Sunday, January 08, 2006

Our Education, Our Future

Apologies for the lack of posts over the weekend. I took my family up to Cameron Highlands over the weekend and my wife, not surprisingly, wouldn't be too pleased if I glued myself to the computer screen. Although, with my newly registered Digi wireless access, surfing and email right up there was actually pretty good :-)

Still, I actually managed to have a decent chat with a senior leader of a local political party over coffee and some of the experiences he related with regards to his daughter's school were pretty alarming.

I have previously written my many concerns of the state of unity of Malaysian students of various races in our education system. Read for example, "The Separation of Races" or "Maximus Ongkili on National Unity". I strongly believe that while it is difficult to change a "racially-biased" mindset of a 45-year old adult, the country's young should be shielded from such unhealthy manners of thinking to forge friendships and relationships not based on race or religion. If our children are not allowed to do that, then there will be little hope for unity in Malaysia in the future.

Apparently at the secondary school (SMK), the administrators have begun practising unmandated quota systems for the allocation of students into their respective classes. The top class in the school, based on results tends to be mostly Chinese, due to the fact that one of the Chinese primary schools acts as a feeder to the SMK. (The school consists of 60-70% Chinese.) However, there was apparently an unwritten rule that bumiputera students will always take up some 10-15 seats in the top classes irrespective of results (out of 40 students per class).

Without going into the merits or demerits of such affirmative actions - I was actually quite upset to hear of the behaviour of some of the Chinese students in the school. It was apparently quite common for the Chinese students to look down upon and gang up against the Malay students in the class.

They would for example, openly chide the Malays that they were not supposed to be in the class and were adverse to offering assistance to any of them, whether in areas related to their studies or otherwise. There were also instances whereby even school talent contest took an ugly racial slant where the Chinese students would gang up against the minority Malay students when the latter were apparently not too impressed with one of the Chinese performers! These were 14 year old girls!

These poor Malay girls being outnumbered, unsurprising remained silent and took whatever verbal diatribe which was meted out to them without retaliating or rebutting. But one will completely understand if they grew up to be unfriendly toward the Chinese for all the unjust racially-biased "punishment" meted out to them in school. After all, it was not these students' decision to have a policy and culture of affirmative action in our education system. And in all probabilities, it was the school's administrators who used their arbitrary powers to institute the "quota" policies in the schools. As far as I'm concerned, there are no directives from the education department for such practices.

I must say, that despite knowing that racial separation exists in our Malaysian secondary schools, I did not imagine that the state of affairs could be as bad as the above. My only hope is that the scenario at the above school is an exception, but it is probably unlikely to be so. (Read also: "School Trends Reveal Cracks in Malaysia's Unity")

What could cause such race-based invective at our secondary schools which today, are bring "together" students from national-based primary schools as well as the Chinese vernacular schools which are attended by 90% of Chinese school-going children? It is probably easiest to place all the blame on Malaysia's much criticised New Economic Policy (NEP) and our leaders which entrench the culture of excessive affirmative action-based policies.

However, wrong as NEP may be, it does not justify such disgraceful behaviour by Chinese students in school. We all know that life is "unfair", but that doesn't justify us kicking out at everything that is supposedly "fairer" for others. By just suggesting the following as a plausible cause, or at least a perpectuator of such racially-biased and intolerant behaviour amongst our Chinese school students, I'm expecting to be vilified by the militant protectors of Chinese vernacular education in Malaysia.

Yes, I'm suggesting outright for the first time, although I have hinted at my thoughts previously, that the dual education system in Malaysia which is separated along racial lines is playing a potentially huge role in enlarging the fault lines preventing racial unity in Malaysia.

Before I get flamed, let me state categorically that I fully respect the rights of the Chinese to set up Chinese schools and the Indians, theirs. But my contention is not about "rights". My issue is about education and national unity. There are plenty of flaws with the national school system, but one would have to be blind to say that there aren't issues with the vernacular education system. I have stated before that I believe that the Chinese schools are producing Chinese students who tend to be less inclined to mix racially and more inclined towards racially biased opinions. This behaviours obviously do not afflict everyone from Chinese schools, but by and large, it affects a very substantial population of graduates from the Chinese primary schools.

This issue is one of the biggest political hot potatoes of all times and I do not expect it to be resolved overnight. There is just no chance of that happening anytime soon. But it is about time for everyone - from the education authorities as well as the Chinese educationists to begin thinking about a single "new" national school system which will integrate students of all races together, while at the same time playing its role in supporting, preserving and perpectuating the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural practices and believes of each of the Malaysian ethnic communities.

I'm not advocating for the immediate closure of all vernacular schools for that is not the solution as our existing national schools have its well known shortcomings. I'm however, advocating for greater open-mindedness amongst all communities, for the sake of our future generations, Malaysia's future, to build an education system which will serve to unify all races in this country instead of entrenching and accentuating the racial separation and seggregation. We are a long way from the ideal system, but we need to start somewhere, sometime.


Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of your points - that the dual education system promotes disunity - but you are being rather unfair, you used vernacular schools as an examples, and ignore the role of MRSM schools. MRSM schools polarizes the community more than vernacular schools. First, enrolment to MRSM schools have a quota for non-bumiputeras, while vernacular schools do not. Second, they are government-funded, while most vernacular schools are partially funded by the community.
A move by the authorities to abolish MRSM schools would signal their commitment towards a greater, more unified education system, as opposed to merely tramping on non-bumis rights.

John Lee said...

I strongly agree both with Tony and the anon. It's these dual track systems that cause a lot of problems, often unintentionally. In secondary school, students up to forms four and five are split into cliques based on what kind of primary school they came from, usually because Tamil-educated students converse only in Tamil and likewise with the Mandarin-educated ones. And I think the quotas are more common than one may think. IIRC, particularly in small schools (>1000 students), this practice of ensuring appropriate racial balance is commonly practiced. I've never heard of outright discrimination among students based on this, though.

Anonymous said...

Hm.. i can easily name a few schools which practice such "quotas". But then again, that is not the main point.

In fact, at the private secondary school located at sentul which I attended for my lower secondary education, the composition of races was worse. There were only about 3% of them. (But then again it was probably because the school was church runned) I realllly wonder how they felt.

Tony again sounds so right on. Isnt it high time he gets a column on some paper or something?

Changing the education system requires a superb paragidm shift - something which many of the Chinese people will not agree on.

As for abolishing MRSMs, well, I suppose that is a good idea. But then again, abolishing them would also mean abolishing schools like SMS , and even SM Agama schools.

This problem is clearly the result of a long period of decay. God forbid what will become of it come 10 or 20 years. :(


Anonymous said...

I came, from a non-SJK type of school which did not practice this quota thing. The better Malays went off to boarding schools, leaving mostly Chineses in the 'better classes'.

I, the 'malay' however, decided that boarding school's not my cup of tea, and decided to up and join my old friends. What happened was, upon 'going back' I was placed in the 3rd class (there were 7 classes in total, with an average of 50 students per class) -- despite the fact that if I had gone straight into secondary, I should've been in the 'first' class. At the end of the year however, I did well enough to jump 2 classes, except that prior to 'going up', chinese teachers were discussing furiously against letting me do so. Chinese teachers openly asks in the staff common room, "eh... class A1, got Malay ke?", in front of us Malays. Being one of the *very* minority, I've had Add Maths classes taught in Mandarin, thank you very much. I'm from a mixed parentage (half-chinese). I did well in my subjects, and what do chinese teachers say? "Oh, but you're half chinese anyway". Funny thing is, I have never, ever felt anything remotely racist being dished out by my 48 chinese classmates.

Obviously, I don't have much of a point to these stories except that in my humble opinion, besides parents, it's them educators that plays the major role in helping to nurture and educate our future leaders. Children are not born with preconceived notions. I am not racist, I don't think so. But it's those 'little-little' things (and I assure you, there are still quite a few more that I could've listed here) that subconciously, gets ingrained in our brains -- and I am typing these, 16 years later.

Anonymous said...

I dont' know if this is relevant, but I'd like to share my experience here. I am a Malay and did my degree in one of the IPTAs in M'sia. During the first semester, I was roomed up with two other new female Chinese students who did the same course as I did. One, let's name her A, had her secondary education from an SMK (mixed) and the other, B, had spent all her schooling years attending Chinese schools. I believe that one is free to choose whatever school to attend, but I do relize that A was much easier to get along with, easily mingled with students of other races in class, conversed Bahasa Melayu better, shared and compared notes with other students of other races, etc. On the other hand, B seldom talked, often missing (i.e. gone to her other Chinese friends' rooms), paired up with other Chinese girls at every single class projects, etc. At the end of the semester, B moved out whilst A and I stayed roommates together for another 2 semesters. Again, I don't know whether personality plays a major part here or what, but i do believe that as Tony had said it earlier, the vernacular school systems DO produced students who are less inclined to mix racially. Just my two cents worth :)

Ching said...

very tempted to share something about my school days.

in my town in sarawak, there was very little or none racism at all.

not sure what's the secret. maybe it's because we have to live together and show little favourism (it's a small town, you can't run far).

when i was in primary school, i was the minority. there were only 2 or 3 the most chinese students in my class. most chinese sent their children to chinese vernacular school. yet there werent any racism. my best friends and close friends were malays and bumis. had lots of fun, visited their kampungs a number of times.

as my town practically only had one secondary school then (now we have 2), almost every parents sent their children there. it was then i met more fellow chinese students. still, every students mix together very well. we had lots of fun as students regardless of our race.

we had our study gang, lepak gang regardless of our race. chinese new year and hari raya visitings were one of our active periods. *we don't do much for deepavali though as there were very few indians in sarawak, but we still watch indian movies.

there were times when there were some racist teachers (those unluckly enough to be transfered to an ulu area in sarawak). they had this "you are not the same race, why should i teach you" kind of attitude. after staying in my town for awhile, they gradually became more tolerant. started to mix with other races. started to open their houses to people regardless of their race. at the end of their stint, you could see their emotional farewell with their friends from other races. how wonderful.

Golf Afflicted said...

Dear Anon of 1st commentnt,

I agree with you that it's not just vernacular schools that should in the long term be dismantled but also the MRSMs. While I concentrated my article above on Chinese vernacular schools, I have writte a fair bit on the MRSMs and matriculation colleges contributing to national disunity as well. E.g., here or here.

There are also many other factors contributing to national disunity, some of which I may have discussed before, some not yet. But I can't put everything into one post or I'll be writing a thesis :-)

Tony P

Anonymous said...

so long the govt doesn't open up the system, the non-bumis will always want to protect themselves. the problem is not being solved by any one. it's just being exacerbated by each others actions.

Anonymous said...

Most of the commentators stated that it was usually those vernacular or race-based schools that created disunity among the different races in this society.

But i dont really agree on those comments.

In kindergarten, i am sure all of us, regardless of races, plays and eats together, with no any feelings against each other of course.

Then, we step into primary schools (just SRK). Things slowly changes as we grow older - especially primary 4, 5 and 6. This time, something must have gone wrong or maybe it's a good thing, who knows. Friends begin to compete with each other in obtaining the best results and peer groups begin to be formed. At this time, it isnt that obvious yet (not race-based) but we can really see a changing pattern here.

By the time we step into SMK, things start to change obviously. Race-based groups begin to emerge, although each and everyone still mingle around perfectly, but fade away as this trend continues until colleges, pre-U or universities.

So what brings all these changes? The environment? The society? The educators? The policies? The parents? The children themselves?

I myself studied in government schools for my whole life, yet i feels that the Malays are not easy to mingled with. I can still mix with them if i want to, but I will have better sense of security with my own race, at least they wont back-stab or turn against me.

Therefore, i dont think it is the different roads of education is creating all the disunity problem. Perhaps it is their attitude and mentality - "we are BUMIPUTERA" that kind of thing that they show us indirectly. I think that provoke the fear and hatred within us.

Hope this is not too racist :P

John Lee said...

I would disagree about the "we are Bumiputra" perception. Perhaps this is because of different environments, but I have never encountered that attitude among Malays I have met. I only run into it on the internet. :{

Anonymous said...

On a lighter note.......the thing that unites most malaysians is tabacco.......i would say pr0n too(for guys only)

Anonymous said...

Not to knock your point down on vernacular school, your story about 14-year old girls is hearsay and worst from a politician parent. My own suspicion is there is more to the stories than meet the eye.

I am not saying what those girls did were right or that such incidents are uncommon but I believe they are a reflection of our society and that trying to change them by just changing the school system is not going to work.

What I have learned in teaching children is that they do learn by examples whether by intention or not. That is why children often have habits, tendencies and bias like their parents and peers without even knowing it.

A child spents a few hours in schools and come back to spent many more with parents and his peers. You can mitigate some behaviour by changing the school system but eventually the reflection of our social divide will rule the day before they finish school.

Sure putting a band-aid on the issue is not without reason but are we being just as irresponsible if the wound is festering already?

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting post and the comments so far are just as good. I tend to agree with the view that the wider implications of the social divide in our society brought about by unfair govt policies does more harm to the psyche of our students than the form of schooling we have now, national and vernacular type. Our students are shaped by the views and perception of the adults they come into contact with. And if the adults they interact with have suffered discriminations brought on by govt policies, (for example their teachers or parents have been deprived of scholarships or entry into public universities because of the quota system), then subconciously they would have been fed the message that they, as the minority race in this country, had been given the short end of the stick and that if they are too generous with those who are already privileged, then they will lose out further. I'm sorry if my honesty sounds racist, put in this blunt manner. But the fact is, the non-Bumiputeras have, right from a young age, been given a huge dose of reality from events which are constantly being played out all around them, from the lack of funds and support their vernacular schools receive from the govt, from difficulty in getting school-book loans and govt scholarships, discrimination faced in trying to get into elite schools despite obtaining excellent results and finally, difficulty in securing entry into preferred courses at local universities due to the quota system. Surely all these and more play an important role in alienating the non-Bumi students from the Bumiputras who they perceive (rightly or wrongly) as being well taken care of by the govt, whether they studied hard or not? And parents who had to slog and save to fund their children's education does not help matters when they subtlely remind their kids to study hard because "as a non-Malay, you need to depend on yourself and fight for the few places made available to you in local U against everybody else. If you are a Malay, you have plenty of scholarship offers and plenty of opportunities, even if you get bad grades. And they can get govt jobs even if they fail elsewhere. But non-Malays like us, if you don't fight to succeed, you will be doomed for a lifetime of hardship and poverty." That is a real message we come across regularly, even if it is socially and politically wrong to say it.

Anonymous said...

For the anon above, what you've said is quite true. My parents used to tell me that. And told me to forget aout government posts. But unfortunately, my results didn't speak volume. So in turns, I've to slug it out in one of the local private U, while my parents have to slog out their hard-earned money to fund my education.

Anonymous said...

Most of the comments posted reflect the real life scenario in Malaysia. Almost every child in Malaysia cannot avoid racial issues and corruption practices - all thanks to the policies of our BN government.

A child is oblivious of these issues when he or she goes to a kindergarten. By the age of 12, during Std 6 or after Std 6, the child (especially a nonBumi from a poor or average income family) will know the difference between the fate of a Bumi and nonBumi individual - in terms of opportunities in education and social advancement.

How do you explain to a nonBumi child from a poor family that his Bumi friends (even from a super-rich family) are entitled to free, excellent education in a residential school?

By 17 or 18, when the child goes for his or her driving test, he or she will be exposed to corrupted practices - pay some money to the examiner through the driving school instructor to facilitate the passing of the driving test, otherwise sorry (no matter how good the driving skill of a person is) come back for another or more tests. First hand experience of corruption!

To change all these, we need to change the current envrionment and government policies. Can we? Otherwise, we will continue to blog till the cow comes home.

Anonymous said...

Tony, why are you always picking on the SJKC schools?
How many % of Malaysian studied or studying in SJKC and SK respectively.

If SK is a solution to national unity and other racial issues, today we shouldn't have any racial issue or national unity issues at all. The simple reason is majority of Malaysian went or goes to national schools and if the majority can not make a difference in national unity, then either they fail or it is not a suitable mean to achieve national unity.

The world is getting "smaller and closer", we should stop wasting time and emotion talking about SJKC or SK pupils. Instead we should focus on patriotism and accepting others as they are, be them Chinese, Malay, Indian, culture background, education background, they like cats or dogs, who they choose to be close to, etc.

I hope you will stop instigating ill feeling towards SJKC and kids who have been educated in those schools. You are preventing unity and understand among Malaysian by doing so. Please don't let your own fingers pointing at you as your finger pointing at others.