THE government, through a major transformation of the Education Ministry, must seriously consider reviving the Vision School concept before national and national type schools are driven further apart by their growing linguistic and cultural exclusiveness. To avoid greater divisiveness in a national education system which accommodates three different streams each with its own emphasis in the curriculum, a decision must be reached once and for all to bring them together in the most pragmatic ways.
However strong one’s arguments for a unified and unifying single-school system, it would be nigh impossible to abolish vernacular schools which have become deeply rooted in the socio-cultural and political milieu. To revert to English education which purportedly was more efficient and brought the nation’s peoples together through a neutral international language, would be to betray the very principles of a national language and education philosophy ensconced in the Federal Constitution. While admitting the global virtues of education in English, one must confidently support the development of education in Bahasa Malaysia which has seen profound growth over just four decades. So have education in Chinese and Tamil.
Unfortunately, the three strands have been allowed to grow separately with each medium claiming a bigger slice of the education cake as each feels threatened by the perceived or real supremacy of the other. It has become the normal thinking among Malaysians that when one language stream is highlighted, the rights of the others are compromised. Not only will Bahasa Melayu nationalists raise their voices in protest, groups representing Chinese and Tamil education will join the chorus in protecting their respective interests.
Some pressing questions are: Why can’t Malaysians be more magnanimous and agree that education is not just about competitiveness and one-upmanship? Why aren’t the better equipped urban Sekolah Kebangsaan sharing their skills and expertise with their underprivileged rural counterparts? Why aren’t the more efficient Chinese schools sharing their resources and methodologies with the less advantaged Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (SJK) Tamil? The national discourse on education must turn to issues more important than who is smarter, the teachers and pupils in the SJK Cina or those in the SK? National integration must take precedence.
We are too far gone into vernacular education to realise after more than half a century that it has not served national unity and integration well. However broad one’s thinking on the universality of education, one cannot deny the growing divisiveness in the Malaysian education system, where vernacular schools and their teachers that have been entrusted with the education of the nation’s children are doing so in their respective linguistic and cultural silos. Pragmatically, on the day-to-day basis of teaching the curriculum in one language, it is not possible to say they are being true to the spirit of building a unified Malaysian identity.
On the other hand, without compromising one’s conscience and reason and with a deep sense of patriotism, one can argue for the concept of multiculturalism in itself. What greater sense of justice and equity in a government than for it to allow for a fair distribution of resources and opportunities in education? To support the growth of vernacular education against the popular belief is in itself an act of great courage. However, the government must do so with greater wisdom.
A compromise can be worked out and worked at for the good of all. This is where the grouping of national and national type schools in the same vicinity must be efficiently managed by the ministry and respective state and district education departments. By sharing their infrastructure, resources and skills, staff and pupils can be brought together for co-curricular and sporting activities. In fact, there can even be a schedule for language teachers from the four streams to move around and serve in one another’s schools.
Visiting the Kompleks Sekolah Wawasan in USJ 15 last week, my colleague and I were most impressed with the design and infrastructure where one Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan and two Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan (SRJK Cina and SRJK Tamil) faced each other in a quadrangle with a common playing field in the centre.
We saw great potential for the three schools to do more together by way of forging greater networks for teaching and learning. Speaking to the three headmistresses about our proposal of combining pupils from each school in a weekend English Language camp, we were encouraged by their openness and enthusiasm. They saw at once the benefits of an activity which will bring together pupils from three or more ethnic backgrounds to communicate in English. The emphasis on fun learning will motivate them further. The PCORE “Jalinan Bahasa Inggeris” programme is scheduled to start in September.