MOST Chinese Malaysians practise Chinese customs and traditions, irrespective of which streams of education they follow. But Chinese culture is being practised and observed in their homes, and not in schools.
In Chinese schools, there are no specific lessons on how to practise Chinese traditions and culture, with an erosion of Chinese philosophy among the Chinese in all types of schools.
Most of the Chinese-educated could not tell me the titles of Confucianism's Four Books and Five Classics, let alone knowing their contents.
Remember, 95 per cent of them do not pursue their schooling in the 61 independent chinese secondary schools (ICSS) after completing six years in chinese type primary school (CTPS). And there are 88 per cent of Chinese students in CTPS who do not study Chinese history in primary schools. They only study some historical figures -- not the complete history.
There is an urgent need to instil interest among the younger generation of Chinese to study Chinese history and philosophy without forgetting the need to study Malaysian history, too.
And with one generation ignorant of Chinese history, who is going to teach the next generation?
MCA should secure all graduates of Chinese studies in Universiti Malaya and Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman to be special lecturers to teach "Four Books and Five Classics" to all CTPS students in Malaysia.
These graduates of Chinese Studies should be principals of the CTPS, to ensure continuity of Chinese education in these schools. I am advocating bilingualism and, if possible, trilingualism. Preserve Mandarin and improve English.
With IT and the Internet, it becomes impossible for a non-bilingual Chinese to achieve the objectives of a good education -- a good career that blends with their ambition, inheriting Asian values, such as filial piety and hard work and upholding Chinese traditions and culture, while gaining society's respect. They will be left out in this globalised world.
I have always admired the Singaporean education model. Its radio stations always promote the increased use of Mandarin and less use of dialects. Without passing Mandarin at O-levels, a Singaporean cannot work in the republic's civil service.
Yet Singapore does not have a single Chinese-medium school. Even the Nanyang University, which used Mandarin as medium of instruction, was closed and has now changed to Nanyang Technological University, which uses English as its medium of instruction.
Singaporeans are mostly bilingual. They have a high living standard, earn better salaries, speak both Mandarin and English well and maintain Chinese culture and values.
Our present system of education among the Chinese creates much anxiety. The thinking language of a child is formed before age 10.
A language is a tool for acquiring knowledge and understanding. By age 10, 88 per cent of Chinese children would be thinking in Mandarin.
As a student goes to Form One, he will find it difficult to use primary school Mandarin vocabulary to explain the scientific terms in English or Bahasa Malaysia at that level. As such, many suffer at school.
Only five per cent, the prodigies, can, on their own accord, get through. I have also seen many parents praising their children's academic excellence in primary school only to condemn them when they get poor results in government secondary school.
I sympathise with these children. They are hard working, yet find it difficult to cope. Because of the five per cent prodigies, the Chinese parents of the other 95 per cent push their children under this stressful scheme.
As they progress to upper levels, all courses suddenly change again from Bahasa Malaysia to English. In fact, all professional courses are conducted in English at the college level.
Chung Ling High School in Penang is bilingual. History shows that it has produced many successful professionals.
One of them, Datuk Tan Chin Nam, in his book Never Say I Assume, stressed that it was thanks to the ability to speak both English and Mandarin that he managed to survive the Japanese occupation.
Dr C.C. Too, the former chief of Dong Jiao Zong, had a love of the Chinese language and culture beyond description. He translated 99 Tang Dynasty poems.
Yet he was misunderstood when he called for bilingualism to ensure that Chinese Malaysians achieve good careers without losing Asian values.
The promotion of Chinese culture must always be upheld. But will our children succeed with a poor command of English?
Chinese students, parents and educators should maintain and promote Chinese culture and tradition. Let us begin to learn the "Four Books and Five Classics" and promote Mandarin.
Most importantly, let us be bilingual or trilingual so that our future generations can be competent to earn a good living and contribute to national growth together with their fellow Malays and Indians.
Let us be proficient in Bahasa Malaysia as our national language. Let us relook at our present education system. We must be brave enough to change for our own sake.
Tan Sri Dr Lau Ban Tin New Straits Times Online Columnist 08 October 2012