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Sunday, 12 October 2014

Chinese language advantage and education in M'sia; Don’t turn it into a political tool!

It is bewildering that vernacular schools should be made the scapegoat for race relation issues in this country when our greatest asset is our multi-racial society, which puts us above our Asean neighbours in competing for the economic pie.

MY father sent me and my two elder brothers to study at the St Xavier’s Institution in Penang because he felt we all needed a good education in an English-medium school.

My eldest brother studied at a Chinese school and did not fare well. It was enough for my dad to be convinced that we should all be in a missionary school.

My father Wong Soon Cheong spoke fluent Malay with a thick northern accent and had taught himself to read and write English while he improved his command of Chinese.

Like many Chinese in his time, and even now, they knew that the key to success was education, and the best education facilities were found in the English-medium schools.

When I entered Year 1 in 1968, England was still the economic powerhouse of Europe, and mastering the Queen’s English would be the passport to a brighter future.

Fast forward to 2014 – the economic balance has shifted. China has become a superpower and besides being the biggest producer of just about anything, it is also the biggest market for anyone from anywhere wanting to sell anything.

My biggest regret now is that because I am a product of the English-medium system, I am unable to speak or write in Chinese. The dialects I am able to use, the smattering of Hokkien and Cantonese, is of little value in mainland China.

Anyone who wants to do business in China needs to speak Mandarin. It’s as simple as that, and this writer will be shoved out of the door if he cannot go beyond the initial greetings.

Even in Kuala Lumpur, I would never be employed in any company that has business dealings with China. This is not discrimination as, in the business world, my linguistic handicap cannot be ignored.

By the time my daughter had to be enrolled in a primary school, the scenario had changed. There were no more English-medium schools and the national schools were no longer the first choice for many Chinese parents. They were not only concerned about the quality of education but everyone also knew by then – that was in 1998 – that China would be the country to watch.

This, of course, led to many households being rather mixed up as the English-speaking parents had to grapple with their children being schooled in Chinese.

But it was a simple economic decision, nothing more than that. Most of us had no relatives in China and certainly no political sentiments whatsoever towards China.

As someone who spent all his years in the then English-medium school, I had no affiliation for many things Chinese. I am what many would call a “yellow banana” – a yellow-skinned Chinese but one who is white-hearted. But the global future of China was there for all to see.

When my daughter went to England to do her A-Levels, her school had a full class of students from different nationalities wanting to sit for the Chinese language examination. The school appointed the best teacher to teach the class. Such was the importance it placed on its students acquiring the language skills.

My daughter left for England before the SPM but she returned to Kuala Lumpur to sit for the examination. We wanted to make sure that she cleared this examination and also get a credit in Bahasa Malaysia, which is necessary if she wants to be a lawyer in Malaysia.

Her school in the United Kingdom frowned on her taking leave of absence to take the SPM. After all, how she fared in the BM paper (she got a distinction) would have no bearing on her ongoing studies for the A-Levels.

The Chinese can be described as being very practical people, and we needed to cover all our bases.

The fact is that 90% of Chinese parents today send their children to Chinese primary schools in Malaysia, and that 15% of students studying at the nearly 1,300 Chinese primary schools in the country are non-Chinese.

Even my personal driver, an Indian, sent his daughter to a Chinese primary school. It must have been tough for the parents but she speaks Mandarin fluently, besides Bahasa Malaysia, English and Tamil. It will certainly benefit her in the long run.

Schools in the UK, the bastion of Anglo-Saxon culture, know the global economic value of Chinese. They are making plans to ensure that their children study Chinese so that they won’t be left out.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has been quoted as saying that all students in the UK should study Chinese.

Johnson, who is studying Chinese himself, reportedly suggested that Britons should be learning as much as possible about China, as the East Asian giant continues to expand its global influence.

He said the children would grow up naturally knowing about China’s importance. When quizzed on whether they should also learn Chinese as a standard subject in schools, he told the Press Association: “Why not? Absolutely. My kids are learning it, so why not? Definitely, definitely.”

The mayor told the press he was learning Chinese “from the beginning” as he showed the journalists a folder on which he had written the words “Middle Kingdom” or “China” in the language. He told university students in Beijing that his 16-year-old daughter was learning Chinese and was due to visit China.

Singapore is often used as an example of a nation, despite its Chinese majority population, not having Chinese primary schools. The fact is that every Singaporean has to be schooled in English, and then it is compulsory for them to be schooled in their mother tongue. With special permission, they can also take up an extra subject in one another’s mother tongue languages.

Chinese is therefore a compulsory subject for Chinese students in Singapore while the non-Chinese can choose Malay or Tamil as options. English is a compulsory subject to pass over there.

Now we come to the point I am leading to – why is there a need for anyone to suggest that Chinese and Tamil schools be closed down, supposedly because they are the source of disunity in this country?

It is bewildering that vernacular schools should be made the scapegoat for race relation issues in this country.

I do not think anyone would be so naïve and simplistic, especially politicians, as to actually believe that by abolishing these schools, all the problems will disappear.

Many mono-ethnic countries are highly divisive even though they have the same language, religion or culture, particularly in Eastern Europe and parts of Africa.

Our biggest problem is not whether we are using Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese, English or Tamil to teach – we should be worried over the falling quality of education in our schools and in universities.

We should be losing sleep that 70% of our teachers teaching English actually failed in the competency tests.

And why isn’t anyone worried that our public universities have still not made it into the top-ranked universities in the world?

Or why our students, despite their string of distinctions, are now not getting into Ivy League universities in the United States.

Mandarin, in fact, isn’t enough. We should all be able to speak Arabic because the richest countries are in the Middle East. With so many Arab tourists visiting Malaysia, are there enough Arab-speaking tour guides?

Malaysia’s greatest asset is its multi-racial society, which puts us above our Asean neighbours in competing for the economic pie.

The Mandarin speakers can penetrate markets in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the Malay speakers can look after Indonesia, the biggest market in the Asean region, and the Malaysian Indians can make their mark in India. When we work together, we can become very powerful. We should make full use of our combined strength.

Languages are assets, not liabilities. I understand that there are those who believe that only a single-stream school system would unite our young.

Those who called for the closure of Chinese schools should talk to the parents of non-Malay students who study in such schools. Can our politicians just listen and not talk for just a moment, so perhaps they can learn something?

Walk around these schools, see the facilities, check out how discipline is instilled or why parents are called up by the school authorities when their children do not do well.

Certainly, the history of Communist China is not taught there. Neither is anyone brainwashed into voting for the DAP if that’s what the suspicions are all about. The national schools in predominantly Malay Kelantan and Terengganu are the same elsewhere and yet, many of the parents and school leavers have always voted strongly for PAS. Would these schools be regarded as a source of disunity and anti-establishment?

The English-medium schools in my time were regarded as neutral ground, where children of all races came together. But that’s history and our country’s standard of English has taken a free fall since then.

And for the record, before I am accused of being a racist, I wish to emphasise that I voluntarily studied Malay Literature and Islamic History in Sixth Form. When I went to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, I signed up for courses at the Malay Letters Department.

The Islamic Civilization course at UKM is compulsory and I have written many times that fears expressed by some non-Muslim politicians about this course, which they wrongly claimed as a religious indoctrination course, are unwarranted and silly.

We must never be afraid of quality education and the study of multiple languages. How many of our elite politicians send their children to private or international schools in Malaysia or even to the UK or Australia? Some even pack them off to study at the secondary school level overseas, despite telling ordinary Malaysians to study in our schools.

This debate on vernacular schools should not go any further. We have bigger problems ahead to worry about, like the cost of living, the inflationary hike and the weak market sentiments. We are all in the same boat together.

By Wong Chun Wai on the beat The Star/Asia News Network

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group's managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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MCA Youth chief laments missed scholarship

KUALA LUMPUR: In an emotional personal account, MCA Youth chief Chong Sin Woon (pic) shared how he was denied a scholarship despite getting all A’s in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), but he did not give up.

He said he joined MCA and Bari­san Nasional, which he believed defended the rights of all races.

Chong, who was born in Nilai, Negri Sembilan, told delegates at the 50th MCA Youth annual general assembly that he had many Malay and Indian friends at school and they would skip classes and go to the waterfall together.

However, despite getting straight A’s in the SPM, Chong said he was not given any scholarship and had to pursue Form 6 studies.

“There was no other choice since I didn’t come from a rich family.

MCA Youth chief Chong Sin Woon<< MCA Youth chief Chong Sin Woon

“When I discovered my Malay friends received Mara scholarships or places at matriculation programmes due to the quota system at that time, my life changed.

“Am I not a Malaysian too? I, too, studied hard. But I didn’t give up and went to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia to study economics.

“I joined the MCA as I believe in the Barisan formula, which is to defend all communities in Malay­sia. This is a party that cares for all,” he said to applause from the audience.

Chong, a senator, received a standing ovation from delegates for his impassioned speech which touched on matters such as vernacular schools, race relations and the spirit of the Barisan coalition.

He stressed that the existence of Chinese and Tamil schools was not an obstacle to national unity.

“Nobody should challenge the rights of the Chinese and Indian communities to learn their mother tongue at vernacular schools.

“If we view the matter objectively, Chinese education is no longer solely about the Chinese community alone. Non-Chinese students studying in SJK (C) schools nationwide now comprise 12% of the total number of students,” he said.

Chong also called for Barisan to return to its founding principles, which was nationalism for all races.

“When MCA founder Tun Tan Cheng Lock talked about nationalism, it was for a Malayan nationalism; not for a Chinese type of nationalism. It was never about nationalism for one race. I believe that if Barisan goes back to the foundation laid by our founders, the rakyat will return to support us,” he said.

Chong also thanked Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for allocating RM50mil for Chinese primary schools and RM25mil for conforming schools in the Budget 2015.

“When we sang the Barisan Nasional party song earlier in the assembly, a line in the lyrics says Barisan is for all races and that touched me,” he said.

He lamented that every now and then, there seemed to be comments made by others that hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Indians by labelling them as pendatang (foreigners), penumpang (passengers) and even kaum penceroboh (trespassers).

“Wasn’t independence achieved 57 years ago as a result of all the main races in the country?

“Wasn’t the first thing that Tunku Abdul Rahman did upon returning to the country after dealing with the British was to meet with MCA president Tun Tan Cheng Lock?

“Didn’t MCA give its support to the Government in cracking down on the communists who disturbed the country’s peace in the 1960s?” Chong asked.

- The Star/Asia News Network

Umno’s Mohamad Azli cautioned over statement

PETALING JAYA: An MCA leader has cautioned a divisional Umno official against “crossing the line” in suggesting that next month’s Umno annual general assembly should discuss ending the Chinese vernacular school system.

MCA religious harmony bureau chief Datuk Ti Lian Ker said that Petaling Jaya Utara Umno division deputy chief Mohamad Azli Mohemed Saad should accept with an open heart the reminder that he gave him as it was in good faith.

“It is in my interest to caution politicians like Azli who are out to score political brownie points by picking on Chinese education, Chinese culture and who want to use the community as a ‘punching bag’,” he said.

“I did not overreact or become too emotional and I had merely cautioned a fellow comrade in Barisan Nasional not to cross the line,” Ti said, referring to a statement by Azli yesterday in which he denied that his suggestion was seditious.

Azli had said Ti lacked an understanding of Article 152 of the Federal Constitution on the position of the Malay language as well as other vernacular languages.

He said Ti and his colleagues should confront Pakatan Rakyat which had abused vernacular schools by using it as a political platform to brainwash the young to hate the Government.

Ti said that Azli could have expressed his misgivings in a constructive manner.

“The way he chose to react is not going to take the nation anywhere but is going to destroy the very foundation of our religious and racial harmony.”

“Our forefathers have already established the foundation of religious and cultural harmony in Malaysia and there are certain lines that we should not cross,” he said.

Ti said Azli had also wrongly accused him of lodging a police report on the matter.

It was MCA Youth, said Ti, that had lodged a report because they felt that Azli’s comment had breached Section 505 of the Penal Code which criminalises statements inciting communal ill-will.

Ti said Azli should stop being a “loose cannon” and urged him to focus on bigger issues that required their joint effort and attention. - The Star/Asia News Network

HOW ELSE CAN UMNO SURIVIVE? Don’t turn Chinese schools into political tool !

Umno Petaling Jaya Utara division deputy head Mohamad Azli Mohemed Saad accused Chinese primary schools of becoming hotbed for the opposition to spread racial and anti-government sentiments and thus, suggested that the Umno general assembly next month should discuss closing down Chinese primary schools.

Cheras Umno division chief Datuk Seri Syed Ali Al Habshee reiterated the call to abolish Chinese vernacular schools, claiming that the multi-stream education system was a breeding ground for racial discord.

Although the remarks are absurd, they are still supported by the Peninsular Malay Students Federation (GPMS) and Malay rights group Perkasa, reflecting the arrogant attitude and narrow thinking of some Umno members.

It is not uncommon to see politicians manipulate Chinese education issues to gain political capital.

However, remarks unfavourable to Chinese education have become increasingly intense in recent years.

From former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah's suggestion of including Chinese education into the national school curriculum which teaches all languages to Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Razali Ibrahim's remarks calling for no more request to build Chinese primary schools and now, Azli's remarks to abolish Chinese primary schools. Apparently, they are not isolated cases.

Singularism has been lingering in Umno and it is harmful to Umno, as well as Barisan Nasional.

It could even destroy national unity. Worse, advanced and more competitive countries have encouraged their people to master multiple languages in this era of globalisation, but our politicians are still embracing extreme singularism.

It is worrisome whether Malaysia can really turn into a developed country.

Chinese primary schools are an important part of the national education system.

Their teachers, syllabuses and teaching materials are all in line with the Education Ministry's curriculum. Just like national primary schools, the syllabuses of Chinese primary schools promote racial harmony and instilling loyalty, as well as patriotism.

It is shameful for politicians to make accusations out of nothing and frame Chinese primary schools as a hotbed of anti-government sentiments, just to gain political capital.

Article 152(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution clearly stated that '"no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (otherwise than for official purposes), or from teaching or learning, any other language".

Moreover, among the current 600,000 Chinese primary school pupils, 15%, or 80,000 are non-Chinese.

The figure shows that Chinese primary schools are not a stumbling block to national unity, but schools cultivating national talents and attracting pupils of various races.

It is always the time for raising sensitive issues before the annual Umno general assembly is convened.

Some people try to act like a hero while some people make trouble, with different intentions.

But the acts of stirring racial issues have always gotten on the nerves of Chinese community. This time, its grassroots leaders made Chinese primary schools their target.

Apparently, there are other motives behind it, reflecting the internal power struggles in Umno and the approaching storm.

Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad criticised Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in his blog not long ago, declaring withdrawal of his support to Najib.

The move was like sending a clear message to Umno grassroots that they may openly challenge Najib during the general assembly in November.

Although he has stepped down, Dr Mahathir remains influential. The intention of pressuring Najib is obvious when his minions raise the "abolish Chinese primary schools" issue now.

The remarks made by Umno grassroots leaders, of course, cannot represent the government's stand.
However, the "abolish Chinese primary schools" issue has touched on the sensitivities of the Chinese community, triggering resentment and indignation.

Najib and his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also education minister, must not remain silent.

Instead, they should defend the status of Chinese primary schools to prevent the issue from getting out of hand. In addition, the authorities should also charge Azli and others who make such remarks with sedition, to set an example and eliminate extremist racial remarks.


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