Acute shortage of SJKCs is not the real crisis of Chinese Primary Education in the country

PRess Statement
by Ronnie Liu Tian Khiew

(Petaling Jaya,  Thursday): Now that the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has publicly denied that he has perceived Chinese primary schools (SRJKC or SJKC) as a disuniting factor, let us give him the benefit of doubt and proceed with the demand of building more SJKCs wherever and whenever needed.

The demand for more SJKCs in urban areas is not a new issue. The Chinese community has been publicly demanding the Government to build more SJKCs long before the MCA made its call. And the DAP has given its support as mother tongue education is vital in preserving culture and traditions. It’s also a human right enshrined in the UN Charter of Human Rights 1948.

Incidentally, Chinese education pioneer Loot Ting Yee and other community leaders have questioned why MCA need to make such a proposal publicly, as the party is a major component of the ruling Barisan Nasional Government. Some suspect that the MCA President is merely using the issue to garner support in the coming MCA party election.

DAP has submitted a general demand on mother tongue education to the Ministry of Education in February 2004 in conjunction with the 4th International Mother Language Day.

In the special memorandum, the party argues that the mother tongue education has been neglected by the Government for the past 50 years, and we specifically demanded that the government should build 50 SJKCs every year to solve the acute shortage of Chinese primary schools in urban areas.

The Party also proposed that in tandem with the concept of ‘every community deserves a school it needs’, there should be a new SJKC for every community with a population of 3,000 to 7,500 people (or a student population of 420 to 1,050). We also called for the reopening of the original SJKC Damansara as a community school in the said memorandum, among other long-standing issues.

But the biggest crisis of the Chinese primary education system is not the acute shortage. It lies in the switching of language/medium of teaching.

From 2003, All SJKCs were forced to adopt the ill-conceived, politically-compromised Formula 2-4-3, where English is used as the medium of teaching for both Maths and Science subjects along with the Chinese language. If the Education Ministry further decides to switch the language of teaching for more subjects, whether it is from Chinese to English or Chinese to Malay, very soon there will be no more Chinese primary schools in the country.

Or they would only exist in name, just like the handful of so-called national-type Chinese secondary schools (as coined by some government supporters).

When more subjects were taught in English or Malay, leaving only one or two subjects still being taught in mother tongue, would you still call it mother tongue education?

I would even go one step further to argue that unless and until the BN Government could guarantee that there would not switch the language of teaching further for the SJKCs, I see no point of building more Chinese primary schools.

In the case of SJKTs, they can hardly be called Tamil primary schools. Tamil is no longer a language of teaching for Maths and Science subjects. Short of a reverse of policy, couple with the possibility of more subjects being switched from Tamil to Malay or English, there will be no more Tamil primary education in the country in the near future.  

The switch of language of teaching is a real and bigger threat than the Vision School concept simply because there are not many places one can find the right proportion of different races living in the same area (the pre-requisite of building a Vision School). You would not be able to find enough Malay or Indian students for intake if you build a Vision School in a Chinese new village.

The only way to safeguard the Chinese primary education in the country is to maintain Chinese language as the major language of teaching for all SJKCs. That is the reason why DAP calls for the abolishment of the Formula 2-4-3, apart from the fact that the formula is ill-conceived and unpractical.


* Ronnie Liu Tian Khiew, DAP International Secretary and NGO bureau chief