— BH Toh
The Malay Mail Online
December 29, 2013
DEC 29 — More than fifty years ago, Malaya achieved independence through cooperation among the various races. Native Malays formed the biggest ethnic group. Besides many other smaller indigenous groups, the Chinese and Indians were the second and third largest racial group at time.
Given the highly complex and diverse racial mix with each group speaking mainly their own respective mother tongues without a common language, our leaders at that time must have, after careful and cautious considerations, prudently decided that it is best to accommodate the mother-tongue language demands of the larger racial groups. Chinese and Indian vernacular schools were allowed to continue alongside mainstream schools that were mostly English medium ones legacy of the British era.
Eventually, all those English medium schools became Sekolah Kebangsaan, using our National Language as the main medium of instruction. While these vernacular schools struggled along at times, they managed to survive and some are actually doing quite well today in terms of enrolment.
This leads to our present day scenario with the argument that Malaysian Chinese and Indians are the most privileged lots in the world as no other country allowed such an arrangement. Without first hand experience of the tough social environment and reasons for such decision at that time, it is all too easy for some to call for an end to such schools, despite guaranteed of their continued existence in our constitution.
However, spoken languages among us have changed considerably since our independence. While racial composition remained as diverse with Malays, Chinese and Indians still forming the three major racial group, we now have a significant proportion of Malaysians of various ethnicity who use English daily as their first language, both at home and socially. To them, English has become their mother tongue, a group that hardly existed in the early days of our country. Thus, we must re-tweak our education policy decided about half a century ago, to the current environment.
Our country has an advantage and we are obviously very proud of our diverse racial mix and should expand our education system further to enhance this advantage. Instead of the current soft-landing, we ought to allow PPSMI to continue indefinitely in selected Sekolah Kebangsaan to met the demands of parents.
Alternatively, the present arrangement of having some classes conduct PPSMI in most school can be a permanent feature. Concerned parents and educational NGOs are still making time and effort gathering together to voice their preference.
Conduct a nation-wide referendum on the medium of instruction for Mathematics and Science. Let parent instead of politicians decide if their children should use English or Bahasa Malaysia for these two critical subjects. In a highly competitive and borderless world today, it may not be even a bad idea to consider bringing back English Medium schools in addition to our national and vernacular schools!
These re-tweaking are surely in line with UNESCO’s recommendation. It is also well within the demands of language nationalist groups (and that of some opposition parties) who often argue that young children learn best in mother tongue.
This UNESCO recommendation was one of the reasons given by our Education Minister to abolish PPSMI when it should in fact be reason to have PPSMI continue infinitely alongside MBMMBI policy. Ironically, our children whose first language is English are now the casualties of our education policy with some struggling to cope in STEM subjects.
For too long, politicians have been dictating our education policies and we can all see where our still deteriorating education level is at now. Many countries that once trailed us economically and in education are now ahead and will probably continue to surge further. It is not too late. Parents are willing stepping forward and it is time we have a dominant say in determining the direction of our education policies.
With the New Year just a few days away, it is our hope that our leaders no longer pay lip services but start listening to parents and implement the necessary policy changes.