Thursday, December 04, 2008

Making national schools the choice of the the people

National schools must change to attract all

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s reassurance that vernacular schools will not be abolished is very timely and may help to allay the fears and anxiety of many who choose to send their children to such schools.

Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir’s call to check racial polarisation and enhance unity among the people is commendable but to suggest that it could be achieved by abolishing the vernacular schools is absurd and misleading. Putting children of all races under one roof will definitely go a long way to promote unity among them but the environment under which they are must also be conducive to nurture this unity. Unfortunately such an environment does not prevail in our national schools, like it used to, during the time of English-medium schools of the fifties and sixties.

The role of schools is to provide a wholesome education to our children from a moldable age, which includes just not striving for academic excellence but instilling good moral and social values. This is particularly important in a country with a multiracial and multi-religious population where goodwill, tolerance and a spirit of sharing is of paramount importance. These do not depend on the medium of instruction but the commitment of those tasked with the responsibility to instill these values in the young minds.

Education is the most important commodity for the progress of an individual and the nation. The people in general want quality education at an affordable cost, an education that can take them through the challenges in life. Have our national schools lived up to these expectations of the people? Regrettably not only our national schools but even the vernacular schools seem to have failed in this endeavor.

This failure is reflected in the increasing demand for private and international schools that are mushrooming all over the country. People from all walks of life are willing to pay a hefty sum for quality education for their children elsewhere being convinced that our national schools are not capable of providing such education.

Closing down vernacular schools is not only unconstitutional but such actions would only create a lot of ill feeling, anger and unhappiness among those who send their children to such schools. This is the last thing we need at a time of increasing inter-ethnic tensions in the country.

There is a need to restore the confidence of the people in national schools as to make them more attractive to all communities like the English-medium schools of the past which enjoyed the patronage of all races. These schools were responsible for producing the many highly talented and capable leaders we have today.

Most Malaysians would agree that the standard of education, discipline, morals and sports in schools have declined over the years. This is mainly attributed to the politicization of our education system. If the government can stop this politicization and strive to improve the standard of these in our national schools with the recruitment of more dedicated headmasters, teachers and other staff, and being equipped with better facilities, there is no reason for people to shun them for vernacular and international schools, which they perceive to be better.

Moreover over the years our national schools instead of reflecting the aspirations of all Malaysians have unfortunately become more Malay and Islamic for the comfort of Malaysians of other ethnicity and faiths.

There is no doubt that there can be no genuine inter-ethnic unity unless the children of all races study, play, eat and even pray together under the same roof. This can only be achieved if they all go to the national schools, which must strive to be truly national in form and substance to attract the children from all races.

Instead of being preoccupied with abolishing vernacular schools it would be more fruitful to elevate the standard and quality of our national schools so as to make them the premier schools in the country. Education is not only a basic necessity of the people but is also the most important tool for forging inter-ethnic unity. It will be a national disaster if it is allowed to be continually toyed around and politicized for whatever reasons.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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