Divisive Policies Cause Of Disunity Not Vernacular Schools


Prof Teo Kok Seng, of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, thinks the proposal to establish a Tamil secondary school with Tamil as the medium of instruction is not appropriate (Utusan Malaysia, Sept 26)
Since vernacular primary Tamil schools are not conducive to the development of the national education system, the question of Tamil secondary schools poses further problems to the integration of different races and religions, he added
He said that although he might not agree with Chinese secondary schools, both government-aided and private, these schools are allowed due to historical reasons
Teo was responding to Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching who recently said that the government would look into the need to establish Tamil secondary schools in the country
Teo added that while private secondary schools can be formed, fully or partially-aided vernacular secondary schools might not be allowed to be formed as these go against the national education policy
He pointed out how Chinese students who went to vernacular schools have little or no interaction with other races. They watch only Chinese programmes in television and read Chinese newspapers, he claimed
For Indians to progress in the country, they do not need Tamil vernacular education, let alone Tamil secondary schools. What they need is government economic assistance and an attitudinal change
It is not that Malaysians do not know the pro-establishment views of Teo
For a long time, he has been the “favourite” among the non-Malay academics, widely sought for his views by the pro-establishment papers on Chinese vernacular education, Tamil schools and to what extent these promote national unity
This so-called “learned” professor is the darling of those who want to promote just one system of education, without the presence of these vernacular schools
But, unfortunately, Teo seems to have a myopic view of national integration or the lack of it with the presence of vernacular schools
The policy of racial and religious divide predates the independence of this country. It was only formalised with political independence, premised on inter-ethnic cooperation between three ethnic parties
In a formal sense, education policy of the nation became somewhat entrenched within the larger inter-ethnic set-up
The inter-ethnic bargain and compromise allowed for the recognition of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language and for the existence of vernacular schools for the Chinese and Indian communities
It was the perpetuation of ethnic and religious policies, be it education or some other areas, that have indirectly reinforced the existence of vernacular schools in the country
Contrary to what has been said by Teo, vernacular schools are not the cause of disintegration but rather the products of divisive policies of the past and present
Removing vernacular schools alone might not serve the needs of integration. It has to start somewhere else
Whether the government is serious about Tamil secondary schools or not is unclear, although it is an item in the Pakatan Harapan election manifesto
Whether Indians in the country are going to have Tamil secondary schools or not is not going to change the economic and social conditions of the community. It might be an important step in recognising the historic sacrifices of the community
The objective of establishing Tamil secondary schools is basically to improve the quality of the Tamil language in the country
If established, Tamil would be used for language and literature. The rest of the subjects, with the exception of English Language, will be taught in Bahasa Malaysia
Even the government-assisted Chinese secondary schools use Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction
Perhaps being too long in the academia, Teo might have missed some important information about these vernacular secondary schools
Whether Teo likes it or not, Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society that takes pride in diversity and differences
Imposing a one-system-type of education might sound attractive, but is fraught with difficulties and tensions
While alternative systems of education should be articulated, they should be debated without having to reduce possible solutions that are political in nature
Teo might be well-meaning in his approach, but he should be guarded against becoming the uncritical spokesperson of the forces bent on destroying diversity in the country
P Ramasamy is deputy chief minister II of Penang. - FMT

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