DUAL SCHOOL SYSTEM
The Prime Minister’s endorsement of the constitutional rights of Malaysian Chinese and Indians to have their own vernacular schools as part of the national education system should appease those still in doubt about the egalitarian principles of social justice espoused in the concept of 1Malaysia. It should also placate the groups that question the government ‘s sincerity in ensuring that the country’s multiethnic cultural heritage is symbiotically sustained, and remove the fear of domination of one group over the other.
Some will of course persist in seeing the dual school system as an obstruction to national unity and the establishment of a truly Malaysian identity. Their argument is that an education system which segregates children linguistically from a young age does little to foster greater inter-ethnic interaction. Students who think and learn in one language will find it difficult to integrate with those from another stream. Besides the differences in syntax and phonology, languages carry differing world views and cultural associations through their lexicon, idioms and expressions all of which lead to the cross-cultural gaps in communication.
A more cogent argument is that the national type schools have a separate curriculum and employ different teaching methodologies from the national schools, creating an educational imbalance in the academic achievements of students across the country. Maths, for instance, has traditionally been the strength of Chinese schools because of the particular methodology developed in the Chinese language and culture. Recently, allowing the vernacular schools the option of teaching Maths and Science in their own medium of instruction was perceived as giving them an unfair advantage over the national schools required to switch back from English to Bahasa Malaysia.
If the country’s dual school system is to develop into a viable model driven by the common ideal of excellence and goal of unity, it has to be guided by an education integration policy that sees greater synergy and resource-sharing between the national and national-type schools. Efforts to reduce the segregation inherent in schools where there is a predominance of one ethnic group must be more aggressively pursued at the federal and state levels. School principals must be given the leeway to initiate unity efforts unhampered by chauvinistic school boards and unhelpful government officials.
Besides organising district and state level sports and co-curricular activities that bring together students from the national and national type schools, the teachers with different subject and language specialisations can share their best practice at common workshops and seminars. Ideally, senior subject teachers should be given short periods of apprenticeship in different schools in order to acquire and impart new ideas and techniques. School principals should interact more regularly to share their expertise and experience.
The idea that change and reform must be top-down must be replaced by initiatives from the ground as the schools advantaged by well-qualified staff, superior academic achievement, prestigious urban location and generous financial support reach out to help the less fortunate institutions. This is the time for the vernacular schools which have a tradition of excellence to show their sincerity by opening their doors to their brother and sister schools in a gesture of peace and unity. A start can be made by initiating a training programme for language teachers to teach the vernacular languages in schools across the country.
The dual school system can be one of Malaysia’s greatest success stories if within in there can be initiatives to turn it into a fully integrated education policy that unites rather than divides the nation’s people.