Thursday, December 11, 2008

A central pillar of Chinese culture

Day before yesterday, The Sun informed us that Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim made a rather controversial statement.

He advised Chinese and Indians to give up use of mother-tongue language in education.

He gave his reason as "… Chinese and Indians, being minority races in the country, should give up the use of mother-tongue language as the medium of instruction in their schools to be out of the racial box and stay competitive.”

He said that one school education system will favour peace in the country.

Needless to say, his comments drew severe criticisms from the usual suspects, the praetorian guards of Chinese education in Malaysia, Jiao Zong (United Chinese School Teachers Association) and Dong Zong (United Chinese School Committees Association).

No doubt Prof Khoo offered that advice following the brouhaha evoked by Mukhriz Mahathir’s comments in Parliament, that vernacular schools promote disunity and polarisation, and therefore the solution would be to integrate the vernacular and national schooling systems to eliminate polarisation and to promote unity among Malaysians – for more, read Malaysiakini Mukhriz was misquoted: Hisham

Alarm bells went off and sirens wailed in the Chinese educationist camp as what the MP from Jerlun had proposed would mean the disappearance of the vernacular system, currently considered by many Chinese Malaysians not only as the source of good quality education but the preserver of Chinese language and culture.

Poor Mukhriz was attacked left, right and centre by the DAP, MCA, Gerakan, MIC, NGOs, Chinese educationists and even/especially those in the blogging world, a few of whom frequently quoted Voltaire to defend, for example, the Kulim Wonder (hmmm, as if that thug had said anything intelligent other than to physically barge into the Bar Council forum).

Double standard? Or defending the rights of the Chinese and Indians to have mother tongue education.

Well, certainly in the case of those so-called Voltaireans, it had been the worst case of hypocrisy and unmitigated double standards.

Now to be fair to Mukhriz – leaving aside his completely incorrect identification of vernacular schools as the cause of why school children are so ethno-polarized; they would be the national schools and ethno-exclusive institutions like UiTM - he didn't propose that mother tongue education be done away with completely. In fact he said that Mandarin and Tamil be made available in the national type schools.

But the issue of vernacular education is particularly sensitive for both Chinese and Indian Malaysians.

As I had said in my Thursday’s post on sweetie Helen Ang's 'Di mana bumi ku pijak' (in Malaysiakini column) that at one time in the late 50’s, the Chinese medium schools were actually going out of ‘business’ because Chinese parents were abandoning them after assessing that their children would have better career prospects with an English education.

Of course there were a few Chinese philanthropists like multi-millionaire Lim Lean Theng in Penang who contributed enormous sums to make available vernacular education (Han Chiang in Penang) but those were the exceptions to the general educational preference within the Chinese community.

According to my uncle, Han Chiang catered to large population of foreign students from Asia particularly from Indonesia and Thailand – I’ll come back to this shortly.

But since Merdeka, thanks to the political ambitions of successive (UMNO) Education Ministers who used their ministerial portfolio to play nationalistic politics so much so that the once renowned quality of our national schools plummeted to such depths that the Chinese medium schools by comparison, began to assume the only reliable schooling with decent standards in Malaysia.

Thus it was UMNO (the various Education Ministers and their silly nationalistic politics) which eroded the once-glorious standards of Malaysian national schools and by default injected new life into the then moribund vernacular schools.

’Tis an ill wind that blows nobody any good. The Chinese educationists then saw their golden opportunity to strengthen their position by working damn bloody hard and dedicatedly to win the confidence of the Chinese parents. And they did so.

As sweetie Helen Ang observed astutely: "[The Chinese education] boat has left the harbour and sailed too far to turn back now.”

And may I add, at super top notch speed too, and equipped with GPS (Global Positioning Satellites) to ensure their directional accuracy. Who then would want their children to board the comparative national sampan?

In other words, where once Chinese parents were prepared to abandon the Chinese language schools (as the Hokkien medium school in Penang which perished in the mid 60’s – uncle believes it was called Shang Teik???), today Chinese vernacular schools have their complete confidence as the only assured source of affordable quality education for their children ...

... in large part due to the dedication and to some extent, the educational fanaticism of both Jiao Zong (United Chinese School Teachers Association) and Dong Zong (United Chinese School Committees Association), collectively known as Dong Jiao Zong.

Today, Malaysiakini publishes Minister dismisses education group's street protest threat which reported on the Education Ministers rejection of Dong Jiao Zong’s demand that the government’s directive for schools to teach Maths and Science in English be revoked.

Many Chinese believe that the policy has been officialdom’s underhanded and sinister intention to dilute the vernacular schools prowess in teaching those subjects (done through the vernacular languages), that the decision was made for the teaching of those two subjects to be switched to English under the ‘guise’ of improving students command of English.

Frankly I personally do not believe one can learn English effectively through Science and Maths where the vocabulary or linguistic expression used would be limited to technical terms – perhaps those suspicious of the government’s intention have assessed likewise.

Apart from English language lessons per se, the best subjects requiring wide linguistic expressions and extensive employment of vocabulary would be history, literature, morals, social sciences, economics, and even religious studies - but certainly not Maths and Science.

There is great unhappiness among the Chinese for what they perceive (correctly or incorrectly) as a deliberate sabotaging attempt to hamstring their renowned traditional prowess in the teaching of Maths and Science.

Uncle told me that many years ago, an UMNO MP had proposed to control the outflow of non-Malay students going overseas to foreign universities because that bloke was alarmed that the non-Malays were still increasing their numbers in professions such as doctors, engineers, etc.

His idea of affirmative action was two-prong, promote the Malays and suppress the advance of the nons.

Was that mean mentality unusual? Read on.

Just two years ago, an UMNO Minister went to Ukraine to visit the Crimea State Medical University where many Malaysian students were studying there. He was reported to have said (words to the effect) “So many blacks here”.

Next, before we can say “Aiyoyo, black is beautiful lah”, our MMC issued a de-recognition of the Crimea State Medical University, just barely 4 years after it recognized it. Furthermore Ministers (then) Samy Vellu and Chua Soi Lek were dragged into the controversial de-recognition.

Malaysiakini reported that: Health Minister Dr Chua Soi Lek cited rape and threat incidents as grounds for the de-recognition but failed to furnish any details till today.

Chua said the government will not entertain appeals from CSMU as the university had not bothered to reply MMC’s earlier queries.

The university has since denied all the allegations and provided malaysiakini copies of
a series of correspondence with the MMC since last August (2006).

So? Who’s bullsh*tting?

But the MMC couldn't explain why the de-recognition was not across the board. Certain parties’ degrees from the medical university were recognized whilst others (who came latter) weren’t.

And what was the difference? Well, many suspected it was just pre and post “So many blacks here”.

For more, read Samy to meet CSMU students.

Can you see why very few non-Malay parents trust the government with their children’s education.

Now recall what I wrote earlier, that Han Chiang catered to large population of foreign students from Asia particularly from Indonesia and Thailand.

Those examples indicate that, where their children's education are involved and the government is oppressive and hostile to vernacular education (as Indonesia once was notorious for such draconian attitude), Chinese parents would be prepared to sacrifice much, including mortgaging their homes off to pay for their children's education abroad, by hook or by crook.

If large mobs of Chinese Indons and Thais could be sent here to study Chinese, so could equally large mobs of Chinese Malaysians to places like Taiwan or China. I would not be surprised when this eventually happens.

Next I’ll discuss the non-Malays' command of the Malay language …


  1. ktemoc,

    We may be kindred spirits! Thank you for your thoughtful and carefully non-racist and non-confrontational dissection of the problems (and people) that plague Malaysian education today.

    read my post on this subject, perhaps we can discuss this further and maybe find a way out of this tangle.

  2. 'Many Chinese believe that the policy has been officialdom’s underhanded and sinister intention to dilute the vernacular schools prowess in teaching those subjects (done through the vernacular languages), that the decision was made for the teaching of those two subjects to be switched to English under the ‘guise’ of improving students command of English.'

    That's is exactly what UMNO wants the Chinese to think. The Chinese with the two Dongs in front are walking straight into the trap.

  3. "Frankly I personally do not believe one can learn English effectively through Science and Maths where the vocabulary or linguistic expression used would be limited to technical terms "

    I never understood the true rationale for that move, and the idea that it is meant to promote command of English per se is a stretch, to be charitable. I agree with you that history would be more appropriate for a well-rounded grasp of English, but perhaps for that reason it's best that Malay be given that pedestal.

    Furthermore, the idea that English is not the best way to instill an understanding of maths has been discussed widely.

    But I do think there is some value to learning science in particular - and also maths to a lesser extent - in English, because it opens the door to a wide range of literature, including Internet-based courseware, and also to participation with the broader scientific/technical community.

    In form 5 I actually got more out of a British O-Levels physics book than my SPM textbook. I did have to do some translating, but my Malay and English was solid (at the time, now my Malay is passable la) that I managed it pretty easily, and I was better off for it.

    Only after starting an English bachelors degree did I realize that Kalium and Pottasium were the same thing, a faux pas that could have been avoided if I studied Kimia in English. HOWEVER... the irony here (and in many other places) is that Malay actually got it right and English got it wrong, scientifically speaking ;-)

    But such is the world, that at a big international theoretical chemistry conference I was at this September, people were discussing Pottasium channels, not Kalium channels. I do believe that disconnect is significant.

  4. Hmmm initially I thought blacks refers to Nigerians etc etc -despite the tone of the whole article- not that i'm daft but I find it hard to believe our dear MYGOV could go to such lengths.

    I used to support the English as language medium move as I thought it was the way forward... you're right bout

    "Frankly I personally do not believe one can learn English effectively through Science and Maths where the vocabulary or linguistic expression used would be limited to technical terms "

    but then when we learn science and tech in vernacular languages, it turns out most are just translations from english text. Additional information and references will most of the time be in english. Online information largely is English and once into tertiary education where journal reading and publishing comes in, you will have to return to the English Medium. At least in Malaysia where there are no Tertiary Vernacular universities.
    固体, 气体,液体 will have to give way eventually.

    But I wholeheartedly agree that
    "the best subjects requiring wide linguistic expressions and extensive employment of vocabulary would be history, literature, morals, social sciences, economics, and even religious studies "...

    I have a weak chinese base (底不够深)but I try to write more in chinese nowadays.. It's never to late to learn and improve.

    All in all, I want my children to have a chinese education. Primary at the very least... beyond which will be their choice. :-)

    So KT, do you support Namewee's crusade for Chinese education? (=^.^=)

  5. When the British were in power, Chinese medium schools did not get any funding. Infrastructure in crumbles. Textbooks were imported straight from mainland China. Their condition old and worn out. Teachers were scarce cause there were no money to pay salaries.

    Chinese didn't abandon these schools. The schools never stood a chance.

    Things changed once we achieved independence. funding was channeled to these school and government supported them. Eventually they become viable choices.

    Naturally, Chinese gravitated to these Mandarin medium schools due to racial affiliation and cultural preservation.

    The hi-tech speedboat and sampan analogy is pure nonsense. Perception of quality seen through racial eyes. A predictable outcome of a polarizing school system.

    The single unified system is ideal to foster quality. Funds, effort and vision will be focused to create the best school for all Malaysians, regardless of skin color. That is the way forward.

  6. Today, the biggest problem of Malaysia education are not about teaching English. IMHO, The biggest problem : is teaching the youngster how to think. Bare in mind that our education system are little different than what we have 50 years ago : utilitarian system for colonial master, except now the Malaysia government take the place of British colonial.

    Few Malaysia college and universities emphasize on training student how to think.

    Alvin Toffler idea of "the 3rd wave", is making stronger in road everyday pass. Yet, Malaysia still stuck in industrialisation thinking. Malaysia knowledge economy show little weight in the country, yet, we know we are going in deep shit once other country take over our industrial business with cheaper labour and their bigger consumer market.

    Unlike the 60',70', Malaysia company stop practice "job security". Pension fund system abolish many years ago. There is no job securities in 21st century Malaysia, but alas, our school system still giving the false mindset to the children : study hard, you will definitely get a job.(huh!)

    English is NOT a silver bullet. It is a just a tools. If one can't think, they are no different than Redneck American that speak fluent English but create little impact to the economy.

    If Malaysia education continue the industrial age utilitarian curriculum, the country are SNAFU. Again, yet another common sense : other "cheaper country" that has bigger English population, can easily out beat Malaysia in matter of price and market.

    Here, without creativity, so called "English language advantages" are no different than competition of "cheap labour". English doesn't guarantee Malaysia transit to knowledge economy.

    It is the idea and how we think!!

  7. F*ck Mukriz, F*ck Ktemoc.

  8. I bet KKK was just trying to please his masters..

  9. An article by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, President of (JUST) International Movement of a just world, that I think is relevant to this post (though I may not wholly agree with)

    from Esteemed Anas Zubedy's blog


  10. Prof Koo Kay Kim never shuns controversy when it comes to promoting some kind of UMNO agenda. He was one of the proponent representing “non Malays” for the controversial National Cultural Policy (1971). He is the same person responsible for the UMNO project to “nationalize” history teaching for schools. Under this project, the school children are taught that Malays fought for independence from British and developed the country , and the Chinese and Indians are “immigrants” who were awarded citizenship by in exchange of ketuanan melayu. He has a few other such feathers in his cap.

    A baba himself, he is married to a Sri Lankan Tamil. As such, he will not be the best person to appreciate the role of ethnic culture. I remember, in one of his writings (Indians in Southeast Asia) on Indians, he said that “Indians are perceived as compulsive liar by the Malays, and he says this was deduced by the Malays by watching the dramatic acting skills in Tamil movies!! (not only derogatory for the Indians but undermining the Malay intellectually). So, much for scholarship!

    As a historian, he is a failure within the academic community. He was not competent in larger issues/theories tackled by historians of his time, so he started to move away from the mainstream historians. He even started his own propaganda among UM historian and students, to reject history written by foreign historian or methods developed by the western historians. This was partly because of his own insecurity and incompetence, he did his PhD locally, as such not exposed to rigorous training of a standard historian. Maybe that’s why, his PhD dissertation was never published as book. His career developed by fawning and being the scholarly spokesperson for UMNO regime.

    His sermons belong to a bygone era. Malaysian has moved forward.

  11. Ktemoc,
    Why is criticising Mukriz the
    "worst case of hypocrisy and unmitigated double standards" ?

    Criticising someone for something they said or wrote, even heavily, does not amount to denying their right to say it.
    You only start denying someone his rights when you insist on throwing legal or other forms of sanction against the person.

    Ah, yes, there have been some clowns who started making police reports and saying the Sedition Act or ISA should be put on Mukriz.
    But I don't think they are the same people who had earlier said that the Kulim Wonder had a right (NOT was right) to say some of the things he said.

    This is not philosophical hair splitting, by the way. Since you started talking about "Voltaire" we might as well discuss Voltaire....

  12. But why do busloads of Chinese from Johor cross over to Singapore daily to be educated in English? Cheaper to study in Chinese schools in Johore, no?

    Why do many Chinese migrate to Australia, Canada and New Zealand to have their children study in English too? And here, they even stop using Chinese completely.

    No lah, its not about Chinese education per se. maybe for some bigoted ones, may be. For a majority, its fairmindedness, opportunities and progress forward.

    In the Malaysian instance its a total rejection of all that constitutes the National Education.

    One thing these Mukhriz types will never do, for what reason, I don't know, is to alllow English medium schools to reemerge.

    After all as many Tamil speaking homes as there must be, there are as many if not more English speaking homes. Why can't we have English medium schools like we had up to the 1970s? We can still have a compulsory Bahasa Malaysia element.

    Let there be greater idndependence. Maybe the Mission schools can come out of the grips of the government and they can together with other schools like VI and such move towards English meduium education.

    As it is the National education offered by the government is just no match to Chinese schools, and as it would seem, even Tamil schools. But in my books, and I was for almost 20 years in the business of education, this in no way suggests that Chinese education or Tamil education is superior. Any education can be superior if politician will only not get themselves involved in curriculum setting as well as the teaching process.

    Teaching was once a coveted and much sought after profession. Now, it would seem like its only for those who are not able to do anything else.

    If Mukhriz is really concerned, let him be brave enough to support the right thing. Just don't thrust the rejected toxic product called the National Education system, on to us.

  13. aiya kkk just shut up lah , you dont even know chinese langauge so dont comment and just fuck off lah.

  14. People no need to pay attention to this idiot , he is just another intellectual prostitute like that no-good Chandra Muzaffar bugger.

  15. kalium is used by the British system which Malaysian follows.. Potassium is used by the American system... so does the sodium and Natrium... American used Sodium.. and British use Natrium...

    See... even both in English... but they use different terms especially in Chemistry... What we need for math and science is only.. use the standard/english term only.. not for the whole subjects.... (use both American and British as our students might go to US and UK universities)

  16. “So many blacks here”

    So, Hindus = Negroes. Hindustan must be renamed Negrostan.

  17. Kalium is a Greek word-lah. Not British System. The IUPAC adopted the symbol Ka for Potassium (both British and American usage).

    Same with Sodium. Na - the International symbol for Sodum - Natrium is a Greek word.

    Why use Greek words ? It was in acknowledgement of the contribution of ancient Greek philosphers and observers to the science of Chemistry.

    See how 30 years of Chemistry in Bahasa has screwed up Malaysian's understanding of scientific terms ?
    Those with good English have no problem. But for the average student its all very confusing.

  18. I agree with Khoo Kay Kim and Mukhriz. Of course, I hate acknowledging that I agree with Mukhriz, but that's another story altogether.

    The Chinese are perpetually short-selling themselves by sending their children to Chinese schools. They can only become successful in Malaysia (and maybe China) and not around the world.

    It's not the language. It's the education system that revolves around traditional Chinese principles and not in the direction of the world.

    The very least we can do as Malaysians is learn every language each other speaks. English, Bahasa Melayu, Chinese and Tamil.

  19. Then again, I don't know if Malaysian education, will ever be of any value at the rate it is going.

  20. Hi KT,

    How could we move towards unity if our kids are segregated on racial basis since early chilhood.

    To make it worst, these kids are fed with racial statements since they are seperated in different institutions, be it from Malay teachers of Chinese sifu.

    The result, when they grow up, the racial prejudice is well implemented deep in their mind.

    Bangsa Malaysia is not a political agenda, as human being it's the matter of the heart, love each other.

  21. As a "banana", I wish I could speak at least a dialect fluently. I can just bout understand Hokkien :/ But if one is learning a language, at least learn it well be it BM, Mandarin, C++ or pig latin. Afterall, it's another skill that puts you ahead of others.

    Just for jokes, see what the Max Planck Institute published on their journal...
    Bet the editor wished he/she knew how to read Chinese now. ;)

    Piggy Singh,
    IMHO I reckon the parents and other family members have to first instil the love and respect for fellow humans into their offspring. Especially in the kids' early years when psychological/behavioural imprinting occurs. Can't rely on others for that. Once they've been brought up with a strong foundation of rational thought and respect for one another, no amount of idiotic prejudice imparted by dumbass (haha i use dumbass lovingly) teachers/"friends"/relatives/politicians will shake their core beliefs.

    This also means no silly racial boogeyman stories to make them finish their food or go to bed.

  22. Why study English when the Jews people are influential and rich. Malaysia should teach Hebrew in school.

    My 2 cent of puns. ;)

  23. The Jewish are smart enough to learn English and speak it fluently.

    Perhaps some Chinese should emulate that instead of attempting the half-ass shit they pass off as English?

  24. Math and Sciences are perhaps two very important (if not most) subjects that will affect a child's 12/13 years of study in school...

    Some children, especially those from rural (and poor family), are weak in commanding English language...

    What would happen to them, when they've to study Math and Sciences in English... To create a language barrier for children to learn 2 of the very important subjects in school is as good as neglecting a child's fundamental right to have 12/13 years of education...

    It should be all about choices, not whatever one language one culture one people and unity sh!t that Dr M once promoted back in 1980s...

  25. Cranster , do you live in Arctic Circle or Antarctica ?
    Where did you get the idea that Malaysian Chinese command of English is poor ?

  26. Folks, let me be a bit controversial, but this is the reality I have experienced.

    In my time I had responsibility over 400 administrative and management staff - a multi-racial group with education ranging from at least good SPM to Masters Degree holders. The medium of official communication in the company was English - which is still true for the majority of businesses in this country. A lot of e-mails and faxes crossed my Inbox, and I often cringed at the atrocious level of English among the below 40 generation.

    And many of these people had a job requirement to communicate and manage issues with Customers, Clients and Suppliers in the West.
    Even dealing with companies in China, we spoke Mandarin with them on a daily basis but formal communications were still conducted in English - that's the reality of how most International trade is conducted.

    I won't generalise too far - there are people from both National Schools and Chinese SRJK who have excellent English.

    But on average, the standard of English among the our school and university leavers today (from whatever stream) is atrocious - ranging from basic grammatical errors to incorrect use of words to inability to argue or debate more complex matters - engineering, scientific, commercial or legal problems.

  27. There will be no racial unity even if all children are to study under one roof as long as there are racial discrimination on many government policy.

  28. This issue of English Science and Math is undoubtedly controversial, and different perspectives lend themselves to very different opinions. But here's my 2 sen, fwiw...

    From the comments here, I think we are seeing one major theme: standard of English must improve.

    Therefore, the idea of reverting away from English medium for Science and Maths seems unproductive to me. The goal should be improving the standard of English of pupils from a young age so that they can cope with English medium science and maths. Maintaining English for Science and Maths would therefore be helpful, because it gives us something tangible and realistic to move towards.

    Technical English is easier than informal English, of that I have little doubt, as I engage with many peers from China who can write academic engineering papers but still have a tough time passing the IELTS exam, due to the informal/conversational component of the exam.

  29. CLK, I live in Malaysia. I got that idea from Malaysia as well.

    I think the Chinese command of English is the source of endless jokes within the Indian community (at least that I know of).

    Perhaps the Dong people should start intensive tuition classes to improve their command of English.

  30. Actually Int, technical English is not necessarily any easier than literary English, in fact it can be a lot more difficult out in the real world.
    Straightforward presentation of data and facts in academic engineering papers is one thing.

    Out in the business and professional world, engineers and scientists often have to argue and debate highly technical problems with international counterparts who have their own reasons to disagree or be skeptical of your viewpoint.

    That's where many of the younger generation of Malaysians are losing out badly. In my own experience, many times I had to ask older staff, in their 40's and 50's, who may be less technically up-to-date, but had better communication skills to help resolve a "hot" issue.

  31. This discussion reminded me of a quote by Paul Dirac:

    "In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite."

  32. crankster,

    My oh my, your fellow Malaysian Indians must be all engineers, doctor, lawyers and other professionals ...but how come I heard that Indians in Malaysia are the poorest and most disadvantaged community ?

  33. KKK bugger is stupid , even Malay parents send their kids to Chinese schools.

  34. CLK,

    My "fellow Malaysian Indians" - if you're referring to the ones I hang out with - are mostly professionals, yes.

    I have also heard that Indians in Malaysia are the poorest and most disadvantaged community.

    And your point is?

  35. Crankster and CLK, I thank both of you for your interesting views but we seem to be digressing from the thread (vernacular education). Cheers ;-)

  36. KKK, wake up man, even now you embrace Islam and change your name to Mohamad Khoo , wearing baju Melayu, donning a songkok, you still won't be recognised as a Malay ...just look at the mamaks ;after so many donkey years having converted to Islam, these people still yearning to be recognised as Malay but to no avail..