PM: Single-stream schools a political landmine

Datuk Seri Najib Razak speaks at a National Transformation 2050 (TN50) dialogue session with civil servants in Putrajaya. ― Bernama pic
Datuk Seri Najib Razak speaks at a National Transformation 2050 (TN50) dialogue session with civil servants in Putrajaya. ― Bernama pic

PUTRAJAYA, May 31 ― While it would be ideal for Malaysia to have only single-stream schools to unite its multiracial people, the idea is sensitive and akin to a “political landmine”, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today.

He was responding to suggestions for the government to embrace the concept of single-stream schools and do away with the existing national school system providing a choice in the main language of instruction.

“There are those who suggested that we begin from schools. This is a very sensitive matter, it’s a landmine, political landmine, because we have differing streams,” he said at the end of a candid National Transformation 2050 (TN50) dialogue session with civil servants on their aspirations for the future.

He said the government has received suggestions to improve the education system by having only one national school where the main medium of instruction in the Bahasa Malaysia, but with electives in Mandarin, Tamil, English and Arabic to broaden their proficiency in other tongues.

“In other words, if a student is [ethnically] Chinese, he goes to the school and he learns three languages. This must be compounded with a good education quality, and his teachers, should not just be from one race, but multiracial.

“So can we accept this model? Let us think through together,” Najib said.

He said that while everyone wanted unity and believed it should be honed starting from school, no one was able to provide a pragmatic and workable solution.

Earlier in the dialogue, an officer from the Education Ministry who only identified herself as Nadia had asked the government to form single-stream schools to better unite the different racial communities.

She said the single-stream schools could strengthen the proficiency of the students in their mother tongues and other languages by offering classes in English, Tamil and Mandarin.

“What I aspire for Malaysia in 2050, is that besides becoming a developed nation, I would like a community which is full of unity and values, and one tool for unity is via education.

“One way for us to inject unity is by having single-stream schools, whereby we make Bahasa Malaysia the main medium, and strengthen the English language, without sidelining Chinese and Tamil languages,” she said.

The debate on the need for a single-stream schooling system has long plagued the nation, creating a divide in the community.

Many support the idea, while supporters of vernacular schools admonished the thought, viewing it as a threat to the relevance of their mother tongues.

Other topics broached at the session include the effects of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on living costs and the need for more freedom of speech and expression.

The TN50 initiative, Najib’s brainchild, was launched on January 19 to map out Malaysia’s future for the next 30 years in its path to achieve developed nation status. 

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