THE issue of vernacular schools is so sensitive that the prevailing sentiment is that the call for abolishing vernacular schools is racist in nature. But I don’t quite understand this rationale.
Wouldn’t controlled segregation be even more racist? But come to think of it, our national schools – in its somewhat innocuous way – have become vernacular.
Perhaps the resistance towards national schools is partly because the current system is seen as pushing Malay interests. Our current education system is merely a mirror reflecting an entrenched system of public life organised around race.
A former colleague of mine went to a Chinese primary school. During a reorganisation of the class, she was asked to sit next to a boy. As she sat down, the boy suddenly burst out crying. The teacher asked him what’s wrong, to which he replied, “I don’t want to sit next to a Malay girl.”
This was a one-off event, however, and she generally enjoyed her time in that school.
When I was in school, a Malay schoolmate sneered at a Chinese one for eating with her left hand. Of course, the Chinese girl is oblivious to the Malay taboo of eating with the left hand as its use is to wash “down there”.
These two instances were borderline racism, but it is fundamentally ignorance of the Other. Racism happens both in vernacular and national schools as it does in society. Let’s not pretend it doesn’t. We all have derogatory terms for one another. But racism at school level is ominous.
When students and teachers are found to be racist, it is our collective duty to expose it, much like the principal of a school in Johor who made racist remarks against the Chinese and Indians. Both the school and the principal were named and shamed.
Perhaps we should approach vernacular schools not with cries of abolishment but of integration. And I don’t mean any of that “vision school” thing. I mean a full integration, whereby languages such as Mandarin, Tamil, and even French, Spanish, German or any other foreign language, are taught alongside English and Bahasa Malaysia.
I don’t believe that just because your children attend a national school and have friends from other ethnicities, they will forget their mother tongue or cultural practices. One’s culture is learned and internalised at home.
Yes, vernacular schools also act as community centres but if we were to have them integrated, we would have clubs and associations that promote preservation of cultural heritage – much like the Kelab Kebudayaan at national schools. Again, with effort, dedication and commitment, these clubs and associations can be more than just lip service.
I think the underlying problem is a major distrust of our national schools and their questionable quality. I completely agree; what we need is a complete deconstruction, a brand new national school, one that encapsulates Malaysian values and reflects the societal change of aBangsa Malaysia that is taking place.