KUALA LUMPUR: Despite its popularity, Chinese education has been faulted for not moving with the times, particularly its failure to equip students to face the challenges of the modern world.
Chinese vernacular schools in Malaysia went through a period of modernisation a hundred years ago, but did not transform their teaching methods and curriculum to produce trilingual students who are savvy enough to take on the world.
The Chinese schools’ emphasis on Mandarin may have worked well before but as competition in the global arena grew, it is not enough to simply speak Mandarin – one must speak English too, and Chinese schools have been slow to catch up to this reality.
Instead, they have resorted to maintaining Mandarin as a medium of instruction as a way to display a Chinese identity, at the expense of their students’ command of English and Bahasa Malaysia.
Centre for Strategic Engagement founder Rita Sim, who is also executive director of Sin Chew Media Corp, said: “The question for Chinese educationists now is this: are you using the Chinese language to gain and impart knowledge, or are you using it as an identity marker?
“It may seem the latter because the issues of race and religion are so prevalent in Malaysia that Chinese language becomes an identifying trait for the Chinese community. I think there is a debate out there, between the Chinese education groups, the likes of the United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong), on what they intend to do with Chinese education – to give the child knowledge, or use the language to define your identity?”
Sim is a strong proponent for modernising the syllabus in Chinese schools and increasing the emphasis on English, which is the “language of the Internet and of knowledge”.
She questioned the so-called competitive edge of Chinese education, citing a 2003 Education Ministry report that one out of four students dropped out of Chinese schools by age 16.
More recently, statistics given by the Education Ministry showed that between 2006 and 2010, of 9.3% of 2.3 million students who dropped out, 0.7% were from national schools, 4.24% from Chinese national-type schools and 1.41% from Tamil national-type schools.