For the past one month, there has been calls by various groups of people, including politicians, academicians, and even the grassroots to implement a single stream education system for the sake of unity in Malaysia. In fact, it is not something new and has been advocated on and off since decades ago.
Of the Concerns
By nature, the Chinese and Indian Malaysians are usually the ones that advocate maintaining the vernacular schools due to several obvious reasons. Throughout the years of reading articles and listening to the people; I noticed that there are two major concerns of the Chinese regarding the matter of the education system. The first is the fear of losing the mother tongue and vernacular schools are one of the main educational institutions that teach Mandarin. The second is the responsibility to preserve Chinese culture in schools including the name and origin of the schools. Of course there are also other concerns such as the ownership of the school, the management of the school, funding, and examinations.
Of the Unity
In a nation with different ethnics, “Understanding” is needed to achieve unity with different cultural backgrounds. To attain “understanding” among the people, I believe there are two key factors that we need to look at: language and communication. Most of the time, people argue or fight with each other is due to misunderstanding; and avoid it, we need to make people understand each other through communication. To have an effective communication, the basic thing that is needed is to speak the same language.
The Education Blueprint is for Vernacular Schools and Unity
In the latest Malaysian Education Blueprint for the year 2013 until 2025, it is obviously written that vernacular schools will be maintained and implemented. In achieving unity, the Education Ministry plans to ensure that the education system provides all students with the opportunity to interact with individuals from a range of socio-economic, religious, and ethnic background as well as geographical locations. This is to make the young people to learn to understand, accept and embrace differences. The measures to achieve the goal includes raising the Bahasa Malaysia proficiency; scaling up the RIMUP programme to encourage intergroup friendships through co-curricular activities; introducing a compulsory community service component; and revising Moral and Islamic education elements.
The current situation of schools
Although there are one major race enrolling in each school, however there are also other races who are studying in each type. For instance, in the SK schools, there are students from all ethnics in the nation. In the SJK (C) schools, although the communication language is in Mandarin, however there are still Malays and Indians children enrolling into it.
According to the 2011 Malaysia Education Statistics; in SK schools, there are 94% of Bumiputera students, 1% of Chinese students, 3% of Indian students while the remaining are from other ethnics. Meanwhile in the SJK (C) schools; there are 9% of Bumiputera students, 88% of Chinese students, 2% Indian students and 1% from other ethnics.
To put it short, it means that the Government allows any Malaysian to enrol in any type of school as they wish to. There are no barriers for anyone to enrol in the type of school that they wanted.
Why the differences?
The differences between a national school (SK) and a national-type school (SJK) is perhaps the language classes, medium of language used in teaching, the management, and the name of the schools.
I did not do any professional survey on the reason why parents enrol their kids to the respective schools; but parents generally consider the quality of teaching, languages that are taught in the school and also the medium of language when it comes to choosing the best for their sons and daughters.
At the very base, what if all schools will be maintained, no matter a national school, a Chinese-based school or an Indian-based school? What if the only amendment is the syllabus of the education?
What if Bahasa Malaysia and English language are maintained as the compulsory subject in every school while the students are compulsory to choose Chinese, Tamil or any mother tongue as the secondary language? By doing this, every Malaysian has the right to learn and educate in their mother tongue.
What if all medium of teaching used in every school is the same language? Certain people may worry that the children may not be able to cope with lessons not taught in their mother tongue. But our Malay and Indian friends have proven otherwise when they studied in a Chinese-based school. Some even excel in it.
By then, I believe all parents will only have to choose a school for their children to enrol in based on the quality of teaching and the geographical location.
Maybe it is the way that the suggestions were portrayed by some people has created a perception of closing down certain schools. I don’t know.
Nevertheless, no matter what suggestions that we may have for now, whatever is tabled in the Malaysia Education Blueprint must be continued until the end of its term before making any review. One of the weaknesses of the implementation of Malaysia’s public policies is that the policies usually changes with the change of the Minister. Let the education policy be implemented first, and then only analyse the results of the Blueprint for future considerations.
This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 9th October 2015.