I like Helen Ang very much, indeed as much as I like her articles, though of course I don’t always agree with her. Helen has one invincible redeeming quality – she’s absolutely fair. Yes, sometimes she’s blinded, obsessed or just plain stubborn with an issue but she’s always fair, and very scrupulously fair.
Today she has an article in Malaysiakini titled Education and fragmented kin.
It’s about racism in schools – well, read that as racist principals. I wonder what factors could have produced such wonders?
It’s also about migration to a non racist environment which obviously is important for kids.
And her article talks about the racism that has extended into a call to abolish vernacular education, or to be more specific, Chinese vernacular education.
Perhaps many people aren’t aware that the strong support of the Chinese for Chinese education became so because of UMNO. Yup, Chinese educationists should say terima kasih (thanks) to UMNO leaders, especially the past Education Ministers.
Education and the post of Education Minister were then politically hot. In the old days (according to my uncles – hey, Suzheng, don’t be overwhelmed by jealousy that I have wonderful uncles wakakaka) Chinese education in Malaya-Malaysia faced extinction, well, at least in Penang.
First to go was a Hokkien language school (can’t remember what Unc told me, but I wonder whether it was Shang Teik, somewhere along either Macalister Road or Perak Road).
There was even a Buddhist school for girls called Phor Tay, which taught in some Chinese language (either Hokkien or Mandarin). One of my aunts was a student there. No, she didn’t graduate as a nun ;-)
But gradually Chinese parents, being the pragmatists they were/still are, sent their kids to English language schools (unlike blogger Shuzheng who hates banana type Chinese wakakaka). They believed their English-educated kids would stand a better chance in their career progression.
Soon enrolment numbers for Chinese schools started to shrink like the reserves in the kitty of our treasury. Only the prestigious Chung Ling and the Lim Lean Theng-supported Han Chiang withstood the siege from the preferred English medium schools.
Yes, there was a sister school to Chung Ling called Peng Hwa (pronounced in Hokkien). Apparently it started life as a Hokkien school but fortuitously transformed itself into a Mandarin one.
I once knew a sweetie from that school (my neighbor) who was very beautiful. One day she perm-ed her hair. As Penangites would say, ai sooi or she wanted to look pretty, when she’s already dead set gorgeous – some people would never be satisfied. Her perm led to her immediate suspension by Peng Hwa who told her to stay suspended until she either straightened out her tresses to look again like an Amoy from the Yangtze basin or shorn them off like some of the nun-teachers from Phor Tay.
Understandably for someone who ai sooi, she refused to go botak (bald) and thus remained suspended for a month as she strove to uncurl her hair. Being a neighbourly sort of bloke I offered to iron them for her and earned myself a glare and a sweet rebuke, like “Lu k’ee see lah, kaytee” (Go and die lah, kaytee) wakakaka.
Anyway, because of UMNO politics, the education system was treated like a football, and a never ending experiment. Unc said that in those days, for an UMNO bloke who aspired to be PM, he (sorry, no Rafidah-like personality yet) must take up the Education Ministry which provided him contacts with Malay teachers. Those teachers were the leaders of the Malay political grassroots. Controlling the teachers ensured power in UMNO (today of course it’s controlling the source of easy money).
Obviously, to show oneself as a true Malay nationalist, an important credential to be Education Minister, one has to ‘experiment’ with education one way or another to demonstrate one as a literary warrior in the likes of Abdullah Munshi, with the end result of a Malaysian education system totally f* up. The next Education Minister piled on the sh*t, and so it went.
Now, as I have often written, education has been and continues to be a central pillar of Chinese culture/society. So what do Chinese parents do when the national education system started to resemble a basket of fish left out too long under the Malaysian sun?
In the meantime, coincidentally, the Chinese educationists were fighting for their survival in the face of parental preference for English education for their kids. Whether they realized or not that at that time that the standard of English education was plummeting as a result of ministerial ‘experimentations’ they were at least smart enough to jack up their teaching standards.
To cut a story short, they (Chinese educationists and Chinese parents) ‘fell in love’ with each other. And as they say, the rest is history.
In other words it was UMNO which provided a vital lifeline to Chinese language schools, mind you, not directly but as a consequence of the monumental f* up in our national educational system. Ironical, wasn’t it?
But alas, the once-mighty English educational facilities in Penang which attracted thousands of overseas Chinese from Indonesia, Thailand and a few from other nearby countries suffered and gradually faded from the scene. Only Chinese education continued to attract Chinese Indonesians to Han Chiang.
Today the preference or love for Chinese education is not about racist proclivity for things Chinese. It is and always has been about educational standards.