Vernacular schools must die

Malaysia is bizarre.

In the 1954 the Brown vs Board of Education Topeka case established that the idea of separate but equal schools (black and white segregated schools in the old South) was wrong. Through political storms and bigot shouts, the federal government in America enforced desegregation.

Fifty four years later in Malaysia, we are talking still about segregated schools being best for everyone!

To provide some context the 1956 Razak and 1960 Rahman reports which provided the framework for education in the country were only written in the same period as the leading changes in America.The Bantu Act in South Africa had already in high gear, kicking off real segregation.

Therefore in highly pluralised Malaya, it was expedient to keep the schools as they were and try to work the system. The opportunistic tendencies of Umno has kept the status quo going half a century later.

Four streams

The Malaysian system is a Malayan system (yes, very typical of a peninsula minded government). With the British leaving they had the following

a) English – private and government schools, which are still the source of the ‘old boys clubs’

b) The pondok schools, which were really schools for basic language and religious education

c) Chinese schools. private mostly.

d) The tamil schools- built by estate companies to provide the most basic of education. There were a few government schools ( my dad attended the one in old cheras road)

Every school had to fall into the control of the government, irrespective if they are owned by the government. The majority of the schools which we have today, are those built since independence and they have found their way to one of these categories.

The state had to pander to Chinese and Tamil schools in public debates, to show a sense of Malaysia. The persistent and involved attitude of the Chinese community enabled them to get as much as they could get from the Umno government and private fund-raising met the remaining needs.

The pondok schools in the majority are now religious schools, and they took a more Arabic tangent starting from the 1980s rapid Islamisation. The increase of the teaching of Islam, syariah courts’ importance and jobs pertaining to Islam have made what was a minority branch into a major one. They are funded by both federal and state monies.

The poorest cousins are the tamil schools which suffered more from start since the leadership of MIC were mostly English educated. The poorer tamils who made the majority were necessary mostly for electoral votes only. Samy Vellu’s charge of the poorer tamils to power worsened things as there was more interest in maintaining power than improving the schools.


As I indicated even if the schools divided were acceptable considering the political realities of the day, it still does not explain why there was no plan to reconcile the schools in the decades to come.

Surely keeping millions of students segregated would harm national integration.

So when you have the typical product of a english school from the 50s whine about the way they were all together in the past without colour distinction, he is probably referring to his environment, and not what was prevalent in religious, chinese and tamil schools back then or even now.

He is probably bitter about the racial card being flaunted in those prized english schools. That is true.

But when your government (yup, yup, the one you voted for repeatedly) , as they say in an Offspring track, kept them separated – how can they help being not racist?

The impasse

The real impasse has been between the well-supported Chinese schools and the national schools ( English schools plus all the schools since). The Chinese are unwilling to trust the national schools as seen by the desertion of the Chinese from national primary schools. And the Ministry of Education controlled by Umno interest are bent on making schools a place to parade race glories.

As I have said repeatedly, you cannot have a real national school, if the policy makers are playing race cards as their Raison d’être.

The solution

All non-national schools have to be given the option either to be national or completely private. No taxpayers money for non-public education, and public education cannot discriminate.

Chinese, Tamil and religious schools discriminate, so they have to do with their own money.

Article Three only makes Islam the official religion, and has no real impact in the constitution of 57. If you really want your child to have a complete religious education, pay for it.

Otherwise he or she will go to a national school that will give basic religious education along with language classes for Mandarin, Tamil and every other language desired by the student population of the school.

Reality check

We are a moderately sized country with a healthy economy. We can’t afford to give great education if we have four types of public schools and multiple political niceties. We waste so much money in trying to pander rather than helping our kids count and read.

Schools can allocate additional hours after school, for paid religious and language classes. During the day, all the kids go to classes and are not divided by ethnicity or religion.

Malaysians who migrate to Australia don’t have problems with their kids attending national schools over there, but they do with our national schools here. So the problem is less about education and more about the politics of this country.

The real challenges are if they can score in their SATs, gain entry into top universities and work the PC. These are challenging times, and the challenge is better met if you pool your resources for real education.

Is that going to upset a few people? Probably. In 1950s America when they desegregated the schools, in states like Alabama they had to send in the National Guards because the state troopers were not going to let blacks and whites study together.

Maybe we need to start upsetting people to get common sense more space in this country.

2 thoughts on “Vernacular schools must die

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