On and onwards — what are we teaching our children?

What if we revisit the good old days and reintroduce the English-medium schools?

pic by TMR File

IF YOU grew up in Muar in 60s and 70s, you might agree that Abdullah School was one of the best places to send your children if you want them to be well-rounded, progressive and competitive.

The school, located in Sungai Mati (then in the district of Muar and now part of Tangkak), might not have the most glamorous of addresses, but it had all the top teachers who managed to produce the highest calibre of students.

It was one of the few schools within the Muar district which was the top choice of many parents who wanted their kids to have the best of education, while mastering English as a second language.

Abdullah School could be considered as an elite school despite its rural surrounding, with its main competitors being other schools of similar calibre like Ismail School, Sultan Abu Bakar School in Muar town, as well as Ledang English school in Tangkak.

For those who could not afford to send their children to Muar or Tangkak, Abdullah School was obviously the only choice.

The school children would come from as far as Kundang Ulu and Bukit Gambir, as well as Tanjung Gading and Kesang Laut, near the north of the Johor and Melaka border. Some would start riding their bicycles as early as after Subuh prayer to make it to the school before the first bell.

It was a time when the more sensible parents would tell you that sending your children to an “English School” would give them a fighting chance in the real world, with more opportunities to progress in terms of education.

Those days, being able to communicate in English increased the likelihood to be employed. Since the population around the area was predominantly Malay and Chinese, the ratio of the two races in Abdullah School was rather equal.

The term “Muhibbah” was really in play then and tolerance was the main agenda.

You can also easily deduce that all the SK and SJK within the vicinity were not doing good business at that time, as everyone preferred their children to be in “English Schools”.

There were conservative parents who refused to send their children to “English Schools” as their children would have to learn the “Christians’ language”. They were the rarity, though, at that time.

Post 1970, as a result of Malay nationalist policies in education, English-medium education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels were abolished.

The last batch of the English-medium children (they should be 57 years old now) completed their Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE) in 1979, as their alma maters transitioned into the new system in Bahasa Malaysia.

A lot have happened within the 30 years after the abolishment of the English-medium education.

The Chinese took their children back to the SJK(C)s, which were closer to their homes. Abdullah School, now known as SK Abdullah, became just another school among so many other schools in the district.

From an “A grade” school with over 1,000 students during its heyday, Abdullah School was reduced to only 250 students — mainly Malays — in the 80s.

Needless to say, the effects of the “separation” are also more glaring today. Racial issues and clashes due to religious differences seem to escalate faster these days as Malaysians in general seem to be more desensitised and ignorant towards the diversity of the nation, the very same character that had put the country on the world map.

Paranoia, prejudices and intolerance seem to be the main ingredient and flavour that are served to the people on various platforms, particularly on social media, these days.

For example, when a certain Malay-looking Muslim guy went viral on the Internet after he smashed the windscreen of a car during an altercation, the number of his sympathisers were rather astounding when he was sentenced to one year in prison.

The moment they found out that he was half Chinese and half Indian, the number of postings among the Malay Muslims who thought he was unjustly punished simply diminished.

Earlier, when Kiki went berserk as she smashed an elderly Chinese couple’s car after a minor accident in Kuantan, the postings on Facebook and various other social media platforms were rather racially motivated. There are many other examples, but you get the point.

The funny part is, while the majority of Malaysians are in agreement that the country’s education system needs a major overhaul, no one seems to be bold enough to take the bull by the horns and manoeuvre it to the right direction.

All our displeasures are mainly unspoken. While we are desensitised to various racial and religious issues, there are basic things that we’d rather not discuss or debate openly as they are deemed sensitive grounds, and the education system is one of them.

Now, what if we experiment a bit? What if we revisit the good old days and reintroduce the English-medium schools?

After all, many Malaysians who are not too pleased with the current education system are sending their children to private or international schools where English is the main language, with multi-racialism being a natural part of the process.

Perhaps we could introduce several pilot projects in all the states and see if it would have the same effects as what we experienced in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Let it also be a choice among the people on which medium they prefer for their children, while still holding on to Bahasa Malaysia as the lingua franca.

The idea might sound a tad pretentious to some, but if the English medium schools end up the “preferred” institutions, and most importantly the one that could reunite the people in the long run, at least we know that democracy is really at play.

Zainal Alam Kadir is the executive editor of The Malaysian Reserve.