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Decentralising and Clustering Schools

Posted: 03 Jun 2013 06:51 PM PDT 

Today, the climate has shifted; the clouds have lifted but not quite. International private schools using English-medium instruction can now enroll the children of the Malaysian elite and this has taken away one of the props from the Malay centrists. 

Dr Kua Kia Soong

The recent discussion to bring back English-medium schools has to be considered in the context of decentralizing and clustering the different language medium schools in the country.

First of all, we should celebrate the cultural diversity that has evolved through the efforts of all our peoples through the years for, as the French say, "Vive le difference"…


English-medium schools as the integrating institution?

Being a product of the old "Government English School" myself, I can testify to the positive effects on inter-ethnic relations that we experienced in these schools where Malay, Chinese and Indian students mingled and mixed harmoniously. But after UMNO decided on its "ultimate objective" of making Malay the main medium of instruction in all schools (Razak Report), this was implemented with the National language Bill coming into effect in 1967. Today, Bahasa Malaysia is the dominant medium of instruction in national schools and there is really no danger of its supersession by English-medium schools. The rest is history…

During the acrimonious episodes over the National Cultural Policy during the 1980s, I remember it was our literary spark Salleh ben Jonid who was audacious enough to suggest that maybe English-medium schools should be introduced as an integrative institution instead of BM-medium national schools. His daring dream met its fate in a climate in which Malay centrist fervour was at its height.

Today, the climate has shifted; the clouds have lifted but not quite. International private schools using English-medium instruction can now enroll the children of the Malaysian elite and this has taken away one of the props from the Malay centrists. But even before this leak from the BM-dominated national education system, the Malaysian (including UMNO) elite had been sending their children to elite schools in the West! Also, private colleges using English as a medium of instruction have been allowed since the Eighties more as a safety valve to plug the unhappiness of Non-Malays who could not gain admission to public sector institutions than through UMNO's liberality. The glaring inability of new Malaysian graduates to use the English language to compete in an increasingly globalized world has further brought English-medium schools into the spotlight.


Right to Mother Tongue Education

But while I am a product of the "Government English Schools" and belong to a middle class background, it does not detract from the fact that the vast majority of Chinese Malaysians send their children to be schooled in their mother tongue, ie. Chinese-medium schools and a sizeable number of Tamil-speaking parents send their children to Tamil-medium schools. In fact, the Chinese schools of Malaysia have existed since 1819 and thus represent a Malaysian heritage that is unique in the world. I have described their history as a "protean saga" in my 1985 title.

 The periodic calls by misconceived individuals to do away with Chinese and Tamil schools in this country in order to forge integration ignore this heritage and the more crucial fact that the right to mother tongue education is recognized as an international human right. There is even an International Mother Tongue Day which falls on February 21 every year. Having served in the Chinese education movement since 1983, I would advise that any attempt to do away with Chinese and Tamil schools in this country is misconceived and is doomed to failure. For the sake of the nation's progress, we would be wise to build on this heritage.

In the context of mother tongue education, English-medium schools can be justified by the fact that in some middle-class Malaysian families (Malay, Chinese, Indian and even East Malaysian communities), the English language is their mother tongue. Therefore, there is no reason why in areas where they are needed, English-medium schools cannot be built.


Local education authorities and elected local government

Although there was much heat generated by GE13, I wonder how many Malaysians noticed that the question of elected local governments was missing from the manifestoes of both coalitions. Apart from the principle of democracy at this third tier of government, how many Malaysians see the issue of elected local governments being inextricably linked to the building of new schools?

This is not some idealistic idea borrowed from the West. Local education authorities existed at Malaya's independence in 1957 until elected local councils were done away with in 1965 under the pretext that there was the Indonesian Confrontation crisis. Thus, with elected local government, the building of new schools and the maintenance of existing schools becomes decentralized and will no longer be politicized and radicalized. New schools and financial allocation for schools are simply awarded according to need of the rate payers in the area.

The standard operating procedure for the local council is to do a survey to find out how many Malay, Chinese, Tamil or English-medium schools are needed by residents in the area. Thus, there could well be English-medium schools needed in areas such as Petaling Jaya, Subang, Penang, Malacca, Johor Baru or even the main towns in each state.

Is this a huge burden on the country's coffers? Ponder this fact – the cost of our two submarines  (more than RM7 billion) is enough to build 7,000 schools! And to think that during the recent general election, there was such a fuss created by the fact that the BN government allowed 1 Chinese-medium school (which also has to offer the SPM) to be built in Kuantan to be financed by the Chinese community! I have reminded Malaysians many times already that we have fewer Chinese (1285) and Tamil (555) schools today compared to what we had at Independence in 1957 (1350 and 888 respectively) when our population was half what it is today.

The existence of local education authorities is especially meaningful to me because I studied at Manchester University (1972-75) with a grant from the Inner London Education Authority. I was entitled to it because I had been living and working in Inner London for three years from 1969 to 1972. This brings into focus also the issue of free education for tertiary education that was derided by the BN during the GE13. I would add that an education grant has to be means tested, ie. students from higher-income families are entitled to a lower grant and only students from low-income families get a full grant to go to college.


Clustering schools to foster integration

Elsewhere, I have also proposed that different medium schools should be clustered in "Education Precincts" in order to promote opportunities for inter-ethnic activities. This is a step further from the "common extra-curricular activities" proposed by the education ministry during the eighties but that were not carried out although they had been agreed to by the Chinese and Tamil schools.

Thus, in these "education precincts" where Malay, Chinese, Tamil, English-medium schools are located, there would be common state-of-the-art facilities including stadiums, libraries, theatres, IT centres and even food courts. Students from the different streams can take part in common cultural performances, sports and games, oratorical and debating meets, etc. There is no reason why this concept cannot also be applied to existing schools with new common state-of-the-art facilities built for the interest of students from all the different medium schools and common activities organized for students from the different language streams.

I must stress that this concept is different from "Vision Schools" which was opposed by the Chinese and Tamil school lobbies in that the autonomy of each school is strenuously guaranteed.

I sincerely believe that this proposal for decentralizing education through elected local councils; building new schools in the medium needed by rate payers; means tested education grants for tertiary education, and clustering schools with state-of-the-art facilities to foster inter-ethnic integration is the way forward for Malaysian education. I would welcome a response not only from the Malaysian government but also from the Chinese and Tamil school lobbies.


Why the big fuss over Mary not knowing Mandarin?

Posted: 03 Jun 2013 02:47 PM PDT

Sarala Poobalan, The Star

I CANNOT understand the fuss created by the Dong Zong group with regards to Datuk Mary Yap's inability to converse in Mandarin. My question to the Dong Zong group is – So what?

They have communicated with the Prime Minister as well as the Deputy Prime Minister. Can both of them speak Mandarin?

This is Malaysia and all official communication, be it government or private sector, should be conducted preferably in Bahasa Malaysia or English.

We want to move away from the race-based leadership in this country.

We want high-calibre leaders. We do not need leaders to speak in vernacular languages only, especially in a formal setting.

While I agree that it can be a plus point, it should never be part of the criteria to choose a leader.

As citizens of this country, we should all be able to communicate in Bahasa Malaysia. Insisting that a person must be able to communicate in either Mandarin or Tamil just because of his race is a racist assumption. This is my opinion.

Moreover, it shows the lack of historical knowledge of the unique culture in this country.

You just need to walk the streets of Penang and Malacca to understand what I mean. You may meet with a Chinese or an Indian who is unable to communicate in Mandarin or Tamil.

Do not be surprised it they speak Malay with each other. This unique group of people are the Peranakan and Chitty descendents.

After all, MCA was founded by a man who could not speak Mandarin and he is Sir Tun Tan Cheng Lock.

Language does not make a person, manners do. It is more ridiculous if you assume that a person who is not able to communicate in his or her mother tongue does not understand the plights and the culture of his or her community.

Our leaders should stop thinking along the racial lines and be a leader for all Malaysian.

When that happens, I believe even a group like Dong Zong will stop such ridiculous race-based demands and look at the leaders professionally.

Let us all move towards 1Malaysia and move away from a race-based thinking. Appreciate the unique melting pot of the multiracial composition we have today.

Enjoy the existence of vernacular schools and do not demand that your language is more superior than Bahasa Malaysia or English.

You may speak and communicate in your vernacular environment but do not demand that people should do so in a formal setting. That is basic manners.


Datuk Bridget Lai

Posted: 03 Jun 2013 01:37 AM PDT

Assalamu Alaykum and Dear Yang Mulia Raja Petra,

May you and your family are in the best of health and happiness.

I was visited by close friends and presented his relative whom I already knew years back, Datuk Bridget Lai.

She was shocked to read your website concerning the story of YB.Nurul Izzah: 

As a woman she was emotionally disappointed or confused that her name was brought into politic and asked my opinion what to do.

I advised her to lodge police report and will help her to clear her name. (please see below).

She asked me to inform you that she had nothing to do with politic at all and never meet or know Datuk Seri Anwar, Dr.Wan Azizah or YB.Nurul

Would you kindly posted her Police Report on your Malaysia Today?

Thank you very much for your understanding and we will be in touch.

Happy Birthday to Puan Marina and Wassalam Alaykum.

ADAM Mikail


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