The case for vernacular schools

By Center for Policy Initiatives (CPI)

Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein is anticipating that the motion on vernacular schools will be the hottest topic at his party’s general assembly to be held next fortnight (Nov 25-29).

The call to abolish vernacular schools, termed Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan – SRJK (C) for those using Mandarin as medium of instruction and SRJK (T) for those using Tamil – is expected to dominate the debate by Umno delegates.

Among the SRJK vocal critics are Umno’s Cheras division chief Syed Ali Alhabshee and Petaling Jaya Utara deputy division chief Mohamad Azli Mohemed Saad.

Urging their abolishment, Syed Ali said vernacular schools are seen as the platform for fostering thick racial sentiments. He was reported by FMT on Oct 7 as saying that such a negative development could bring about division and discord between the people of various races in the country.

Syed Ali is an advocate of single-stream education where all primary schools must teach in the national language, Bahasa Melayu, in the Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK).

Meanwhile, Mohamad Azli was quoted by the NST in its Oct 5 article ‘Umno assembly should discuss position of Chinese schools’ as calling upon the annual convention at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) to discuss whether multi-streaming should be maintained.

“Many are of the opinion that Chinese vernacular schools have been exploited by opposition parties to incite hatred towards other races, and spread racial and anti-government sentiments,” he said.’

It is against the backdrop of the above allegations and a predicted-to-be explosive Umno meeting that the Nov 11 forum titled ‘Should there be one stream of schooling in Malaysia?’ was organized by Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia with the Tamil Foundation (TF), Pertubuhan IKRAM Malaysia (IKRAM), Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH), Lim Lian Geok Cultural Development Centre (LLG), Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (ALIRAN) and Majlis Perundingan Malaysia Agama Buddha, Krisitian, Hindu, Sikh dan Tao (MPMA-BKHST).

Presenting the vernacular school viewpoint

Held at the LLG Cultural Development Centre in Kuala Lumpur, the forum sought to bring the debate into open ground. (The eponymous LLG centre is named after Chinese educationist Lim Lian Geok).

Among the forum speakers was Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI) director Dr Lim Teck Ghee.

In his presentation, Dr Lim said that while government policy on multi-stream education has remained unchanged, certain Malay nationalist groups as well as a few Umno leaders were still continuing with their campaign of agitation aimed at abolishing vernacular schools.

Dr Lim described some of these people as being professional agitators who were bent on creating racial strife and attempting to cast the SRJKs as a scapegoat for the country’s race relations crisis.

According to him, the academicians and professionals who were supporting these agitational groups were either ignorant or “apple polishers” seeking to curry favour with the political masters.

Racial discrimination is most divisive factor

There is no empirical evidence to show that vernacular schools undermine national unity, Dr Lim noted. Neither can it be proved that the currently almost mono-ethnic national schools advanced racial integration in any way superior to the role played by vernacular schools. 

What evidence there is, Dr Lim explained, indicated that inter-ethnic interaction in the so-called “integrated schools” had resulted in disunity and mistrust rather than help bring about unity and integration.

Highlighting a study conducted in 1968-69, he said the poll taken of 7,000 students had found race-based affirmative action to be the factor most responsible for creating inter-ethnic mistrust among the respondents.

The survey had covered 34 secondary schools with mixed student population. Aside from their multiracial enrolment, the schools surveyed were also ones where competition for educational mobility was most pronounced.
Dr Lim expressed his belief that the finding is likely to be confirmed by a new study today. He suggested that it is overall government policies on race and religion in the socioeconomic and cultural areas that should be examined and blamed for the deterioration in national unity and integration.

SRJKs included in National Education Blueprint
Observing that SRJKs were increasingly the school of choice for many non-Chinese parents, Dr Lim pointed out that data from the National Education Blueprint revealed Chinese schools to have at present a more multiracial enrolment compared with SKs.

“Most Malaysians are aware that the diversity of school systems is an advantage in our increasingly globalised world and competitive economy,” he opined.

The blueprint, which is the country’s education roadmap for the next dozen years up to 2025, has reiterated that the diversity of cultures and peoples is fundamental to Malaysian identity. It additionally reaffirms the conventional philosophy that students learn best when taught in their mother tongue through their formative years.

The way forward
In his concluding remarks, Dr Lim called on Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to provide a White Paper in support of his own recent statement in Parliament that the government has been fair in its allocation to the different schooling streams.
Dr Lim said this reassurance is necessary due to widespread public perception that the SRJKs continue to be discriminated against and treated as “stepchildren” by the government and the Ministry of Education. 

Full disclosure of funding allocation, school-building policy, school and class enrolment size and other pertinent issues, he added, would help put to rest the pervasive concern. Otherwise non-Malays might consider SRJKs to be the convenient political football that is kicked around whenever the Malay power centre is under duress.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Tuesday, 18 November 2014 - 10:32 am

    Its clear Najib & Co is getting ahead of these groups by voicing upholding vernacular schools ahead of the meet because they anticipated the attacks to be a full possibly completely out of control orgy. Najib, even ahead of the meet, has demanded the Chinese “respect the sensititivities” of the Malay even though its the Malay extremist doing all the doing..

    For the longest time, these apologist of the extremist have argued that letting the extremist vent approach has been the “we know how to handle these things” thing to do and the prodigal inheritors that they are, trying their darnest to maintain the status quo as they have no idea what to do.

    So the issue really is how far more than UMNO policy of political narcoticism continue until damage is intolerable.. Its not about vernacular school or sedition act at all. Its about the political narcotic addicts needing new highs and UMNO designing more or new political narcotics for them to feed on.. Eventually, it will all end disastrously, the one holding the bag, or the last person standing in the musical chair, paying the price..

  2. #2 by waterfrontcoolie on Tuesday, 18 November 2014 - 9:38 pm

    The result is beyond dispute. The difference between the so-called Chinese schools anf National schools is so obvious which in fact allow them to compete in the regional and international market. And if one particular sector prefer to stay at home then just allow others wo are willing to compete to take the path. If one is treated third class surely it is equally inequitable to ask him to behave like others who are pampered from cradle to grave! In fact, with the 21st Century planned national education policy certainly appear unable to meet the challenges of the ever changing scenario! In fact unless one can enter the top 200 universities, it might appear that going into the those also run universities could be a waste of time! Especially those average students doing Business IT, Administration or even basic course rojak courses like … Studies. one would be better off to learn a trade!

  3. #3 by john on Thursday, 20 November 2014 - 10:36 pm

    Is all in the name of the game of diversion. During each of their assembly, past and present, they will harp on some issues for their members to ” chew ” on, thus becoming high and totally in ” herd mentality ” , docile,,, and away from the ILLS of OUR Nation caused by Bumno.
    Just imagine if one day our children, all, has no alternatives but only to attend national schools – NIGHTMARE !. But, for Bumno this is one way to safeguard their ” safe deposits ” ( to be brain-wash, always behind in national types schools ) comes next election.

  4. #4 by waterfrontcoolie on Saturday, 22 November 2014 - 10:47 am

    I just wonder the number of “extremists” created by the vernacular schools compare with our standing under Extremist Index? One should not be emotional about learning an extra language or two. But the main issue these half-cooked politicians have refused to admit is the failure of our current national schools to achieve the grade required to be able to compete in a globalized world. Their shallow comments are mere political rhetoric! They refuse to accept the fact that the results of our national schools have failed us miserably as proven by the PISA tests. Oh! maybe they don’t even understand what PISA is about! except the tower about to collapse. There is no doubt that the policy of giving power Divisional Chiefs had made some nimcompoops so powerful that even the PM is trapped by them.

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