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Education 101: Abolish Vernacular Schools – Right Call But Wrong Reasons

Vernacular School literacy Education Malaysia

The sticky issue of vernacular schools is back again and this time riding on a dumb notion that students from the vernacular school are unable to master the national language Bahasa Malaysia and thus faces a bleak future. We have a high literacy rate in the world but we keep screwing up with silly experiments and dubious political intentions. Map source: Our World in Data

I guess when the country has run out of pressing issues to talk about, they will fall back on the dumb issues that touch on race and religion.

Read these first:-

Vernacular School & Bahasa Malaysia

It started off with this:-

A lawyer representing two Malay students groups today argued that the existence of vernacular schools was actually detrimental to non-Bumiputeras.

Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla said such schools actually reduced non-Bumiputera students’ chances of employment due to their lack of knowledge in Bahasa Malaysia.

He said most employers in the private and also public sectors preferred candidates who are fluent in Bahasa Malaysia in terms of speech and writing.

“It also will cause them to be left behind due to difficulties in communicating with each other in Bahasa Malaysia

(Source: NST)

Of course, before long, there were oppositions:-

The calls to abolish vernacular schools has nothing to do with language proficiency or the level of education they provide, but are instead driven by racist perceptions towards these institutions.

Penang deputy chief minister P Ramasamy said that the long-running debate, reignited this week by Bersatu’s youth wing and a lawsuit filed by three Malay students groups, is fueled by a lack of acceptance of Malay not being the primary mode of instruction in these schools.

Ramasamy said without vernacular schools, Malaysia cannot achieve true diversity and tolerance, and these “indisputable” parts of Malaysia were “here to stay for a very, very long time

(Source: Free Malaysia Today)

Whilst it is pertinent that every Malaysian must be able to speak and write Bahasa Malaysia rather fluently, one has to ask the question – is it a fact that without communicating well in Bahasa Malaysia, the future is gloom for the vernacular school students?

Education Science Mathematics School Vernacular

What about the fact that the world uses English as the main language stream for Mathematics and Science and we took very dumb steps of forcing it to be taught in Bahasa based on petty and unproven reasons? One has to question the motive of the people behind this campaign as it is truly pushing our advancements backwards instead of forward.

Bigger Issue: Institutionalised Discrimination

It’s funny that there is a serious concern on the vernacular school students whose majority is non-Malays, non-Muslims. Mastering the national language is not the issue here. In fact, no one is even touching on the elephant in the room – the institutionalised discrimination in all levels of the education system and public sectors.

Vernacular school students are suffering in every aspect, not because of Bahasa Malaysia (BM) proficiency but institutionalised discrimination.

Starting from Standard 6, they are discriminated against from entering elite boarding schools like the Royal Military College (RMC) and those under Mara.

After Form 5, they are discriminated against from entering pre-university courses and getting a Public Service Department (PSD) scholarship is a miracle. Having no alternative but to attend two years in Form 6, they get discriminated against again.

All critical courses like medicine are reserved for the bumiputera and getting entry into a public university is a struggle because of the quota system. At best, they get into courses that have little commercial value.

Upon graduation, they get discriminated against again. Just try getting into public service, government-linked companies (GLCs), statutory bodies… they don’t even get an interview.

No matter how excellent their credentials are, they will never be VCs (vice-chancellors), DGs (director-generals) and CEOs of GLCs (government-linked companies). This is the harsh reality.

These are the inhumane government policies they have to deal with from cradle to grave. I should know. My two children were victims of this system.

(Source: Malaysiakini)

This is why it is difficult for the non-Malays to take up key roles in GLCs and public sectors which do not make it attractive for the non-Malays to pursue a career in these sectors. Instead, the non-Malays tend to strive in private sectors where the majority uses English for business and formal communications. The quota system makes things even worse.

nation science religion Vernacular Schools

Unfortunately, Malaysia falls under the band where the majority thinks religion is always rights when there is a conflict with science. Map source: Where People Trust Religion More Than Science)

Bigger Issue: Islamisation in Schools

Malay NGOs are concerned about the lack of Bahasa Malaysia mastery by vernacular school students and yet why they are not doing anything on the overbearing Islamic related studies that are imposed on Muslim students in national schools?

It came as a surprise to hear that many Malay parents who have yet to send their children to school are not aware that Islamic-related education now takes a solid four hours (or eight half-hour periods) of a primary school student’s chunk of time in one week.

This includes one period of learning jawi, and two periods of tasmik ― sessions of individual Quran recitals. That is as many hours that are being spent learning Malay or English.

In comparison, Mathematics takes five or six periods, and Science three or four periods, according to schools.

Arabic Language, which is offered as part of third language classes, takes another three or four periods.

(Source: Malay Mail)

The same echoed by Dr M:-

Dr Mahathir Mohamad claims there is an overemphasis on Islam in schools at the expense of the kind of education needed in an increasingly demanding world.

“It’s almost as if every student is going to be an ulama,” he said.

“They are increasing the number of hours, the number of periods, to teach Islam beyond what is needed by an ordinary Muslim,” he said. “As a result, children don’t learn other knowledge, especially science and maths, which are very important now to make a living.”

He called for a balance between instilling students with Islamic values and developing an academic base that will allow them to thrive in the working world.

He said the push for more Islam in the curriculum was not a government policy but the agenda of “certain ministers and civil servants” to promote the religion.

(Source: Free Malaysia Today)

When the majority of students are focussing on the religion-related syllabus in schools, there will be an impact on the overall quality of students coming out from primary & secondary schools as less time is spent on core subjects. Why this is not being addressed?

Comic education school religion science Vernacular

Over the years, our education system has been bombarded with changes in curriculums and standards of teaching. However, the sticky issues like different schools based on race and language do nothing but disunite the country. We need to look at the issues unbiasedly and come up with the best solution regardless of religion, politics, race and religion. Image source: Freedom From Religion

Final Say

It is reported recently that the Government is opening up 10% of the seats in Mara Junior Science Colleges (MRSM) and the matriculation programme for university admission to non-Malays but even so it is being criticised. It is possible that even these 10% may be reduced or stopped if there is too much opposition for non-Malays to enter MRSM.

Personally, I think vernacular schools are obstacles to national unity and towards the improvement of the overall quality of our national education. It needs to go away one fine morning and all students, regardless of their race and religion go to the same school and learn the same high-quality education and have an equal shot of opportunity at whatever they face after leaving schools.

If you wondered why these schools have remained as it is since we got our independence more than 60 years ago, it is basically been abused by race-based political parties who use them to justify the support to their politicians. The mantra is that if these politicians are not in power, then there is a danger of these schools being closed down. This mantra remains till today.

If the concerned issue is preserving the Mandarin and Tamil languages, this can still be done in national schools like how it is being done now. Further, these students can opt for special classes on languages outside their school hours if they wish to do so. If the concerned issue is on the quality of education, start with taking out the religion from schools and focus more on quality core subjects within even shorten school hours.

But if the opponents to the vernacular schools are bending over on the basis of the national language and closed opportunities for these students, then they are barking on the wrong tree. As highlighted above, what is the point of abolishing the vernacular schools when the bigger issue of institutionalised discrimination and poor quality of syllabus is not addressed?

If there are efforts to shut down vernacular schools on grounds of language, then there should be similar efforts on the other end to open up race-based schools and improve the quality of education.

Remember, in the end, the country comes first, always.

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