THOUGH much has been said about the advantages and academic achievements of Chinese vernacular schools, we must not ignore the fact that these schools segregate, intensify racial stratification and are a form of apartheid that separates our young.
There has to be a conscious and manipulated effort by schools and parents to encourage interracial ties among children.
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These schools are a setback to national integration and nation-building and need to be more interracial.
Our children are not interacting with the other races. Some will go on living their whole lives without making a single friend from another race.
We need to catch them when they are young by manipulating and structuring interracial contacts in schools.
The oft-mentioned robust statistics to portray Chinese schools as a growing and popular option for many Malay parents these days should be seen in its proper light.
For one, most of these schools are located in the big towns and though some Malay parents might prefer these schools for personal reasons, by and large, many do so out of convenience.
In fact, the presence of a number of Malay pupils in some Chinese schools does not automatically make it “multiracial”.
The chances are, these schools only give an outward appearance of friendship and illusion of meaningful racial contact without actually having it.
Simple exposure does not denote integration.
There needs to be a conscious, manipulated effort on the part of schools and parents to make them interact. Otherwise, race will still determine the pupils’ choice of friends.
In a multiracial and multicultural nation like ours, this should be our first priority. It is really unreasonable for us to talk about the revamp of the education system without considering the tremendous, long-term impact of segregation of the schools on our children.
Most of our politicians avoid race issues but some are two-faced — singing a different tune when they are with their own race and another when they are with the other races.
We keep sweeping the dust under the carpet, avoiding the fundamental issue which, one day, will rear its ugly head again and strike with unimaginable, destructive force.
Most of our neighbouring countries that were faced with almost similar issues have tackled it in a most amicable way.
In Thailand, for instance, the Chinese have long been assimilated and accepted into main-stream society as they share similar religious beliefs with the Thais, in addition to the fact that there are hardly any Chinese-medium schools there.
In Thailand, at present, Chinese-medium schools account for less than 0.1 per cent of all schools.
A similar scenario exists in most other countries in Southeast Asia nations. However, we should respect and take into account provisions in our Federal Constitution and Education Act, though the question of segregation still begs for an answer.
A case in point is the much-talked about race imbalance in our civil service and inequality in the commercial sphere. The root causes of these might have their humble beginnings in the segregated schools.
Socioeconomic segregation, for example, could be partly the indirect result of segregated schools. In fact, segregation may even compound the existing social and economic inequalities.
Many Malays, for example, are unable to enter and compete successfully in the commercial and business sectors because they do not speak Chinese, have no Chinese friends in the right places or the support of the Chinese social network.
For the most part, they were separated from the Chinese community and their formative years were spent in national schools and within a community that did not prepare them for the commercial world.
Given the current constraints, the best option would be to make our schools more multiracial.
We need to change the racial compositions of Chinese, Tamil and national schools so that our children would be forced to interact.
This can be difficult as schools are situated within communities and the racial patterns are likely to be reflected in these schools.
This type of desegregation of schools, if carried out, can only be done through enforcement of the law.
In big cities and other areas where the demography permits, designated areas with an equal composition of the races should not be allowed to enrol more than 50 per cent of any ethnic group in a school.
This might limit the desire of many Chinese and Malay parents to enrol their children in their school of choice, but in the long run, it would be a better option for national integration.
To promote this, the government should give these parents incentives, such as tax cuts or even monthly monetary reimbursements.
In such schools, the racial composition of teachers, pupils and administrators should be balanced, with an all-round support for interracial mixing.
Cooperative interdependence should be fostered in the classroom and common goals set in sports, co-curricular activities, social projects, assignments, musical shows, dramas and other presentations.
All these activities should be manipulated with an eye towards more informal race contacts and integration.
The law, government agencies, mass media, religious bodies and non-governmental organisations should also assist with integration, making the public aware of the dangers of segregation.
Read more: EDUCATION: Don’t ignore segregation issue – Letters to the Editor – New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/education-don-t-ignore-segregation-issue-1.154014?cache=03D163D03edding-pred-1.1176%2F%3FpFpentwage63Dp%3A%2Fhe3D03Dn63Frea-rti3D19.3D163D03edding-pred-1.1176%2F%3FpFpentwage63Dp%3A%2Fhe3D03Dn63Frea-rti3D19.111w5ii%2Fed-1.117%2F7#ixzz28gT7K9KX