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Expert suggests merging school streams into one

'We need to have a big heart for this to happen,' says a professor from the Institute of Ethnic Studies.

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PETALING JAYA: An educationist has called for the merger of the national, vernacular and religious school systems, saying that would be the best way to improve citizens’ command of the Malay language and promote national unity.

Teo Kok Seong, a professor at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, said he envisioned a single-stream system which would incorporate programmes for academic, vernacular and religious studies.

He said he was aware that many people would oppose the idea.

“People will oppose because there is lack of trust between races in Malaysia,” he told FMT. “The Chinese feel if it is good for the Malays, it will be bad for them. If it is good for the Chinese, it will be bad for the Malays.

“But why don’t we trust each other? It is because we don’t mix with each other enough. The Malays go to Islamic schools, the Chinese to Chinese schools and the Tamils to Tamil schools. Ethnic division starts from kindergarten.

“By the time they go to Form One in national schools, they are polarised. It is too late. They remain segregated.”

Teo was commenting on Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid’s recent announcement that his ministry would look into ways to enhance programmes and syllabuses to improve national integration.

Mahdzir also said the ministry would find ways to boost Malay proficiency through national programmes.

However, Teo recalled that in 2011 and 2012, Chinese schools rejected a ministry proposal for more time to be added for Malay language classes.

“Vernacular schools want to continue teaching simpler Malay than the national schools, which is making it hard for Chinese and Tamil students to cope in Form One,” he said.

Explaining his idea for a single-stream system and its three components, he said the academic component would take care of subjects such as Mathematics, Science, English, Malay, History and Geography.

He suggested that the vernacular component be expanded to cover the many languages spoken by Malaysians, noting that only Mandarin and Tamil were currently taught in vernacular schools.

“What about the Siamese, Punjabis, Orang Asli, Telugus, Malayalees and Portuguese?” he said. “Everyone wants their culture to be taught to their children.”

He suggested that all Muslim students be compelled to take up the Islamic studies programme.

“Nowadays, Muslim parents pick their kids up from national schools and send them to additional Islamic classes. We could incorporate that by extending school hours to 3.30pm. Children can have lunch in school.”

He said the ministry could also introduce classes on Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity and Buddhism.

“We need to have a big heart for this to happen. It is for the future of the country. Instead of different streams, we could incorporate the three components into the one-stream schools for the sake of unity.”

At present, he noted, there were 10,000 schools with morning sessions and 2,000 with morning and afternoon sessions. But in five years, the 2,000 schools could be converted into morning schools, he said.

“Once all the schools are in morning session, the ministry could introduce single-stream schools for the betterment of the country,” he added.

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