Penang school probed over climate protest

Students at the climate change protest

By V. Shankar Ganesh

With the rapid industrialisation and development of countries, one of the main concerns have been the environment.

The quest to leave behind a sustainable environment for the next generation is a battle being fought all over the world.

As adults stagger on in their battle for this, children all over the world are also voicing it out through the climate justice movement.

However it looks like Malaysian school children are in trouble over this. 

While thousands of school children around the globe who took part in a protest against climate change are being lauded for their awareness, those who took part in Malaysia are in hot soup with the authorities.

The Education Department has hauled up a Penang primary school with a show cause letter after it was found that 11 of its students participated in the protest.

Their offence? The kids apparently wore school t-shirts during the protest on May 24.

It is the same school that was recently lauded by Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik as eco-warriors during a visit to Penang on Teacher’s Day.

It is learned that the Penang Education Department has asked SJK (T) Sungai Ara to submit a report explaining its students involvement in the protest in Bayan Baru.

The school is also reportedly now under heavy pressure over this issue.

The students are believed to have participated on their own initiative with their parents after school hours at 5pm.

It is also learned that the school will not take any action against the students as it took place outside the school and schooling hours. The children come under their parents’ responsibility then.

The issue came into limelight after the school was criticised by Penang councillor Vino Dini Chandragason for allowing its students to participate in the climate change protest while wearing school T-shirts.

The councillor slammed two NGOs, Klimate Action Utara Malaysia and Klima Action Malaysia, accusing them of abusing their role as NGOs by using children in the protest. 

She also alleged that they have abused their power and status by allowing the underage children to join the protest, which also included against the Penang Transport Master Plan. 

“Using children to forward your cause is clearly against the Child Act 2001, it is wrong to do so,” she had said. 

The NGOs are part of a group of 45 civil society organisations which have been vocal in opposing the PTMP and Penang South Reclamation project, which involves the creation of three artificial islands.

She had also asked the police to look into the matter and whether they had valid permits to assemble.

In a statement, KAMY replied that the accusation it used students was entirely out of place, unsubstantiated and poorly applied.

It said they were centered on raising awareness on the climate crisis in Malaysia and both the NGOs have organised activities in Malaysia in line with the Global Climate movement.

“None of these activities were promoted to any child. We emphasise that we do not “use” children to forward our cause. 

“It is the entire opposite of our agenda. Our movement is to ensure that we, being the older generation, would leave behind a legacy not filled with destruction and pollution. 

It said this was similar to the recent climate strike organised in Bidor by SMKJ Chung Hua, wherein the whole school together with the students under the supervision of their teachers had carried placards to convey their concerns on climate change and how it affected their future.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president Meenakshi Raman also criticised the authorities for cracking down on the school and the students.

“The students were accompanied by their parents. There was no abuse here. If anybody is abusing, it is the politicians who are using this issue and blowing it out of proportion,” she told the Malay Mail.

UK’s The Guardian reported that hundreds of thousands of school students in the world walked out of class on May 24 to urge their respective governments to take greater action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The global movement, also known as Fridays for Future, was inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who had held weekly protests against climate change.

According to the Fridays for Future Facebook page, more than 1.8 million young people from 2,350 cities of 125 countries took part in the Global Strike for Climate on May 24.

The question now is how Malaysian authorities view this. Are we trying to expose our young minds to the challenges of the world or are we going to use “archaic” laws to clamp them down whenever it suits us?