Back in the days when we were still allowed to physically go to school, one of our favorite classes would probably be the class when the teachers were absent, because admit it, we just really didn’t like going to school. Little did we know that adulting would be much harder.
However, teachers being absent for a day is one thing, teachers being absent for five years in a row is a whole other matter. Some of us would probably not care; some of us would opt for tuition classes; and some, like these Sabah students, would sue their teacher.
These three are Calvina Angayung, Rusiah Sabhdarin, and Nur Natasha Allisya Hamali, former students at SMK Taun Gusi in Sabah, and they’ve recently filed a lawsuit against their teacher for absenteeism, or as we call it, ‘ponteng kelas‘.
Depending on where you stand, this may seem overblown. Like, why do you need to sue a teacher for missing a few classes? Well, actually, it’s not just a few classes, but this teacher’s been consistently missing classes several months in a row and not performing his duties as a teacher. And you may think that it’s the first time he’s been sued, but…
This teacher has actually been sued TWICE for ponteng kelas
The teacher in question is Mohd Jainal Jamran, an English teacher at SMK Taun Gusi in Kota Belud, Sabah. According to his profile on the official Sabah education website, Jainal’s not just an English teacher, but also the the chairman of the teachers’ club, English Club advisor, Police Cadet advisor, and a…discipline teacher.
Back in 2018, you may have heard the news of a student suing a teacher for ponteng kelas as well. Well, this is the same teacher. Also a former SMK Taun Gusi student, Siti Nafirah Siman alleged that Jainal’s failure to teach contributed to her subsequent failure in English in SPM.
“The teacher has nothing to lose if he/she does not teach but students will lose if they do not learn. We must do away with the culture of fear and inability to speak up.” – Nafirah, as quoted from NST
Fast forward to 2020, the guy’s got second lawsuit against him from Calvina, Rusiah, and Natasha. Who knows? Maybe he’s going deep undercover to see what it’s like for students to ponteng kelas, because he’s, you know, a discipline teacher.
Still, while Nafirah, Calvina, Rusiah, and Natasha are currently the public faces of the problem, teacher absenteeism isn’t isolated to Sabah only. It’s actually a widespread problem across the country. In 2017 alone, it was reported that 55.4% of disciplinary actions taken against teachers are due to absenteeism.
While we were looking into this story, we came across something called Tiada.Guru, a campaign that combats extreme teacher absenteeism across Malaysia. And the campaign spokesperson Fiqah Roslan told us that the earliest recorded instance of absenteeism among teachers can be traced back to as early as 1987 in a study that looked into, well, absenteeism among public servants in general.
“All our members—MOE teachers, parents, students—have known about this issue intimately for years and decades.” – Fiqah, in an interview with Cilisos
But if you think that the students suing the teacher is over the top already, wait until we tell you that…
The students are also suing the Malaysian government O.O
Wait, how did they go from suing the teacher to suing the government as well? Apa cerita?
Well, it has something to do with the chain of power, which goes like this:
Now imagine this: you’re a hardworking staff in an accounting firm, and you realize that your colleague has been fabricating numbers. You report the misconduct to your manager, but what you get in return is a manager who threatens to fire you if you don’t keep things quiet. You try to report it to the CEO, but the CEO chooses to turn a blind eye on it and maybe even threaten you some more. In the end, you find that you’re powerless to do anything.
And that’s kinda what’s happening with the education sector, or at least that’s what Fiqah told us, where the chain of power is corrupted and the system is designed to protect the rule-breaking teachers rather than the honest ones.
Many teachers apparently get away with misconduct, because the authorities, like principals and the Education Ministry, refuse to acknowledge the problem. And when the authorities are turning a blind eye on it, the investigation would naturally be botched. In fact, there have even been instances where teachers and students were reportedly threatened against whistleblowing on their peers.
“It becomes obvious that the department heads themselves already failed to follow dozens of MOE procedures. The same applies to that person’s superior and their superior and their superior and so on when long-term misconduct stretches into months and even years.” – Fiqah
This was exactly what happened to Nafirah. See, before she filed a lawsuit, she actually lodged a complaint with the principal and the Education Ministry, but to no avail. In fact, it was later found that the principal had fabricated Jainal’s attendance record to show that he was only absent for two months, when he was actually absent for seven months. Not just that, she was also allegedly intimidated by the authorities to downplay Jainal’s habit of ponteng kelas.
Because, ultimately, at the top of the power chain, there’s no one there but the Malaysian government, where it controls the Education Ministry and everything below. And much like how your CEO’s responsible for your actions in the larger picture, the students believe that the government should be held responsible for its subordinates’ actions…or inactions, in this case.
“…the Government of Malaysia is the superior for all the other defendants. And because of that, the highest superior should be partially responsible for the actions of their subordinates in their capacity as public servants.” – Calvina, Rusiah, and Natasha, as quoted from a press release
At the time of writing, we can’t tell for sure whether these students will be successful, and neither the government nor the Education Ministry has commented on the lawsuits. But still, whether or not they are successful…
The lawsuits highlight a problem that’s been ongoing for more than 30 years
We imagine that Nafirah, Calvina, Rusiah, and Natasha are not the only ones who have things to say about teachers’ misconducts, maybe even on something more serious than absenteeism.
There are perhaps other teachers and students out there who wanna report their peers for misconduct, except the system allegedly doesn’t allow them to, which is what led us all here in the first place. So, if anything, taking the matter to court not only highlights the problem, but it also highlights what other people in similar situations can do.
It looks like, in this case, it’s the students giving the education system a lesson.