Sunday, December 02, 2007

Residential Schools

Chok Suat Ling of the NST did a piece on residential schools in which I was quoted. I think that opening up the residential schools to all races is a good thing in theory but equally as important is the way in which students are taught in these residential schools - critical thinking, tolerance and respect for others, etc... In other words, the environment of teaching is as important as the mix of students who are being taught. I'll reproduce the article in full below for the benefit of our readers. I'll leave you with one last taught, inspired by a fantastic book I read as an impressionable young kid whilst in my first year in Singapore - Does familiarity breed contempt or understanding? (To Kill A Mockingbird)

Opinion: Unity may reside in boarding schools

Residential schools could play a valuable role in national integration if they were open to all Malaysians regardless of race, writes CHOK SUAT LING.
NURUL Nadia Mohd Izmir spent a large part of her growing years in Sekolah Seri Puteri, a prestigious all-girl residential school.

She recalls the close friendships forged with classmates with whom she not only studied but shared rooms, clothes, food, gossip and girl stuff. Nurul remains in touch with her classmates from SSP, as the school in Cyberjaya is popularly known, even though all have embarked on different pursuits. She herself is now pursuing her degree in Universiti Teknologi Mara.

Although her formative years were spent in a school with an all-Malay student population, Nurul's large network of friends is multiracial. "I have many good Chinese and Indian friends too and I am as close to them as my SSP-mates. To me, everyone is the same irrespective of racial, cultural or religious background."

Nurul gives the lie to the perception that those not exposed to other races at a young age are likely to negatively stereotype people they have never known as individuals. And while some government and private boarding schools are open to all ethnic groups, most are not.
Sultan of Perak Sultan Azlan Shah recently observed that the country would benefit from residential schools reflecting a more "complete" composition of Malaysian society. He noted that it was untenable for multicultural Malaysia to segregate schoolchildren according to ethnicity or religion. "The education policy and the implementation of its agendas must make the fostering of religious and racial ties a priority," he said.

Professor Dr Rosnani Hash-im of International Islamic University Malaysia's Institute of Education agrees that schools comprising one ethnic group are not conducive to national integration in the long run.

"For these schools, civics and citizenship education, even if offered in the curriculum, are just academic subjects for examination rather than a practical exercise in deliberation and seeking consensus as a community of Malaysians. There is no opportunity to hear the views of the 'other'."

Rosnani stresses, however, that even if there is going to be open admission for non-Malays, the raison d'etre of residential schools - to help those from the lower socio-economic strata - should continue to be applied.

She points out that private independent Chinese secondary schools would also benefit from having a more ethnically diverse student population, sensitising them to the cultures, traditions and concerns of all Malaysians. National-type Chinese primary schools, however, already have a relatively high non-Chinese enrolment. Of the more than 640,000 students enrolled, almost one-tenth are non-Chinese.

Ong Kian Ming, who runs the education weblog, notes that it is not only important that children in residential schools interact with those of other races, but also how they are educated there.

He thinks it unfair to group all residential schools under one general banner. "The Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), for instance, although exclusively Malay, is also a place where students are taught to think critically and challenge themselves," he says.

"I have not met many MCKK students who are narrow-minded and cannot or do not want to interact with the other races. But then MCKK students come from middle- to upper-class Malay families in urban areas and go to top universities abroad, which provides them the opportunity to interact with other races."

Some argue that opening up residential schools to non-Malays would not work if the parents and students themselves are not interested. Mara junior science colleges (MRSM) set aside 10 per cent of places for non-Bumiputera students, but fewer than 100 non-Bumiputera students are enrolled in the more than 30 MRSM around the country.

"When the policy was introduced in 2002, the response was quite good but the numbers slowly dwindled," reports MCA education bureau chief Dr Wee Ka Siong. At first, non-Bumiputera students were placed in five colleges, but now they are spread among all 30, keeping their numbers in each college negligibly low.

"They are greatly outnumbered in these colleges," says Wee.

"Non-Bumiputera parents are not comfortable sending their children where they can feel like outsiders. For instance, during prayer times or when there are religious programmes, the non-Malay students will be left to their own devices."

Wee is sure that if the 10 per cent quota is removed, more non-Bumiputera students would enrol. "All residential schools should open their doors to non-Malays. We need to force students to mingle for the sake of unity. When they study and play together, meaningful friendships can be forged."

He admits it won't be easy. "There will inevitably be unhappiness. Even if it were made policy, the schools may not be receptive."

Ong suggests establishing new residential schools enrolling students of all races, along the lines of Kolej Yayasan UEM or KYUEM, but at secondary school level. KYUEM, owned by Yayasan UEM and part of the UEM Group, is a fully residential college modelled on top British boarding schools.

However, Jasmine Adaickalam, a service consultant with the MIC's Yayasan Strategik Sosial, cautions that it won't be enough to "just put everyone together and say 'this is it'".

"We should learn about diversity in a mutually appreciative environment. In India, where I am from, all students learn about Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. Only when we really know and understand each other's beliefs and value systems would we be able to appreciate one another."

Rosnani sees a single national school system as the best way to unity. "We need to develop a single system that caters for the needs of all ethnic groups - mother-tongue languages, traditions and cultures, and Arabic for Muslims," she says.

"I believe having a single school session which involves prolonging school hours and providing school lunch for needy students would help achieve this."

For Nurul, it is simpler. "Family upbringing is the most important thing," she says. "My parents lead by example. They have close friends of all races, and from childhood encouraged me to do the same."


Shawn Tan said...

I don't see how opening up residential schools to everyone will help the situation at all.

As far as I know, most local universities are residential and many students choose to live on-campus. However, segregation is still fairly apparent, with the different races, generally choosing to live and play with others of the same race. In fact, I would argue that polarisation at the university level is probably at it's worst.

So, opening up residential schools to everyone, at the secondary level, won't really help the situation much, as long as there is still institutionalised segregation. Our polarisation problem isn't a grass root problem but a problem of policy at all levels. So, throwing kids together and educating them, i.e. the bottom up approach, doesn't address the cause of the problem.

It isn't helpful for a kid growing up with friends of other races, learning all the cultural and religious rites of other races, while knowing full well that some friends have more opportunities than others based on some criterion as arbitrary as skin colour and knowing that there's nothing that can be done to change it.

I don't think that it's a good idea to turn residential schools into social experiments. They're designed to serve a function. They're not meant to be an experimental avenue to fix problems, especially when the problems do not stem from there.

Chen Chow said...

In my opinion, this opening up of residential schools would need to take several steps. First thing is to really make the opening up of matriculation and MRSM being implemented properly, and be attractive to all students. As mentioned in the article in NST, the take-up by non-bumiputera students have dwindled. So, we should really do some analysis on what goes wrong and how to make it more attractive. When that happens and there is a much better representation of non-bumiputera in MRSM and matriculation, then there could be more efforts to open up for other residential schools.

I would say that this opening up would benefit our country elite students, who are in residential schools first. The students would enjoy mingling with one another and learn from one another. This would break the problem of racial dis-integration. It might take years, before the main problem is solved, but the earlier we get down to such issues, the more chances we have to solve this problem.

We need to efforts of everyone to do so. It must not be half-hearted efforts from any party. Government needs to take the first step, but parents and students need to accept the policy with open arm. There should be more trust between one another. After all, this is on education and we are talking about all-round education.

The teachers at those various residential schools, MRSM and matriculation should be diverse as well. It would be great if the students could be taught by teachers from all races. That would by itself set an example for the students.

The efforts would be tough to do all this, but as our Education Minister said that he would do whatever necessary to bring our Education System to be top notch. So, if this method could work, why not?

Anonymous said...

If it is up to me, I will not send my kids to above mentioned residential schools. There are many good residentials else where, but I do not know about these. I had the experience of seeing the students at the bottom of the class gaining scholarships over most of the others students just because of race. It is bad enough to be reminded of "race counts more than ability" in general, what more subjecting our kids to the constant reminder in the school, out side class ... We have to teach our kids and build cnfidence in them that they have a future, even their country do not value them.
Have a school system for everyone is nice, but the politicians have failed us many times, I will not support to give the politicians the power to force all our kids into one system unless they have proven it first, in case they destroy what is left and replace it with some thing worst.
I know of many professionals who left public service because they did not see a future for themselves in public service, now politicians complain that a lot of doctors do not stay in government service.
Having kids study all the cultures and religions sounds good in paper, this works only if you want to produce more unemployable generalists.
The world needs specialist in every field, the less distraction we create for the kids the better. I have seen how some of the International Math and Physics Olympic winners were trained, and have met a few of them -- most people just do not know how intense these kids are. So, if Malaysia want to get to the first world, let's create the ecosystem that can support them.
The sad part is that Maysia had her golden opportunities before China and India open up, but I can see the formation of internationally strong companies coming out of those places, but hardly from Malaysia. If you are interested, take a look at BIDU, CTRP, MR ...


Anonymous said...

as long as BN in power, residential schools will be the choice for those that want immediate gain on a short term basis

Anonymous said...

And what about computer accessibility? Obviously I feel this is a concern since I'm a

Anonymous said...

No need to. There's a lot of SMK out there. That's enough.