The myth about vernacular schools being obstacles to unity

The myth about multi-stream schools being obstacles to unity keeps on being bandied about by racists who cannot see, or rather refuse to see, the wood for the trees, says Ravinder Singh .

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The latest call for the banning of vernacular schools was by no less a personality than the pro-chancellor of University Technology MARA (UiTM), Abdul Rahman Arshad, at a GE13 Post Mortem forum: “Muslim Leadership and Survival” organised by the Federation of Peninsula Malay Students (GPMS) and the UiTM Alumni Association.

This imagined, simplistic solution to improving race relations has been shot out by many people – politicians, academicians, administrators, etc. – over the years.

It is amazing how people in important positions try to shove their perceptions, or even falsehoods, onto the masses by making them appear like facts. If there are listeners who believe these people, it is simply because the listeners have no knowledge of the issue at hand and so they think these important people surely know best. But do they?

Abdul Rahman Arshad had a long career in education, rising up to be Director General of Education. One of the posts he had held was that of Director of Educational Planning and Research. He had also served as Deputy Director of Education in Kedah in 1966.

I have a question for him.

When English-medium primary schools were converted to national schools, they were given new names beginning with SRK ……. One such school in Alor Setar was re-named after the Sultan of Kedah, i.e. SRK Tunku Abdul Halim. It must have been the best school to deserve this honour.

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However, by the early 1990s, this school was one of the worst in Alor Setar. It is unlikely that 22 years on it would have gone back to its glorious days of the 1950s. Once down it is very difficult to rise again, like Humpty Dumpty.

The question: How did a school that was the best when it was an English-medium school become one of the worst after being converted to a national school? Was any research or study done to find out why and how the decline took place?

This situation is surely not peculiar to this one school, but something common throughout the country. Even some Malay parents have lost faith in the national schools and are sending their children to Chinese vernacular primary schools.

To cover up for the declining standards, a big fraud was committed towards the nation by systematically lowering passing marks to keep the statistics showing that educational standards were being maintained or even improved. As a result, children have left schools without acquiring the basic skills of the 3R’s – reading, ‘rithmatic and ‘riting. Yet just a few months back we were told by the education minister that our schools are as good if not better than those in developed countries like Germany.

Unity is about relationships among people – whether they live in peace with one another or look upon one another as enemies. There is no evidence that all people who speak the same language always live in peace with one another. People who not only speak different languages, but also profess different religions and cultures, have shown the ability to live as brothers and sisters. So it is political humbug to demand that vernacular schools should be abolished for Malaysians to be united, unless “united” means not having one’s own mind to decide whom to vote for.

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It is racism in its various forms that builds walls around people. Vernacular schools have been around since the 19th century and they did not build those walls. We have never seen the kind of racism that we see today. The rise of racism is directly related to political expediency. Racism is spreading because some people are immune from the law.

As an educationist, Abdul Rahman Arshad should step forward and explain how SRK Tunku Abdul Halim, which was the best English-medium primary school in Alor Setar, has become one of the worst schools after being converted to a national school. This is not an isolated case, but an example of how our schools have gone down the drain.

It would be more fruitful to look hard and honestly at this decline of our national schools than to scream the fallacy that abolishing vernacular schools is the way to national unity.

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