While racial relations isn’t exactly the subject of this blog, the article highlights some of the key factors why our race relations environment is in the state it is – our education system.
Separate schools, separate friends, separate social lives -- Malaysia marks 48 years of independence Wednesday but many citizens lament the lack of ties between majority Malays and the Chinese and Indians living alongside them.Racial integration has to start young, and that has to be in our primary and secondary schools. There was a time in the 1970s and early 1980s whereby Chinese parents were sending their children to national type schools in significant numbers. My parents sent me to a national type ex-missionary school in Batu Pahat because I will get to learn the English language which my parents are unable to teach me. They also saw the national type school as a way enable me to mix with non-Chinese students as we do live in multi-racial Malaysia after all.
However, these same students who have enrolled and graduated from the national type schools are today sending their own children to the typically overcrowded Chinese vernacular schools for various reasons I’ve blogged here and here. The resultant impact is epitomised by 24-year-old ethnic Chinese Kathleen Chong, a recent graduate of the University Putra Malaysia quoted in the article.
…it pains her to see the widespread racial polarisation on campus -- a microcosm of the national picture. "The various races only mix among themselves. There is very little interaction," she says. "Please, let us enjoy true racial unity in Malaysia. We need to stop the growing tide of division."The above scenario is not at all surprising for I see the results of the above segregation in my very own office. There is little or no mixing between, particularly the Chinese educated and the Malays / Indians. I’m concerned because should the situation persist, then our education system today will actually result in the dismantling of whatever inter-racial social structure that existed before the ensure all ethnic groups live in harmony. The harmony we enjoy today is the fruits of labour of our founding fathers and the segregation we see today will result in the likely disintegration of the harmony in the future.
Chong admits that she too stuck with her Chinese friends for classes, activities and meals. "This is what every other race does in the campus."
I’m thankful that all is not lost, for our current Prime Minister appears to be aware of the negative circumstances and is putting effort (against resistance from various vested interest parties) in overcoming the problem. The “Rancangan Integrasi Murid Untuk Perpaduan” (RIMUP) is one such example. The president of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia appears also to have found the voice to promote the concept of Anak Malaysia. And there are also those even within the UMNO ruling party, such as Hilmi Abdul Rashid, a state assemblyman with Penang who agrees that the lack of interaction between the various racial groups “is a serious problem”.
"The young generation are not mixing as much as the older generation. I am worried now. We need to address the issue immediately."As rightly pointed out by the article, the problems lies, contrary to popular opinion, not only with our government authorities but also with the mindset of many vernacular school educationist, who in my opinion, are overly defensive over the “rights” to Chinese education.
Education and language is one of the most visible signs of the problem. Most Chinese and Indians send their children to Mandarin- and Tamil-language schools while the Malays attend national institutions.It is imperative that the government set its priorities right – not just in the micro measures (such as RIMUP) but also address the macro issues which the minority communities have been voicing out over the years, in particular the overly extensive use of positive discrimination to the significant disadvantage of the other racial communities. At the same time, the vernacular school educationists need to see the light that continued segregation in the education system for our Malaysian young is leading the country towards the path that no community will ever want to thread upon.
The government has in recent years established "visionary schools" where students share sports fields, assembly halls and canteens, but conduct classes in their own languages. But the initiative has failed to get off the ground, partly because of a fear of a loss of identity among Chinese.