to recognise and reward high achievers. However, there are many more who are ignorant of this privilege.

There were cases of some high achievers who were not considered for this privilege due to financial policy changes in the country in 2008 and 2009. When this matter was brought up in parliament, it received the personal attention of the prime minister and the deputy prime minister who is also the education minister. The prime minister then announced in June 2012 to write-off loans of those who achieved first class honours regardless of the year of graduation. This proves that the government is sincere in encouraging high quality graduates instead of churning out high quantity of graduates.

Up to Dec 31, a total of 15,390 PTPTN applicants who obtained First Class Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent and who requested for exemption of their education financing were successful in writing-off their PTPTN loans. This costs the government a total sum of RM432.83 million. Out of the above written-off loans, 8,761 borrowers were made up of loans approved based on the previous policy in 2005 (loan approval before July 1, 2005) involving a total amount of RM253.93 million.

Another 5,368 borrowers was made up of loans based on the policy in 2010 (borrowers who are graduating from Jan 1, 2010) amounting to RM146.02 million.

In addition to the scholarships and loans, public university fee is also subsidized up to 95 per cent and students’ accommodation at public universities is also subsidised by the government. The cost of accommodation for a polytechnic student is only RM0-30 a day while in public universities, the highest charge for accommodation is RM4 a day. Education is funded through taxation in many countries. Malaysians will have to pay higher income tax in order for the government to consider providing free education to all.

For example, the cost of education in Germany is funded by its high income tax, with rates of between zero to 45 per cent. In Malaysia, the income tax rate is zero to 26 per cent, where many Malaysian are exempted from paying income tax.

Many graduates, parents and public commented that it is disheartening to see so many Malaysian youths in debts as soon as they walk out of universities and colleges. The question we should ask is why they not putting enough hard work during the period in university to get better results to enjoy free scholarship from the government? The government has announced that they will write-off loans of students who obtain first class honours.

We can all still aspire to implement free education in the long term and I am sure this is something the government will seriously look into. However, this can only be implemented when it is viable and the time is appropriate. The prime minister is committed to provide access to affordable and quality education to all Malaysians, irrespective of their socio-economic background.

Link : http://www.mmail.com.my/story/free-education-achievable-takes-time-46478

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