Why target vernacular schools when it's more multi-racial?

MP SPEAKS Why force “Bina Bangsa” on vernacular schools, when national schools are less multiracial in make-up?

Newly appointed Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid announced last week that a new nation-building module called “Bina Bangsa” would be introduced for vernacular primary schools to address the lack of interaction between races among school children.

He further lamented that it was difficult to attract non-Malays to national schools because of the existence of vernacular schools that cater to the Chinese and Tamil mother tongues.

Because Mahdzir (photo) believes this to affect national unity, he therefore sees the need to implement a compulsory programme to get children of different schools and backgrounds to meet and mingle.

The idea to encourage more cross-cultural engagement is of course laudable.

However, there are deep flaws to the education minister’s logic when it is suggested that this programme should only be applicable to vernacular schools.

Firstly, contrary to general perception, national schools are actually now more mono-ethnic in make-up compared to vernacular, especially Chinese, schools.

While it is true that national schools in the 1960s and 1970s could boast of high non-bumiputera enrolment, this is no longer the case.

In fact, according to the Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB), bumiputera students now make up 94 percent of enrolment in national primary schools.

This means that non-bumiputera enrolment in national schools has dropped to an all-time low of only 6 percent.

Meanwhile, the MEB also reports that non-Chinese enrolment in Chinese vernacular schools has increased to 12 percent - and rising.

This effectively means that Chinese schools are more multiracial compared to national schools.

In fact, there are Chinese schools with very significant numbers of non-Chinese enrolment. To give one example, SJKC Tiong Hua Kok Bin in Klang has about 45 percent non-Chinese students.

Secondly, by suggesting that only vernacular schools need to undergo “nation-building” programmes, it carries the mischievous implication that vernacular schools are an inherent obstacle to national unity.

This is a hypothesis that has no empirical basis.

It is not the demographic make-up of a school or the language of instruction that determines national unity or affects the predilection of an individual to be racist.

By Mahdzir’s logic, everyone from Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), by virtue of it being an all-Malay school, should graduate as parochial racists.

However, I can genuinely affirm that not to be true, as I have many friends and relatives who had studied there.

At the same time, I also have friends who studied in Chinese vernacular schools all their lives, and who are today as Malaysian in outlook as the best of MCKK.

In the same vein, I also know many Europeans who grew up in all-Caucasian environments without having met any non-Europeans until well into adulthood, but who are also not the least bit bigoted.

At the end of the day, it is not so much the ethnic make-up or language used in one’s environment that shapes one’s worldview, as it is the values that are taught in school and at home.

Instead of shifting the blame for the lack of national unity among Malaysians on the multiple-stream education system Malaysia, the Education Minister should seriously look into the values that are imparted, and the quality of education available, especially in national schools.

The more critical question that should be asked is: why are less and less non-Bumiputera parents sending their children to national schools while more and more bumiputera parents send their children to Chinese vernacular schools?

ZAIRIL KHIR JOHARI is the MP for Bukit Bendera and DAP parliamentary spokesperson for Education, Science and Technology.

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