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NATION-BUILDING: Ironically, Chinese primary schools and private schools offer a more multiracial outlook these days
THERE is a Chinese primary school in the centre of Kuala Lumpur that has a Malay majority population, a situation unimaginable a decade or so ago. Migration to suburban areas as well as growing acceptance of such schools or SJK(C)s among non-Chinese are contributors to this phenomenon.
Similarly, in smaller towns, Chinese urban migration means that some SJK(C)s are being kept afloat largely by Malay students.
There are now 80,000 Malays in SJK(C)s. While small when compared with the total national schools enrolment of 2.18 million, they make up 13 per cent of Chinese primary school students nationwide. In some urban centres, non-Chinese make up a third of the student population.
Looking at it another way, about 20 per cent or 600,000 of our children go to Chinese primary schools, while the rest go to Tamil, private, international or religious schools, or are home-schooled.
Now these figures and this treatise are neither attempts to validate the Chinese school system nor to promote Chinese education triumphalism that is rather prevalent now, nor are they indictments of national schools.
They, perhaps, can be points of departure for us to begin the process of making the national schools the first choice for many, as it should be, again. And, before Chinese educationists like Dong Zong get all hot under the collar, it should not be done at the expense of SJK(C)s.
There is obviously more to be gained from a multiracial population in schools, especially in nation-building, and the national schools should be the platform of choice. Ironically, the SJK(C)s, together with private schools, are the ones offering a more multiracial outlook these days.
Clearly, the Chinese community is in no mood to support the national primary schools with nine out of 10 of their children enrolled in SJK(C)s.
While not all Chinese are keen on the rigours of SJK(C)s, many worry about the "value-for-money" proposition of the national schools. They believe, perception or otherwise, the schools are falling behind in terms of quality.
I know this debate on the role of English in the teaching of Mathematics and Science has been put to rest, with new students learning them in Bahasa Malaysia in the national schools, Mandarin in SJK(C)s, and Tamil in SJK(T)s.
Yet, most Chinese schools are offering these subjects in English, too, after school hours, using a foreign syllabus, to boot.
While this clearly disproves Chinese educationists' argument about the ability of students to absorb information outside of their mother tongues, it nevertheless underlines their pragmatic "have-the-cake-and-eat-it-too" approach to address parents' concerns over the policy and at the same time promotes Chinese schools.
Perhaps it is also the perception that the national schools are turning into Malay-Islamic institutions. This unfortunately is a vicious cycle if non-Malays continue to desert them, and no one can see the tide reversing in the near future. Yet, now Chinese schools have ustaz and ustazah, and some even surau.
Perhaps the Malays and Indians are getting more pragmatic, especially with the emergence of China as a world political and economic power, and as a consequence, Mandarin a lingua franca.
Perhaps they too admire the enterprise and industry of the Chinese community, and they hope that by attending SJK(C)s and by mixing around with Chinese kids these traits would rub onto their children.
I don't fear national schools being diminished from their pre-eminence in society. The fact that they are well-located, well-staffed, well-funded and well-supported, plus the fact that the Malay majority would find them more accessible, would ensure they remain a key component of our education system.
However, it begs consideration: should the national schools just be the domain of the Malays?
Or is it a problem at all if more than two-thirds of primary school kids are enrolled in the national schools? Is it not a success? The glass is half full, rather than half empty.
All these came to me with the backdrop of Dong Zong planning a rally outside Parliament next week. The "Save Chinese Education campaign" carries whispers of an insidious attempt by the government to do away with Chinese education.
If indeed Chinese education is a success as the numbers suggest, is it not just politicising education and muscle-flexing ahead of the polls?