Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Constitutional Case for Vernacular Schools

This country, as specified in the constitution, was meant to be multiracial, multilingual and multicultural, and NOT unilingual! This makes us unique among nations of the world. No other nation is like us. National unity comes in recognising that.

Therefore we should have more chinese and tamil schools. And vernacular universities too. Greater national unity comes with that. And kadazan, Iban, japanese, korean, thai, german, french and other schools too to cater for the many small minorities.

It is the Umno attempt to ‘cap and roll back’ vernacular schools, and railroad towards unilingualism, that creates disunity!

People should grasp the idea that at independence ‘we agreed’ to multilingualism, to retain our ethnicities and cultures as it is, and NOT assimilate but integrate as a diverse nation. And that is enshrined in stone!

Education is a parents concern and prerogative, not the state. Choice must always remain with us. I will decide what stream is best for my children and their future! It is for the state to simply provide what we the people choose. The idea is to get more freedoms and not surrender existing choices and freedom.

When you look at the bigger picture, there are many advantages in having different school systems. I had always thought our children are lucky to live in Malaysia with so many different school systems to choose from. We as parents can pick out what is best in each school system for their education.

Most parents prefer vernacular school not because of “roots” or that these schools uses their vernacular language as the medium of instructions. It’s because these schools are generally of higher standard, better equipped and there are less discrimination based on race and religion. Who in their right minds would send their children to a school knowing that the school is of lower standard with teachers frequently discriminating their sons/daughters?

Tamil school students and parents alike have told that tamil teachers are more committed and dedicated compared to national school. To them it is a cause. The market has spoken.

If vernacular education were abolished, the entire vernacular press and media industry, the vernacular music industry, festivals, etc, – all would collapse, in a single generation.

There are some religious cultures for whom diversity is doctrinally anathema, they insist on uniformity, to wean away the people from their own cultures and beliefs. First the language goes, then the culture, then the religion. That would be the final objective in the insistence on linguistic uniformity.

The so called national school had become muslim religious school. What with J-QAF, religious class in the afternoon, islamic lessons in the morning and implemention or force feeding of islamic value down the throat of non muslims and non malays. Any simple survey of a national school on the number of teachers will show that 1/3 of the staff are J-QAF and Islamic studies teachers.

School budgets will most probably be spend on religious reasons compared to secular education. Majlis Tahlil. Majlis Bacaan Yassin, Majlis khatam Al quran, Islamic competition, Islamic motivational course/talks, just to name a few. A mother once said that sending children to national schools is like sending him to be converted to Islam.

We have seen national school text books and it’s disheartening to see the hidden racism in it. We have gone through so many of the books across so many years, and we see the consistency of such subconscious ideas being planted into our children.

The issue of vernacular primary schools has little to do with national integration. The medium of instruction doesn’t matter. The biggest issue of vernacular primary schools is simply that the quality clearly points to the failure of Umno-led BN government, the legitimacy of the very philosophies and policies particularly its hegemonistic malay agenda.

The issue of vernacular schools is not about national integration, it is about hegemonistic malay agenda. The fact it is an issue points to heart of our national problem. Having multi stream education is not a divisive thing, it is an enabler of people in different fields. People should have the option to choose. As long as the syllabus is common and promotes patriotism.

If the vernacular primary schools are allowed to expand, clearly the percentage of malays in these Chinese primary schools would expand striking at the heart of the malay agenda. It would increase integration but not the malay agenda.

The idea of teaching Mandarin and Tamil to attract non-malays to national schools is a non-starter, so long as Islamization of national schools is not stopped in its tracks, non-malays would always avoid it, simply because learning is just harder in a marginalized uncomfortable environment. Vernacular schools are allowed to continue as it is simply because removing it would be perceived and rightly so, as eroding the citizen rights of non-malays, i.e. the very right of education – the only upward mobility tool the non-malays have. Non-malays second class citizenship will become third class with things like further Islamization of this country.

We have not seen unity in unilingual Indonesia but on the contrary there is killing of chinese, ethnic wars between christians and muslims, pogroms against Timorese and Papuans, war in Acheh, etc. Where is the unity when they all speak the same language?

Take a look at the Dutch education system. The schools there have streams for Dutch, German, French and English language, but did it caused the break up of Holland as a nation or disunity of the Dutch people ?

We can never trust any government on POL for all students. Sure they will oblige for one generation to lull us. But after that? We tried that experiment in the 60s and failed.

No parent would want their children in schools where there is peer pressure and condescension from the majority students and teachers alike.

For all of us to effectively communicate with each other, no more than 1,500 words each in Malay and English is required. That is just 3 years of language education in school, or, can be acquired in a 3 month course.

Unity requires a uniting common cause, like a common enemy, but in a diverse country like Malaysia with it’s unique history, that cause can only be freedoms and human rights. What else can be a common cause that unites us?

The first modern schools in Malaya was a Tamil School and the Penang Free School, both established in 1816 in Penang. Malay schools came 50 years later. At independence there were 1,800 chinese schools, 880 tamil schools and only about 130 english and missionary schools. At any given time in the last two centuries only about 5% of school going children attended english or missionary schools, which is erroneously touted as the epitome of racial mingling and unity.

There were no problems in education nor disunity for two centuries until Umno introduced the New Educational Policy in 1971. Therein lies your answer. Ethnic cleansing of vernacular schools had then begun in a staggered way. Today instead of having more vernacular schools to cater for a growing student population, chinese and tamil school have dwindled to 800 and 535 respectively. What shameful affairs and to think people are actually suggesting a continuation of ethnic cleansing policies! And that too by some children of victims.

People still do not seem to understand what our forefathers agreed to, that secularism and multiculturalism in its entirety and forever shall be the basis of Malaysia. To you your way, and to me mine! Much like religion. *That* has been our tradition for 200 years, retaining at all times the prerogative of the parents over their childrens’ education, and as to what exactly are the values that we wish to perpetuate.

Our forefathers are people who witnessed the horrors of the Indian partition, Sri Lanka language pogroms of 1956, the killings of 3,000 chinese in Kalimantan/Sarawak between 1948-1951, the expulsion of one million Indians from Myanmar in 1948, and much more. They knew what was coming. In the Reid Commission there were mention of the fears of ethnic cleansing of cultures and languages down the road in Malaya. Today we are witnessing that with the repeated calls for abolishing of vernacular education. Closure of vernacular schools and its concomitant industries is ethnic cleansing of whole institutions that were painstakingly built up over 200 years.

The fact that so many university graduates nowdays failed to find job must be telling! Our educational system has failed, and yet we are asked to close the successful vernacular system and join in with the the national schools and wallow in their mediocrity.

With such low standards of national education and mediocrity, it would be wiser to discuss the closure of national/malay schools entirely! After all, instead of being parochial in these times of glocalisation, we want *unity* with the rising nations of India and China and its 2.7 billion people, under whose shadow we are geostrategically destined to live for all eternity, is it not?

Malaysian means to open an accept each others unique quality, culture, languages and beliefs. Not to tolerate. Not to assimilate. But to accept and blend in seamlessly.