Zeffrey Muhammad (not his real name) completely disagrees with calls to abolish the vernacular school system, which were made by certain parties during the 916 red-shirt rally recently.
An alumnus of SJKC Pu Nan, Zeffrey spent six years at the Chinese primary school in Bakri, Muar where he enrolled as a Standard One pupil.
“The existence of Chinese schools in Malaysia should be staunchly safeguarded, as they have been proven to produce academic excellence,” he argued.
Stressing that discipline is the utmost important lesson taught to students, Zeffrey cited one example when he was at SJKC Pu Nan, the instruction that students were not allowed to run in the school compound.
“They could only do so in the school field,” he explained.
As a Malay, Zeffrey revealed that he had also enjoyed extra attention from his teachers. But the fact is, the concern shown by teachers for students at the school cut across the board.
Once, when another student did not have enough money to purchase a dictionary, the teachers at the school called his parents to discuss the matter.
The school then agreed to buy the dictionary for the student.
Chinese schools in Malaysia use Chinese as the medium of instruction whereby students learn history, moral, science, mathematics and other subjects using the language.
The syllabus is the same with national primary schools, except for the medium of instruction.
“Some of the skills taught in Chinese schools however are based on civilisation in China. For example, I learned to use the abacus in mathematics,” said Zeffrey.
Even if national schools were to introduce Chinese and Tamil as compulsory subjects, Zeffrey believes that certain elements found in vernacular schools can never be emulated.
“The culture of hard work and discipline may not be the same. In addition, the teaching techniques may be different,” he argued.
Currently, about 15 per cent or 87,000 of non-Chinese students make up the population of the 573,000 students in Chinese primary schools across the country.
The rising number of non-Chinese students in Chinese primary schools, has also made the schools to not only cater for the Chinese community, but the entire Malaysian population.
Ironically, the topic of closing down Chinese primary schools crops up periodically, as they continue to be singled out as the stumbling block to national integration.
Zeffrey, who is married, nevertheless has no plans to send his son to a vernacular school.
With so many options available today, parents are able to choose private or international schools as well, he said.
During the 916 red-shirt rally, images of protesters holding aloft banners urging the government to abolish SJKC drew criticisms from Malaysians in general.
United Chinese School Teachers’ Association of Malaysia (Jiao Zong) president Ong Chiow Chuen urged the government to take a serious stance against the proliferation of extreme racist remarks, and to take stern action to stop such behaviour.
“This includes those individuals and organisations that intentionally create racial conflicts in order to defend racial harmony and peace,” Ong was quoted as saying.
Looking at the situation today where racial disharmony has become more prevalent in the country, Zeffrey, who works as a government officer, is seriously considering relocating to another country in search of a better life for his family.
“I have a lot of Chinese friends, and I am deeply hurt that they are being singled out for allegedly besmirching the honour of the Malays.”
“And I worry that the situation in the country might get worse, before it gets better,” Zeffrey explained.
Back to the topic of the future of Chinese education in Malaysia, he asked, “How can you abolish Chinese schools, when they are superior in quality compared with national schools?”