Judging from the heated debates stemming from a remark by Prof Khoo Kay Khim that the Chinese education system produces copycats, which prompted Dr Kua Kia Soong to give a lengthy comment in The Sun (Wed, Dec 9, 2009) to defend the system, one would conclude that when it comes to the Chinese education system in Malaysia, Malaysian Chinese are deeply divided. It seems that whenever someone tries to critic the system (especially from one who is deemed un-Chinese for not speaking the language), the supporters of the system would come up in arms to defend the institution that symbolizes its racial and cultural identity which is deemed at risk of diminishing in this Malay-dominated country. It is precisely this huge fear of losing one’s Chinese identity and eventually, one’s relevance in this country, that prompts Chinese educationists and its various movements to make very loud noises in order to be heard and to stay relevant to the community.
However, this line of thinking works to cloud the mind from seeing the bigger picture. And the bigger picture, when one detaches oneself from one’s narrow views on the subject, would be going beyond the race-based systems to reach an all-embracing education environment for all. An environment that will prepare a child that who will be living in a world with a future we cannot truly predict. We need to go beyond race, beyond cultures and even beyond nationalities. This does not mean that a Chinese becomes less Chinese, or a Malay, less Malay. On the contrary, we become more encompassing – by internalizing our cultural knowledge and wisdom beyond the external cultural heritage that everyone tries to uphold and preserve.
At present, the education environment in schools and institutions of higher learning leaves much to be desired with their race-based, discriminatory practices and even political patronage. Politicians and educationists may argue from their pedestal (while their children are educated overseas), but way down on the ground, if they even care to look, are the real stake-holders – the children, the students.
Do you see how big the bags these children have to bear on their backs day-in and day-out?
Do you feel the weight of schooling bearing down upon their minute bodies as they climb up countless flights of stairs,
To reach their classrooms where knowledge is supposed to be imparted by certified and qualified teachers?
Do you hear the cries of children being muffled by stacks of homework that seems endless and meaningless?
Do you see the irrelevance of much of what they are learning?
If we truly care about the education of our young, we should all sit down together – the teachers, the parents, the policy makers, the students (especially the students!) – to openly discuss about the purpose of education, the approaches and the processes to reach a common goal. We need to ask the right questions, like:
“What does it mean to be a Malaysian?”
“How is Malaysian identity shaped through education?”
“What is it and what does it take to get there?”
“How do we make learning relevant and meaningful to the development of humanity versus ‘human capital’?”
“What does it really mean when we say that we are a multi-cultural and multi-religious nation?”
Because every country has its own unique issues and problems and hence its own unique ways to tackle educational issues, we have to rely on our country’s unique history and come up with creative and significant ways to reach a common goal. We cannot do this when we are still fighting each other for racial or cultural relevance. We have to put aside our differences (but that does not mean to throw them away!) and genuinely work together for a common purpose.
Seeing how the politicians are still fighting in the political arena, the rakyat would have to come forward and work towards a solution themselves. This is where the academicians, the educators and the “educatees” should be a force to be reckoned with by coming together with one voice, not for selfish reasons, not for personal or political gains, not for short-term benefits, but for the national good of the country, so that as a nation, we are comparable and respectable force in the international arena. We desperately need to do this if we want to stand tall and proud as a united nation in a globalized world. We have to go beyond politics, beyond language and beyond systems to reach a place that would make us a people with pride and principles.
It is not a matter of who is right or who is wrong. It is a matter of our very own survival as a nation in this fast-changing and highly competitive world!
Beyond all this, it is about the happiness and the future of our children.
Wai Leng & KV Soon