I am thankful to the Centre for Public Policy Studies, in particular, Tricia Yeoh for inviting me to speak at one of the 3 sessions, with regards to the Governments Education Policy and its effectiveness in forging national development and unity. Wearing my "Education-in-Malaysia blogger" hat, I was given a short 10-15 minutes to raise my views in a panel which also comprised of Dr Oh Ei Sun and my favourite UM academic, Dr Azmi Sharom.
Given the short time frame (or I could have gone on-and-on for hours), I had to pick a single issue to talk about to make it meaningful. I ended up picking the issue of vernacular education for it appears to have the biggest relevance to national unity in this country. I have separately dealt with these issues at depth here on this blog, e.g., here, here and here. Kian Ming too, has his views blogged here and here.
As mentioned during the conference, I picked what I regarded as the most divisive issue to be tackled head-on because, if we can't openly deal with these issues and find the relevant resolution to them, then all talk of promoting national unity will only be about sweeping the cracks under the carpet.
Thanks to the New Straits Times, I was given a fair bit of prominence (given the limited space) in a report on Wednesday. Although understandly, it focused on my comment that parents are choosing vernacular schools due to declining quality of national schools, and not other issues raised, it's a good start ;).
There was a comment from the floor, coming from a confident young lady probably in her early 20s, who objected to my views. She stated outright that she believed that vernacular education should be abolished outright. She argued that the education received up to 12 years old plays a key role in ensuring the ability of young Malaysians to mix amongst various races in their teenage and subsequent years. In addition, there's no reason for various types of education options given that we are a single country. There should just be a single type of education.
My reply to her (and unfortunately, given that I was with the panel, I had "the last word", which didn't give her the option to reply ;)) was 2 fold:
- Just as there are weaknesses in the national schools, there are also weaknesses in vernacular schools. Regular readers would know my despair at the competence of the English language in vernacular schools. However, given the weaknesses, we should address these weaknesses head-on, instead of abolishing vernacular education altogether.
I reiterated my stand that that vernacular education represents a part of our multi-racial and multi-lingual society which should be regarded as an asset and to quote the Education Minister's rhetoric, "the very fabric of our society". The focus of our government should be on integration and not assimilation.
- Even without taking the above reason into consideration, we must also address the issue of choice and options for Malaysian parents. Parents are choosing vernacular schools over national schools (even those previously from national schools) for a reason. Parents want the option of mother-tongue education not provided in national schools, and more so, they want better quality education for their children which, by clear consensus, is generally available at many vernacular schools.
By eliminating vernacular schools, one will be taking away the alternative for Malaysian parents (irrespective of race). It should be noted that some 10% of Chinese school enrolment, or some 60,000 students are non-Chinese. Where would they then send their children for quality education? Most Malaysians certainly cannot afford an education in private schools such as Cempaka Secondary School, where the she had the privilege of completing her studies.
However, certainly, I implore the Government to stop marginalising the vernacular education community through clearly unfair policies. It is important for the Government to start believing in its own rhetoric of a multi-cultural society being Malaysia's strength, for preferential and unequal policies will only lead to the very outcome which it is seeking to avoid, national disunity.