On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Unity and quality education above all

Its task should be to convince the other races why it
opposes the project which is aimed at national integration. Certainly an
objective of such over-riding importance deserves the support of all

Under the Vision School concept, three schools of different medium of
instruction – Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil – will occupy a common
compound and share facilities. In fact, there are already two Vision Schools
which came about because the schools involved happened to be within the same

These schools have been totally integrated under the Vision Schools but their
characters have remained unchanged.

It would do a lot of good to the Dong Jiao Zong if it emphasises less on

Unless one has stepped into a Chinese school to see its facilities and how the
teachers carry out their work, one is unlikely to have the same kind of
sentiments as the movement.

Even an English or Malay-educated Chinese is unlikely to feel as strongly about
the issue as a Chinese-educated person, or a parent who has children in Chinese
schools. So, the movement must realise that the majority of Malays and Indians
would question its stand.

The movement has put on record that it supports the aim of the Vision School
project to promote national integration for unity. But what it is concerned
about is that the project would eventually erode the identity of Chinese
schools. It would better serve the movement's cause if it can provide more
convincing arguments to the other races.

Chinese schools have contributed tremendously to the country's development.
Supported financially almost entirely by the community, they have been

The impressive facilities in many of these schools are acquired through the
donations of the community and the MCA.

Long before the Smart School concept was introduced, computer lessons were
already started in Year One classes in Chinese schools.

With great emphasis on academic performance, Chinese school students, including
those from independent schools, have always done well to the point that their
examination results are readily accepted for entry into top American

Besides relieving the burden of the Government on education and training, these
schools have steadily produced a disciplined IT-trained workforce.

With such a reputation, it is no surprise that many non-Chinese parents have
sent their children to Chinese schools.

Chinese schools are vital in helping to sustain the survival of the community's
other institutions, such as guilds, associations, Chinese newspapers and
Chinese-based political parties.

On a broader scale, the ability to speak the Chinese language will become more
crucial with the growing importance of China over the coming years.

According to news reports, there are now over 65,000 Malay students in Chinese
schools. It makes sense for Malays to be good in Mathematics and Science and
have the ability to speak a third language. But at the same time, the Education
Ministry has cause for concern as 88% of Chinese school-going children go to
Chinese primary schools.

Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad said if children of different races
were separated at six or seven years of age, it would be difficult for them to
come together at secondary level.

Musa is right. Every effort must be made to promote national integration at all

Education is certainly one of the best ways. Those of us who went through
Christian missionary schools understand the benefits of the system then.

We were taught correct English, instilled boarding school discipline and, more
importantly, we had friends of different races.

There was also a sense of belonging and mission, which no longer seems to exist
in present-day schools.

That identity is lost. This is perhaps the fear, rightly or wrongly, of the
Chinese educationists.

Cultural pluralism in education must be seen as an asset rather than an
impediment in national unity. So is social democracy.

Policies deemed to be discriminatory will produce resentment, so the cause of
communal polarisation cannot be blamed on the school system.

Schools merely reflect the ethos and norms of the various communities.

The national leadership must be commended for its moves to strive for national
unity. It can further do so by emphasising civil and political equality of all

That aside, our education system needs a complete overhaul. Starting with
better pay to get the best people to teach.

To seriously improve English in schools, we must equip our students with the
means to learn the language critically and creatively. To make the Vision
School project attractive, the ministry could perhaps equip participating
schools with the best facilities.

The Dong Jiao Zong has a case but it must realise it cannot exist in isolation
in a multiethnic country.

Dong Jiao Zong leaders cannot only see things from their perspective. Mere
suspicion of the motive isn't enough to argue against the Vision School

Superficial arguments won't win the support of the other races. They must be
convinced of the Dong Jiao Zong stand.

At the same time, the Government must appreciate the importance of cultural
pluralism. A Vision School will have no meaning if it carries only a name of a
particular ethnic group, the school library having only books of a single
language and restrictions are placed on the participant schools.

Other concerns include sovereignty of each school, committee representation,
community participation and administrative autonomy.

Then there are some racist officials who impose decisions that are against the
national policy. At university level, one read of moves to stop certain
cultural functions.

It is better that the fears of the tendencies to assimilate be discussed now
rather than when the project is fully carried out.

In the spirit of musyawarah (consensus), it is best that our educationists sit
and discuss, beginning with a common ground – and that is education standard
and national unity.