In a letter to Malaysia-Today titled by RPK as Electorial politics and education, Dr Chandra Muzzafar wrote about the centrifugal forces of vernacular schooling. He commented succinctly:
If a Chinese Malaysian can pursue his entire education in Chinese, from primary to university level, how much exposure would he have to Malaysian students and teachers from other communities?
How would this affect his attitude towards, and outlook on, the other? What would be his notion of a Malaysian identity?
Thus he believes that the role of Bahasa as the national language for all Malaysians must be reconsidered, reinstated and reinforced.
Many do not have issues with his views which are good, except that I believe he missed mentioning a few matters which are related to the drift of the Chinese away from National type schools. These would be:
(1) The politicizing of the national education system by successive UMNO-monopolized Education Ministers which severely enervated the standard of the National Education System to a state of moribundity, from primary schooling right up to, and especially in universities. Many horror stories on this lamentable state have already been written, and repetitively too.
I have also explained in many posts on why the majority of Chinese who used to send their children to English medium schools in the earlier days of Merdeka gave up, yes that's the word 'gave up', on national type schooling because of the mentioned politicizing by UMNO Ministers and the consequential dropping of standards.
(2) What had Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka done in the last half a century to ensure we have the proper books for our students, where we then needn't rely instead on what non-Malay parents viewed as printed bigotry like Interlok?
(3) Just recall those BTN-ized teachers and school principals. Would any non-Malay parents want to send their children to schools staffed with such bigots?
However, to be fair to Dr Muzzafar, he did propose brilliantly:
To become national, the Bahasa Malaysia based school has to emerge as the school of first choice for all Malaysians. Its quality has to improve significantly. Bahasa Malaysia, English and other languages should be taught well. This also applies to other core subjects such as Mathematics, Science and History.
Parents will also be impressed by the school if student discipline is strictly enforced within a caring environment. Competent, dedicated teachers would be the essential pre-requisite for such a school system. They should not just impart knowledge and skills but also try to mould the young under their charge into honest and trustworthy human beings. Teachers should treat all students, regardless of their backgrounds, with fairness and a sense of justice.
The national school teaching community should be much more multi-ethnic and multi- religious than what it is today. More non-Malays and non-Muslims should be appointed as School Heads and Senior Assistants. At district, state and national levels, the education office or department should reflect the multi-ethnic composition of the nation.
Qualified Dayaks and Kadazans should be given administrative roles outside Sarawak and Sabah.
What this means is that within the three component elements of the education system --- administrators, teachers and students --- ability should be recognised and rewarded.
It is only when the education system is perceived to be promoting ability and excellence that parents will have the confidence to send their children to the national school.
At the same time, the national school should extend a helping hand to the disadvantaged student, irrespective of cultural or religious affiliation.
I support him in all his above recommendations.
(3) But let us also review Dr Muzzafar’s succinct comment of “How would this affect his [Chinese] attitude towards, and outlook on, the other? What would be his [Chinese] notion of a Malaysian identity?”, where I wonder why Dr Muzzafar has made this educational observation, and a very relevant observation, in isolation?
What about commenting on society's larger aspects such as, for example, the downstream receptacle for the products (or graduates) of our educational system, like in the staffing in the Malaysian Civil Services, Armed Forces, Police Force, educational institutions including VC’s and senior deans of universities? Okay, for the moment let’s leave aside organizations such as Petronas which are totally unaccountable to all save the UMNO PM.
Aren't these ‘unmentionable’ mentions already the silos in Malaysian society that Chandra Muzzafar worry about, and which he opined (correctly if I may point out) that Chinese education will create?
Of course we must not dismiss Dr Muzzafar’s observation on the centrifugal potential of vernacular education just because most Pakatan supporters see him as an UMNO voice. He has raised a very relevant concern. But if he is concerned about society's silos, then let's go about smashing all of them up, and not just cherry pick one.
My point is that if the quest or objective is for national unity then we should not just assess the Chinese educational push in isolation. The Chinese wish for mother tongue education has been the consequence of a combination of inter-related factors, namely (just some examples):
(a) the Chinese socio-cultural reverence for education for more than 2000 years because it represents hope for their children’s future,
(b) UMNO bastardization of educational standards leading to Chinese abandonment of a pathetic system,
(c) Chinese perception of marginalization by the UMNO-led government in virtually all aspects of Malaysian life which has convinced the community to go it alone, etc.
We have to deal with all these and not just the Chinese vernacular educational wish alone, and unless we do so, no Chinese parent will ever see Dr Muzzafar’s point, nor will Dr Muzzafar’s wish for national unity be ever achieved with just a good national type education system when the so-called Malaysian society is not Malaysian at all but Muhyiddin’s ‘
Malay UMNO First’.