Last week, a national daily carried a report on a study involving Malaysian teens on a very important issue - racial integration.
It is not surprising that the survey concluded that many youngsters weren't concerned about racial integration. However, it was also surprising that 10.7% never ate breakfast and 8% had never used a computer. These figures are something for our leaders to think about as we are just more than a decade away from achieving our vision of a developed nation.
There is no doubt that our education system, as it is now, is the main cause of racial segregation. Instead of dumping the children of the various races together from a very young age, we have actually separated them into separate classes to facilitate religious instruction.
Subsequently, as though this was not enough, we further segregated them into vernacular schools. There is hardly any contact among the various races from a very early age. If this does not breed racial segregation then what does?
It is easy to blame the vernacular schools for the failure of national schools to integrate the various races. We must go a step further to find out why many parents opted for vernacular schools in the first place. The reason is obvious and does not need a genius to detect - the unsatisfactory environment that is prevalent in national schools.
Our national schools have, in fact, taken a more religious stance - too much for the comfort of the non-Malays. Having sent all my children to national schools, I can say for sure we are left with no option but vernacular schools.
I am sure if our national schools reflected the ethnic diversity of the nation among the students and teachers, most parents would prefer to send their children to these schools as it was in the 60s and 70s.
The unhealthy environment in our national schools led to the recent call by the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah, for a more balanced racial composition of school leaders, teachers and students that would reflect the multi-racial composition of the nation. I would also like to echo the recent statement by our Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein Onn: 'Schools should have a conducive and balanced environment and the ministry must have the political will to handle this well and not make it a racial issue'.
We all know the problem and the solutions but do we have the political will to implement them?
Our children in schools are segregated and they are happy to just interact with those from their own communities. As children and teenagers, they do not see the need to interact with others until they come out to work in a very competitive world. Racial integration and unity should be valued as national assets and the young must be taught treasure and cherish them from an early age.