Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"School trends reveal cracks in Malaysia's unity"

In a long article by Vaudine England in the International Herald Tribune on June 7th, she discussed some of the issues facing the Malaysian education sytem today, particularly the dichotomisation of the national and vernacular type schools.

This article is particularly relevant with my on-going blog discussion on the "National vs Chinese School" Part I and Part II to date. I do not totally agree with all the views in the article, but some of the points raised were fairly relevant, which I've taken the liberty to quote here:

The story of Steven Gan, of Malaysiakini fame:
When [he] went to school, it was perfectly ordinary for Malaysians of all races to attend a government primary school. "We got a good education then at state schools, and it was genuinely multiracial," Gan said. The language of instruction was English until race riots struck the nation in 1969; after that, instruction was in Malay. Gan feels that he was among the lucky ones - part of the last generation to have enjoyed such a rounded education in a shared language. Not only were his fellow students of all races, but his teachers were, too.
Some of the issues we face today:
Things are different now. Deciding on a language of instruction for their children - whether it is Malay, Chinese, English or Tamil - has become a conundrum for many families. It goes to the core of a larger question that nags this multiethnic nation: What constitutes Malaysian identity?

Parents complain that the quality of state-run schools has dropped while Islamic content has increased. Some Malay parents send their children to Chinese-language schools, although they are more expensive because of a lack of government support.
The story of Dr Abdul Razak Baginda, an executive director of the privately funded Malaysian Strategic Research Center:
[He is] proud to have benefited from multiracial state schools. But when he sent his daughter to one, she became uncomfortable with pressure to observe Islamic tradition and wear a head scarf. "My daughter told me the religious teachers are the culprits," Razak said. "They inculcate very negative views of the other religions. They always have a them-and-us attitude that is very destructive, I think. And the standards have really gone down." He added, "That feeling that standards have gone down and racial polarization is far worse today than ever before - you can attribute that to rising Islamization, which is pretty obvious."

The government has trouble providing schooling for everyone because it is perceived to be offering lower-quality education. More difficulties arise when Muslim headmasters want to advocate Islamic values by limiting physical education or other activities in which boys and girls might mix, reading the Koran through the public address system, putting boys into long trousers instead of shorts, segregating classrooms and banning school concerts.
I'm thankful that these issues are receiving greater media attention today, and some of the authorities appear to be interested in taking the necessary actions to rectify some of the major weaknesses in our education system. Let's hope they don't take too long to do it.

At the same time, I'd like to note that while it's easy to generalise about schools, there are often exceptions in specifics. For example, while many lament the academic standards in national type schools, there's probably a vast difference in standards between a top national school in Kuala Lumpur, when compared to one in say, Mentakab. Rational Thinker highlighted in a comment on my Part II post that "Some examples of good national schools around klang valley: Victoria Institution, SMK Damansara Jaya, SMK ammunidin baki, BBGS (Sri bintang), smk assuntha etc."


Anonymous said...

Examples of good national schools, eh? Don't forget my alma mater St. John's Institution. If VI is in the list SJI should be too.

WY said...

My alma mater is VI..and of course, there would be no where in this world that SJI should be placed in comparison to VI. Muaahhahaa.

Just kidding.