On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Get back to basics of education first

Among the failures in national schools that he cited was
the over-emphasis on matters relating to religion. As a result, many non-Malay
students do not enrol in these schools.

This, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said, had defeated the purpose of national
schools which had been set up to encourage students of various races to learn
together to enhance racial unity and integration.

Dr Mahathir is correct in saying that the system in these schools has been
found wanting due to ineffective approaches towards the learning process.

Students in Chinese schools, on the other hand, excelled in their studies, he

He said national schools placed less emphasis on education and disciplinary

His remarks were followed by Negri Sembilan state executive councillor Zakaria
Nordin's claim that there were racist teachers in the state.

These teachers in national schools, he said, made insensitive racial remarks
without considering the feelings of the other races.

It has been a week of bad publicity for national schools but in all fairness,
there are still plenty of teachers who take their role as educators

Many brave the difficult living conditions in rural areas to nurture the minds
of the young because they love their work.

But national schools, we cannot deny, have lost their shine. Many parents,
including Malays, send their children to Chinese schools because they believe
the quality of education there is higher.

In addition to the emphasis on Maths, many parents feel their children must
learn to speak and write Chinese because it is regarded as a language with
economic value.

While our educationists brag about smart schools, most Chinese schools in
cities already conduct compulsory computer classes in Year One.

These facilities are made available, not from government support, but through
community help.

Such self-reliance, which can be frustrating at times, has also resulted in
more resilient students who learn at a young age that they must stand on their
own two feet and not expect hand-outs.

Besides dedicated teachers, parents with high expectations automatically push
their children to excel. The end result is that everyone gains from the
excellent academic performance.

For example, it is common to hear of parents being hauled up by teachers
because their children are average performers.

One Chinese school in Petaling Jaya has such a reputation that parents are as
nervous as their children when they turn up to collect annual report

Parents get on-the-spot lectures from teachers if there are unsatisfactory
marks on the cards.

There are instances where parents camp overnight outside the premises of
Chinese schools just to ensure their child gets placed in a "good"
class while others forge home addresses and use political connections to secure
places for their children.

Needless to say, the vernacular education system has contributed much to the
human resource of our country.

It must never be seen as an obstacle to national unity. The weaknesses of our
education system is just one contributing factor to the lack of national

National policies and laws, perceived to be unfair, also have an impact on
racial unity among Malaysians.

In the past, many of us had the privilege of attending English-medium schools
where students were of all races. Not only do we still remember fondly our
friends of various races but we remain proud of our English.

For those from Christian missionary schools, there was a sense of belonging and

The old boy togetherness was grounded in many of us and the networking proved
useful in our working life.

Many students ended up as teachers in their alma mater and were dedicated to
their work.

But all that is gone now. Every time a new Education Minister is appointed, we
see numerous changes being made, from school syllabus to school holidays.

Then there are also misguided bureaucrats who throw in their racial prejudices
at the implementation stage and sometimes ruin the noble values of

Dr Mahathir's wish to see unity in schools is to be commended but we need to
take one step at a time.

What is urgently required is to bring back quality teaching in national
schools. Teaching must be made an attractive career. Teachers deserve better
salaries and better perks.

Our children do not need more subjects and more textbooks. Malaysia must be the
only country where children get up at unearthly hours and go to school pulling
trolley bags.

In most countries, the system merely focuses on the core subjects. In our
attempt to learn more, our students have grasped less.

The Government must seriously consider bringing back English-medium schools as
there will be many parents who will want to enrol their children there. Even
Malay groups have appealed to the Government to consider re-introducing
English-medium schools.

Leave the Chinese and Tamil schools alone because their places are guaranteed
under the Federal Constitution.

Any suggestion of introducing a single medium of instruction, no matter how
subtle, will not go down well.

The teaching of Pupils Own Language (POL) can never be a substitute for the
learning of Chinese and Tamil in vernacular schools where the learning
environment is more conducive.

Our politicians, bureaucrats and educationists should just get back to the
basics of education before they talk of the larger issues.