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An integrated Malaysian educational system

I don’t normally do Malaysian politics, but education is something I feel strongly about.

In Malaysiakini, Mukhriz is reported as saying:
"The government can foster greater unity by streamlining all the schools under one education system where the medium of teaching, besides Science and Mathematics, are taught in Bahasa Malaysia.

"We can make it compulsory that the Chinese and Indians study their own language in their mother tongue while these two languages can be optional for Malay students to learn or we can make it compulsory for students to learn at least three languages," he suggested. (Malaysiakini)

I have to say that I find myself agreeing with him, in principle. This is based on my experience in a European School in Luxembourg (this one), from age 4-16.

The European School system
The European Schools are for the children of European Civil Servants from all the countries of the EU; we were in different sections according to our mother tongue, but from six years old onwards, we had to learn a second language – I think it was one class every day. I did French, and in my French class there were Italians, Germans, Danish, etc; the teacher spoke only in French and we all had to speak in French in the class. When we got to 3rd grade primary (age 8), we started an afternoon arts and crafts lesson on Wednesday in French – meaning the class was conducted entirely in French and – once again – I shared the class with Dutch, Germans, etc. During all this time, I also mixed with other kids in the playground, in the school bus, etc, and we had a common language most of the time.

Later, in Secondary (age 11), I started doing gym classes in French (same principle, sharing with others doing the same second language); and we also started History and Geography in French from year 3 (age 13). Later again, we did Economics in French. I also did a third language from year 2 or 3 (I did Italian), and also started a fourth language at about year 4.

What this meant was I became fluent in French from a relatively early age, and could use it in contexts outside of a language class; it also meant that I regularly mixed with children of the other nationalities, and we shared common experiences (such as annoying the teachers ;-)). However, none of us was denied an education in our own language too, and most of us became proficient in two or three languages (some even more). Having an extra language always helped me later when looking for a job. For me, growing up in such a school, mixing with other cultures and respecting their differences was never an issue – it just came naturally.

An Integrated Malaysian educational system
So – how could this be transmitted to Malaysia? Well, many people here speak two or three languages as a matter of course, but not always very proficiently (i.e. being able to write well, speak formally, etc.). The right of the Chinese and Indian minorities to have their own vernacular education was an essential part of the post-independence agreements, and I think language is an essential part of any culture, and Malaysia would be the poorer for not having the cultural diversity it does. But, there is inefficiency in the system – for example some Chinese students do primary in Chinese and have to do more work (dual curriculum or something, not sure of the details), then switch to BM and may have to do some catching up there - WW had to do an extra year because of this, but I think that rule has stopped now.

I think there should be a system that goes something like this. All kids do the same curriculum in the same schools: however, there are three main languages used – BM, Mandarin, and Tamil; a core of subjects will be done in BM (I’m not sure what Primary kids have as classes, but I guess Maths, Social Studies, stuff like that). Each child gets an hour a day in their mother tongue (reading, writing), and an hour a day in their chosen second language (e.g. a Malay does Mandarin or Tamil, an Indian does BM or Mandarin, etc.). Language classes also include aspects of culture –a bit of history, songs, fairy tales, etc. In practice, the non-Malay students may have to do BM as a second language in order to be able to do the other core courses. Children whose mother tongue is English will have to choose one of the other ones, I suppose.

If this works well, by the time the children are 10-11, they are proficient in BM, and in another language; they have had exposure to the other ethnic groups’ language and culture, and had to sit together, play together, eat together, with children of other ethnicities. Importantly, although there is a bias in favour of BM, everyone has had to learn a second language, and so no-one feels particularly disadvantaged.

At this point, they all have to start learning English so as to be able to so the science and maths in English (which is a good idea, I think). They also continue their second language, and have the option of a fourth language (Mandarin or Tamil) if they want to. By the time they finish, in theory, each student has BM and English, as well as either Mandarin or Tamil; in practice, Mandarin would probably be more popular than Tamil; so, after ten years or so, there would be a whole generation of Malaysian children proficient in BM, English and Mandarin or Tamil – imagine how this would benefit Malaysia in terms of international competitiveness!

It would also prevent those ‘dark corners’ of language, where – for example – in an office Indians use Tamil to speak amongst each other and others feel excluded. It would also mean that people cannot use that excuse of language to not employ people who don’t speak Chinese – for example. In addition, most people can understand newspapers/TV/websites in different languages, so politicians can’t get away with giving different messages in different media.

I would also start school earlier at six, and have government-run pre-schools (ages 4-6) that also start teaching some multi-lingual skills already.

Not perfect
Of course it’s not perfect. Dialects would not be included. Orang Asli and Asal languages should ideally be included somehow. Non-Tamil speaking Indians are ignored. English mother-tongue schoolchildren would be somewhat disadvantaged at first (but later on would have an advantage). It may be difficult to get suitable teachers, especially in predominantly Malay, rural areas.

But really, it’s said that the first two years are the most important for a child’s character; and I’d say that the first eleven years are crucial for the formation of a child’s social habits. If a child is in a mono-ethnic environment for those years, I think it can only diminish the chance of an integrated society.

Well, that’s my five sen anyway, feel free to criticise or approve :-)

Saya berpelajar Bahasa Malaysia

I'm doing BM classes, and this is my homework - my first more-or-less lengthy piece in BM! Any comments are welcome :-)

Diri Saya

Nama saya Julian, saya dilahirkan di bandar Ennis, negara Ireland. Tetapi, bila saya empat tahun, keluarga saya berpindah ke Luxembourg kerana ibu kami pegawai kerajaan Eropah. Selepas, saya pelajar di Luxembourg, England dan Scotland. Selepas ijazah yang pertama saya bekerja di Belgium untuk lima tahun. Selapas itu, pergi pelajar untuk ijaza yang kedua di London, dan semasa itu bertemu isteri saya – tetapi, pada waktu itu dia bukan isteri saya, kawan perempuan sahaja! Selepas London, saya bekerja di Nigeria untuk enam bulan, selepas ketika itu saya pergi ke Malaysia. Sekarang, saya tinggal di Malaysia untuk enam tahun. Saya suka Malaysia, tetapi ada selalu masalah dengan imigresen.
Di Malaysia, saya lalu bekerja sebagai guru empat tahun di satu kolej. Selepas itu, saya terima biasiswa dari Monash Universiti untuk ijaza PhD, oleh kerana itu saya sudah berkerja di kolej, dan menjadi pelajar lagi. Saya nasib baik.

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