The latest schools’ scandal is the story about pills which can make children smarter, more obedient and more resistant to illness. Alarm bells started to ring when parents found that children had been forced by their schools to buy these “get smart” pills in preparation for the forthcoming UPSR examinations.
More anger followed when teachers used emotional blackmail on the children who returned the pills, snidely remarking that these children would have only themselves to blame if they were to perform badly in the exam.
If the concerns of parents are not acted on immediately, what little trust that remains in the teaching fraternity will be lost. The silence of Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin will further damage his reputation and cast further doubt on the credibility of his ministry.
One headmistress said that parents had misunderstood the situation, and rejected claims about forced purchases. She tried to justify the safety of the pills with claims that her own children took them.
Each box of 20 multi-coloured pills costs RM5. The packaging bears the photograph of a supplicating child and the tagline in Malay, that the pills could alter the behaviour of a child.
Daily recommended dosages varied for different age groups; Children up to twelve years old were prescribed one tablet, teenagers were advised to take two tablets, whilst tertiary students had to consume four tablets.
The pills are found in schools in Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Johor. They are supplied by Tiga G Dimensi Satu Kosong Lapan Sdn Bhd and the sole distributor is a Negri Sembilan-based firm, Glomind Enterprise Sdn Bhd.
The managing director of Dimensi, Omar Mohd Yusos, claimed that schools had been supplied with the pills since 2010. He said that the pills were safe and had been approved by the Health Ministry’s National Pharma¬ceutical Control Bureau.
Omar said that the Malaysian Federation of the Council of Headmasters (GMGBM) had invited him to give a talk about these pills to school heads. He denied allegations that schools had received financial incentives for promoting his products.
Last June, news reports claimed that pupils of SK Bandar Endau and SK Teluk Lipat in Mersing, Johor, had boosted their UPSR results, because they had taken the pills. Glomind Enterprise’s managing director, Amran Othman, said that these two schools had been receiving the pills free of charge since 2011.
Amran said, “When consumed, the hydrogen and nitrogen in the tablets will go into the bloodstream and form a molecule chain that acts like a ‘bullet’ to destroy negative molecules and generate positive energy.
“This energy also works as a defence against bacteria or viruses that cause illnesses.”
Amran’s claims are reminiscent of snake-oil salesmen, who barked at fairs in the nineteenth century; any parent would be horrified with his claims. Is Amran a qualified researcher and clinician? Which pharmaceutical company conducted this trial? Did he have the backing of the various ministries, including education and health, to sanction the study?
Which schools took part? How did their results compare with the schools which were given a placebo? There are several other factors to consider.
Unless Amran has scientific facts and data to back up his claims, and independent researchers can reproduce his results, he is in breach of the trading standards act, and is liable to prosecution.
In the past few days, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) said analysis showed that the pill contained mostly sugar (95%) with traces of traditional Chinese medicinal herbs.
Subsequent investigations showed that the company had faked letters from the Health Ministry and the GMGBM to endorse these pills.
Is the endorsement of products for use in schools very lax? Are headmasters so naïve, or gullible, that they see no need to consult the ministry? Are heads so arrogant that they fail to seek the parents’ permission?
What sort of teacher condones the use of behaviour altering pills? A good teacher knows that discipline, a sound teaching method and a healthy lifestyle are conducive to learning, not magic pills.
Why did it take three years for this story to surface? Are some teachers, heads of schools and education department staff profiting from the sale of these pills, contrary to their claims?
Despite the remarks by Amran that the pills are given to schools, there is always a hidden cost and conflict of interest. Who benefits and by how much? The two company directors, Omar and Amran, should be charged with making unsubstantiated and misleading claims.
The minister of education has been entrusted with the well-being and education of our children. If these pills are being promoted without parents’ knowledge, what else has escaped their scrutiny? When will people in positions of responsibility take their jobs seriously?
The headmistress who vouched for the pills and said they were safe, might like to ponder this question: “Who would be liable if a child were to fall ill, or develop an allergic reaction to any of the constituents of the pills?” Even sugar can be harmful to some diabetics.
Mariam Mokhtar is “a Malaysian who dares to speak the truth.”