Vernacular Schools in Malaysia: “A heritage to be celebrated or a hindrance to nation building?”

There are about 1,200 Chinese primary schools and about 523 Tamil schools in Malaysia. Over 650,000 children attend vernacular schools and these constitute about 95% of Chinese children and about 55% of Indian children. These schools are not just centres of learning but also community centres that assist to perpetuate cultures and enrich the national heritage. However, some see vernacular schools as more of a hindrance to national unity and integration.

It is within this context that Asli’s Centre for Public Policy Studies hosted an in depth focus group discussion on the issue entitled the CPPS-Asli Roundtable Discussion Vernacular School in Malaysia: “A heritage to be celebrated or a hindrance to nation building?” on 27 Feb 2012, at the Manchester Business School, Sunway University, Selangor.

Two panellists were invited to speak: Prof Dr NS Rajendran from UPSI and Chong Sin Woon from MCA’s youth education bureau. Other Chinese and Tamil educationists and education stakeholders were also invited to give their views. Among them were representatives from Jiao Zong, Dong Zong, Hua Zong, the National Union of Teachers, the Tamil Foundation, CHILD and MCEF. Others included representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, political parties, think tanks, Yayasan Amir, MCCBCHST, ECM Libra Foundation, Yayasan Pintar & IDEAS. After the panellists presented their views, comments and questions were invited from the floor.

Ten major themes emerged from the discussion pertaining to vernacular education in particular and quality of education in general. They are listed here to provide a comprehensive overview of the discussions and further action that needs to take place. Among these are two key concerns; namely, the legal question pertaining to the demarcation of ‘partial aided and fully aided schools’ and the notion of fairness and equality in the allocation of public funds especially in the context of primary school going children. Dr NS Rajendran during his presentation stressed that there is a problem with teaching BM in Malaysia especially in vernacular schools as it is not taught as a second language to non-native speakers. More resources must be allocated to the teaching and learning of BM in vernacular schools. This is necessary to ensure the children’s integration, especially in the secondary school system.

In addition, this report captures the thoughts shared and expressed by a majority of the participants. It is documented here to ensure that further discussion will be held to further unpack the complications so as to ensure that the diversity of educational opportunities in Malaysia will not only enhance the capabilities of all Malaysians but will ensure that Malaysia is comparative in the region.

It is our hope that these findings will enrich the current review of the Education Act and Policy. We also hope that there will be more public discussions and consultations to receive feedback, comments and input from all quarters of Malaysian society. We owe this process to all Malaysians and we cannot fail to make quality and diversity in education as the cornerstone of nation building.

To read the full report, please download the following PDF.

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