PETALING JAYA: The main priority of schools is to educate, and it should stay that way.
Any other responsibility, including efforts to foster unity and racial understanding, should be secondary.
This is the view shared by several stakeholders in response to a proposal by Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason president Datuk Halimah Mohd Said that schools should also be places to forge racial integration.
Halimah had proposed, among other things, that a quota system be introduced to ensure that school enrolment was truly more inter-ethnic.
For instance, she said, in Chinese schools, there should be at least 25% each of Malay and Indian students, with the remaining half being Chinese.
“Similarly, she said, at least half of the students in national schools should be non-Malays.
Sharing her sentiment was Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies Associate Fellow Professor, Mansor Mohd Noor, who is of the view that the responsibilities of schools extended beyond producing intellectually competent students.
“When these young people grow up, they will be exposed to a great diversity of people and cultures. They can start by being more understanding towards their own friends (from a young age),” he told theSun yesterday.
Mansor said the core meaning of education should be reviewed and an education summit should be considered to find ways to manage diversity in the education system.
“We should introduce socio-cultural classes so that students can be more exposed to other faiths and cultural practices. Internationally, we are ranked 16th in the Global Peace Index. We can do better than that,” he added.
He claimed that while Malaysian children had the opportunity to mingle together at national-type secondary schools, they failed to manage their differences and nurture similarities.
“We need to take note of the similarities among us and respect our differences. This will strengthen us as a nation.”
In an immediate response, the Malacca Action Group for Parents in Education said racial integration should not be forced. Rather, it should be forged based on trust, said its chairman Mak Chee Kin.
He said the matter of fostering unity should start at the top level of the government, including the Education Ministry, rather than in school.
For a start, Mak said, the racial quota system in the civil service should be removed.
“There should be equal opportunity for promotion to principal, head of department or state director rather than it being based on a quota system,” he said.
“The government should aim to make national schools the first choice for parents like in the 1960s and 1970s. There should be less emphasis on religious classes like in the early days,” he told theSun.
Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said it is not easy to introduce a quota system in schools as they are also reflective of the neighbourhood a school is located in, where one can find the odd Chinese school with a Malay majority enrolment because of its location.
“What needs to be done is to introduce Mandarin in all national schools, with adequate and competent teachers. Enhance the English language through greater immersion. Ensure Science is given a hands-on experience,” she said.
Azimah also suggested that Islamic studies be reduced to the minimum of two hours a week as provided in the Education Act, with anything more to be conducted and regularised at state level.
“We should focus on beefing up the competence of teachers based on meritocracy. Only when you transform national schools into quality schools will the demand for places in these schools follow,” she added.