Over the years, the government has called on the rakyat that the school of choice for our children should be the national school. This has not been very successful. We have more and more Chinese parents sending their children to national type schools or Chinese primary schools. Various figures have been quoted ranging from 90 – 95 percent of Chinese parents sending their children to Chinese schools. The Indians continue to send their children to the Tamil schools.
Why do Chinese parents send their children to Chinese schools and not to national schools? To begin with, most non-Malay parents feel that their children should have at least 6 years of grounding in their people’s own language or mother tongue education. Of course studies have shown that young children learn better in their own mother tongue. Generally, it is accepted that Chinese schools enforces better discipline and are more conscious of their student’s academic achievement. Hence, they have more homework, more monthly assessment and there is more peer pressure to do well. They normally excel also in Maths. Of course, the standards of English and BM leave much to be desired. Children from these Chinese schools have very limited exposure with other races until they reach secondary schools when they enroll into the national schools.
It cannot be denied that with the implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP), most national schools become very Malay with great emphasis on Islam. A lot of non-Malay parents do not take kindly to the obvert or subtle emphasis on Islamic religion and value. Some schools even have daily assemblies that start off with prayer and some even begins the lesson with the citation of the prayer. To aggravate matter, the teachers and the administrative staffs are also Malay. Of course there have always been allegation of racial discrimination within the school setting.
I have attended a lot of functions hosted by national schools and national-type schools. The distinct difference between them is:
1) Invariably all Chinese schools have a hall.
2) The PIBG and the board of directors of the Chinese schools are usually more active and more dedicated. They are more proud of their achievement and display a greater sense of independence rather than depending on handouts from the government. Some PIBG and board of the schools tend to over-emphasize on improving the school’s basic infrastructure – hall, canteen and library rather than the software of education.
3) In Chinese schools, the function usually runs according to the schedule and there are often cultural presentations.
4) The school teachers appear to be more dedicated and disciplined.
If the government wants to attract more non-Malays into national schools, it has to be make our national schools more appealing to the different community. To begin with, the schools teachers and administrative staffs should be more racially balanced. School teachers and the administrators should be more sensitive and pragmatic that they are dealing with a racially mixed group of school children. The Muslims can continue with their prayers, their Muslim celebration and their practice of the Malay culture and Islamic value. However, they should not alienate or make the non-Muslims feel unwanted. They should be allowed to pursue some meaningful activities while their Muslim friends have their celebrations and prayers so as to keep the non-Muslim students occupied.
People’s own language (POL) should be introduced in every class. When the standards of Mandarin and Tamil are good or even comparable to that of the national-type schools, it will be a plus point and surely attract non-Malay parents. After all, all parents want their children to be educated in the best schools and in an environment which they are comfortable with. Make the national schools as appealing and competitive as the national-type schools in term of standards, discipline and having facilities to study mother tongue education. Make the national schools less in its Islamic influence, then I am sure we will attract a lot of non-Malay parents. All these points have been discussed extensively in the previous cabinet. However, there don’t seems to be any follow-through action and it remains only good on paper.
A lot of Malay politicians from both political divide have the wrong perception that the non-Malay parents do not want their children to be educated in national schools because they are against racial integration. This is often cited as one of the main reason for polarization within our country. I cannot deny that children of different races should have more opportunities to study, to learn and play in their formative years and hence, promote racial integration. However, to think that only through the Malay medium of education that is national schools, then only can we achieve integration is to over simplify a complex issue of racial integration. One system of education obviously is not the only cause of racial polarization in a multiracial country. There are more issues at play. Government policies and its implementation that ensure fairness and equality so that no one race is felt left out is important if we want to achieve racial integration. Hence, closing Chinese schools and Tamil schools will not ensure racial integration. If fact, it will become a more divisive issue that we should avoid at all cost.