Sunday, November 1, 2009

Single-school system a good idea but are there enough guarantees?

Tongues are set to wag again over the latest call for a single-school system with UMNO hardliners accusing vernacular schools as breeding grounds for racism. In all honesty, a single-school system is not a bad idea but are there enough guarantees to ensure it remains truly 'Malaysian'?

I personally believe that a single-school system is the right track to long term nation building. However, I disagree with UMNO to say, the least, that vernacular schools are breeding grounds for racism. UMNO hardliners can just be as racist too but didn't most of their leaders study abroad? Is it then fair to say that foreign education is the cause for their race-based segregationist views? Therefore, it is unreasonable to label vernacular schools as the root for the deteriorating racial relations in this country. How about looking at certain discriminative government policies for a start, UMNO?

Speaking of a single-school system, I believe there is no place more suitable than a truly Malaysian school that is able to provide a conducive environment for students to interact with Malaysians of other ethnic groups. Vernacular schools are usually dominated by a single race and it would prove a challenge for students to learn what it means to be Malaysian if they are placed in a mono-cultural setting. Therefore, it is imperative that the values of a tolerance and mutual respect for other ethnic groups be cultivated among Malaysians at a tender age.

So, are there solid guarantees that a single-school system will not turn into a breeding ground for racial discrimination instead? The Malaysian education system is already infamous for racial quotas and ethnic-based scholarships and it is a known fact that meritocracy mean very little here. In fact, under a single-school system, the chances of discrimination exists even greater than in vernacular schools. Can the government guarantee that students of all ethnic backgrounds be treated equally? I doubt so. To run a truly Malaysian school system and then racial quotas in university placements, for example, at the same time is double standard. What more can we expect then in a single-school system? Forgive my pessimism.

Secondly, is the government ready to acknowledge the importance of other ethnic mother tongues like Mandarin, Tamil, Iban and etc. ? No doubt that the Malay language is the national language but the government must also be humble enough to admit that the other main ethnic languages are just as important. Malaysia is a multi cultural nation and diversity is what we boast about to the world. So I urge we walk our talk. Vernacular school advocates fear that these ethnic languages will be neglected under a single-school system. Therefore, is the government willing to commit the same amount of resources to promote these ethnic languages alongside the Malay language?

Are there also enough guarantees to ensure that a single-school system will remain truly secular? Sad to say and with all due respect to Islam, we have seen how religion has slowly infused itself into education (religious school not included). Considering the multi-cultural aspect of our society, I expect a single-school system to remain secular and free from religious bigotry. How many times have we seen values of a certain religion being imposed on others who do not follow that religion? Just too many times.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's 1Malaysia brand, though highly commercialized these days, promotes racial unity and racial acceptance. If that call is a call for us to accept diversity, then a single-school system should also appear likewise. A truly Malaysian school system should promote cultural acceptance among students of various backgrounds. In the past, MPs like Ibrahim Ali of Pasir Mas claim that in order for nation building to succeed, immigrants a.k.a non-Malays must adopt the local Malay culture. Can Najib's administration prevent that such ridiculous views from creeping into the system and also promise that students are ultimately taught to embrace and celebrate our differences?

The single-school system is one way we can all help to build a better, united society - beginning with our children. Political willpower and these government 'guarantees' are all it takes for the idea to succeed. But of course, only the Malaysian people can bring the whole vision of Bangsa Malaysia into fruition.

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