Published in Malaysiakini 22 September 2016

COMMENT Recently, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) CEO Wan Saiful Wan Jan said, “… those who want to campaign for Chinese schools cannot do so in a defensive and narrow way. They need to change the narrative so that their arguments are more wide and more overarching”.

I can’t agree more. This is not something new. Such an issue of whether vernacular schools are indeed restraining true unity has been a conundrum for many years. In fact, it started even before our nation achieved independence.

Though often politicised by politicians and NGOs, no concrete evidence has ever been proven to say that Chinese schools are a hindrance to national unity.

I agree with Wan Saiful when he said people should not campaign just for Chinese schools but they should campaign for the right of every parent, regardless of race and religion, to choose the type of education that they want for their own children.More importantly, the government must make efforts to understand the reservations and negative perceptions the public have against national schools; which is the core reason why many of them prefer vernacular schools.

I did a survey over the last six months and most parents agreed that besides quality, the principles of merit and equality should be applied to national schools to instil public confidence and encourage enrolment.

Many parents are willing to send their children to national schools if the academic standards, conducive environment and quality of teachers are on par with, or better than, those in vernacular schools. Please don’t tell me the quality of our national schools is one of the best in the world!

I am actually supportive of the idea that gradually moving away from vernacular schools is the way forward in creating a more integrated Malaysian society.

Hence, to a certain extent, I am agreeable with the proposal by Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim to scrap vernacular schools to promote unity – but again, I emphasise it is the quality that is crucial.

Malaysia’s rich diversity must be reflected in its education system.

Different cultures and mother tongues are a common heritage that should be allowed to thrive and be taught in all schools on an equal footing. After all, it is guaranteed under our Federal Constitution.

The opportunity to learn vernacular languages is provided in all schools.

It can also be done through the regular curriculum, with integrated trilingual teaching provided, instead of extracurricular classes as is currently practised.


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