Schools need to go back to the 1970s, says ex-headmaster

V Chakaravathy was thrust into the limelight when he spoke out against the education system at a forum attended by minister Maszlee Malik.

PETALING JAYA: Former principal V Chakaravathy, who came into the limelight after he spoke out at a forum on the education system, has urged the government to have the willpower to draw from the heyday of national schools in the 1970s and move forward.

Chakaravathy said that in the 1970s, schools were not focused on race and religion.

“It was all about human values, learning and having the best teachers,” he told FMT.

The former senior mathematics teacher at the Royal Military College said teachers were people of all races and no one was hired based on race and religion.

However, by the mid-1980s, national schools had started moving towards becoming more like religious schools so much so that religious teachers were given more prominence than other teachers, said Chakaravathy, who received the Exemplary Teacher Award in 1999.

“No one would question them (religious teachers) even though sometimes they took long breaks,” he told FMT.

Chakaravathy, 80, said that in his time he had taught students of all races, the majority of whom were Malays who are now successful in their careers.

“They didn’t need crutches (Bumiputera policies) to become successful. What they needed were good, dedicated teachers to become successful in life. They were taught resilience and they had it,” he said.

Chakaravathy, who was the principal of the Setapak High School in 1981, said all students were punished the same way as if they were his children.

“The other teachers and I were colour blind. I treated the children the same. They were my children and I wanted them to do well,” he said.

In February, during a forum attended by Education Minister Maszlee Malik, Chakaravathy told the audience the education system had hit “rock bottom” and that the quality of teachers had deteriorated drastically.

He said that by the mid-1990s the majority of teachers were Malays and some were hired despite having no dedication to teach the younger generation.

By this time, he said, more Bumiputeras depended on national policies to succeed rather than ensuring only good teachers were hired. “They have spoiled one generation,” Chakaravathy said.

Recently, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the matriculation course, which is shorter and easier than STPM, was created as a “back door entry” for Malays to enter universities.

Vernacular schools

Chakaravarthy said no one could fault Chinese and Indian parents for sending their children to Chinese and Tamil schools.

“Actually, not all Chinese and Indian parents wanted to send their children to vernacular schools,” he said, adding that parents were aware that national schools were better as their children could take part in national debates, sports and other national-level activities.

However national schools had become too religious and many parents had felt “too uncomfortable”, since the mid-1990s.

He hoped the government will have the willpower to “bring national schools back to the 1970s” to make national schools the main choice for all parents.

Chakaravarthy said if Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew could cleverly close down Chinese, Tamil and Malay schools and make national schools the only choice for all Singaporeans, the present government could do the same for Malaysians.

He said Lee had announced that those who wanted to work in civil service needed to speak English, causing parents to demand the closure of vernacular schools.

In Malaysia, he said the government has to come up with policies that will make Malays, Chinese and Indians to see the value of national schools to a point where vernacular schools will lose their appeal.