Thursday, June 04, 2009

Asia 21 Forum in JW Marriott - On Race and Education

I attended the Asia 21 forum at the JW Marriott Hotel in Kuala Lumpur last night. The topic of discussion was ‘New America, One Malaysia - Young Leaders and The Global Agenda for Change'.

The Nut Graph editor Jacqueline Ann Surin brought up about an issue she wanted change in Malaysia - the race identification tick box on official and private forms.

She argued that if we consider ourselves as 1Malaysia there is no need for race identification. It is simply enough to note that we are Malaysians. I am with Jacqueline on this issue.

Later, Malaysiakini CEO Pramesh Chandra threw down a gauntlet for UMNO Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin by asking him to become an agent of change for his party and the nation. Khairy gamely accepted the challenge.

Turning back to respond to the issue about race tick box brought up by Jacqueline, Khairy said that while he was rejoicing as a Malaysian that the society has grown more mature politically change is still not easy to implement.

He said that if Malaysians wanted to do away with the racial profiling, are they willing to let go of their vernacular schools. He said that other races should accept a single school system and using a common national language.

I am not as optimistic as Prem on Khairy's ability to catalyst change if he cannot understand why parents send their children to vernacular schools. They did so not because they rejected the national language but the fact that national schools have turned overtly religious and racial.

Another participant offered a valid point. Teachers in national schools were required to attend countless number of 'kursus' or courses conducted by the Education Ministry. As a result, the process of learning was disrupted when classes were cancelled or replaced.

For Khairy to inspire change in the UMNO led government, he should first understand and accept the need to improve the national schools. Before the nationalisation of English medium schools in 1970's, more than 75% of non-Malay parents sent their children to these schools and not to the vernacular Chinese or Tamil schools.

Why can't the national schools today emulate the same kind of success and popularity enjoyed by the English medium schools?

The key is not to ask these parents to let go of their choice to send their children to vernacular schools without first fixing the national schools.

Khairy should speak to his minister of education to put education quality and learning above all other priorities when addressing education reform in the country.

Finally, to do away with racial profiling and to keep the vernacular schools are two different things. Khairy-the-politician was acting very mischievously and discreetly to support the call of 1Sekolah proponents to abolish of all vernacular Chinese and Tamil schools. We need a Khairy-the-Malaysian to walk his talk on change.

We can do away with the racial profiling now and it will bring more goodwill and benefit to the BN government.

But can we seriously help to improve social cohesion by closing down all vernacular schools now before offering parents a new, better and reliable alternative - the national schools?

I have said this thousand times before that I support a single school system but this system must be focused on providing a quality education, facilitating learning and allowing students to discover and grow their talent.

Before striving to put its house in order, Khairy's suggestion to close down the vernacular schools as a condition to eradicate racial profiling is as ridiculous and defeatist as his party's corny slogans on unity but is still holding on tightly to its racial ideology and 'ketuanan Melayu'.


Khairy Jamaluddin said...

Mr Khoo,

Thank you for attending the forum last night. However, you have misrepresented what I said in such a way as to cast negative aspersions on me. I hope this was done unintentionally, perhaps because you misunderstood what I said.
I have never supported the present 1Sekolah campaign precisely because I believe the issue concerning national and vernacular schools is principally one concerning quality. I would like national schools to be the school of choice for parents, not the only (forced) choice for them. My position, therefore, means that I am not for abolishing vernacular schools which have been founded and supported within a particular social and historical context. But I am for improving national schools so they become the school of choice for all Malaysians.
My point last night was a hypothetical illustration of doing away with ethnic labels and divisions. I merely said that Jacqueline's suggestion of doing away with ethnic profiling on forms based on eradicating ethnic divisions may be countered by some with the argument that we should only have a national school since vernacular schools are based on ethnic and linguistic heritage. I never said that I was a proponent of that argument but I simply offered a plausible counter argument to Jacqueline's proposal to show the kind of opposition she might come up against.
In other words, if we are ready to drop ethnic profiling all together, some might even ask us to do away with certain things that define our ethnicity like vernacular schools. The hypothetical example I gave was not to attach a condition on eradicating ethnic profiling but rather to demonstrate how complex the issue is and what different reactions someone can evoke from others.
So for you to accuse me of "acting very mischievously" based on what I said requires a tremendous stretch of the imagination.
In fact, its commentators like yourself that makes things worse by assuming the worse in others. Your erroneous analysis of my position is reflective of someone who has prejudged another and is looking for something -anything - that can be twisted and wrongly framed to fit your own prejudices and perception.
I hope you will take the time to listen carefully to others in the future.


Khairy Jamaluddin, MP.

Khoo Kay Peng said...

Dear Khairy,

I appreciate your explanation and stand on national and vernacular schools. You should have made this clearer last night.


Anonymous said...

So what changes are you proposing to the national schools system to make it the school of choice for Malaysian parents? Do you know what ails the system? Do you have the courage to identify the ills, much less do something about it? Or are you going to remain more the Umno politician, less the concerned father for his child's future education?

tokdalang said...

Dear KJ, Gavin

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the talk but have been following it in various blogs, portals and even tweets!

Its time young leaders like Khairy and others get down to the brass tacks. Stop the plausibles, hypthetical arguments and such and get on with ideas that can change the nation for the better.

Getting rid of boxes that define our race is a good start. Didn't the prime minister say we should get out of our ethnic silos/prisms/prisons as such. What is 1 Malaysia if we have to fill up boxes that say we are either Malay, Chinese, Indian or Other.

Where does that leave those who are of mixed parentage and such?

Its not about being clever and coming up with points, high-five-ing followers and supporters, smirking with confidence.

It really is about your leadership to make the change. What is the issue with national-type schools?

Let me see, disinterested teachers, insufferable principals, suffering students, lack of facilities and seriously, an atmosphere not conducive to learning.

I just learnt that the last Brother-director of a La Salle Brothers school, St Xaviers, will retire this June, ending a line of educationists from 1852 that have contributed much to the diversity and quality of education in Malaysia.

We shan't have those kind of guys floating around in robes who bothered about both academic, extra-curricular, sports and more in educating young minds.

What we lack is an appreciation of quality education and the vision and initiative to see it through.

When parents start scraping together money to send their only offsprings to private schools or schools not aided by government, you got to ask why.

It is not necessarily a chauvinistic reason.

Its all about quality. The question to ask Khairy and others in government is where will they put their children?

You have the opportunity to do more because you are the Umno youth chief. If you don't take this chance, why even fight for the post.

So get input, feedback and go figure out what is good for the country.

I have much respect for you, young man! And all those who voice their thoughts in public.

It is time for action. Now!

Anonymous said...

In our Nation, we currently have 2 distinct education system separating the communities.

We have one system consisting of residential schools, religious schools etc. The other is the vernacular school.

Are we ready to dismantle both?

yatim said...

Dear KJ,

I could proudly say that I send my three kids to National school. Looking back, would I do it differently if I could go back!! YES. I would send them to the vernacular school. The national schools breeds racism and act as a religious shcool. The teachers and administrative staff think they are not answerable to any non-malay parents. This is an experience of a parent. You can not deny this. Until unless you assure the parents, you can go on talk until the cow come home but the vernacular schools will exist.

Anonymous said...

Our politician has ability to talk anything depending on event, audience and popular demand. They can event feel like crying as Umno member at the same time feel like laughing as Malaysian. They are extraordinary folk! how their value system works? or maybe they have 2 value system or no value at all. There also a story in Perak, where a smart guy, written lot of law books, goos article (like Khoo KP) and damm good speech. But when come crisis, we see the true him.

One need a belief, a dream to move forward, and it takes the right and uncompromise value system to be change agent.. not by talk but by walk.

by : talk cock

Shawn Tan said...

If we want to just have a single national school system, it means more than just closing down vernacular schools. It also means closing down religious schools and opening up residential schools, in particular those like MCKK, TKC and all.

Andrew Loh said...

Hi Kay Peng,

I was there at the forum as well. I think you are wrong in your interpretation of Khairy's comments; also I don't think any of my friends interpreted the comments in that way. :)


Kean said...

The Nut Graph editor Jacqueline "Ann Surin brought up about an issue she wanted change in Malaysia - the race identification tick box on official and private forms. She argued that if we consider ourselves as 1Malaysia there is no need for race identification. It is simply enough to note that we are Malaysians. I am with Jacqueline on this issue."

When I applied for my first job, which was in UK, I was given a form to declare my race/sex/religion. This confidential form was to provide information as part of the anti-discrimation employment practice. I was so impressed and it changed my expectation of what society should be. Having been brought up in Malaysia to expect discrimation as a 'fact of life', this was like a paradigm shift in my mind. Here I was in a foreign country but still provided with equal opportunities.

"Be the change you wish to see", Gandhi said. I am returning back to Malaysia soon, and hope to contribute to the change that I wish to see.