THERE has been a lot of talk lately about the Chinese community's efforts to address the problems faced by their vernacular schools.
This has created the assumption that the community is harping on this issue because they insist on preserving an insular way of life and promoting the superiority of Chinese language and culture.
This view could not be further from the truth.
First of all, consider the fact that national-type primary schools follow a common syllabus used by all national schools, the only difference being the medium of instruction.
Chinese primary schools, or SRJK(C)s, also teach Bahasa Malaysia as a compulsory subject.
In other words, there is no question about the integration of Chinese school students with the rest of society, as they are bound by the national language.
What is important for Chinese parents, however, is the standard of the schools that their children attend, as education is highly regarded by the community.
This is, therefore, the critical reason why the community wants to see the problems of their schools resolved.
Chinese schools have long been perceived as providing quality education because they emphasise strict discipline and academic excellence.
These virtues are becoming increasingly important not just to the Chinese, but to parents of other races in Malaysia as well.
The statistics are telling: out of a total 300,000 students in SRJK(C)s, 20 per cent or 60,000 are non-Chinese.
This reflects an increasing acceptance of Chinese school education by all Malaysians, and a recognition that Chinese schools have outgrown their communal role and become leaders in education.
In fact, Chinese schools have never practised a closed-door policy and have always accepted students of all races -- another indication that education, rather than racial segregation, is prioritised in these schools.
One of the reasons that parents from all races increasingly prefer Chinese schooling for their children is the unique advantage of learning Mandarin, which is becoming a global commercial language.
Malaysia's economy already benefits from our close relationship with China.
Last month, China's ambassador to Malaysia, Chai Xi, said that the total trade volume between Malaysia and China was expected to reach US$100 billion (RM300 billion) this year.
This means that the opportunities are booming in China, and Malaysians who have a strong command of Mandarin and English will have an edge over the others.
Growing interest in Chinese schools also shines a light on the strengths of the Chinese education system and the values nurtured in the students.
With committed teachers and a strong focus on academic achievements, Chinese schools consistently produce many top students in the country.
Homework and revision are emphasised, teaching the students to work hard, be disciplined and manage their time well.
Many parents have also expressed satisfaction with the schools’ holistic approach towards education as a way of building character.
The teachers’ interaction with students, the way that they teach and the schools’ social environment instills values like respect for elders, filial piety and courtesy.
Despite the strengths of Chinese schools, however, the system is not without its challenges, which I have written about previously.
Some Chinese-educated primary students find it tremendously difficult to master Bahasa Malaysia when they move on to national secondary schools, resulting in one out of four students dropping out at the age of 16.
Recent events have also highlighted other problems faced by Chinese schools, such as the lack of trained teachers conversant in Mandarin, poor infrastructure and lack of funding.
Although these issues are largely being championed by Chinese educationist groups such as Dong Zong and Ziao Jong, as well as members of the Chinese community, there are also the silent voices of other races whose children will benefit when these problems are resolved.
These diverse voices are a reminder to the government that Chinese-type schools serve all Malaysians, and that addressing their issues will maintain the integrity of Chinese schools as a provider of quality education for all.
By Rita Sim | firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: New Straits Times Columnist Wednesday April 4, 2012