KUALA LUMPUR, June 29 — Malaysia should just allow vernacular schools where Chinese or Tamil language is used to teach to naturally take their course instead of demanding they be shut down, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz said today.
Rafidah, who was formerly a minister, pointed out that factors such as differing needs with the passage of time would eventually determine what would happen to the Chinese-medium SJKC and Tamil-medium SJKT schools.
She highlighted the history of the vernacular schools, where she said were established due to the need to cater for the education of communities such as those who lived in the estates.
“They didn’t start a Tamil school just for fun or because we are the Indians. No, but they are so far from Kuala Kangsar town. But now there’s infrastructure, so no problem anymore,” she told a public forum when referring to the area where she used to be an MP.
“So estate schools will eventually dwindle,” she said, referring to the shift where more parents now send their children to schools in towns instead of estate-based SJKT schools.
Rafidah was offering a different perspective grounded in the environment and needs in the past, but noted that even education issues are now unnecessarily viewed with a racial lens.
“Everything becomes politicised and racial, even if the rationale was nothing of that sort. So today it has been perpetuated as a racial and political football, I’m sorry I have to say this, it’s true,” she said.
Rafidah suggested that national schools instead adopt the best aspects in other schools, noting that even some Malay parents were currently opting to send their children to Chinese schools.
“Why not incorporate the best of what’s learnt in Chinese schools, the way they teach and take the best of everything and incorporate it so everybody says this national school is not bad,” she said.
“Even Malays are not sending their children to national schools, I got friends of friends whose children are in Chinese schools because they said too much religion and all, ‘I want them to learn Maths’. It’s their choice, nobody can scold them,” she added.
“So if you don’t politicise it, people see clearly, eventually there will be integration. No need to shut out loud ‘close vernacular schools’. What is this?” she said.
She pointed out an example of how she had helped a Chinese school in Kuala Kangsar with unsafe building structures raise funds, noting the broader view that should be taken when it comes to schools as that school also had Malay and Indian staff and students.
“To me, that’s how you look at schools, these are children you know? Why want to say ‘Chinese’, ‘Indian’, why?” she said.
Later when met after the forum, Rafidah further explained vernacular schools cannot just be abolished.
“But in time, some of the schools, like Tamil schools, they happen to be in estates, they will die off. Because when the children get sent to national schools, there will be no more students...so eventually they will ease off.
“There’s no need to politicise about it, ‘close it down, close it down’, then people become defensive,” she said.
“Like the Chinese schools, even Malays are sending their children to Chinese schools now.
“Not for anything, because they know that in some Chinese schools, the element of teaching Maths is to the parents’ satisfaction, the parents are happy. Well, they have a choice,” she said, noting this as a “democratisation” of education.
As for the national schools, Rafidah said the content and teaching methods should be kept updated.
“So if we want what’s good for the majority, elevate the standards and quality of our national schools by making sure the structure is strong, the teaching content is relevant.
“And most importantly the teaching of educators is up to date so that they can be the ones teaching the young the right things in the right way,” she said.
Rafidah was speaking at a forum titled “The Current State of Malaysia’s Education System and the Way Forward”, which was jointly organised by Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK) and Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan (Patriot) and held at Universiti Malaya’s law faculty.