PETALING JAYA: Federal officials in Putrajaya have been urged to tackle head-on the “arrogance” of vernacular schools and also stop the “Islamisation” of national schools as a measure to instill unity within young people.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) professor Teo Kok Seong, an expert in ethnolinguistics, said vernacular schools were an obstacle to national unity as the majority of children enrolled there were only proficient in their mother tongue.
“The trend is that only the smart ones know Malay and English. The others can only speak their mother tongue,” he told FMT.
Teo, who was formerly on the National Education Blueprint committee, recalled that the government in the past had tried to standardise the Malay syllabus by lowering the standard of the Malay language in national schools.
This was done so that it could meet “halfway” with the quality of the Malay syllabus in vernacular schools but Chinese education groups had refused to budge, he said.
“The Chinese group leaders said that this will erode the identity of Chinese schools,” he said.
The government had also tried to encourage vernacular schools to have more Malay language lessons, to ensure that the Chinese school students had more exposure to the national language. But again the Chinese educationists wanted Malay to be taught through translation, he said.
“They wanted Mandarin teachers to teach Malay by translating Malay into Mandarin. It is almost like teaching Japanese to foreign students through translation,” he said.
Some Form 1 and Form 2 students (who had come from vernacular schools) dropped out as they were unable to cope with the Malay subjects in secondary schools.
Recently, Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal had said that the PPBM Youth wing continues to support the abolition of vernacular schools in the country. He said vernacular schools have not produced students who possess a “strong national identity”.
Government ‘giving in to Islam-based NGOs’
Teo said the government had also been giving in to Islam-based NGOs, causing national schools to look more like religious schools, prompting more parents to send their children to vernacular and private schools.
He said the issue has reached a point where the government is unable to carry out any reforms for fear of backlash from society.
However, the government must stop giving in to such NGOs. “The politicians need to directly tackle the vernacular and national school issues. They need to seriously think of the next generation and not just the next elections,” he added.
Teo suggested that government officials must first admit that there are problems within both vernacular and national schools and “talk about the unpleasant things.”
“They need to tackle the problem head on. Whether the issue is sensitive or not, they need to do something because our education system is hurting society,” he said.
Teo also said the government needs to review the quality of teachers and education so that national schools will become the place for all parents to have their children educated.
Deep reforms needed in national schools
Lim Teck Ghee, a former World Bank senior social scientist, said national schools have been slowly becoming more Islamic in character.
“That has been the trend for more than a few years now. It partly accounts for why not only non-Malay but also many Malay parents are sending their children to vernacular schools,” he told FMT, adding that this trend is likely to continue.
Due to that, he said it will be difficult for national schools to attract non-Malay school kids without deep reform.
The deep reforms should include higher standards of education, less emphasis on religion and language, a multiracial staff, and nurturing a genuinely multiracial environment.
“Unfortunately this is not likely to happen so the exodus of non-Malay and more affluent Malay kids from national schools will continue,” Lim said.
He added it is a few politicians who are creating disunity by using the vernacular schools as the scapegoat for the nation’s racial and religious problem.
Six years ago, Lim said in the Dewan Rakyat, Muhyiddin Yassin, who was then the education minister, stated that “the status of vernacular education in the country is written in “black and white” in the National Education Blueprint and is a fact that has to be accepted.
He also stated that “the government is firm on its stand that vernacular schools are part of the nation’s legacy and forms part of the nation’s education landscape”.
“Let’s leave vernacular schools alone and concentrate on improving the learning and teaching standard of all schools in the national system,” he said.