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Former students awarded $33,171 in damages over “absent teacher”, urges authorities to be more responsible

Three former students from SMK Taun Gusi in Sabah won an unprecedented suit against their English language teacher for not attending classes for seven months in 2017.

They expressed gratitude for the victory and hope this case motivates others to stand against injustice and protect students’ rights.



MALAYSIA: The three former students of SMK Taun Gusi in Kota Belud, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, who filed a suit against their English language teacher for failing to turn up for class for seven months in 2017, had won the unprecedented suit.

They are grateful for their win, according to the New Straits Times.

The students had named their English teacher, Mohd Jainal Jamran, as the first defendant, then school principal Suid Hanapi as the second defendant, the Education Ministry director-general as the third defendant, the Education Minister as the fourth defendant and the government as the fifth defendant.

The trio — Calvina Angayung, Rusiah Sabdarin and Nur Natasha Allisya Hamali — filed the suit on 7 Dec 2020.

They sought a declaration that the defendants were in breach of their statutory duty under the Education Act by failing to ensure that the plaintiffs were taught the English language during the material time for the year 2017, and failing to prepare the plaintiffs for examinations as prescribed under the Education Act.

Calvina said the incident of the teacher skipping classes was still fresh in their memory.

“We are the victims of this teacher’s injustice, which led to our failure in the English examination.”

“Today, justice has been upheld.”

“I hope that this case can also be a motivation for those who still choose to remain silent in the face of injustice.”

“May today’s victory prove that our rights as citizens of the country are protected and respected,” she said in a statement.

Calvina also thanked witnesses who appeared in court and others who supported them, as well as their lawyer Sherzali Asli.

Another plaintiff, Rusiah, said that following the court’s ruling, she hoped that all parties, whether from the schools or the education authorities, would monitor the presence of teachers in schools.

“They should take the students’ complaints seriously.”

“My hope is that students will be empowered to speak up and know their rights as students.”

Detail of the case

According to Malay Mail, on 19 July, High Court judge Leonard David Shim made the judgement in favour of the three students, now 22 years old, awarding them a total of RM150,000 (approximately $33,171) in damages to be paid by the five defendants.

In Shim’s judgement, the plaintiff’s team proved that the teacher was frequently or wholly absent in the months leading to the final exam on November 2017 and there is no evidence to show that he was on leave or involved in other school activities during the long period of his absence as claimed.

After observing Jainal’s demeanour when giving evidence during the trial, Shim said he does not find him to be a credible witness.

Shim also said that the principal, Suid, failed to take any reasonable steps to exercise disciplinary control and supervision over Jainal despite knowing about his absenteeism.

He said it was their statutory duty to prepare the students for their English language examination and that the principal, the education department and the ministry must see that the English teacher that they provide is reasonably competent and is present in class to teach English classes and have a statutory duty to take appropriate disciplinary action against the absent teacher.

“There is evidence of negligence and breach of statutory duty by the defendants,” he said.

Leaking exam questions to boost the passing rate

Shim also chided the teacher for leaking the exam questions to the students in order to boost the passing rate of his students to make up for his absenteeism and /or breach of statutory duty.

“It amounts to an unprofessional conduct and breach of confidential information which renders the sanctity of the examination meaningless and gives an unfair advantage to some students over others who were not given the leaked examination questions,” he said.

Shim also said that the students had a constitutional right to education and that the defendants were in breach of their duties.

He awarded nominal damages in the sum of RM30,000 and aggravated damages in the sum of RM20,000 to be paid to each of the plaintiffs by the five defendants jointly and severally. The interest on at the rate of 5% per annum from the date of judgment until the date of full and final settlement.

The trial began in September 2022. The plaintiffs called 10 witnesses to the stand, while the defence had three.

Counsels were Sherzali Asli of Messrs. Asli and Cham Chambers for the plaintiffs while Mohd Hafizi Abdul Halim and Fazriel Fardiansyah Abdul Kadir appeared for the defendants.

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