PETALING JAYA: Farah Halijah Halim, 29, says that contrary to what some Malaysians say, Chinese schools in her opinion, promote unity among the various races in Malaysia.
Farah told FMT of her first-hand experience, relating how her primary and secondary school education in Chinese schools had taught her how to interact better with those of other races.
“In a way, it (Chinese school education) taught me the value of acceptance. Instead of demanding people respect and understand my needs, I learnt how to tolerate other people’s points of view as well.”
She said her non-Malay peers were also sensitive about the halal and haram aspect of Islam and were genuinely curious about how Malays lived.
“Some asked about the religious aspects (of Muslims), like the need to wear a tudung (headscarf) and why we need to fast.”
She said she was also mindful of the fact that her Chinese education meant she would have to learn Mandarin, a language she can speak fluently today as well as Cantonese, which she picked up from her Chinese friends in school.
Farah said everyone at school mingled freely with those of other races, proving wrong opponents of vernacular schools, who claimed that anything other than national schools failed to promote unity among multiracial Malaysians.
“It’s the same as going to expensive international schools, right? Does that mean that international schools do not promote unity by segregating the rich from the poor?
“And what proof do we have that national schools really promote unity among the races?
“At Foon Yew (Chinese school), they preach the ‘Foon Yew people’ principle, where students are taught not to discriminate against those of other races. Everyone is equal.”
So enriching was her education at SJKC Foon Yew, one of the largest independent Chinese schools in Malaysia, that Farah emerged as one of the top students of the class of 2005.
“I was the valedictorian as well as the class representative. To get such a recognition was an honour.
“It was a big school and over 1,000 students graduated that year. I was selected as the student speaker for the graduation ceremony,” she told FMT, reminiscing with great pride her student days.
Despite the honour, Farah found herself lost soon after as prospects to further her education looked dismal.
The reason? The government’s refusal to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) issued by her school.
“I was at a loss at one point after leaving school because I couldn’t get into any of the local universities,” Farah told FMT.
She thought of attending a university in China. But her father talked her out of it, saying Malaysia at the time did not recognise Chinese degrees either.
However, she saw a light at the end of the tunnel when a local college agreed to take her in.
“It was a very confusing time. I didn’t know what I was going to do. That was when Nilai International College, which recognises the UEC, offered me a full scholarship to study there.
“So I did my first year in the college, and transferred to Cardiff University in the UK, where I completed my second and third years of study.”
Cardiff University is one of the top universities worldwide, and Farah is now a qualified auditor in one of the largest auditing firms in the world, Ernst & Young, otherwise known as EY.
Despite the difficulty she faced with her UEC qualification, Farah said she does not regret her experience, especially as it equipped her with all the skills she needed to be a success in life.
The UEC is still not recognised by the federal government, except in Sarawak and Selangor, that recently allowed the certificate to be used for admission into state-owned learning institutions.
It is hoped the future of present day UEC graduates will not be so bleak as Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced yesterday his instruction to the education minister to conduct an in-depth study and make recommendations on the Chinese school qualification.