NATIONAL SCHOOLS: Even if all is not well, the system at least holds that hope of a more integrated Malaysia
NOW the pings are unwittingly coming from Dong Zong (the United Chinese Schools Committees' Association of Malaysia) -- a throbbing signal that should alert all Malaysians about the group's declaration it would start a petition and lodge a complaint with the United Nations should the government insist on implementing the Malaysia Education Blueprint.
The ultra-Chinese education group, according to recent news reports, claimed the government would eventually wipe out Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools or what it described as "mother-tongue learning", and make national schools the first choice of school.
Dead against it, Dong Zong said it would make a report to the world body citing "discrimination", foolishly hoping that by putting a gun to the head like that, it would solve things and make it better for everyone.
This, sadly, will remain the great Malaysian contradiction. The perfect irony. We lament continuously about disharmony, all round mistrust and lack of racial integration and yet we reject the slightest effort towards a common school system.
On one hand we relentlessly push for an end to race-based and religious-based organisations. We loathe the slightest mention of introducing hudud. But on the other hand, insist that Chinese schools must remain in the whole scheme of things. And dubiously claim that it is "mother-tongue education" despite many being raised in dialects other than Mandarin.
Consider this: The Dong Zong discrimination claim came at a time when Chinese independent secondary schools were becoming so popular that they had to conduct special entrance exams to enrol pupils. Even so, they had to turn away thousands because of the limited places. So, that accusation was a little misplaced.
It is understood that at least 2,800 Year 6 school-leavers who had applied for admission to the eight Chinese independent schools in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor were turned away earlier this year due to lack of places.
China Press reported recently that the strong demand forced four Chinese schools in Kuala Lumpur -- Confucian Private Secondary School, Tsun Jin High School, Chong Hwa Independent High School and Kuen Cheng High School -- to have entrance examinations to pick the brightest applicants.
By the end of last month, Kuen Cheng, which had 800 places, had received 1,681 applications; Chung Hwa, with 1,000 places, had 1,500 applications; Tsun Jin (530 places) received 900 applications; and Confucian had 530 applicants vying for its 400 places.
In Klang, Selangor, Hin Hua High School received 1,200 applications for its 500 places. The other three schools in the district -- Guan Hwa High School, Chung Hwa Independent High School and Pin Hua High Shool -- received 1,150 applicants for the 1,115 places.
This is still not taking into account vernacular education in total, including national type schools.
The preference shows how little the regard is for a common school system that is the practice in most if not all countries, particularly among Malaysia's immediate neighbours and is the basis for the much talked about integration. If we continue to have large numbers being schooled under different systems and do nothing about it, we should stop lamenting about Malaysians not living in harmony.
Unfortunately, it is even worse for Tamil schools because, apart from the above argument, it is really a pity that the returns from these institutions are very small. I mean, let us be realistic -- what does a person who finishes Tamil school do? And yet for the sake of politics, we find groups demanding "rights" for such schools.
Again, the same for pure religious schools producing ustaz who have no qualms condemning others not aligned to their "edicts". Like the ones mentioned above, they should not be in the mainstream if they defeat the whole purpose of promoting national integration through education.
On this, a glimpse of the concern among Malaysians came through elder statesman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his latest blog posting on the arrest of veteran thinker Dr Kassim Ahmad.
He said: "Those given the responsibility on Islam in the country are seen as if they prefer the sunnah (practices of the Prophet) to be placed higher than the commandments of God in the Quran.
"Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Islam is a moderate and considerate religion, a religion of fair advice. If it becomes a cruel and brutal religion and places priority in its mazhab (schools of law) more than the Quran in reverence to the teachings of certain leaders, then Muslims will be divided."
What we have now is a very divided arrangement for our children. They do not mingle. The bottom line, therefore, is a common school system, which in our case are the national schools.
Even if all is not well with national schools -- like deteriorating English proficiency among teachers and damning reports from international bodies -- the system at least holds that hope of a more integrated Malaysia.
Now, the task is to plug all the weaknesses. A big task that requires more than just a master plan not too long ago and a blueprint now.
Syed Nadzri | firstname.lastname@example.org NST Opinion Columnist 22 April 2014