My daughter, Xin Ying is only 6 months old. So it's really too early think about where she's going to study. However, I've been asked this question many times by friends and relatives - "Where should we send our daughter to school?" This is not to mention the fact that my wife and myself have casually discussed this topic many times, even before Xin Ying was born. ;) And to be frank, we don't have a conclusive answer at this stage.
The national (Kebangsaan) vs the Chinese school debate is an extremely large and sensitive debate in the Malaysian politics. My posts on this topic for this blog shall be broken into three parts - I'll post them as I complete writing over the course of this week :).
- In Part I, I shall outline the criteria that should be used in order to decide whether I should send her to a national or Chinese school.
- In Part II, I shall try to evaluate which type of school will be able to best deliver the criteria outlined in Part I.
- And finally in Part III, I shall outline several policy recommendations which I believe will be able to improve our education system further to best achieve the criteria stated here.
Hopefully, by the time Xin Ying is 6 years old, the decision on which type of school she should attend will be a much easier one to make.
To give a bit of background of the proud parents - I attended a national-type former missionary primary school in Batu Pahat - Montfort Boys School from 1978. So, my education was pretty much in Bahasa Malaysia although some of the teachers continued to teach in English. My parents were both Chinese educated who did not complete primary school and hence barely knew a handful of English words. My parents sent me to Montfort because it was the top primary school in Batu Pahat, and one of the best in Johor during that time. On the other hand, my wife, Ting Fong went through Chinese girls primary school - SRK(C) Ai Chun I, Batu Pahat - before joining a national-type secondary school. So both of us have a pretty good understanding of the national type and vernacular type schools in Malaysia. So, why is it such a difficult decision to make?
Let’s first review our key priorities in terms of the type of school our child should be in (not in any particular order):
- Academic standards
Needless to say, the academic standards, as well as the overall quality of education has to be high. As parents, we are all keen to have our children study in the top schools if they are able to, so that they can have a good future ahead of them. It’ll also to a certain extent provide them with an edge over the crowd.
- Mother tongue education
I’m thankful that despite having attended a national type school in the past, I’m still fairly fluent in Mandarin (putonghua) and able to read and write simple Chinese. This was thankfully sufficient for me to conduct business in Greater China. I'm fortunate because Mandarin was my lingua franca at home, besides a sprinkling of the Teochew dialect. My parents were kind enough to have taught me some written Chinese since I was four or five years old as well, and I took up additional "homework" in the language during my university days.
Mother tongue education is hence important to us, as it not only represents our cultural roots, the Chinese language has also incidentally become probably the second most important language for commerce in the world. English competence in China is now limited to the elite academia, and the China businessmen have little or no knowledge of it. Hence if one is at all interested in business in China, competence in Mandarin will be imperative.
- English language
While our mother tongue education is important, English language competence is likely to be of greater immediate importance. This is because the top universities which are recognised worldwide today, are located in the English speaking world – be it Oxbridge or the Ivy leagues. In addition, the bulk of the reference materials are of English language origin or at the very least, would have a translated version in English.
Hence, whichever choice of education system our kids undertake, it should be able to provide them with a strong and solid foundation in English. In addition, we believe that language education is most important during primary school, as that’s when it is easiest for them to pick up the rudiments of any language.
- National integration
What has national integration got to do with a kid’s education, you might ask? National integration tends to be absent from most people’s priority list when selecting a schooling system for their children. I’ll place additional emphasis on this criterion, as it is the criterion most often overlooked by Malaysian, particularly Chinese parents.
- We live in a multi-racial country. It is my firm believe that for the country to succeed in its national integration goals, all ethnic groups must possess good understanding of each other in terms of culture, religion and common practices. Being Malaysians, national integration should be one of our key goals so that we are able to live in harmony with one another. I’d like my daughter to grow up with life-long friends of all races, not just to “stick” among our own racial group.
- In addition, national integration allows for our children to pick up many necessary soft skills which will serve them well in both their social as well as occupational careers. If our children are able to integrate well with other ethnic groups, they would have naturally learnt to be tolerant of various social and cultural practices. More importantly, they will learn to accept that being “different” is not equivalent to being “better” or “worse”, a key distinction that is often neglected.
I am often upset by fresh graduates whom during interviews would inadvertently express racially biased sentiments without realising it. I attribute the basis of their opinions largely to the fact that they have had few or little interactions with other racial groups, particularly during their years in education, despite living in our racially diverse community.
- National integration in Malaysia would also mean that our child will have to be reasonably fluent in Bahasa Malaysia. I would like her to be able to converse fluently with her Malay friends in the language. I find that the verbal skills of most of the younger Chinese in the Malay language do not extend very much beyond making food orders at the corner mamak shops. This actually leads to further reasons for segregation amongst the Malaysian racial groups.
The above are our key criteria or yardstick which we will use to decide which school Xin Ying should attend. In my next post sometime during the week, I shall write on whether the national or the Chinese schools will be able to meet the criteria outlined above.