Home TA Online 2013 TA Online The myth about vernacular schools being obstacles to unity

The myth about vernacular schools being obstacles to unity

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The myth about multi-stream schools being obstacles to unity keeps on being bandied about by racists who cannot see, or rather refuse to see, the wood for the trees, says Ravinder Singh .


The latest call for the banning of vernacular schools was by no less a personality than the pro-chancellor of University Technology MARA (UiTM), Abdul Rahman Arshad, at a GE13 Post Mortem forum: “Muslim Leadership and Survival” organised by the Federation of Peninsula Malay Students (GPMS) and the UiTM Alumni Association.

This imagined, simplistic solution to improving race relations has been shot out by many people – politicians, academicians, administrators, etc. – over the years.

It is amazing how people in important positions try to shove their perceptions, or even falsehoods, onto the masses by making them appear like facts. If there are listeners who believe these people, it is simply because the listeners have no knowledge of the issue at hand and so they think these important people surely know best. But do they?

Abdul Rahman Arshad had a long career in education, rising up to be Director General of Education. One of the posts he had held was that of Director of Educational Planning and Research. He had also served as Deputy Director of Education in Kedah in 1966.

I have a question for him.

When English-medium primary schools were converted to national schools, they were given new names beginning with SRK ……. One such school in Alor Setar was re-named after the Sultan of Kedah, i.e. SRK Tunku Abdul Halim. It must have been the best school to deserve this honour.

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However, by the early 1990s, this school was one of the worst in Alor Setar. It is unlikely that 22 years on it would have gone back to its glorious days of the 1950s. Once down it is very difficult to rise again, like Humpty Dumpty.

The question: How did a school that was the best when it was an English-medium school become one of the worst after being converted to a national school? Was any research or study done to find out why and how the decline took place?

This situation is surely not peculiar to this one school, but something common throughout the country. Even some Malay parents have lost faith in the national schools and are sending their children to Chinese vernacular primary schools.

To cover up for the declining standards, a big fraud was committed towards the nation by systematically lowering passing marks to keep the statistics showing that educational standards were being maintained or even improved. As a result, children have left schools without acquiring the basic skills of the 3R’s – reading, ‘rithmatic and ‘riting. Yet just a few months back we were told by the education minister that our schools are as good if not better than those in developed countries like Germany.

Unity is about relationships among people – whether they live in peace with one another or look upon one another as enemies. There is no evidence that all people who speak the same language always live in peace with one another. People who not only speak different languages, but also profess different religions and cultures, have shown the ability to live as brothers and sisters. So it is political humbug to demand that vernacular schools should be abolished for Malaysians to be united, unless “united” means not having one’s own mind to decide whom to vote for.

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It is racism in its various forms that builds walls around people. Vernacular schools have been around since the 19th century and they did not build those walls. We have never seen the kind of racism that we see today. The rise of racism is directly related to political expediency. Racism is spreading because some people are immune from the law.

As an educationist, Abdul Rahman Arshad should step forward and explain how SRK Tunku Abdul Halim, which was the best English-medium primary school in Alor Setar, has become one of the worst schools after being converted to a national school. This is not an isolated case, but an example of how our schools have gone down the drain.

It would be more fruitful to look hard and honestly at this decline of our national schools than to scream the fallacy that abolishing vernacular schools is the way to national unity.

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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Dr. SNaidu
Dr. SNaidu
10 Jan 2021 9.48pm
  • Integration through transformation. Abolition is short-sighted. WE are a pluralistic nation.Vernc, mission schs have had the blessings of the govts of the day from pre-colonial timesYes, thereis too much pols in EDN. Are we ‘educated?’ Are our children? One-race, religious institutions NEED to transform to aMSN MOULD, n take in more MSNs of all race-students n teachers, administratorsNEED to appoint good heads in edn instns. Learn from ALL good models, locally n overseas. Pls do not put our future to harm. Have more BM_NAT LANG inthe curriculum of all edn instns., with a strong emphasis of ENG> .
Old School
Old School
9 Jul 2013 4.31pm

I am a product of a Vernacular School in the 60s and proud of it. I speak Bahasa Malaysia, English and Mandarin fluently. I found these to my advantage in my entire working career.

Even back then, getting a Credit in Bahasa Malaysia is a must if I wish to get an OSC or HSC certificate.

Just because we choose to speak in Mandarin, Cantonese, Indian, English or other languages to our friends and family do not mean we love Bahasa Malaysia less nor does it mean we do not speak Bahasa Malaysia. It also does not mean we love Malaysia less. We were born here, grew up here and will die here as Malaysians.

Something has gone seriously wrong in the past 20 years to get us into this current situation. Get to the bottom of these before it is too late.

4 Jul 2013 7.30pm

Now the fight is clear, Pakatan team fight for the right of all citizen, Barisan continue to fight for the heart of rural Malay nationalism by pitting one race against the other. It is an excellent chance for Pakatan to bring up the understanding and benefit of democracy to all citizen. It takes time but it is a sure winner, the end result is to put those outdated politicians to the rubbish bin. Lao Tze said nothing is stronger then Dao, follow it you prosper, against it you will be crushed.

4 Jul 2013 7.24pm

I am a Muslim first and Malay last.. I sent my only son to Kuen Cheng Primary School in Kuala Lumpur to learn Mandarin. There we found out that he was not the only Malay in his class. There was a Indian boy, the son of a doctor, in one of the upper classes. In my opinion, the Chinese school system should be practised in the Kebangsaan schools. I found my son’s interest slipped after he transferred to the Malay medium Secondary Schools as the Chinese School has no Islamic teachings! He had good control of all three languages but he became complacent! In those days, the Malay schools have term examinations so for the most part he took it easy and began mugging only when there were tests or impending examinations. On the other hand, when he was as following the Kuen Cheng’s PS system, after every 10 lessons or so, tests were given and the average marks for those tests was taken as that term’s mark for a particular subject. There were lots of homeworks and the pupils were always on their toes! I… Read more »

Lim Teck Hing
Lim Teck Hing
4 Jul 2013 12.39pm

The call to ban vernacular schools were expected because it was made at a forum on “Muslim Leadership and Survival”. Firstly the fault lies in the naming of the forum. It was assumed by the panel members that the word “Muslim” is synonymous with “Malay” in Malaysia and hence the call, where vernacular schools refer to Chinese and Tamil schools. Secondly, as the title of the forum suggest, to ensure the survival of leadership of a particular race, the best and easiest way is to get rid of the competition, namely the Chinese and Tamil schools. Though this is the call made at a post-mortem forum for reason of achieving unity for Malaysians, why is there the need to unify when there is no multi-cultural diversities anymore? The caption of “Unity in Diversity” should be looked into seriously as Malaysians are multi-racial and multi-cultural. This is the only sensible approach to any effort to unify Malaysians. To even suggest other approaches is not only racist but exploitation of a particular race in which case unity is not possible. Thus for the Pro-Chancellor of UITM to make… Read more »

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