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Wannabe nationalists should focus on improving national schools

The call by Petaling Jaya Utara UMNO deputy division chief Mohamad Azli Mohemed Saad for the ruling party to discuss the abolishment of Chinese vernacular schools at is next General Assembly is disturbing to say the least.

According to media reports, Azli claims that the Chinese Malaysian vernacular schools have been exploited by opposition parties to incite hatred towards other races, and to spread racial and anti-government sentiments.

First, Azli’s statement that opposition parties are manipulating vernacular schools for such nefarious ends is simply untrue.

Second, Article 152(1) (a) and (b) of the Federal Constitution guarantees the right to vernacular education. Azli’s statement is yet another example of how UMNO and its surrogates only bandy about the Constitution if and when it suits the purposes.

It is true that Malaysia’s multiple educational streams do pose challenges to national unity.

However, the fact remains that Malaysia’s “Social Contract” guarantees the right to vernacular education and this cannot be changed without the consent of all ethnic groups concerned.

Indeed, many Chinese Malaysian vernacular schools are more “multiracial” than national-ones, or dare I say—some race-based parties out there.

Children from all ethnicities—including Malays—can be found thriving in vernacular schools today.

Indeed, the fact that there has been an upsurge of admissions into international schools (following the liberalisation introduced by former Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein), as well as private schools offering the national curriculum or an Islamic syllabus and homeschooling shows that the abandonment of the national stream is not a phenomenon limited to one race.

At the end of the day, education is a matter of parental choice.
Parents will choose whichever stream will give their children the best education and inclusive learning environment.

The idea that education should be a “one size fits all” affair is outdated and will damage Malaysia’s economy in the long-run as investors flock to other countries whose flexible education systems produce better and more productive human capital.

The fact that Malaysian students ranked 39 out of 44 countries in terms of problem solving in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) earlier this year shows that our education system is failing our children badly.

We should not waste time and needlessly increase ethnic tensions by trying to abolish or handicap vernacular schools.

Indeed, our efforts should be on improving the conditions in our national-type schools so that the latter becomes the first choice for all Malaysian parents.

Many parents have told me that they would love to send their children to national schools due to the fact that it is so much cheaper, but are reluctant because the quality of education there is not as good and due to the lack of inclusive environments there.

Wannabe nationalists and patriots like Azli should concentrate on improving standards and conditions in national schools rather than harping on vernacular schools.

We should be working to push all our children upwards, rather than seeking to drag everyone down.