Date: 17 September 2012
THE Malaysia Education Blueprint (2013-2025) provides a comprehensive write-up on the current status of Education in Malaysia and charts the future direction. This is a signifi cant piece of work, written after much consultation with various stakeholders.
As one reads this document one can refl ect on many key issues and concerns such as improving the quality of teaching and learning experiences through enhancing the quality of teachers, their training including addressing critical concerns pertaining to headship and management of schools The refl ections in this article will focuses only on matters pertaining to national unity and fostering a multi-cultural diversity through the school systems.
NATIONAL UNITY AGENDA
The term used in this document is “ethnically homogeneous environments” meaning environments where a majority of students are from one ethnic community. The singular analysis provided is that the school options promote this situation.
In this context specific references and data is made available on vernacular schools such as 96 per cent of Chinese students are in SJK(C) and 56 per cent are in SJK(T) at the primary level and reference to Malay students at the secondary level in religious schools.
The document does not provide any analysis of why this polarisation has occurred or possible causes for this development other than the inference of “parental choice” which is referred to as “unparalleled degree of choice for parent and students” (page 7-15) This analysis of national unity is unsatisfactory and could be regarded as misleading for a number of reasons: —
First, data and illustrations are selective as details on other ethnically homogeneous environments are not mentioned other then reference to religious schools. A more comprehensive picture must be presented as other options available also contribute towards this situation such as Malay students in preschool choices especially through Kemas in the local community, student population in residential schools, technical, vocational, matriculation etc.
Comprehensive data on these are not revealed but all these too are largely “ethnically homogeneous environments”. Therefore to single out vernacular schools is inaccurate and too simplistic. Second, the ethnic composition of national schools is provided with 81 per cent Malay teachers, 14 per cent Chinese and five per cent Indians.
The details on school heads and administrators are not provided however this too reveals an ethnic imbalance. This situation too contributes towards an unhealthy national unity situation as the environment and culture of schools have shifted towards a more mono-cultural and mono-religious rather than a multi-cultural teaching-learning environment in schools. This is not serious addressed in the blueprint. Third, the solution proposed for enhancing unity is to increase level of interaction among the various ethnic groups within SK and SMK (page 3-7). The implied conclusion is that if the choice options were narrowed then national unity will be achieved.
The level of interaction is secondary schools where there is a high percentage of multi-cultural population is not described or analysed. Being under one roof does not necessarily mean unity and cultural appreciation unless the school environment and teachers promote a very strong multi-cultural expose and experience. It is therefore proposed that the blueprint does not focus only on a singular analysis on national unity from the choice element of vernacular school options but recognises that there are many other homogeneous environments. There must be a more transparent and fairer presentation of the context and situation.
With a clearer analysis the blueprint must address more specifi cally how a greater appreciation of diversity can be incorporated into the blueprint. It is sad to note that even the theme of 1Malaysia is not mentioned in the blueprint where the focus is from tolerance to appreciation and acceptance.
It is also important to note that a child could be in a mono cultural environment but be able to foster a multi-cultural appreciation through a right teaching, environment and role models. It is almost impossible to have ethnically mixed schools due to demographic trends.
This possible by fostering a national and pro Malaysian cultural appreciation at all schools. There needs to be a clear action plan and targets to address ethnic imbalance among the teachers, heads and especially among the administrators at federal, state and especially the district level.
Administrative post dominated by one ethnic group with very little diversity is not conducive. We must see a healthy transformation of the teaching post for fairer ethnic representation and in the appointments and promotions too. There must be short term or long term targets set in this context between 2013 to 2025.
ENHANCING MOTHER TONGUE EDUCATION AS A LEGITIMATE OPTION
It is a real pity that vernacular schools are only described in the context of national unity or lack of it. It is felt that after all the political talk of commitment to vernacular schools the blueprint should have describe the strength of these options as a true refl ection of a multi-cultural and plural society. In the blueprint in one section there is a statement that “national-type primary schools where the medium of instruction is in Chinese and Tamil will be maintained” with the option for parent to decide where to send their children (page 7-16).
However at the end of the document the policy target by the third wave (2021-2025) is to see SKs and SMKs “as the schools of choice for all parents” (page 7-18). This approach will continue to create cultural insecurities among the communities. The blueprint is not recognising the vernacular school option as a real heritage to be cherished and contributing to nation building. Many sections of Malaysian society will be very unhappy over this stereotype writing which does not enhance and appreciate other cultural traditions within the larger Malaysian identify.
The blueprint could have provided a departure from this way of thinking towards recognising and appreciating vernacular schools. This is because Unesco and other studies have shown that children learn best in the early years in their mother tongue. Therefore we need to think innovatively on how to consolidated this vernacular school tradition but at the same time enhance ethnic relations and interactions.
The blueprint rightly recognises the need for effective transition programmes between the vernacular schools at the primary to the secondary and also the improvement of Bahasa Malaysia performance (page 7-17) including removing Remove class by 2017. There is a need for the blueprint to drop this dichotomy between national school and national type and provide adequate funding to all national school options. In this context to create a special division at the Ministry of Education for the supervision and management of these schools as the current position of the office is a non-graduate, junior administrative post.
EMPOWER MISSION SCHOOLS TO IMPROVE QUALITY OF ENGLISH
The blueprint has missed a tremendous opportunity to undo a great injustice to mission schools. Historically the major education providers were mission agencies and we have a legacy of schools such as Anglo-Chinese Schools, Methodist Schools, Convents, La Salle. The blueprint does not make any reference to the historical contribution and future of these schools. Many national leaders are products of national schools and these schools have contributed towards building the human capital of the nation.
Now that Malaysia is struggling to regain a competitive edge in education especially in improving English, it would be really great if the blueprint could recognise a major role that these historical-primer schools could play. Why not reconvert these schools into English medium with a formal commitment to National language especially teaching Maths and Science in English at the secondary level in these schools. Also at these schools there can be a renewed interest in English literature.
This could be undertaken under the Trust School concept promoted in the blueprint where there is a call for private sector involvement. The mission schools have run education for 100s of years and therefore deserve the fi rst option to reconvert their primer schools into Trust schools.
Furthermore what is most critical is recognising these mission schools as fully national schools with adequate funds especially the government to pay utility bills for these schools and also undertake full infrastructure development.
It is important to note that the students in Mission schools are not from one religious or ethnic community in fact a majority 50-70 per cent of students in mission schools are from the Malay-Muslim community. Why deprive these kids from tax payers funds by discriminating against these schools just because the land and building technically belongs to the Missions. In reality we need to note that all mission school land is designated as education land and there is not strictly private land. This false dichotomy must be broken by tearing down the dividing walls of nation and national type.
The federal government must stop ad-hoc assistance and now focus through the blueprint to give autonomy to mission schools so that they are free to upgrade the quality of teaching-learning and provide the choice that parents and tax payers are demanding.
There is an urgent need to review the national unity agenda as well as a key appreciation for the multi-cultural dimensions and rich cultural diversity as a strength to be built upon and appreciated with a clear educational outcome that every Malaysian child/youth is able to have a very strong multi-cultural, lingual and multi-religious educational learning so as to be a better human being in this globalised society.
DATUK DR DENISON JAYASOORIA is the Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, UKM.
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