LAST week, I wrote about the strengths and weaknesses of the Chinese education system in Malaysia.
I tried to demonstrate that the weaknesses of Chinese education do not lie in the system itself, but in the fact that we have never had constructive, long-term solutions to the problems that we face.
Years have been wasted on politicising the issue when we could have capitalised on the strengths of the system to enrich our country's education.
The open-door policy of Chinese schools has been noted as one of the merits, as it offers an alternative for all children, regardless of race, to be educated in Chinese, moreover in an environment that emphasises discipline and industry.
With an enrolment of about 80,000 non-Chinese students, there is a valuable opportunity here to promote cross-cultural understanding and integration. A Chinese-Muslim mother told me that her children's friends in their Chinese primary school know little about the practices of other races and gain valuable insight from her children about Malay and Muslim culture.
Education in Mandarin is another strong point of the system, as the growing economic influence of China globally is a phenomenon that can be tapped into by graduates who are fluent in Mandarin.
These graduates, whose strengths are usually science and technical subjects, have a competitive advantage over professionals from Western countries who are now looking East as the American and European economies falter.
This provides an ideal opportunity for Malaysia to leapfrog over our neighbours, as our Chinese-educated graduates can use their talents to open doors to China and bring trade opportunities back to the country.
However, a big stumbling block to achieving this is the weak grasp of English among the Chinese-educated.
This precludes them from being employed in the commercial sector here, particularly in multinational companies where the trade prospects are the greatest.
Unemployment is not the only problem.
An even bigger threat is the eventual brain drain because these graduates will leave for Hong Kong, Taiwan and China where mastery of Mandarin alone can tide them over -- for now.
The civil sector is not a viable alternative either, as Chinese school leavers also lack proficiency in Bahasa Malaysia. This is one of the key reasons that Chinese recruits number so few among the civil service and armed forces, and that their prospects for promotion are poor.
It is not racial quota, as commonly believed, but simply the fact that with a small pool in the civil service, there are just not enough non-Malay officers who can move up the ranks.
This racial imbalance is a huge threat to our nation-building efforts, as we will not be able to achieve a truly Malaysian civil service which will affect everyday governance and administration of the country.
The language flaw in the Chinese school system is probably the greatest pitfall that the community faces. While the multiracial makeup of Chinese schools promotes inter-racial engagement, the system also leads to self-segregation as the community cuts itself off from the mainstream due to language differences.
What does it say when the prime minister himself has to set up a Mandarin Facebook page just to connect with the Chinese community?
We know that this weakness can be traced back to the lack of resources for Chinese schools and the limited talent pool to enable quality teaching or the development of a proper curriculum that emphasises other languages.
Yet, any move to resolve these issues is often hijacked by educationists or politicians looking to score cheap points.
At a time when our unity is being undermined by exploitative political warfare, we should be looking at Chinese education on its merits alone, instead of how it threatens one group over another.
It has nothing to do with the rights of any particular group, and everything to do with quality education for all Malaysians.
After 55 years of independence, our children should be able to go to different schools and still play together.