Picking up Mandarin

One family: SJK(C) Pandamaran A, Port Klang, Year One students (from left) Gan Wei Ling, Nor Afiqah Hassan, Anastasia Shasmecta Ann, Muhammad Izz Rayyan, Bughalarav Muthu and Falix Lee posing for a photo in January this year. – KK SHAM/The Star

CHINA’S expeditious economic rise to power has garnered attention from people worldwide including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

He described China as a “great country” during a question and answer session – where he spoke entirely in Mandarin – at the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management Advisory Board in 2014.

This, said Malaysian Chinese Language Council (MCLC) president Datuk Eddie Heng Hong Chai, demonstrated Zuckerberg’s realisation of how powerful the Mandarin language is in global communications.

Heng said 18.8% of pupils currently enrolled in Malaysian Chinese schools are non-native speakers.

Non-Chinese parents in the country are increasingly aware of the advantages in mastering Mandarin, he said, pointing to the rise of China’s power and influence across the world, as a main factor.“Many parents also find the quality of education in SJK(C)s – especially for Mathematics and Science subjects – to be of high standards.” Noting that the increasing enrolment of non-Chinese pupils in SJK(C)s has caused an “explosion” of students in class, he said many of these schools – especially in emerging areas – are currently facing insufficient classroom space.“More SJK(C)s need to be built in areas that have a demand for them to allow pupils to enjoy a more conducive learning environment.

“Currently, to accommodate more pupils, many SJK(C)s squeeze over 2,000 pupils in a school – with more than 50 pupils to a class.

“This will affect the quality of education pupils receive, ” he said, adding that the Education Ministry would also have to train more teachers to cater to increasing demand for SJK(C)s.

Many SJK(C)s struggle to cope with maintenance issues, teacher shortages and insufficient funding, he said.

On Nov 11, Education Minister Dr Mohd Radzi Md Jidin told Parliament that the enrolment of Malays, Indians and students of other races in Chinese vernacular schools has shown a rising trend this year compared to 2010.

Based on data from the ministry, he said the enrolment trend showed an increase for Malay students from 9.5% in 2010 to 15.33% this year.

For Indian students, the data showed an increase from 1.67% to 2.75% between the same period.

It was also the same for other races, which showed an increase from 1.02% in 2010 to 1.67% in 2020.However, the percentage of enrolment of Chinese pupils in Chinese schools showed a decrease from 88.16% in 2010 to 80.25% in 2020.

The dip in Chinese pupils enrolled into SJK(C)s, said Heng, was due to a declining fertility rate among the Chinese community.

“Also, private schools have mushroomed in the last decade and are competing with national and vernacular schools – including Chinese primary schools – for students.

“Parents have more choices now. The education model of private schools and their emphasis on English are attractive to an increasing group of parents who are willing to invest in their children’s education, ” Heng explained.

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