Parents look for academic standards

IN "Let civil servants take the lead" (My View, July 5) Dzulkifli Abdul Razak refers to the TN50 dialogue with civil servants where a suggestion was made for single stream schools to strengthen unity and how it was shot down.

The writer strongly supports this suggestion "coming from committed professionals who are familiar with the situation on the ground" and who "felt compelled to protect the dignity of the country".

In rounding up he states "now that the civil servants have courageously spoken of their concern publicly, they at once recognise that education is a vital game-changer to bring to life a truly unified multicultural Malaysian society once again".

It is true that education is an important game-changer, but it is not as easy as it is made to look. The impression given is that those who made the suggestion had experience working in single stream schools and therefore talking based on their first-hand experience that such schools can "bring to life a truly unified multicultural Malaysian society once again" (note the words "once again").

The suggestion is not based on first-hand experience, but purely on perception because we never had single stream schools. And what is this perception based on – true professionalism, genuine through the mill experience or mere rhetoric driven by other factors such as race, religion, protecting the dignity of the country, etc?

The "single stream schools" of the past where unity was strong were the English medium schools. These schools had a good mix of race and religion, both of pupils and teachers. There was no segregation for any purpose.

Have any of those who made the "single stream schools" suggestion been teachers in those English medium schools to know what racial integration looks and feels like? I seriously doubt it.

Why did these excellent schools "die" after being converted to national schools? This is the root of the problem which is not being addressed. Academic standards and discipline in the converted schools began going downhill. Religion became more important so much so that some national schools are more like religious schools. As a result, non-Muslim parents began taking their children out of these schools for the vernacular schools.

Had the academic and disciplinary standards of the converted schools been maintained, and their character not changed into religious schools, non-Muslim parents would not have had reason to take their children out of these schools.

An excellent example is the Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Tunku Abdul Halim in Alor Star, Kedah. It was the top primary school in the town in the 1950's, with a good mixture of Malay and non-Malay students and teachers. By the late 80's, the big majority of the 700 or so pupils and teachers were Malays and it had slid virtually to the bottom. Today it has only about 150 students, almost 100% Malay. It is located in the prestigious Kompleks Pendidikan enclave across the road from the stadium.

Highlighting this is not meant to embarrass or belittle anyone, but for those genuinely interested in education and national unity to search their conscience and start looking at the root causes of the sad state of schools and national unity in the eye and not side tracking them with simplistic suggestions like "single stream schools" as a panacea for national unity.

Factors that will attract parents to send their children to any school are academic standards, school discipline and their non-religious character. This is what the "committed professionals" in education should be seriously working on, and not clamouring per se for "single stream schools to strengthen unity" based on their perceptions. There is more national unity in the Chinese schools today where there are some Indian and a good number of Malay students. Why do these schools attract Malay children, or put another way, why are many Malay children abandoning the sekolah kebangsaan?

Ravinder Singh