Effects of vernacular schools

This may have come slightly late, as this is a response to John Lee’s article in the Malaysian Insider dated June 27. His title: “Vernacular schools exact hgh price in national unity”

I personally don’t have any experience studying in a vernacular school, nor a national primary school. I started my studies in an International School until the law disallowed me to, then off to a private school, because I had absolutely no knowledge of either Chinese nor Malay to be able to catch up with studies in either schools. After that, I continued in a national secondary school, changed schools for Form 6, worked and came here to NZ.

So I cannot say first-hand what it’s like to study in a school where 99% of the students are of the same race. I have not experienced it before.

But I simply have to disagree with the following that John had mentioned in his article:

In the long run, a system predicated on segregation, even if the segregation is voluntary, cannot work; it encourages sticking to one’s own ethnic group. The differences are stark when you enter secondary school; national school students and vernacular school students mix in very different cliques.

The national school students inevitably have a more diverse group of friends – one more reflective of Malaysian society as a whole – because they simply grew up that way. The more diverse their primary school was, the more diverse their secondary school friends are.

I may not have had first-hand experience, but I have friends and relatives who do. And my experience in a national secondary school speaks for itself.

Half my friends came from National-type schools (SRJK), and half from National schools (SRK). My Chinese friends may have only mixed with other Chinese students when they were in Chinese school, but I didn’t see a similar trend in Secondary school. Our classes were not segregated according to race, and since we had a lot of “class activities” that pitted classes against each other in friendly competitions and battles, “class” was put above “race”.

But as we advanced, this changed a whole lot. Especially after our PMR, so many of the “brighter” Malay students were shipped off to boarding schools. Our classes got separated into Sciences and Arts, where the Science classes invariably had more non-Malays, because most of the Malays opted to go to sekolah asrama.

When I entered Form 6, it was even worse. My class of only 25 students had only 4 Malays. Most of my ex-classmates went off to matriculation.

I had a diverse group of friends when I was younger. My group of friends slowly diminished as I grew older to only include people of the same race. I’m not proud of this, but it is a fact that I have to admit.

Granted, we are shaped from young, and being exposed to people of different races from young is one way of diminishing the effects of racial polarisation. But this is of no use if it is not kept up throughout the years. That Malays get priority to transfer to “better schools”, and that boarding schools are only open to Malays, and that Malays get 90% of the places in Matriculation is not something to be taken lightly. Whatever goodwill that had been fostered during the younger years would have been wiped off by feelings of injustice and inequality.

Vernacular schools cannot be made to take the blame.

My younger sister went to a Chinese primary school. Her secondary friends include many people of diverse races and origins. Her growing up in a school of 99.9% Chinese students did not deter her making friends with others.

My cousin went to a National primary school, on to a National secondary school. Most of his childhood friends were Malay. Now, his group of friends only encompass Chinese. That he was not exposed to the same chances that were awarded to his Malay friends was all that was needed to undo everything.

My friend went to a Chinese primary school, and a National secondary school. Now she is in a college where 99.9% of the students are Malay. Her group of friends expanded from merely mostly Chinese to now a good mix of any race.

These may be one-off examples, but we cannot deny these examples their credit. Whether it is because vernacular schools have higher education standards, or National schools are just Malay schools in disguise, ultimately it is how things change as we grow up as well. Like a bridge, it may take years to build, but needs just one stroke to break it down to pieces.

2 Comments on “Effects of vernacular schools”

  1. warrior2 says:

    John was only saying that the chances/tendency of mixing and to mix is greater in public school. It promotes toleration and understanding more, maybe not 100% but will certaintly. When one spends majority of one`s early school life i.e. 5/6 days a week in schools cook up with the same race, one tends to stick/bond with each other more than others.
    But hey, nothing is absolute!
    Points taken. There is of course a lot of credit in what John wrote.

  2. tempatan says:

    No, vernacular schools should not take the blame for the polarisation that already exists in national schools due to government policies. The differences resulting from various policies are only understood better and become stark at secondary schools. In my time, polarisation became evident after SPM but now I hear it occurs earlier. We too had classmates from vernacular schools joining us at Form 1 level.
    From my experience and understanding, parents who send their kids to vernacular schools mostly do so due to their higher standards and achievement levels, not to mention better facilities.

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