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KUALA LUMPUR: For Malaysian children, schools are where they are first introduced to the country's multi-racial society because that's where they start to make friends from the various races.
And, it is also at schools that they learn about other religions and the norms and culture of the other races. Despite the differences, they study and play together, building a bond where some remain close friends even after leaving school.
"Children and teenagers are innocent and sincere in friendship. To them, Ah Choon is a friend, not a Chinese, and so is Eh Tiang, Razali and Santhia," said Azli Abdullah, a counselling teacher, to Bernama.
He said the experience of having friends from other races during the school days build a unique perspective among children and teenagers that they were able to mix easily with other races at their workplace and in their neighbourhood.
"The school is the best place to instil the 1Malaysia spirit which is important to ensure a harmonious society.
"It is also the best place to instil esprit de corps, tolerance and respect for one another among our teenagers," he added.
A former student of Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Tanah Putih (SMKTP), Kuantan, Wan Huzaimi Wan Abdullah, 30, said schools were the best platform to foster racial unity, in line with the 1Malaysia concept mooted by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Wan Huzaimi, who went to an all-Malay primary school, said he was initially skeptical when selected to continue his secondary education at SMKTP in 1995.
However, he said, he was able to adapt to the new environment and made friends with other races.
Another former student of SMKTP, Alif Ezwan Abdul Razak, 30, said the role of instilling racial unity should not be left on schools or teachers alone, as parents could also help do their bit.
"Parents who know their children have friends from other races can take the initiative by bringing their children to visit the friends' families," he added. -- BERNAMA