KUCHING: The Sarawak Education Department supports a proposal to make it mandatory for children to attend school until the age of 18 or Form 5.

The current mandatory schooling age in the country is 12 (Primary 6) with parents liable to be fined and/or jailed if they failed to put their children in school.

State Education director, Dr Azhar Ahmad, commented on the matter yesterday when answering questions from the press on the sidelines of the 14th Swinburne Sarawak Inter-School Debating Championship.

Azhar, who was the guest of honour at the event, was asked about a recent proposal by federal government to increase mandatory schooling from six to 11 years just like in Japan and other developed countries.

Azhar explained that the proposal was in line with Malaysia’s aspirations to become a fully developed country in 2020. He rationalised that it is a necessary step in the right direction.

He further explained that the proposal needs further deliberations to iron out enforcement mechanisms that will enable parents to afford such a move particularly in remote rural areas.

Azhar pointed out that in Sarawak there are bound to be difficulties for parents in the remotest areas to adhere to this new ruling should it be put in place. The enforcement mechanisms need to be looked into seriously before its implementation can be made.

“In principle the Sarawak Education Department is all for the proposal should it be adopted as it would help produce more quality human resources and help alleviate illiteracy in the future,” he said.

Concerning factors forcing some students to leave school early, Azhar said there are several, of which distances from school and economic issues are the most pertinent.

“The occurrences of children dropping out of school early are mostly among secondary school children who sometimes are forced to work to help supplement their overall family income,” he said.

He explained that even when lodging is provided some families still find it difficult to cope with the demands of education.

“They are forced to forgo schooling entirely. These occurrences are rare but still happen in the state,” he said.

Feeling that the federal government would know best how to go about implementing the proposal, he is confident that they would take into account all factors before imposing the new rule and its enforcement.