KUALA LUMPUR: Despite opposition from some to the existence of vernacular schools, Chinese schools have a future in Malaysia, says a report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Two main reasons are given for this: the quality of education in Chinese schools and the rise of China as an economic power, which means those who talk Mandarin have an advantage when dealing with China or China businesses.
The SCMP report notes there has been criticism that vernacular schools don’t cultivate national identity or foster cross-cultural experiences, and that they only encourage segregation.
It also gives examples to show how the debate over vernacular schools in Malaysia can become deeply emotional.
But, it says, China’s economic rise and the good reputation of Chinese schools in Malaysia has led to an increasing number of non-Chinese Malaysians enrolling their children in these schools.
Between 2010 and 2014, enrolment of non-Chinese students rose by 20.7%.
In 2016, the report says, non-Chinese students comprised almost 18% of the total enrolment in Chinese-language primary schools.
It quotes Dr Lee Hock Guan, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute of Singapore, as saying Chinese schools should not be perceived as a stumbling block to national integration, but as a resource.
In fact, Lee says, state policies should facilitate this by allocating extra resources to Chinese schools and establish new ones, especially in urban areas.
The report quotes several former students of Chinese vernacular schools regarding their take on the need or effectiveness of Chinese schools. The reaction was mixed.
One person, Loo Tze Jin, said it was not so much that her school, Kuen Cheng High School, taught in Mandarin as the fact that it’s syllabuses were far ahead of other schools, it was managed in an effective manner and provided a good learning environment.
Another, Daniel Mak, spoke about the intense workload, with every student vying to be the best in class. Discipline, he said, was a priority.
A Malay woman, Anisah Mohd Ismaill, who attended Chung Kwo School in Kuala Lumpur, has found that being fluent in two Chinese dialects – Mandarin and Cantonese – has helped create many business opportunities.
“It’s been hugely beneficial in my line of work, as I work in customer service in a major bank in Malaysia,” she was quoted as saying.
“In my opinion, because we live in a multiracial country, it is to our advantage to master a third language other than our mother tongue and English,” she adds.
The SCMP report quoted experts who said while Chinese-educated workers tended to take their jobs more seriously and were more loyal to their companies compared with those with an English education, they had major problems when it came to using English and making presentations.
The report did not touch on Tamil vernacular schools.