Vernacular schools a scapeGOAT for disunity, says Pua
PETALING JAYA, June 25 — Vernacular schools have been unfairly painted as a contributing factor for the country’s weak racial integration, DAP MP Tony Pua said today.Instead, Pua claimed the increasing popularity of vernacular schools among Malaysians was because of the deteriorating standards of the national schools.“Vernacular education has been blamed for splitting society. I understand why it exists, and why it is popular,” said the DAP publicity chief.“It is not because most parents love the Chinese language. It is because national schools are hopeless in quality, and by sending their children there, parents are worried that their kids will have no future,” Pua said during the launch of his book “The Tiger that Lost Its Roar” here today.The Petaling Jaya Utara MP lamented the severe decline of national schools, pointing out that the teaching system had changed drastically over the past few decades.He charged that the existing education system created a “layer of separation” by sending top Malay students to Mara government boarding schools.This, he said, left the “second and third tier” of Malay students to compete against the other races in national schools.“Let us take away the vernacular school debate…let’s focus on quality. I think that if a school system can guarantee a solid education and placing at an excellent university, parents won’t care whether it’s national and vernacular,” added Pua to rousing applause from the crowd of 150 in attendance.
My daughter, Xin Ying is only 6 months old. So it’s really too early think about where she’s going to study. However, I’ve been asked this question many times by friends and relatives – “Where should we send our daughter to school?” This is not to mention the fact that my wife and myself have casually discussed this topic many times, even before Xin Ying was born. 😉 And to be frank, we don’t have a conclusive answer at this stage.
The national (Kebangsaan) vs the Chinese school debate is an extremely large and sensitive debate in the Malaysian politics. My posts on this topic for this blog shall be broken into three parts – I’ll post them as I complete writing over the course of this week :).
In Part I, I shall outline the criteria that should be used in order to decide whether I should send her to a national or Chinese school.
In Part II, I shall try to evaluate which type of school will be able to best deliver the criteria outlined in Part I.
And finally in Part III, I shall outline several policy recommendations which I believe will be able to improve our education system further to best achieve the criteria stated here.
Hopefully, by the time Xin Ying is 6 years old, the decision on which type of school she should attend will be a much easier one to make.
To give a bit of background of the proud parents – I attended a national-type former missionary primary school in Batu Pahat – Montfort Boys School from 1978. So, my education was pretty much in Bahasa Malaysia although some of the teachers continued to teach in English. My parents were both Chinese educated who did not complete primary school and hence barely knew a handful of English words. My parents sent me to Montfort because it was the top primary school in Batu Pahat, and one of the best in Johor during that time. On the other hand, my wife, Ting Fong went through Chinese girls primary school – SRK(C) Ai Chun I, Batu Pahat – before joining a national-type secondary school. So both of us have a pretty good understanding of the national type and vernacular type schools in Malaysia. So, why is it such a difficult decision to make?
Let’s first review our key priorities in terms of the type of school our child should be in (not in any particular order):
Academic standardsNeedless to say, the academic standards, as well as the overall quality of education has to be high. As parents, we are all keen to have our children study in the top schools if they are able to, so that they can have a good future ahead of them. It’ll also to a certain extent provide them with an edge over the crowd.
Mother tongue educationI’m thankful that despite having attended a national type school in the past, I’m still fairly fluent in Mandarin (putonghua) and able to read and write simple Chinese. This was thankfully sufficient for me to conduct business in Greater China. I’m fortunate because Mandarin was my lingua franca at home, besides a sprinkling of the Teochew dialect. My parents were kind enough to have taught me some written Chinese since I was four or five years old as well, and I took up additional “homework” in the language during my university days.
Mother tongue education is hence important to us, as it not only represents our cultural roots, the Chinese language has also incidentally become probably the second most important language for commerce in the world. English competence in China is now limited to the elite academia, and the China businessmen have little or no knowledge of it. Hence if one is at all interested in business in China, competence in Mandarin will be imperative.
English languageWhile our mother tongue education is important, English language competence is likely to be of greater immediate importance. This is because the top universities which are recognised worldwide today, are located in the English speaking world – be it Oxbridge or the Ivy leagues. In addition, the bulk of the reference materials are of English language origin or at the very least, would have a translated version in English.Hence, whichever choice of education system our kids undertake, it should be able to provide them with a strong and solid foundation in English. In addition, we believe that language education is most important during primary school, as that’s when it is easiest for them to pick up the rudiments of any language.
National integrationWhat has national integration got to do with a kid’s education, you might ask? National integration tends to be absent from most people’s priority list when selecting a schooling system for their children. I’ll place additional emphasis on this criterion, as it is the criterion most often overlooked by Malaysian, particularly Chinese parents.We live in a multi-racial country. It is my firm believe that for the country to succeed in its national integration goals, all ethnic groups must possess good understanding of each other in terms of culture, religion and common practices. Being Malaysians, national integration should be one of our key goals so that we are able to live in harmony with one another. I’d like my daughter to grow up with life-long friends of all races, not just to “stick” among our own racial group.
In addition, national integration allows for our children to pick up many necessary soft skills which will serve them well in both their social as well as occupational careers. If our children are able to integrate well with other ethnic groups, they would have naturally learnt to be tolerant of various social and cultural practices. More importantly, they will learn to accept that being “different” is not equivalent to being “better” or “worse”, a key distinction that is often neglected.I am often upset by fresh graduates whom during interviews would inadvertently express racially biased sentiments without realising it. I attribute the basis of their opinions largely to the fact that they have had few or little interactions with other racial groups, particularly during their years in education, despite living in our racially diverse community.
National integration in Malaysia would also mean that our child will have to be reasonably fluent in Bahasa Malaysia. I would like her to be able to converse fluently with her Malay friends in the language. I find that the verbal skills of most of the younger Chinese in the Malay language do not extend very much beyond making food orders at the corner mamak shops. This actually leads to further reasons for segregation amongst the Malaysian racial groups.
The above are our key criteria or yardstick which we will use to decide which school Xin Ying should attend. In my next post sometime during the week, I shall write on whether the national or the Chinese schools will be able to meet the criteria outlined above.
Sikalang kita kasi baca lu punya part 2… go here
Where should I send my daughter to school?
Part I of my blog post on the above topic dealt with the four key criteria used to decide which type of school (primary level) I will send Xin Ying, my daughter (now only 6.5 months old) to. They are:
Mother tongue education
English language competence, and
How would the national and Chinese schools fare against the above criteria? Note that the evaluation assumption is on a “generalised” basis. That means that it’s never going to be every Chinese school better than every national school (or vice versa) for any of the relevant criteria.
1. Academic standards
From the various feedbacks I’ve received, the Chinese schools appear to have an edge in the academic standards. They have always been stronger in Mathematics and Science, and this is recognised even by our government leaders. You will find more winners in Mathematics and Science competitions from the Chinese schools. Hence, strictly from an academic standards perspective, it will be best to send Xin Ying to a top Chinese school. Everyone in KL talks about sending their child to SRJK (C) Kuan Cheng along Jalan Syed Putra in Kuala Lumpur.
2. Mother tongue education
The best mother tongue education will obviously be achieved by enrolling Xin Ying into a Chinese school, whereby all subjects are taught in Chinese, with the exception of Mathematics and Science in English, and of course, Bahasa Malaysia. In the national schools, there is currently little or no teaching of mother tongue languages although there are now plans to introduce them as second languages for the next academic year.
3. English language competence
I have seen first hand, the quality of English language competence by some of the top graduates whose origins were Chinese primary schools. It is really a sad state of affairs. And this is an opinion from someone who didn’t manage to obtain an ‘A’ in English for his ‘O’ Levels (sigh). Unless the students happen to be from a English speaking background, the quality of English competence is just deplorable. I have hired many of these candidates as computer application developers (and they are good) but almost none of them can write a short paragraph in English without committing very simple grammatical errors. Their lack of competence in oral English is such that their main language of communications among themselves is Cantonese and Mandarin. This is also one of the main reasons why I cannot understand some of the Chinese educationists object so vehemently to conducting Mathematics and Science classes in English.
The students from the better national secondary schools tend to fare a tad better in their command of English language. This could be limited to several schools whose tradition of teaching in English is stronger. It could also be due to the fact that many parents whose main language is English send their children to these schools, hence enabling a more English oriented environment. With the exception of the above schools however, the standards of English language education is largely indifferent between the Chinese and national schools.
Hence, strictly from an English language competence perspective, I should be seeking out top national primary schools who are likely to have teachers competent in the language as well as English speaking parents who are more likely to enrol their children in these schools.
4. National Integration
Finally, where can I send Xin Ying to ensure that she will be culturally integrated to the racial and ethnic diversity of Malaysia?
Certainly not Chinese schools, I would say. After all, Chinese schools are only populated with 7% non-Chinese. However, at the same time, it appears that national schools are also losing their multicultural identity with non-bumiputeras accounting for only some 10% of the student population, much lower than the 42% representation of the total population.
I do not think there’s a clear cut answer as to which is the better school for the purposes of national integration. There is not much point sending her to a national type school and she ends up being discriminated against, due to the lack of interaction with the other races. However, I do know that the end result from sending her to a Chinese school isn’t going to be favourable as well.
I employ and interview many graduates from Chinese schools and I’m not particularly proud of my experience. Here are some of the general observations (barring exceptions):
They speak little or no Malay language beyond possibly ordering food items from mamak stalls. Language unfortunately is one of the key factors to enhance and ensure integration amongst the various races in Malaysia. I’d definitely want Xin Ying to be part of this integration. Many display racially biaised tendencies without even realising that they are racially biaised. I do not want my daughter to grow up possessing a racial superiority complex.
It is an unfortunate fact that the Malay and Chinese employees do not mix socially in my office, and I assume the same may be said of many offices. This is not so much because they do not like each other, but more to do with the fact that they are unable to communicate fluently and find common interest with each other. Part of the reason is the racial cliques which arises out of primary schools through to universities in Malaysia, not helped by Chinese vs national school dichotomisation. The blame lies to a larger extent with the Chinese employees as the Malays, being the minority in my office need to feel wanted.
Finally, I find that the lack of interaction and integration in schools have resulted in culturally insensitive behaviours, something I definitely do not want Xin Ying to pick up. For example, we may be conducting a project meeting with a “multiracial” crowd but you will still find some of the Chinese graduates to carry out part discussions with each other in Mandarin or Cantonese, which to me, is absolutely rude.
Hence, from the above, I’m thankful that I do not yet have to commit Xin Ying to a Chinese or national type school as at this moment in time. It’ll probably be another four to five years, before I seriously need to worry about her primary school education. From the thoughts above on the various pros and cons of the school types, you should be able to tell that neither system fulfil more than 1 or 2 of my key criteria.
What’s up with your consistent attack on MRSM? Apa lu dengki ka sama MRSM? read how Tony Tompel found out about MRSM
“looks like a good school to go to, if you can get in.” More posang dengki shite here
Can you provide some basis on why this “select” group of people which is smaller in numbers than the population of Vernacular Students leads to Racial Polarisation?
……I’ve touched this topic before go here and malas to reupdate the data so refer below
A cursory look at the data shows that a
- Total of 1813 SRKJ(C and T)
- 54 Sekolah Berasrama Penuh,
- 16 SABK(primary),
- 101 SABK (Secondary)
- and 55 Sekolah Agama
As for MRSM the numbers are 45 go here
Now lets do a simple calculation lets say 30 students per class and 5 class per age = 150 Students per age
Now lets apply this number against the total number of School….
assuming SRJK(C/T)/SABK(primary) got 6 years of Study,
Sekolah Berasrama Penuh/MRSM/Sekolah Agama/SABK(secondary) got 5 years…
The resulting number of kids would b
- SRJK(C/T) would be = 150 x 6 x 1813 = 1,631,700
- SABK(primary) = 150 x 6 x 16 = 14400
- Sekolah Berasrama Penuh = 150 x 5 x 54 = 40,500
- SABK (Secondary) = 150 x 5 x 101 = 75, 750
- Sekolah Agama = 150 x 5 x 55 = 42, 250
- MRSM = 150 x 5 x 45 = 33,750
Feel free to disagree….real numbers on enrollment for primary school by type is here cant find actual numbers for secondary school anywhere in the portal..so bear with me on this….
First and foremost besides MRSM which is enacted as per our constitution article 153 and the corresponding Akta Majlis Amanah Rakyat 1966…..the other schools are OPEN to All Non-Bumi based on your UPSR or Penilaian Darjah 5 during my time. (for sekolah agama…..if you want to convert to Islam alhamdulliah..silakan pak)……UPDATE MRSM IS OPEN TO OTHER RACES (so i heard la….malas mau validate)
So let me ask you this now…..which one is more?
How many more kids in their early years are segregated in an Alien Language which is only spoken on a daily basis by less than 20% of the population…. Racial Disunity of course is a co-mingling of many factors, one key component is how well we understand one another…..and of which language plays a very important role..
This key problem in language brings us back to vernacular schooling ….lets assume a kid from 7 to 12 years old goes to to a vernacular school..how many hours a day does he goes around thinking, learning, communicating in Mandarin/Tamil…goes home after school probably into an environment that continues to speak Non-national Languages..or even other foreign language dialects……how much interaction in BM or English will this group children have as a % of their life minus the early years say up till 5/6 years old….ask yourself would these group of children be racially united with other kids of different race who do not speak the language that they speak fluently….. as with any problem..there are root causes…..and if language is one of the possible root cause of disunity then we must face the issue on vernacular schooling head on..without fear and without politics clouding our judgment……….
Gua malas siut this topic cakap banyak tara guna la beb
SHUT DOWN THIS ILLEGAL INSTITUTION WHICH (read here) IS SUCKING AWAY THE LEGITIMATE BUDGET FROM NATIONAL SCHOOLS
oh Tony b4 i 4get……..I agree on the Quality Issue which you are raising… so I sincerely hope that you as An MP would upheld the Article 152 and Our National Language Act by putting forward a motion in Parliament to SHUT DOWN Vernacular School and Merge them with National School, Enhance 3rd Language (such as Mandarin, Tamil , Other Asian Languages, Arabic and European Languages) Teaching and Make the National School Stream as Secular as it can be…Religious Education should be beyond normal school hours……
Ada brani posang?