Thursday, July 25, 2013

When National Schools Cultivates Schism and Seggregation


I am a proud product of a Malaysian national school and continues to harbour romantic notions of how the school was able to bring various races of different religions together under a single roof.

However today, such thoughts are mere nostalgic reminiscenes of days long past.  Instead of bringing Malaysians together, the national schools have become the ironic reason, directly and indirectly for our young to be seggregated by race and religion.

There are two key reasons why the non-Malays of this country, particularly the Chinese community has chosen to shun the national schools today.  This will include parents who have gone through the national school system, who often don’t even speak a word of Chinese besides their own name.

The first and perhaps the most dominant reason is the drastic decline in the quality of teaching at the national schools.  Parents who can’t afford private schools would prefer to send their children to the Chinese vernacular schools to ensure that they receive an education of sufficient rigour and quality.  National test results have proven that the Chinese vernacular schools outperform the national schools significantly.

However, the quality of education isn’t the only factor.  No parents would want to send their children to a school where their child will be seggregated and discriminated against, by teachers, schoolmates and the school administration.

Malaysians are up in arms over the news reports yesterday of photographs which have emerged online allegedly showing non-Muslim students of a primary school being made to eat in a shower room during fasting month.  The pictures show students of SK Seri Pristina in Sungai Buloh sitting around tables set up in the school’s changing or shower room.

The school authorities have made the students eat in the makeshift dining room, located next to the toilets.  No food is believed to be served in the canteen, which is said to be closed during Ramadan.

Although the Ministry of Education has “pledged” action on this matter, the above while extreme in its nature, is certainly not the first case, nor will it be expected to be the last.  Over the past few years, we have read many such reports, including a principal in Kedah telling off the Chinese pupils for being insensitive towards their Muslim peers by eating in the school compound during Ramadan and telling them to “balik Cina”.

There were equally ridiculous cases of cheerleading teams being disbanded, decrees for lion dance without drums during Chinese New Year as well as blanket bans on Christian fellowship groups.  And certainly, if one were to pay a visit to practically any national school today during the month of Ramadan, non-Muslim students are seggregated in secluded corners during recess, to “respect” their Muslim peers.

Even during normal months, students in many schools are seggregated so as not to contaminate Muslim food and utensils.  What’s more, many students have in the past complained that they were forced to take Arabic or attend Islamic classes despite being non-Muslims.

Is this the “respect” that our national education system seeks to cultivate?  Shouldn’t it be such that while non-Muslims understand and give respect to Muslims who are fasting, Muslims should equally understand and respect non-Muslim who are not?

The “transformation” of our national schools into such religious hardline schools has major negative ramifications for the country’s future.  Not only are non-Malays extremely deterred from sending their children to these national schools, those who do – both Malays and non-Malays – will be scarred for life.

The non-Malays who attend these schools, such as SK Sri Pristina above, will see the entire country’s system as biased against non-Malays and they will forever be discriminated as unworthy second class citizens.  The Malay students who attend these schools will on the other hand deem it is right and proper to subject other races, religions and cultures to their own beliefs and practices.

If the BN Government is serious about making the national schools, the school of choice for Malaysians and the grounds to breed national unity, then some very drastic reforms need to take place.

We call on the Ministry of Education to mete out swift and severe punishment to the school authorities who had the audacity to come up with policies demeaning our Malaysian children in SK Sri Pristina.  More importantly, we call upon the Ministry to come out of strict guidelines on these matters in our schools.  For example, non-Muslim students must be allowed to eat in school canteens during fasting month, and the canteen must be operated instead of being closed.  The failure to even come up with, and enforce such guidelines would only mean that the Ministry is granting tacit approvals for such actions, and will almost certainly make racial polarisation in Malaysia an irreversible process.
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