‘Too late to abolish vernacular schools’

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KUALA LUMPUR: A former education ministry official today said that it would be too late for vernacular schools to be abolished now, considering the opposition that would come from different directions.

Khazanah Nasional Berhad’s adviser and consultant (education) Satinah Syed Saleh said such schools could not be taken away as the nation’s forefathers had, before independence, agreed to have vernacular schools.

“It is a bit too late to go back to national schools for all, in my opinion. It will not be easy to do it. It is not easy to reverse it.

“The Dong Jiao Zong (the United Chinese School Committees Association and United Chinese School Teachers Association) will not allow that to happen. Also, now there are so many Tamil groups who are defending their vernacular schools,” she said in a forum titled Malaysian Education: Where Are We Heading? here yesterday.

Also present were Centre for Global Affairs (ICON) president Abdul Razak Baginda and former youth parliamentarian Mohsen Alkaff.

Satinah was responding to a question from Mohsen, who had asked if single-stream schools should be brought back, and vernacular schools be abolished by the government.

However, Satinah said instead of abolishing vernacular schools, they could do something else, to allow something similar to happen.

“Eventually you phase it out, allow the Chinese and the Indians and other ethnic groups in Sabah and Sarawak to teach their mother tongues.

“If there are at least 15 students in any particular school of, say Kadazan, they can demand to teach that subject. It is in the Education Act. This applies to other languages as well,” she said.

Satinah also questioned what uplifting national schools (memartabatkan sekolah kebangsaan) meant, and related an experience where she was taken aback when the recitation of Quranic verses was carried out during recess time.

She said that while the sounding of the Azan was fine, she asked how the non-Muslims would feel with the recitation going on throughout recess time.

“I am a Muslim. You do not have to be extreme to embrace your religion. It does not augur well with the system.

“So, you cannot blame the Chinese and Indians for getting out of the system,” she said, adding that more Chinese and Indians were sending their children to Chinese schools.

However, Satinah said that the ministry was doing what it could to address the situation.

Satinah, prior to her retirement from the civil service, served as the education ministry’s private education division director.

Calls for vernacular schools to be abolished are not new, and have been made by various quarters, with some calling it a detriment to nation building.