Non-Chinese students might struggle with subjects taught in Mandarin


Start early: Cheah strongly advises non-Chinese parents who intend to send their children to Chinese schools to ensure they learn the basics of the language from preschool.

PETALING JAYA: Despite all their effort to ensure their two oldest daughters master Mandarin – from mountains of workbooks to expensive one-on-one tuition – Rafizah Hussin and her husband had to transfer them from a Chinese primary school to a national school when they were in Year Six.

Her daughters, who are twins, were struggling with their language subjects even after five years at SJKC Chung Hua Klang, which was affecting their overall academic performance, she said.

“Although they could read and converse in Mandarin, their writing skills were mediocre, leading to situations where even though they knew the answer during exams, they couldn’t write it.

“Their Bahasa Malaysia proficiency was not that good either. We had no choice but to transfer them.

“The pressure of attending online classes was also immense for them during the pandemic (when they were in Years Three to Four), where subjects like history and science were taught in Chinese.

“I noticed that the children couldn’t understand what was being taught,” Rafizah said.

However, the mother of four, who has another daughter in a Chinese school, does not regret sending her children to a vernacular school. Instead, she regretted that her children could not complete their six years there.

As a result, she said they are paying more attention to their third daughter’s studies to ensure she can do well in school.

Rafizah also plans to send their youngest daughter, a four-year-old, to a Chinese primary school.

Currently, she is enrolled at a Chinese preschool in Kota Kemuning.

A growing number of non-Chinese parents are sending their children to Chinese schools because they believe that fluency in Mandarin can give them a competitive edge later in life.

Apart from the language, non-Chinese parents are also drawn to what they perceive as a quality teaching and learning environment, as well as the strict discipline of the schools.

Growing interest: A Malay mother sending her daughter to SJKC On Pong 2, located in Jalan Pandan Mewah, Ampang. She is among the growing number of Malay parents who are sending their children to Chinese schools. — Sin Chew Daily/Media in ArmsGrowing interest: A Malay mother sending her daughter to SJKC On Pong 2, located in Jalan Pandan Mewah, Ampang. She is among the growing number of Malay parents who are sending their children to Chinese schools. — Sin Chew Daily/Media in Arms

ALSO READ: Non-Chinese students' experience in Chinese primary schools: How challenging?

According to Dong Jiao Zong (the United Chinese School Committees Association and the United Chinese School Teachers’ Association of Malaysia), non-Chinese pupils make up approximately 20% of the total enrolment in Chinese primary schools nationwide.

While there are many non-Chinese students who have excelled in these schools, a few parents and teachers have raised concerns about the difficulties some face in adapting to the “different” learning environment there.

One of the concerns is that many subjects in Chinese schools are taught in Mandarin, so students without any foundation in the language may struggle to keep up with the lessons, said Jiao Zong chairman Cheah Lek Aee.

“Teachers in Chinese primary schools teach in Mandarin from the first day of class. If children cannot understand or do not have a good foundation in the Chinese language, they may fall behind by Year Two or Year Three,” he said.

Cheah strongly advises non-Chinese parents who intend to send their children to Chinese schools to ensure they learn the basics of the language from preschool.

He stressed that they do not discourage non-Chinese students from attending Chinese schools, but parents must be aware of the challenges their children may face.

Noor Azimah: ‘Teachers must also ensure non-Chinese students get the help and support they need to better adapt.’Noor Azimah: ‘Teachers must also ensure non-Chinese students get the help and support they need to better adapt.’

Aside from the academic pressure, non-Chinese students may also face peer pressure to keep up in class, said Parents Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim.

She said students who cannot keep up with their studies, are inattentive in class, or do not complete their homework may face disciplinary action from teachers, as Chinese schools are known for their strict discipline and rigorous teaching styles.

Teachers must also ensure non-Chinese students get the help and support they need to better adapt, added Noor Azimah.

This report is part of Media in Arms’ series ‘SJKC: Reality for Non-Chinese students’, which explores the experience of non-Chinese students in Chinese schools. For more, please go to TheStar.com.my.

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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