Arguments for and against vernacular schools have long existed in Malaysia. Many arguments often converge back to and revolve around social unity in Malaysia. One easy argument against vernacular schools is that when the language we were trained to speak, write and think in differs, it can be hard for us to feel connected with each other and consequently, social unity can be harder to achieve. It is also a fact that majority of Malaysian Chinese parents send their kids to Chinese vernacular primary schools.
It is understandable that many misunderstand and misapprehend schooling system as both the problem and solution to unity issues. Language barrier has no doubt contributed to the development of our social circle. It is also an undeniable truth that, while daily communication among different races is not a problem, a number of us cannot speak any language other than our own mother tongue fluently.
However, to speak about unity, we must not mix up social circle and unity. Social / racial unity takes collective acceptance, tolerance, spirit and will of all citizens to come together. Patriotism and nationalism are never just about the language used. It is instead more about how willing and prepared we are to understand the importance of being united.
Name another country where racial unity is a concern. Is their unity problem due to where and how their children are schooled? Do they have language barrier? One would be baffled by why many in Malaysia relate schooling system to unity.
Therefore, the link between schools and unity, if any, lies within the content of our education.
Is our syllabus teaching our children to be critical in thinking? Is our education system stressing the importance of civic and social causes? Is our system encouraging our children to be more open minded, receptive and tolerant to differences? These are the questions to be answered.
Education is not confined to what we read in textbooks. It should include overall process of character-shaping that takes place from time to time. If our education system is to include promoting social / racial unity as one of its top goals, we cannot turn a blind eye to why only a fraction of our children are actively engaging themselves with community work or committing themselves to social / civic causes.
Vernacular schools are national schools and controlled by the government. The education system is under the purview of federal government. To talk about solution to unity issues, government has the responsibility to take a closer look into the way our children are educated.
Think about it, can we really enhance unity by simply placing our children under the same roof? Aren’t we all living under the same roof called “Malaysia” already?