Back in the early 90s, when I was attached with a bank, I was invited by the Headmistress of a premier girls school in the Klang Valley to give her Form 5 Commerce students a talk on banking as a career.
Since I was early, I was given a tour of the premise, and to my utter surprise, I noticed that each classroom had no less than ten Malay girls studying in it. They were giving their presentations in Mandarin in front of the class, writing calligraphy and in the cafeteria, there were students with their Chinese friends discussing their lessons together. What a contrast from national type schools where groups along racial lines were more apparent.
I was told to give my talk in English and this was part of the plan preparing the students for the real world, communication in English, and all Qs and As addressed to me after the talk were to be in English too. No Mandarin, no BM.
According to the Headmistress, the school was facing a 10% incremental increase of bumi students to the school each year and they were trying their best to cope, especially the provision of facilities like prayer rooms, halal food, etc.
The following report, therefore, came as no surprise.
A two-year research carried out by the National Education Advisory Council reveals that in 10 years, Chinese schools may turn into mainstream schools.
They may even replace national schools and are likely to be more multiracial, as the number of Malay parents registering their children stands at 18 per cent this year.
Recently retired council member Prof Dr Teo Kok Seong said national schools registered only four per cent non-Malay students while the Chinese schools had 18 per cent non-Chinese students.
“These numbers (in Chinese schools) are expected to go up each year. Our research shows these vernacular schools, within 10, years are likely to become the mainstream schools as more non-Chinese parents are refusing to sign up their kids in national schools,” he told FMT.
He was asked to comment on the preferred choice of education and schools for parents registering their children.
He said the Education Ministry’s 2013-2025 Education Blueprint target of attracting more Chinese and Indian students to national schools was likely to fail by 2025 as their research showed more parents were planning to register their children in vernacular or private schools.
The study carried out by the 13-member council made up of educationists, corporate figures and former top-level education department officers, listed five main reasons keeping middle and upper income parents away from national schools.
The first was poor teaching and delivery methods by the teachers; second, the administration of national schools was dominated by one race; third, the schools were seen as being too Islamic; fourth, disciplinary issues were seen as a major problem; and finally, some schools were not maintained well, with outdated computers.
“For instance, if an Indian teacher is good in English, that teacher should be heading that unit. But instead, preference is given to someone else who is not capable of guiding others. It is the same with a school’s principal. The head of the school should be someone who is most capable to run a school.
“There should not be preference according to a race. Parents just want someone who is capable of teaching and disciplining their kids. If this can be done, the government will be able to regain confidence and attract more non-Malays into national schools.”
He said there was a constant clash between Muslim and non-Muslim parents. He said following several forums organised by the council, they found that Muslim parents felt there was not enough teaching of Islam in national schools while non-Muslim parents were not in favour of having religious recitations during the school assembly.
Teo, a professor at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said non-Muslim parents were uncomfortable with audio recordings reciting religious songs during the school assembly.
“There is a constant tug-of-war on this issue, causing many non-Muslim parents to send their children to Chinese schools or to private schools. It is a sensitive issue and there seems to be no end to the discussion between parents.”
As for Malay parents, they were concerned about the quality of education. “They are concerned that national school teachers are not putting in their best for their child’s education. They are concerned their child might not be able to catch up with the fast moving world.”
He said most of the Malay parents wanted their children to excel in mathematics and loved the up-to-date computer and sports facilities offered at Chinese schools. “They know their children are in good hands.”
In March this year, President of the Association of Former Elected Representatives (Mubarak) Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman told a news portal that national schools had become de facto Malay schools, and that this hampered the fostering of unity among races.
He said there were only Malays in these schools and labelled national schools Malay secondary schools.