To know is to love

Many of us learn societal nuances, cultures and ‘pantang larang’ through interactions at school

pic by BERNAMA

YOUNG children today spend most of their time at home, surrounded by family members. They live in a guarded environment. Most parents worry the moment their kids step out of the door. Even neighbours have practically become strangers.

The only place for children to learn about other races and religions is at school. They do not only learn from books, but experience real social behaviours by interacting with fellow classmates.

Many of us learn societal nuances, cultures and “pantang larang” through these interactions. I learned that Hindus do not eat beef during a class party in Standard Two; and that Chinese families must wear new red clothes on their New Year from a little girl named Cheah Jun Min.

Every year during Ramadhan, non-Muslim classmates would leave the class if they wanted to have a drink as they did not want to offend their fasting friends.

These life lessons aren’t scribed in any textbooks. But such real life learning is close to non-existent today. Most Malays will largely attend government schools, while the other races opt for vernacular schools. It is more segregated in rural and semi-urban areas than big cities.

In the past, the race compositions, especially in government-aided and missionary schools, were more balance. However, political philosophies had divided education based on racial lines.

Those who study in vernacular schools have fewer interactions with other races albeit there are Malays in such schools. While the Malays, especially in areas dominated by the race, do not even have friends from other races.

I remembered during my orientation day at a local university that is popular among Chinese students. I was the oddball or a fish out of its bowl.

Almost everyone was wondering what’s this Malay girl doing in the hall. Soon I realised that most of them were from vernacular schools and were not accustomed to have Malays (and probably Indians, for that matter) as classmates.

Communication was off to a rocky start, but the great thing about humans, the more you get to know them, the more comfortable they are with you or vice versa.

People begin to drop their shield and are more open to ask about a person, the cultures and practices.

Principal fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Prof Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong said the best way to encourage racial unity is by merging the national, vernacular and religious schools into a singlestream system.

A Malay daily yesterday reported him as saying that the vernacular school system hinders the formation of national identity and divides the country’s ethnicities.

He said while a merged school system is ideal, many parties would be against it because of their belief that what is good for one race, is bad for others.

“This mentality came from the lack of interaction with each other in primary school and when they met in secondary school, it was already too late and they remained divided,” he was quoted as saying.

Penang Deputy Chief Minister II Prof Dr P Ramasamy had earlier said Penang would stand firm in supporting vernacular schools, even if the federal government decided to abolish them.

He said on Monday that some parties raised this issue due to their respective political agenda.

But the question is whether his stance was not politically motivated or a way to train the gun at the recent Malay Dignity Congress which had proposed the abolishment of vernacular schools.

Where does Teo’s contrary comment fall in the equation as he is of Chinese ethnicity?

To know is to love and children will not learn about love and unity if they do not get the chance to know and appreciate others.

Farezza Hanum Rashid is the assistant news editor at The Malaysian Reserve.