This time we publish some other views on vernacular schools. We disagree with some of the views expressed. But let us have a healthy and mature discussion in this blog.
1. Letter to New Straits Times
VERNACULAR SCHOOLS: Look for quality education
SAMUEL YESUIAH, Seremban
LIONG Kam Chong of Seremban has offered some good and constructive ideas on how to make vernacular (Chinese and Tamil) schools more national and more 1Malaysia in character (“Let’s work on new roles for vernacular schools” — NST, Nov 11).
The calls for a single-stream school system would mean that vernacular schools would cease to exist. The writer has given new roles for vernacular schools so that these schools can exist and fulfil national aspirations.
A single-stream school system does not have to mean upholding one stream and discarding the other schools but rather that all schools, national as well as vernacular primary schools, pursuing a single goal and objective.
The writer has given workable options to vernacular school stakeholders to make their schools relevant and Malaysian in nature.
Vernacular schools have existed for more than half a century and are part of our national heritage. These schools should be revived and reformed rather than made redundant.
There are certain logistics that have to be considered for the vernacular schools to co-exist with national schools in this country.
There are about 1,000 Chinese primary schools and about 500 Tamil schools in the country. What would happen to these schools? Some of these vernacular schools have excellent facilities, such as swimming pools and auditoriums, and offer excellent learning environments.
There are about a few hundred thousand vernacular schoolteachers who teach in their mother tongue language to the children of vernacular schools. What would happen to these teachers in a single-stream school system?
What about the position of senior assistants, curriculum and student affairs teachers who have been carrying out the administrative work of these schools?
These teachers appointed by the Education Ministry have been selected based on their experience and service.
And where will the head teachers of these vernacular schools fit in a single-school system? Will they retain their positions? These and other logistical and personnel issues in vernacular education should be considered carefully before thinking about single-stream schools.
Therefore, the best and most viable option is to make vernacular schools reflect the ideals and aspiration of national schools and let parents decide which is their choice.
Ultimately, what is important is not whether we have a single-stream or multiple-stream school system, but rather, schools that offer quality education to fulfil the objectives of the national education policy and reflect the true identity of our country’s unity in diversity.
This can be realised in national schools as well as in vernacular schools.
2. From Infernal Ramblings blog
Segregated Schools: Why Vernacular Schools and Malay Boarding Schools Harm Malaysia
Written by johnleemk on Feb 25, 2007.
One of, if not the, most controversial thing you can say about Malaysian education is that our segregated school system harms the country and divides it. However unpleasant this simple truth may be, people don’t seem interested in facing it.
For this article, ignore the question of what we should do about the segregated school system. Don’t concern yourself with that. Before we can begin to define solutions, we must first establish whether there is a problem, and determine what that problem is.
The figures are quite stark. 94% of Chinese attend a Chinese vernacular school for their primary education. About 75% of Indians attend a Tamil vernacular school. 99% of Malays attend a national school.
I don’t know what the precise proportions are for secondary school, but I do know that most Chinese and Indians end up in national secondary schools. However, the best and brightest Malays are shipped off to boarding schools meant exclusively for Malays. (An exception are the MARA Junior Science Colleges, which have a 10% non-Bumiputra quota.)
Now, just ask yourself. Is it good, or bad if the vast majority of primary school students interact with students from only their ethnic community? It can’t be good. It’s highly doubtful that it’s neutral. It has to be bad, is it not?
If you’re unconvinced, then think about it. Would you be more susceptible to propaganda against other ethnic groups if you have spent your life surrounded only by those of your own community? Would you be more likely to negatively stereotype those of other races if you have never mixed with them, never gotten to know them as individuals?
The answer has to be a resounding yes. The reason the government can put out so much propaganda about the Chinese being excessively rich is because the Malays rarely get to know a large enough sampling of Chinese to understand that most Chinese are lower- or middle-class.
Similarly, the reason so many Chinese youth (yes, including some educated in national schools) stereotype Indians as gangsters and Malays as lazy or stupid is because they never get to know the bright and intelligent Malays and Indians. How can we have national unity with a segregated school system?
One might think that the problem would be addressed by integrated neighbourhoods. The problem is that in urban areas, people hardly ever get to know their neighbours well, regardless of ethnic group. There is rarely a sense of community in the city or town.
The villages, on the other hand, tend to be overwhelmingly dominated by one race. My hometown, for example, is a little town near the border of Selangor and Negeri Sembilan. It is predominantly Chinese. My grandfather, who runs a grocery shop, mainly interacts with Malays as his customers.
With such a limited context for interaction, it is easy to see how misunderstandings can arise. The Malays might end up thinking, for example, that most Chinese are rich shopkeepers!
That is why schools are so important. They represent a neutral middle ground for different communities to congregate. The young are not racially-minded. They don’t think in terms of race. If from young, they think of a multi-ethnic community as normal, they will continue to view it as the natural thing to do.
If, on the other hand, they are only exposed to one race in primary school, even at the secondary level, when they meet those from other ethnic communities, they will think it odd. They will likely clique with those from their own race, and that’s where the problem of racial polarisation arises.
Am I wrong? I could be — I don’t dare rule that out. But I think my unpopular hypothesis has a ring of truth to it. The government’s discriminatory policies contribute to racial polarisation, no doubt. But can you really say that dividing our young according to ethnic group doesn’t contribute significantly to the problem either?
Some of the comments:
a. Students from vernacular schools as young as nine years of age are taunting Indians for their skin colour (some in secondary school still have a phobia of them). Most Malays never have the opportunity to mix with Chinese and Indians due to vernacular schools. The solution? National service, a stop-gap measure ten years too late; integration should begin at seven, not seventeen!
These conditions breed the sort of racial divisions that were reflected in Parliament a few months ago when one MP took the trouble to complain about an advertisement showing a Malay youth being rude. Until we rid ourselves of this parasitic cancer, I am very pessimistic about Malaysia’s future.
The first step to eliminating racial stereotyping and division is to integrate schools. But of course the d*** Chinese/Tamil chauvinists won’t accept this, even if the Mandarin and Tamil language classes are readily available in most national primary schools!
Clearing this hurdle clears the way to many other things. A rakyat that is no longer divided will pay no heed to any number of keris-wavings. A rakyat united will call for a more even-handed affirmative action policy. A rakyat united will stop this f***ing bulls*** about race, and start talking about the nation.
Sounds farfetched? It is. I’ve given up hope on Malaysia. It’s the old chicken-or-egg cycle; the government won’t change till the rakyat changes, but the rakyat won’t change till the government changes. Oh, well. KERANAMU MALAYSIA
b. Big changes are hard to make, so start with a small one. Refuse to fill out the ‘race’ section of any and all forms. Suggest to your company that they do the same. One step, one foot in front of the other and eventually you will get there. Take a step. Refuse to fill it out. I refuse. The only race I’m in is the human race and Malaysia is rather far behind the pack at this point.
If race is not on the application form – it won’t mean that the HR person will view Malay/Chinese/India/Other any differently when they walk through the door, but then, it’s a start. Small, but a start. Make a start.
“The first step to eliminating racial stereotyping and division is to integrate schools. But of course the d*** Chinese/Tamil chauvinists won’t accept this, even if the Mandarin and Tamil language classes are readily available in most national primary schools! ”
c. It’s true that we need to integrate the Chinese, Indian and Malay school together. However, we need to understand why the Chinese or Indian are sending their Children to vernacular school? Is it because the quality of vernacular school is much better than national school? Before the 80s, a lot Chinese in my hometown send their children to national school because of the quality of education are much superior than vernacular school. Lately, the quality of national school drop drastically which resulted less Chinese students in-take. How could you expect parents to send the children to school with low quality? Furthermore, this also showed that the government needs to focus on improve the quality of national school. Once we improve the quality of education provided by national school, you’ll see the increase of Chinese students in-take.
3. From Infernal Ramblings blog
Vernacular Schools Exact High Price in National Unity
Written by johnleemk on Jul 2, 2008.
Perhaps the most immutable constant in Malaysian politics is vernacular education. Almost anything can be subject to negotiation – people grumble, and then they get over it – but touch vernacular schools, and you can expect an immense backlash from the non-Malay communities. The non-Malays will sit down and accept your questioning their right to be Malaysian citizens, but the moment you suggest that the present system of vernacular education is detrimental in any way to the country’s future, they will rise up in anger. The problem is, vernacular schools do harm the country. There are significant downsides to the present way we run our education system; they may be outweighed by stronger benefits, but even so, we must accept that we have to pay a high price in terms of national unity for the present structure of our education system.
The clearest benefit of vernacular schools is that they help non-Malay students master their mother tongue. Many people who did not attend a vernacular school, including myself, regret our poor command of our mother tongue. This is unquestionably an important function of vernacular education, too easily and frequently glossed over by people who claim to champion national unity.
Unfortunately, the way the present system functions is that non-Malay parents who want their children to learn Chinese or Tamil will send their children to vernacular schools, and everyone else will send their children to national schools. The obvious problem that arises is that national schools become effectively Malay schools. Only a very small number of national schools have a non-negligible amount of non-Malay students, and they are overwhelmingly concentrated in a few urban areas. Common figures I see quoted in the media indicate that over 90% of Chinese students attend a Chinese vernacular primary school, while over 70% of Tamil students attend a Tamil vernacular primary school. We have effectively established a segregated school system.
A segregated school system is extremely detrimental to national unity. This is almost impossible to debate; the only question is how far segregated schools contribute to racial polarisation. Most non-Malays I know blame pro-Malay government policies for racial polarisation, and argue that most vernacular schools do not preach any sort of racist or chauvinist ideology. These points are well taken. However, consider this: our education system consigns the vast majority of young Malaysians to spending the six most formative years of their lives in schools overwhelmingly dominated by people of one race, one religion, and one language.
We all know that how we grow up has a huge impact on us; our habits, our behaviour, our thought patterns, our character – they all are heavily influenced by our upbringing. Right now, we are bringing up young Malaysians in a setting exposing them to a very limited subset of Malaysian society.
Perhaps Malaysia’s richest asset is that it has three very diverse cultures, very different ways of thinking, to draw upon. But our heterogeneity can only be exploited if we know how to work and live together. If we do not develop the skills to socialise and interact with those outside our own ethnic community, how can we ever hope to work with them?
I don’t claim to have the perfect answer to the problems of national unity and mother tongue education. Undoubtedly, there is a trade-off: for non-Malays, our greater facility in Chinese and Tamil comes at the cost of setting ourselves apart from Malays for six crucial and formative years. I do not think this is a viable education system; the costs of racial polarisation are too high.
At the same time, those who claim to champion national unity by integrating all schools under the banner of national schools often do this cause no favour by proposing unrealistic solutions. The simple fact is that national schools are often dominated by administrators with blatantly racist ideologies of their own; stories abound of principals who refuse to respect non-Muslim religious traditions and seek to impose Malay and Muslim cultural norms on non-Malays and non-Muslims. A simple plan to immediately place all schools under one “national” system that is actually effectively a Malay school system cannot work. A measured compromise is the only way forward.
A good first step would be to actually nationalise national schools. When 40 per cent of the nation seeks education in Chinese or Tamil for their young, a responsive school system should provide it; unfortunately, most “national” schools do not. Had Chinese classes been available in the national primary school I attended, I would have signed up for them. We can dispose of fluffy subjects virtually everyone acknowledges to be useless, such as “moral education”, if necessary to make time for language classes. Making mother tongue education widely available in national schools would make them truly national, responding to the needs of almost half the nation.
Improving the administration of national schools would also make them more attractive to non-Malays frightened by the spectre of Muslim fundamentalism or racist extremism. The government must duly punish school administrators and teachers who do not respect cultural sensitivities or pursue policies catering to only one community, rather than closing one eye. The whole culture of the system has to change, to one of respect and tolerance from one of bigotry and ignorance; only then can we truly call it a national school system.
Last but not least, educational standards have to go up. The sad fact is that teachers in vernacular schools often seem more motivated than those in national schools; there is a quality of teaching that cannot easily be found in national schools. (Let’s leave questions of curricula and exam-orientation out of the picture for now.) National schools must prove their worth in terms of preparing primary school students for secondary education and beyond.
In the long run, a system predicated on segregation, even if the segregation is voluntary, cannot work; it encourages sticking to one’s own ethnic group. The differences are stark when you enter secondary school; national school students and vernacular school students mix in very different cliques. The national school students inevitably have a more diverse group of friends – one more reflective of Malaysian society as a whole – because they simply grew up that way. The more diverse their primary school was, the more diverse their secondary school friends are. The trends continue well into college, university and beyond; racial polarisation among those from Malay “national” schools, Chinese schools and Tamil schools is patently obvious, while those happy few who attended truly national schools maintain a much broader set of friends.
If we want to address the problem of racial polarisation, the solution lies in making our school system truly national, rather than a patchwork of schools, some of which reflect the nation’s diversity, but most catering to only one community. Not too long ago, surveys indicated that almost half the nation have never eaten together with someone of a different race. In my national school, we sat down to eat every recess with friends from other races; I had Malay and Indian friends in my home for my birthday parties, and they reciprocated with invitations to their own homes. How many Malaysians can truly say the same? Certainly not more than half. How can we ever hope to call ourselves a nation when our very school system persists in dividing us from young, setting the pattern for the rest of our lives? It’s time for a change.