Part I of my blog post on the above topic dealt with the four key criteria used to decide which type of school (primary level) I will send Xin Ying, my daughter (now only 6.5 months old) to. They are:
How would the national and Chinese schools fare against the above criteria? Note that the evaluation assumption is on a “generalised” basis. That means that it’s never going to be every Chinese school better than every national school (or vice versa) for any of the relevant criteria.
1. Academic standards
From the various feedbacks I’ve received, the Chinese schools appear to have an edge in the academic standards. They have always been stronger in Mathematics and Science, and this is recognised even by our government leaders. You will find more winners in Mathematics and Science competitions from the Chinese schools. Hence, strictly from an academic standards perspective, it will be best to send Xin Ying to a top Chinese school. Everyone in KL talks about sending their child to SRJK (C) Kuan Cheng along Jalan Syed Putra in Kuala Lumpur.
2. Mother tongue education
The best mother tongue education will obviously be achieved by enrolling Xin Ying into a Chinese school, whereby all subjects are taught in Chinese, with the exception of Mathematics and Science in English, and of course, Bahasa Malaysia. In the national schools, there is currently little or no teaching of mother tongue languages although there are now plans to introduce them as second languages for the next academic year.
3. English language competence
I have seen first hand, the quality of English language competence by some of the top graduates whose origins were Chinese primary schools. It is really a sad state of affairs. And this is an opinion from someone who didn’t manage to obtain an ‘A’ in English for his ‘O’ Levels (sigh). Unless the students happen to be from a English speaking background, the quality of English competence is just deplorable. I have hired many of these candidates as computer application developers (and they are good) but almost none of them can write a short paragraph in English without committing very simple grammatical errors. Their lack of competence in oral English is such that their main language of communications among themselves is Cantonese and Mandarin. This is also one of the main reasons why I cannot understand some of the Chinese educationists object so vehemently to conducting Mathematics and Science classes in English.
The students from the better national secondary schools tend to fare a tad better in their command of English language. This could be limited to several schools whose tradition of teaching in English is stronger. It could also be due to the fact that many parents whose main language is English send their children to these schools, hence enabling a more English oriented environment. With the exception of the above schools however, the standards of English language education is largely indifferent between the Chinese and national schools.
Hence, strictly from an English language competence perspective, I should be seeking out top national primary schools who are likely to have teachers competent in the language as well as English speaking parents who are more likely to enrol their children in these schools.
4. National Integration
Finally, where can I send Xin Ying to ensure that she will be culturally integrated to the racial and ethnic diversity of Malaysia?
Certainly not Chinese schools, I would say. After all, Chinese schools are only populated with 7% non-Chinese. However, at the same time, it appears that national schools are also losing their multicultural identity with non-bumiputeras accounting for only some 10% of the student population, much lower than the 42% representation of the total population.
I do not think there’s a clear cut answer as to which is the better school for the purposes of national integration. There is not much point sending her to a national type school and she ends up being discriminated against, due to the lack of interaction with the other races. However, I do know that the end result from sending her to a Chinese school isn't going to be favourable as well.
I employ and interview many graduates from Chinese schools and I'm not particularly proud of my experience. Here are some of the general observations (barring exceptions):
- They speak little or no Malay language beyond possibly ordering food items from mamak stalls. Language unfortunately is one of the key factors to enhance and ensure integration amongst the various races in Malaysia. I'd definitely want Xin Ying to be part of this integration.
- Many display racially biaised tendencies without even realising that they are racially biaised. I do not want my daughter to grow up possessing a racial superiority complex.
- It is an unfortunate fact that the Malay and Chinese employees do not mix socially in my office, and I assume the same may be said of many offices. This is not so much because they do not like each other, but more to do with the fact that they are unable to communicate fluently and find common interest with each other. Part of the reason is the racial cliques which arises out of primary schools through to universities in Malaysia, not helped by Chinese vs national school dichotomisation. The blame lies to a larger extent with the Chinese employees as the Malays, being the minority in my office need to feel wanted.
- Finally, I find that the lack of interaction and integration in schools have resulted in culturally insensitive behaviours, something I definitely do not want Xin Ying to pick up. For example, we may be conducting a project meeting with a "multiracial" crowd but you will still find some of the Chinese graduates to carry out part discussions with each other in Mandarin or Cantonese, which to me, is absolutely rude.
Hence, from the above, I'm thankful that I do not yet have to commit Xin Ying to a Chinese or national type school as at this moment in time. It'll probably be another four to five years, before I seriously need to worry about her primary school education. From the thoughts above on the various pros and cons of the school types, you should be able to tell that neither system fulfil more than 1 or 2 of my key criteria.
I'm also thankful that I'm beginning to see some positive changes, at least from a policy perspective on our education system which may make the decision-making process a less strenous one. Moves are being made to make the national schools more attractive again by improving standards and introducing mother tongue language education. The results of the various new policies should be more apparent in a few years' time. The next part of this blog post (Part III) will discuss in greater detail some of these policies, as well as other policy changes which needs to be carried out to ensure a better primary education system for the future of our children.
My primary school was SK Seri Bintang Utara. You get both good and bad teachers in every school, honestly, and it really is down to luck, though I had the good luck of having competent teachers during my UPSR year (but that was almost 5 years ago). I don't know if this is true of all public schools, but mine had quite the competitive streak, we were drilled for UPSR pretty hard and a lot of emphasis was placed on the big exams, though we played hard as well.
I can agree that teachers, good or bad, play only a small role when it comes to a student's grades, ultimately it is up to the student to determine the quality of his or her grades. It is always nice to have good teachers who are able to explain properly, but if the teacher slacks and teaches only half-heartedly, then it is up to the student to make the extra effort, either by doing a lot of self-studying (like I've learned to do by now) or by going to extra tuition classes if they need to. Independence and the ability to take initiative is very important in a good student.