Saturday, November 7, 2009

Education: Can we flow into a single stream?

I must say that P. Gunasegaram of The Star has offered another balanced and sensible view of the education malaise that has dogged this country for at least 3 decades now. The pigeons have not only come home to roost. Worse, several generations of pigeons have hatched. They are flying in all directions.

Schools are incubators for young citizens. If schools are structured in a manner that enhances ethnocentricity, then, what we have are citizens that mingle only with their own race.

We are the sum of shared experiences. If I didn't sit beside Maniam in Standard Two and paid him 5 sen to solve every one of my intractable Maths problems and, tolerated his filthy habit of picking his nose in class, how could he ever have been my friend? If I didn't covet the chance to play Under-15 football and, needed to impress Baharom, the school football captain, and, needed to hang around with him and his team, how could I have become his friend?

We, each, are atoms floating around within a nation. Education and schooling gives us a chance to go beyond the comfort zone of our homes and our community to mingle and mix with other young Malaysians. That gives us a chance to transform from single atoms into compounds and complex compounds.

Education and schools are venues where the nation is built and renewed and regenerated.

Take that away and we will have what we have today. A multiracial nation that lives separate lives under the same sky.

There is much that is wrong about the Malaysian education system. Much work needs to be done.

Some of the advocates of single stream should avoid racist taunts and ethnic stereotyping in their impatient advocacy of the single stream. They should also desist from their insistence on using one dominant language.

It is when we are able to cast aside negative pettiness and racist motivations that the possibility of a single stream can materialise.

The issue of education and, choice of language medium is not a matter that we can legislate upon. Rather, it is a matter that needs positive and constructive engagement.

Such an ambience cannot be created until distrust is removed.

The fact that there is distrust over a single stream is an indictment of the political leadership of Malaysia. It's not just the BN coalition that is guilty. It is also the Pakatan Rakyat fellows who are equally guilty.

Here's Guna's most sensible analysis:

Improving the quality of national schools will solve that and provide myriad other benefits too.

WHEN the founding fathers agreed that vernacular and religious schools should exist alongside the national school system, they had no idea of the kind of problems it would give rise to.

They had no idea that it would help to polarise the education system so much that many Malaysian school children will go to schools based on their racial and religious heritage, and have little interaction with students of other races.

They had no idea that, especially in primary schools, there would be very little intermingling of children of different races, seriously exacerbating the problem of a lack of national unity.

While at the time of independence those who wanted their children to do well sent their children to national schools, these have now, along with religious schools, become largely the preserve of Malay children.

While national schools were once considered centres of excellence, their quality of education has deteriorated over the years leading to a mass exodus of non-Malay students to vernacular schools, while more religious Malays opt for religious schools. Those who can afford it opt for private education.

While national schools, because of their quality and open nature, were at one time considered natural choices for most Malaysians, well over 80% of Chinese schoolchildren and a significant proportion of Indians go to vernacular schools for their primary education.

At secondary school level, some of those in the vernacular and religious schools do come into the national school stream but by then, because of their experience in their formative years, they do not mingle as much as their parents did.

The problem gets worse at tertiary level, with government universities populated largely by Malays while private colleges and universities are dominated by non-Malays.

Some non-Malays could not gain admission to government universities and others, both Malays and non-Malays, feel the quality of local universities has fallen and want international recognition for their degrees.

Without doubt, the problem originated from one single cause – the massive deterioration of the quality of the teaching in national schools.

This was made worse by the perceived “Islamisation” of many national schools, which made non-Muslims uncomfortable about sending their students to these schools.

Well-funded Chinese schools with better infrastructure and dedicated teachers developed a reputation for quality, rigour and working their students hard.

That eventually led to most Chinese parents sending their children to these schools.

All these have left Malaysia in rather poor circumstances – it may well be the only country in the world with a fragmented educational system.

It has a peculiar set of problems which is rather difficult to overcome.

First, the move to a single stream cannot be compelled because vernacular and religious schools are guaranteed under the Constitution. Even if consensus can be reached to move to a single stream, there are other questions.

How would one ensure that mother tongue education continues unabated?

If, as is most likely, consensus cannot be reached, imaginative ways have to be thought of to overcome these problems.

Vision schools, where vernacular and national schools are located close together and some activities integrated, are likely to be of only limited help because it won’t be physically possible to put most schools close together.

Sports may help, but if you have teams largely comprising single races, that could make things worse rather than better even if there is interaction among the players.

Consensus on a single stream is best, and perhaps we need someone of stature to go around and build such a consensus from various community leaders. But it is a tough task.

The precursor to that consensus is safeguards to devote enough time and resources to mother tongue education in schools to ensure that language and cultural heritage are not lost, and a monitoring and corrective mechanism in which all will have faith.

Ultimately, even if vernacular and religious schools are present, national unity aims will be better served if you simply move more students and eventually most students of all races into national schools.

There is only one way that can be done short of a single stream.

That is simply to improve the quality of the national schools, so that they are better than the others and to make Malaysians of all races equally welcome in those schools.

Nobody is pretending that this is an easy task. But it may be easier to do than to obtain a consensus on a single stream.

And there are other attendant benefits. If the national educational system improves, so will the population. The opportunities that it will present to all equally will close the gap between the races and the rich and the poor.

It will lead to a better quality workforce, a greater social conscience, excellence, more moral behaviour - and better quality leaders.

The icing on the cake is that an improved national school system will also improve national unity.


Donplaypuks® said...

I have not the slightest doubt that the SSS is the way to go.

But at the same time, the following must be implemented:

1. Removal of all religious education from schools. Parents can send their children to after-school religious classes elsewhere if they so desire.

2. Include compulsory Peoples' Own Language classes as part of the curricula.

3. Change lopsided female:male teacher ratio especially in wholly boys' schools.

4. BM can be the main medium of instruction for all schools, but make History, English and English Literature a compulsory part of the curricula from primary school and have properly trained teachers for it.

5. All students must participate in 1 sport and 1 uniformed group (scout/cadet corps/band/red cross) or be an active member of a school society such as arts, photography, science & maths etc.

6. No Govt public exams until
Form 5.

7. Introduce appreciation of a 2rd foreign language such as French, Italian or German in Form 4 & 5.

These are some of my thoughts on how to improve our severely affected education system!

We are all of 1 race, the Human Race

Anonymous said...

There is the unmitigated excuse for the segregation practiced in Malaysia by its three racial groups emerging from behind the catalyst of Islamisation as it were to discredit Islam at any given opportunity by non Muslims. Where the opportunity does not exist, create one.

Vernacular schools did not require founding fathers or others to provide consent and approval. It existed before and continued after independence.

It would have continued to exist in one form or the other with the Chinese to promote what Lee Kuan Yew called their "Chauvanism" regardles of plans or consent.

The entire concept of race and culture in the east is based on I am me and you are you. Well in fact that is the theme everywhere race and 'culture' are dominant issues.

What on earth has Islam got to do with the problems Indians and Chinese face in the polarisation that is of their own making?

Gopal Raj Kumar

Pat said...

Don't they feel they've made enough of a mess with our schools, without now getting into the streaming issue?

Or, perhaps, this is a way to shift the focus from the utterly botched-up English or Malay conundrum?! No one is ever going to agree on that one.

Why not get everyone and their uncles arguing and cross-insulting each other over streaming?

Methinks they are not so dumb as we'd like to think.

Anonymous said...

I agree that sss is the way to go, but it has to be all the way to Uni. What's the point of just restricting it to primary school and then stream students by race into boarding schools, mara, uitm, etc.