When education is colour blind

Rita Sim

CHINESE vernacular schools have been gaining popularity outside the community because many parents are seeing the importance and value of mastering Mandarin, said author and researcher Rita Sim.

Sim holds a postgraduate diploma in Chinese from Ealing College, London, and has written several books on the Malaysian Chinese community, including “Unmistakably Chinese, Genuinely Malaysian”, and “Give and Take: Writings on the Malaysian Chinese Community”.

More non-Chinese parents are sending their children to Chinese schools because they want their children to be multilingual, she said, when commenting on the rising enrolment trend of Malays, Indians and other races in Chinese vernacular schools (see infographics).Being fluent in English and Bahasa Malaysia (BM) is no longer enough to give their children an advantage in a borderless world, said Sim, who is also the co-founder of Centre for Strategic Engagement, a public policy research firm.

“The non-Chinese communities are simply being pragmatic and practical.

“They see the value in equipping their children with sound communication skills that are especially useful for entrepreneurial success.

N. Siva SubramaniamN. Siva Subramaniam

“The upward trend of Malays, Indians and other non-Chinese communities sending their children to Chinese vernacular schools is set to continue, ” she said, adding that for these communities, the quality of education is the sole reason for the decision.

“To the Chinese community, education is seen as a pillar of culture and custom as well as an identity marker.

“But to the other races who send their children to Chinese schools, it is just about wanting their children to be fluent in Mandarin because the language is widely spoken around the world.”

Educationist Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam said race should not be a consideration in the acquisition of knowledge.

Parents, he said, want their children to have quality education that would give them a competitive edge.

“Education must transcend race, especially in a multicultural, multi-ethnic nation like ours.

“Just like how we enjoy the various cuisines of the different races, so too should we embrace the strengths of the country’s various education systems.

Dr Zuwati HasimDr Zuwati Hasim

“I’ve seen many non-Chinese students in vernacular schools and they are happy, ” he said, adding that in vernacular schools, the Board of Governors, parents and teachers work very closely together.

This, he said, is one of the main reasons why Chinese school students do well.

“Whatever event or activity is held, the parents turn up in full support.

“When funds are needed, everyone does their part in donating and helping to raise money so that the teachers and students can benefit from having better infrastructure.

“As a result, the teachers feel motivated to give their best while parents feel a sense of ownership because they are part of the school’s development.”

Siva Subramaniam, who was the former National Union of the Teaching Profession secretary-general, former Human Rights Commission of Malaysia secretary-general and former Public and Civil Services president, said the upward trend of non-native speakers in Chinese schools is unsurprising and will likely continue.

“We send our children to a certain type of school based on the skills we feel they will need to have.

“With Mandarin now widely used in various sectors, having the skill to communicate in the language means more job opportunities.

“But beyond the practical aspect of securing a better future, knowing an extra language can help with national integration.

“Vernacular schools have a role to play in promoting unity if given the right support.”

Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Education senior lecturer and teacher-trainer Dr Zuwati Hasim said parents decide on which schools to send their children to based on factors such as the school’s location, reputation, student population, size of the class as well as the availability of facilities including transportation.

These could be contributing factors to high enrolment in a particular school, she said.

“Malaysia is unique because we have different types of schools that are differentiated by the different languages – BM, Mandarin, and Tamil – used as the instructional medium.

“No other country of multi-ethnicity has this, ” she said, adding that to promote unity and multilingualism among students of all ethnicities, national schools where BM is the main medium could offer Mandarin and Tamil language classes where there is a strong demand.

“With the Dual Language Programme (DLP), students at selected schools already have the option of learning Mathematics and Science in English, ” she noted.

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