The Vision School issue seems set to become yet another episode in the protean saga of the Chinese schools of Malaysia. These episodes have the uncanny knack of exploding on the Malaysian politico-educational arena every time Umno faces an internal crisis.
The issue of unqualified administrators for the Chinese schools during the Semangat 46 split in 1987 and which led to Operation Lallang is a recent example. There have been others during the 181 years of the existence of the Chinese schools in Malaysia. (See Kua Kia Soong, A Protean Saga: The Chinese Schools of Malaysia, DJZ 1999).
For the uninitiated, we suggest that the recent media blitz in the English and Malay-language press by the government on this issue be subject to the usual critical visi-section (pardon the pun)
When Dong Jiao Zong (DJZ) said it supported the encouragement of integrative activities between pupils of the various races, the Government leaders maintained that DJZ had already accepted the Vision School concept.
Then when DJZ said it disagreed with the concept of the Vision School, DJZ was accused of not wanting integration between pupils of various races. Furthermore, on Nov 6, the Prime Minister Dr Mahathir was widely quoted by Bernama as saying that: "What Dong Jiao Zong want is education as in China, everything must be Chinese".
Violating the constitutional spirit
Dr Mahathir's statement has contradicted all the assurances given by the Education Ministry that the Vision Schools will not alter the character of the Chinese and Tamil schools. It has also exposed the hidden agenda of the Vision School concept for the PM is actually negating the existence of the Chinese (and Tamil) schools in this country.
Chinese and Tamil schools (where Chinese and Tamil are the main media of instruction) have been a part of the National Education System since Independence. Their status is entrenched in the Malaysian Constitution and Barisan Nasional leaders have always pledged their support for these schools especially during general elections. It has been accepted all along that mother tongue education of Non-Malay minorities in Malaysia is part and parcel of Malaysia's pluralist culture. And the Chinese schools have survived to this day mainly through the efforts of Dong Jiao Zong and the support of the community. This fact has been widely acknowledged.
The PM's latest statement is akin to saying that the Chinese schools or rather, SJK schools in this country are not Malaysian but modeled after China. It's as good as admitting that the hidden agenda of the Vision Schools is to realise UMNO's "ultimate objective", which is to make all schools in the country into mono-lingual Malay schools. In fact, this objective has already been realised in Section 17 of the new
Education Act 1996.
A fait accompli
It is very clear that despite the efforts of the Government to try to portray an impression of trying to consult with the parties concerned, the Vision Schools are a fait accompli. Thus, even when the Education Ministry was telling the public that the guidelines for the schools were under discussion, the construction of the seven Vision Schools was already half-completed. Some Chinese schools in the Vision Schools programme were merely told orally, they were not given any written documents never mind consulted over the programme.
At the beginning, the Government gave us the impression that Vision Schools would be additional Chinese and Tamil schools. Remember that although the population of Malaysian Chinese has doubled since Independence, the number of Chinese primary schools has actually decreased from 1342 in 1957 to 1283 today. The attitude of some in the community then was that although the government refuses to build new Chinese schools, at least the Vision Schools would be additional schools however imperfect they may be.
It has now emerged very clearly, that the seven Vision Schools proposed so far are not additional Chinese or Tamil schools. They are first and foremost new Malay-language schools but their Chinese and Tamil component schools are relocated existing Chinese and Tamil schools. Consider these concrete cases:
Case 1: SJK (C) Central Site, Segamat This existing school wanted to move to a new housing estate but the State education department insisted that they moved to the proposed Vision School instead.
Case 2: SJK (C) Ladang Hillside, Seremban The estate land on which this school stands has been sold to a developer and the school has been asked to move out. The Education department has insisted that they can only shift to the proposed Vision School there.
Case 3: SJK (C) Wai Sin, Parit Buntar This school is five miles from Parit Buntar and the community around where the school stands (Jalan Baru town) is not in favour of moving to the proposed Vision School which is another bus ride from Parit Buntar town.
It can be seen that the five Chinese schools which have been included in the Vision Schools programme were not properly consulted beforehand.
After the failure of the likewise controversial Integrated Schools Project in 1985, DJZ held consultations with the Education Ministry and agreed to the "Programme to Integrate Pupils Toward Unity" in 1986. This involved various activities to promote interaction between different schools. After a promising start, the Education Ministry decided to halt this programme. DJZ stands committed to this programme which we believe is a more meaningful means of promoting integration and inter-cultural understanding.
We do not believe ( and the situation in existing National Secondary schools and universities prove this ) that putting pupils of different language streams under one roof necessarily leads to unity. Try putting all your relatives under one roof for a start!
The Chinese schools of Malaysia have been commended by many including Government leaders for their management and community involvement. This has been credited to the existence of their respective school committees which collectively form state-level and national-level school committees associations (Dong Zong).
It is obvious that the school committee of the Vision Chinese School will no longer be able to play its traditional effective role in the management and development of the school.
Serious about integration?
DJZ strongly upholds the right to defend our mother tongue education system because we believe that the mother tongue is the most effective way for the child to be educated and we believe that our respective ethnic languages (our roots) must be promoted for the propagation of Malaysian cultures.
Nevertheless, we strongly believe that there must be ample opportunities for inter-cultural interaction in the educational, sport, cultural, economic and political spheres. Before the Government points any accusing finger at DJZ, it should justify these incongruities of Malaysian reality first:
We see no justification for mono-ethnic political parties. UMNO, MCA, MIC and other racially-based parties have no credibility to talk about national integration until they disband and reform in a "Vision Party"; We see no justification for new towns which encourage habitation by one race; We cannot accept educational institutions such as UTM, Residential Schools and other schools which are reserved for Bumiputeras only.
May we remind the Government that Chinese-medium schools do not discriminate on the basis of race. In fact, there are more than 65,000 Non-Chinese pupils in Chinese primary schools today.
Dr KUA KIA SOONG is a director of Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) and also the Principal of New Era College, Kajang.