National schools will draw more pupils from non-Malay families and those better off if the focus was on education and not religion as their primary duty and responsbility, an MCA leader said today.
Ti Lian Ker told FMT that “the crowd will return” once national schools were seen as serious educators and if English or a pupil’s mother tongue, was also given priority.
Allowing the children from rich and poor families to mingle under one roof would also help provide equal chances at success and also promote unity, said Ti, who is a member of the MCA central committee.
Ti was responding to a research paper by educationist Prof Teo Kok Seong which forecast that Chinese-medium schools might turn into mainstream schools and be more multiracial in 10 years’ time. At present, about 18 per cent of enrolment in Chinese schools are Malay children, while only 4 per cent of national schools are non-Malay pupils.
Ti said in the past Convent schools and other prominent national schools were run by teachers trained in England, who were seen as being dedicated and serious about educating future generations.
“But now, principals blend religious fundamentalism with education. The current school culture might not agree with the needs of many parents,” he said. Although Tamil and Mandarin language classes had been introduced in national schools, parents felt the subjects were not taken seriously.
Ti blamed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for having caused English-language standards to drop in national schools by introducing ‘Bahasa Baku’ in 1988. “He wanted to show that he is more Malay than a Malay. In that process, a lot of damage was done. Most politicians want to leave a mark but in the long run have destroyed the education process.”
He said there had been nothing wrong with the education system left behind after independence. “But since local politicians wanted to leave their mark, the English language was sidelined. Parents started feeling uncomfortable.”
National schools should focus on education, while religious schools could incorporate as much religion as they wanted into their curriculum.
“Just like there are science stream schools, some of the national schools might be categorised as religious-type schools,” said Ti, who heads MCA’s religious harmony bureau.