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Schools should project unity in diversity – not unity by separation

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What is required are schools in a single stream but which celebrate diversity and with mother tongue education made compulsory, argues Ronald Benjamin.

Lately, political actors have engaged in a heated debate over whether Malaysia should have a single stream of education as the multi-stream system practised currently is inimical to national unity.

It is obvious that Malaysia seems to have an education system that caters to ethnic, religious, and elite aspirations. This is contrary to article 8 of the federal constitution, which asserts an equality that goes beyond an ethnic sense.

As a citizen, I wonder how I can get quality education within a polarised education system. When schools are separated, can I build a solidarity of sorts with my brothers and sisters from other ethnic groups in a common struggle with similar aspirations?

When I can’t afford quality education in international schools, doesn’t this reflect the unjust commercialisation of education and an erosion of the fundamental right to an equal education? It is puzzling that politicians are not debating these issues with integrity but instead seem bent on scoring political points.

What is interesting here is that the politicians who usually adopt a so-called noble attitude to single-stream education are part of an ingrained ethno-centric political system that they have no intention of transforming. They would rather keep the ethnic framework of educational issues alive and unsettled. Unfortunately, polarisation shaped by vested interests has weakened the resolve of citizens to shape education.

The quest for a unified education system should start with a political system in which the various communities are regarded as citizens rather than tribes within Malaysia. Such ‘tribal thinking’ creates rivalry within communities even in importance areas of the common good such as education.

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It is time for a consensus on education between the Barisan National government and the opposition on how to transcend ethnicity in the system – in which some have an advantage over others – to create an education system with solidarity in mind.

What is required are schools in a single stream but which celebrate diversity and with mother tongue education made compulsory.

Sometimes, an argument ensues that mother tongue education would be lost if there were no Malay, Chinese or Indian-centred schools. But then, I have seen quite a number of educated parents speaking English to their children at home due to the importance placed on the language. The mother tongue is less spoken – which is a worrying trend. Parents are the first teachers of languages, not schools.

Schools should be a place of unity in diversity rather than the unity by separation that Malaysian students now experience.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Elyse Oo
Elyse Oo
10 Aug 2017 9.45am

The Mandarin language is impossible to master if it is taught only as a subject. It needs to be in an environment where it is spoken. Language, culture and history cannot be separated. The national education system needs to be revamped to focus on learning, not mugging. The quality of education delivered anchors on teaching methods and quality of teachers. For unity in diversity, we need to first embrace the different cultures as part of our identity as a nation. History as a subject ought to cover world history and civilisations. Let the students learn and experience the diversity, not only from a textbook. Look at the current history text book, it has narrowed to mainly Islamisation, as if there is no other civilisation. Our Malay history has also been rewritten. Include trips to Malacca, tell the whole story truthfully. The origins of Malay, Chinese, Indians, Eurasian, indigenous tribes need to be taught. Have field trips to visit the Ivan, Dayak, villages, Jawa, China, India, etc. Allow each ethnic group to embrace their origin, not erase it. Then, the coming together of all different races to… Read more »

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