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Pupils pay price for experiment
20/01/2007 NST
By Mazlinda Mahmood

KUALA LUMPUR: Getting to school is easy for Siti Rosmashitah Mokhtar. Every morning, the Year Six pupil leaves her 11th floor flat and takes the lift to the ground floor.

That is where her classroom is.

But what makes getting to school easy, makes her typical school day hard.

She is used to dodging a constant drizzle of rubbish being thrown from upper floor flats, including cigarette butts, ice-cream wrappers and used plastic bags. Sometimes, dirty disposable diapers as well.

Missiles, usually eggs, and once a bottle have livened up the school assembly on Mondays.

And the smell is everywhere. Rubbish chutes flank each classroom, and hundreds of kilogrammes of waste drop into bins on the ground floor every day.

Welcome to Sentulís SK Sri Perak.

It takes up the ground floor areas of four blocks of the Sri Perak Flats, where, 10 years ago, a 3kg iron hurled from an upper floor flat grazed the head of a five-year-old girl.

The Sri Perak Flats loom large over this part of Sentul, seven blocks 17-storeys high, with 1,400 units in all. It is overcrowded and its thousands of occupants are mostly poor.

Here, in the last 13 years, three people have jumped to their deaths, a woman was robbed and killed and a man stabbed to death after a quarrel.

Drug addicts buy their daily fix from pushers in the corridors and teenagers skipping school hang out near the school toilets.

So every day that Siti Rosmashitah comes home unharmed, her mother Rosnani Ahmad counts it as a blessing.

"Thank God nothing bad has happened yet," she said.

There is some good news for Rosnani, the vice-chairman of the schoolís Parent-Teacher Association.

Sometime this year, the Education Ministry will call a tender for the construction of proper school buildings, according to the Federal Territory Education Department.

If all goes well, SK Sri Perakís 12 classes will move to new and better premises in two yearsí time.

"The school (itself) will take 18 months to build," said Hasnul Hadi Abdullah Sani, who heads the departmentís management services section.

It is a move thatís long overdue. It started as a three-year experiment in 1989, to see if schools could be made part of high-rise high-density development, according to parents and teachers.

After five years, the PTA began fighting for the school to be moved to new buildings.

The battle dragged on for 10 years until 2004 when the Education Ministry finally said it had found some suitable land for the school to relocate, said PTA chairman Mohd Jiwa Khairi.

But the money to build it was not allocated until last year under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, he said.

The ministry on Tuesday launched its Education Blueprint, which maps out the direction of its various initiatives over the next four years. Where schools like SK Sri Perak end up is unclear.

Until their new school is up, the children must continue to cross a busy road to get from their classrooms to the canteen, and a second road to get to the staff room and headmistressí office.

Every day, teachers struggle to make themselves heard over the sound of babies crying and couples fighting.

At mid-day, they must cope with the aroma of cooking wafting down from upper floor kitchens to mingle with the constant smell of rotting rubbish.

A dreadful environment for anyone, the surroundings take a heavy toll on the children.

Only one pupil scored straight As of the 76 who sat last yearís UPSR examinations. Most average schools see at least one in 10 scoring straight As.

This yearís most likely star pupil is Nurul Syakirah Zakri.

Despite her surroundings, the school prefect, a quiet and thoughtful girl, loves going to school.

"My friends are here," she said.

"This school is okay but sometimes I wish I could study in a real school," she said.

Only in sport does the school shine. According to a teacher who left Sri Perak three years ago, the children are good athletes.

The schoolís hockey team in particular has done well, even without a proper playing field to practise in, said a teacher involved in the childrenís extra-curricular activities.

That shows the kind of potential the children have, said another teacher who taught there three years ago.


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