Allow vernacular schools to retain the status quo from preschool to the end of primary school and then shift to a single national school system for the secondary schools.

I READ with interest Mohamed Ghouse Nasauru-ddin’s letter “We have to address core issues” (NST, April 25).

As stated by the learned writer, vernacular schools segregate and intensify racial stratification of our young at a tender age. It’s an open secret and everybody knows this is the core issue segregating our people but nobody dares to mention it openly as they are all “bogged down with vested political and chauvinistic interests”.

We are all avoiding the fundamental issue: the ticking time bomb, which one day may rear again its ugly head. It is no use to talk about the revamp of the education system with stopgap measures without considering the tremendous, long-term impact of segregation these schools have on the lives of our young, innocent children.

Most of our neighbouring countries faced with similar issues have tackled them.

In Thailand, the Chinese have long been assimilated and accepted into mainstream society as they share similar religious beliefs with the Thais. They have willingly allowed assimilation to take place and intermingled so well that it is difficult today to differentiate between the Thais and the Chinese. Presently in Thailand, Chinese medium schools account for less than 0.1 per cent of all schools.

The same scenario exists in most of the other Southeast Asian countries. Indonesia, however, solved the problem in a very harsh and decisive way. There, in the early 1960s, the Chinese were forced to adopt Indonesian names; Chinese schools were closed down and use of the Chinese language and customs were banned. These were cruel measures but they have produced amazing results.

Today, a majority of the ethnic Chinese, especially the younger generation, have excellent command of Bahasa Indonesia.

This, of course is not the solution for our country. We have to respect and take into account the provisions of our Constitution and the education acts, but the question of segregation still begs an answer. Given these constraints, the best option would be to allow vernacular schools to retain the status quo from preschool to the end of primary school — a span of almost eight years of education in the mother tongue — and then shift to a single national school system for secondary schools.

All secondary schools should then follow the national curriculum with Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction. There should not be any problems as pupils of these schools have been learning it since preschool. This type of desegregation of schools, if carried out, can only be done through the necessary amendments to the Constitution and enforcement of the law. In particular these national schools must have a provision for an appropriate number of periods in the timetable for classes in the mother tongue and culture — be it Chinese or Tamil — to be taught by qualified vernacular educators. These additional periods should be taken from the present allocation of English and Bahasa Malaysia prime-time periods.

However, all these would only be feasible if issues pertaining to the implementation and fate of vernacular schools and the thousands of teachers who teach only in their mother tongue be fairly addressed. These educators must, in all fairness be absorbed into the new system, with particular attention paid to the positions of the headmasters and headmistresses.

The racial composition of teachers, students and administrators in these national schools should be balanced, with all-round support for interracial mixing.

A.L. Kut,

Kota Baru, Kelantan

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