On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

We all stand together

Even with all the signs pointing to unity being our greatest asset, some quarters continue to sow divisive politics as part of their delusions of grandeur.

STRANGE as it seems, the only schools with a multi-racial student enrolment and teachers are vernacular ones, specifically Chinese primary schools. For doubters, especially politicians, they only need to visit these grounds of education and see for themselves.

I have visited many schools across the nation in my time, particularly during the run-up to the National Day celebrations to drum up patriotism with a fervour, and in those many years, I’ve noticed a steady increase in non-Chinese students in Chinese primary schools.

Reports say the non-Chinese made up more than 50% of the new intake at SJKC Masai, Johor Baru, last year, making it perhaps the Chinese school with the highest ratio of non-Chinese pupils down south. According to a news report, the school accepted 233 new pupils, of whom 130 are non-Chinese. The school has a total of 1,559 pupils at last count, and 667 (or 43%) are non-Chinese.

SJKC Tionghua Kok Bin, a small school in Klang with an enrolment of only 379, has an amazing multi-racial make-up of 50% Chinese, 42% Malays, 6% Indians and others making up the balance.

Speaking from a neutral standpoint, being an advocate of re-introducing English as a medium of instruction into our schools, this can only bode well for unity, what with the benefits that come with it.

I am the product of a time when English was the main language in teaching. I also belong to the last batch which sat for the Malaysia Certificate of Education, or the equivalent of the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia.

Likewise, I took the Higher School Certificate examination as the entry examination for local university seats.

It was my years of education at St Xavier’s Institution in Penang that shaped my world view, which provided the right dosage of liberalism. But more importantly, it’s where I made firm friends of all races.

Not just Malays and Indians, but many Eurasians, too, a community more familiar to those living in Penang and Melaka.

These multi-racial schools were neutral grounds, where real friendship with various races were truly forged. And time has proven that they weren’t superficial relationships or mere professional ties, either.

There was also another factor – England was then a real economic powerhouse and China and Taiwan were second-class citizens. And just when education had seemed sacred ground, the degrees from their universities weren’t recognised and even seen as inferior.English was the language of the elite and Mandarin was confined to the working class and blue-collar workers.

But the situation has turned on its head now. Anyone who has visited Beijing, Shanghai and the top tier cities of China, will attest to how much the Asian powerhouse has overtaken the United States, Britain and many European cities.

If we are unfamiliar with China, know that the situation is worse in western countries, where they still have superior views of themselves.

It should be frightening to see how far we’ve lagged as the world around us has evolved. We should rue missed opportunities and be annoyed at how we’ve drawn ourselves out of the loop of progress.

Vietnam are on our coattails, even at Asean level, while Indonesia and Thailand are easily on par.

While our politicians are preoccupied with their aimless and unproductive politicking, other nations have raced ahead with their determination and focused goals in achieving economic advancements.

And maintaining commerce with China is a top priority, what with its huge market and growing population of wealthy people.

The ace up our sleeve is our people’s ability to speak Mandarin and other Chinese dialects. Excluding Singapore, no Asean country can match us in this realm.

Doing business in China involves plenty of relationship building, and it’s done through guanxi (pronounced gwon-she). It’s simply a Chinese term meaning “networks” or “connections”, which opens doors for new businesses and facilitates deals. A person with a lot of guanxi will be in a better position to generate business compared to someone lacking it.

To compensate for the inability to speak Mandarin, I have tried to capture their hearts with my ability to drink endless rounds of distilled Chinese liquor with them while staying sober.

Basically, knowing to read and write in Chinese – the language of the world’s biggest customer market of all business types – is a tremendous advantage.

Mandarin has economic value as a language. So too Bahasa Malaysia, Hindi and Tamil, especially to the Indonesian and Indian markets, what with their humongous markets. And Arabic is just as essential.

In many European countries, national language apart, students are expected to learn and pass English, French and German language exams. We know kids are completely capable, but the self-appointed champions of race and religion are the ones making it difficult for others to learn.

So, we must bear with a lawyer’s nonsensical attempt to portray the existence of vernacular schools as unconstitutional.

Rightly, the Chief Judge of Malaya dismissed Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz’s leave application, on the grounds that it was within the Parliament’s power to form such schools.

Mohd Khairul’s lawyer Datuk Shaharudin Ali said he was “surprised” by the court’s decision and said his next step might be to file a new motion on the issue at the High Court.

Well, we’re surprised that he was shocked, and in keeping with the current theme of humour going around, many Malaysians are surprised that he was surprised.

If he has chosen to pick on vernacular schools, then he should also challenge the existence of so many international schools that essentially use English as a medium of instruction.

It seems acceptable for those who can afford it to study at these schools which use English, while the rest of the country remains out of reach of such a luxury.

It’s counterproductive to spend time cooking up plots to derail, or even to eradicate vernacular schools, when these institutions have proven to be assets with how they’ve produced many of our finest leaders, businessmen and community leaders.

It’s part of wilful imagination, and it’s fictitious to claim that vernacular schools have threatened national unity.

At these vernacular schools, racial harmony is heavily promoted. However, that tenet can’t be attributed to politicians and groups who claim these schools are the source of unity problems.