COMMENT | The outcry over the disclosure that 402 schools in the country have been classified as “hotspots” with disciplinary and drug issues is yet another distraction from what should be the major priority of our politicians and bureaucrats managing the education system - that is, implementing deep reform of the national primary and secondary school system, especially beginning with the national schools of the Bahasa Malaysia or Malay medium, and predominantly bumiputera-attended stream (Sekolah Kebangsaan and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan, SK and SMK).
Although the furore, when set against the larger and more important backdrop of the overall sorry state of the national schooling system, is misplaced, what is revealing is that almost all the problematic schools (396) found in the blacklist come from the SMK stream against six from the Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan (SMJK) stream.
This is yet another clear indication of the appalling mess left by zealots pushing the racial and religious agenda in our educational system.
The main victim of this mess is a lost generation of Malay and bumiputera school kids who paradoxically, despite being overwhelmingly favoured in resource allocation in the national system during the past 40 years, have ended up with low attainment levels and are also generally lacking in the important outcomes that the educational system is supposed to be imparting - knowledge, skills, strong ethics and the drive to succeed.
The critical problems affecting schools in the SK stream have been known for a long time. But they have been ignored or left unresolved by the Barisan Nasional government and the Ministry of Education, with little attempt made at comprehensive reform until the last few years.
Repeated complaints have been raised about the quality of these schools, including their low teaching standard, the obsession with single-race dominance and management, the narrowly nationalistic, rote learning-oriented and behind-the-times curricula, increasing Islamisation, poor leadership, disciplinary issues (which are now the subject of public attention) and a host of other shortcomings, but to little avail.
The inaction by the authorities has resulted in non-Malay parents shunning these schools and sending their children to the SJK or mother tongue stream, and English language private schools, if they are able to afford it.
'Vernacular education as a scapegoat'
At the same time - diverting attention away from the failure of the politically-favoured SK stream to provide quality and progressive education for all young Malaysians - was a hostile and virulent campaign accusing mother tongue or vernacular schools (SRJK and SMJK stream) of being responsible for dividing the young of the different races and being the cause for the lack of national unity in the country.
The campaign, although unable to produce any evidence to support its claims, succeeded all too well in muddying the waters of educational reform discourse in the country during the last two decades...