SJKC reality: Non-Chinese pupils in Chinese primary school can shine too


  • Focus
  • Tuesday, 11 Jun 2024

Peer tutors can work, say many teachers at Chinese primary school. Here, Year 4 pupil Kayden Ngan (left) is seen helping his classmate Nur Hana Humaira Mohd Firdaus during their Science class at SJKC Kampung Baru Paroi. Around 63% of the student population at SJK(C) Kampung Baru Paroi in Seremban is non-Chinese. — IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

ONE may perceive that having non-Chinese students in Chinese primary schools will increase the workload of the teachers, who have to spend more time and effort to guide them.

Some even believe that these students may affect the overall performance of the school.

But that does not seem to be the case, based on the interviews made with Chinese school teachers.

The teachers do not stereotype pupils based on their race; instead, they believe that learning abilities vary from person to person, with factors such as family background, students' attitudes toward learning and parental cooperation being crucial.

They've personally witnessed non-Chinese pupils in Chinese primary schools achieve excellent results with outstanding performance in extracurricular activities.

This shows that the key lies in students' learning abilities and attitude.

Ooi Sin Ee, the head of Chinese Language Subject of SJKC Union, Penang and Chinese language teacher Choo Mooi Lin, believe that if pupils are willing to put in the effort and have a positive attitude towards learning, they can catch up with the rest of their peers.

Choo shares a teaching method used in class where the seating arrangement are such that students with stronger learning abilities are seated next to weaker students and act as peer tutors.

They assist their classmates during homework sessions.

All pupils are gifted provided they are taught according to their ability level.

Ooi and Choo further stress that classifying non-Chinese pupils as a "weaker group" is inappropriate since Chinese students too may vary in their learning pace.

The most important thing is to teach them according to their abilities.

"For example, in mathematics, a student may be able to answer questions on addition and subtraction. But if the pupil does not understand the question due to poor command of the Chinese language, then he faces difficulty to answer the question.

“The same for science. The pupil may know the answer but unable to express it in writing due to a lack of vocabulary," Choo says.

The best approach to address the problem is to have students practice dictation, writing and enhancing their vocabulary.

Even for science, a writing practice is necessary since there are many specialised terms in being taught in the subject.

"Sometimes, the students know the answer but they lose points (in examinations) because they can't write the key word," she says.

Reading and writing in Chinese can be challenging

Choo, who is responsible for teaching Year One to Year Three students, admits that if non-Chinese pupils haven't fully mastered the basics of Chinese language in kindergarten, they will inevitably face some challenges when they are in Year One at a Chinese primary school.

"They may not have problem with listening and speaking (Mandarin), but they need to catch up gradually with reading. As for writing, it's quite difficult, especially mastering the stroke order. It requires considerable effort," she says.

Similarly, teachers shoulder a heavy responsibility in teaching Year One to Year Three students. They must ensure that the pupils establish a solid foundation during this learning stage because moving on to the second stage (Year Four to Six) entails another level of difficulty and complexity.

Ooi Sin Ee (right) and Choo Mooi Lin teach both Chinese and non-Chinese students according to their abilities and believe that the key to student performance lies in the individual's attitude towards learning. — Sin Chew Daily/Media in ArmsOoi Sin Ee (right) and Choo Mooi Lin teach both Chinese and non-Chinese students according to their abilities and believe that the key to student performance lies in the individual's attitude towards learning. — Sin Chew Daily/Media in Arms

As for how to assist the non-Chinese students in keeping up with their studies, Choo explains that teachers use the extra time before class, during breaks, or after class to provide tutorial for the students. Otherwise, they will only rely on the assistance of "peer tutors" during class.

She mentions that teachers also create "star charts" for various subjects in the classroom to nurture students' confidence. As long as the students meet the learning standards or fulfil the teacher's requirements, they receive star stickers as rewards, which are then placed on the "star chart." When pupils see their names accompanied by long rows of stickers, it undoubtedly boosts their confidence.

"We need to help them build confidence, especially for pupils who learn at a slower place," she says.

Parents can consider transfer their children to another school

Although non-Chinese parents may understand that their children will face certain challenges in attending a Chinese primary school, their decision is spurred by academic environment and facilities in such schools.

However, some non-Chinese parents may begin to realise and contemplate whether their children are suitable for studying there, especially when they notice their children's struggles.

Ooi says it is up to the parents to decide whether to transfer the children to national primary schools. The change in medium of instruction from Chinese to Malay, for example, may not be too difficult for the students to grasp.

When asked if non-Chinese students have ever complained to teachers about their poor grasp of Mandarin affecting their studies, Choo says teachers generally communicate with parents on their children's academic status and discuss on solutions if necessary. — Sin Chew Daily/Media in Arms

This is part of Media in Arms’ special report series ‘SJKC: Reality for Non-Chinese students’, which explores the experience of non-Chinese students in Chinese schools.

Media in Arms is a media collaboration comprising five mainstream media outlets: Chinese newspaper Sin Chew Daily, Malay daily Sinar Harian, local news broadcaster Astro Awani, Tamil newspaper Malaysia Nanban and The Star – which formed this initiative in February 2022 to share resources and collaborate on diversified news content.

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