For my son, when he grows up, this site will be my legacy for him. The decisions his mother and I made for him, to understand them, to learn from them and to lead a life without prejudice and to succeed in it on his own merit.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Choices to make for schooling

Why we chose Chinese school for our children
Written by Dr Boo Cheng Hau

Foon Yew High School is the one singled out by name by Kulaijaya principal Siti Inshah Mansor who implicated it as a school with Chinese students who do not speak or read Bahasa Malaysia.

It is the only Chinese independent secondary school (ISS) in Johor Bahru. It is also where my two children are studying.

My wife and I had discussed in great length before we decided to send our kids to Foon Yew, which incidentally is my alma mater.

The fact is that I myself speak and debate in Malay with confidence in the Johor state assembly as the opposition leader. Interestingly enough, several special assistants of the Johor Menteri Besar are Foon Yew alumni who deal with the state's Chinese and Malay communities, communicating in both Mandarin and Malay.

Therefore Siti Inshah's sweeping statement that non-Malay students from vernacular schools do not speak Malay at all only proves her own ignorance and bias. After all, her non-Malay students understood her racial slurs well enough to assess her half-hearted apology as coming from a "penipu" and a "pembohong".

She is a classic example of a Biro Tata Negara (BTN) product and how a Malay ultra nationalist like Dr Mahathir Mohamed has ingrained racial prejudice into many Malays. One aspect of this racism is institutionalised towards language policies.

Parent's personal experience

My wife went to a well-known national school in Johor Bahru and has a diploma in Malay Studies. Until today, she still bitterly recalls the racist remarks made by many Malay teachers during her years in school.

Unsurprisingly, she was more adamant than I that our children should not be subjected to the same racial degradation in the national schools that she went through.

This racial taunting has been nurtured as a norm over the years by the powers-that-be through the notorious BTN. The authorities have to be held responsible for the pathetic state of inter-racial relations in the country today.

The Siti Inshah incident has made me realise how much my wife helped our children make the right choice of enrolling in my old school.

It is where we think not only that they could learn three languages, but more importantly that they are subjected to better discipline without going through the mental trauma of being victimised -- some ultra-nationalist Malay teachers utter racist slurs with impunity.

As racial degradation is bad for any child's self-esteem, I have always been determined to make sure my children do not go through what my wife went through studying in national school.

Moreover, I can afford sending my children for tuition in Bahasa Malaysia at a Malay-run private tuition centre as I always believe the best way of learning a language is from its native speakers. They enjoy learning the language from Malay teachers.

Some of the teachers have gone out their way to help my children. But some still hinted at racialism in interpreting Malaysian history, especially in upholding Bumiputeraism, which upset the non-Malay students. My children are still puzzled as to why they are not considered 'Bumiputera' as native-born fourth generation Malaysians.

Malays in vernacular school

After 53 years of Independence, we are still polarised along racial lines, and view each other with great suspicion and prejudices.

Many Malay friends of mine harbour an allegiance to Umno and hence feel obliged to defend Umno's Malay Supremism. Actually, it is an ideology whose creation has very little to do with them personally.
We have to come to terms with several longstanding issues for a sustainable inter-racial relationship in our beloved country, and among these issues is mother tongue education.

Siti Inshah's prejudice towards vernacular schools -- like my old school Foon Yew -- is quite reflective of Umno propaganda which is not only factually incorrect but certainly politically motivated.

If one feels Malays are discriminated in going to vernacular schools, why were Malays and other non-Chinese students given free tuition? Why would halal food stalls be provided in the canteen for them? Shouldn't a blanket fee waiver for non-Chinese students in Chinese schools be considered as 'reverse racism' against the Chinese students themselves?

Previously Foon Yew High School gave a blanket fee waiver to Malay students. It was only recently that the school decided all students have to pay the same fees due to its ever increasing non-Chinese intake. However, poor Malay students are still entitled to scholarships on individual need assessment.

I myself as a wakil rakyat have recommended a few Malay students for such financial assistance. In many Chinese independent secondary schools, non-Chinese students are still exempted from tuition fees. If the accusation is true that Chinese institutions are discriminative, why in the world would Malay students be given the same benefit and care in these schools?

Mara and other single-race institutions

A mirror situation to the above would be that Chinese students are welcomed into Mara junior colleges and not required to pay any fees to boot. But this doesn't happen, does it?

Therefore, Malay Supremacists like Dr Mahatir Mohamed and Siti Inshah Mansor need to get their facts correct.

Racial integration can be achieved in any language medium of the education stream if all children are treated equally.

There has been an increase in number of Malay and Indian parents sending their children to Chinese schools not only for acquiring Mandarin, but also for the schools' stricter regimen in teaching science and mathematics.

These non-Chinese parents obviously believe that Chinese schools will help provide their children better job opportunities later in life. This decision indicates that many Malay parents have taken a step forward compared to the Umno supremacists who fail to see a brighter future for their children if they were to be multilingual.

Malay and Indian parents have realized the importance of equipping their children to compete in both the domestic and international job markets. Language competency is also a boost for social mobility. Language is a skill, and no longer a racial trait anymore in our present 'global village'. This means it is a definite disadvantage for monolingual Malays when competing with multilingual Malays and others in our increasingly cosmopolitan world.

My wife and I are confident that we made the right choice for our children's future.