Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Peel off the Skin of Mistrust

Kian Ming co-writes a column in the NST entitled Chisel and Stone.
2:54pm Wed Aug 21st, 2002

I am a ‘banana’. Yellow (Chinese) on the outside but white (Anglophile) on the inside.

This was not the way it was supposed to be. I would have gone to SRJK (C) Kuen Cheng in KL but an unforeseen turn of events saw me being enrolled in La Salle PJ primary school which was much closer to home. I was packed off to ‘angmoh’ (“Anglophile” in Hokkien) Singapore after Form 3 and then left for the UK for my undergraduate studies.

If not for my parents who spoke Mandarin to me at home and my love for Jackie Cheng songs and Stephen Chow movies, I would probably not understand a single word of Cantonese or Mandarin. As it is, my Mandarin and Cantonese are passable enough for me to order food at hawker stalls and Chinese restaurants.

Because of my schooling history the whole issue of the Chinese medium schools and the political controversies surrounding them totally baffled and mystified me.

If preserving the Chinese language and culture was the main reason behind the Chinese school movement, that rationale didn’t seem to make sense. Singapore, where
I studied for four years, taught only one subject in Chinese in six years of primary education and four years of secondary education — and that was Chinese. Yet, the Chinese language and culture are still alive and well there.

Channel 8, the Chinese television channel, was still popular. Many of my Singaporean friends were fluent and conversant in Mandarin. The sale of Chinese books
and kung-fu comics were strong and steady. Qingming performances were as popular as ever. And this despite the country being ruled for much of its post-independence history by a supposedly ‘Anglophile’ prime minister who studied in Cambridge, England.

Thinking that I should find out more about the history of the Chinese education movement in Malaysia before I ignore their views, I decided to read a book entitled
The Protean Saga by Dr Kua Kia Soong, human rights activist, former member of parliament for PJ Utara and now the principal of the New Era College in Kuala
Lumpur. I must thank Dr Kua immensely for writing this book on the history of the Chinese education movement in Malaysia in English for the benefit of bananas like

I found it a fascinating read. I found out that some of the baggage which Chinese educationist organisations like the Dong Jiao Zong has is because
of their past experiences.

I found out about the struggles of Chinese educationist Lim Lian Geok whose very name would evoke tremendous emotion among the Chinese community, and how he was denied Malaysian citizenship because of his championing for the cause of Chinese education in Malaysia.

I found out about the trials surrounding the attempt to establish a private Chinese university in Malaysia, the Merdeka University, and how that attempt failed.

I found out about the conversion of the Chinese medium secondary schools into national schools and how the promises to the Chinese educationists were not kept.

I found out about how the Chinese educationist movement and its supporters managed to run and fund the small number of independent Chinese secondary schools still in existence in Malaysia which includes famous names like Chung Ling in Penang and Chung Hwa in KL.

That gave a context for many of the current happenings in the field of Chinese education. I began to understand why the SRJK (C) Damansara issue was such a
subject of controversy. I began to understand why the Chinese educationists objected to the establishment of vision schools (Something which I couldn’t, before;
after all, it has the laudable aim of trying to get children from different races to mix together, doesn’t it?).

More recently, I began to see the point of view of the Chinese educationists in terms of their objections to the teaching of Math and Science in English.

That movement has been burnt in the past and the lack of trust prevents them from working and cooperating with the government in the present.

Reconciliatory steps

I believe that both sides should take reconciliatory steps to build up again the level of trust and to improve their relations.

For example, the Chinese educationist movement needs to understand the government’s urgency in trying to improve the standard of English in Malaysian schools.

Even if they do not object to this aim but the methods because of fears that it might decrease the high standards of Math and Science in Chinese medium schools, they must provide concrete alternatives on how the standards of English can be improved in these schools.

They must understand that despite the relatively high passing rate for English in these schools (approximately 70 percent), the fact that many Chinese students from a new village setting have only limited exposure to English in their school life.

The government on its part should give assurances that the vernacular schools in the proposed vision schools would not be converted into national schools. They
must give assurances that it has enough teachers or in the process of training teachers to teach Math and Science in English effectively.

In fact, they could even consider leaving the Chinese (and the Tamil) schools out of the initial exercise to teach Math and Science in English.

If this programme does show an improvement in the standard of English in national schools and succeed in attracting a large number of Chinese (and Indian)
students into them, then the Chinese educationists would have less fear in following suit (and less reason not to as well).

Knowing the history behind the Chinese educationists in Malaysia is important. However, knowing how to overcome the baggage left by history is even more
fundamental to progress into the future.

1 comment:

The Hedonese said...

More of his stuffs here: