How to shut down vernacular schools
MARCH 27 — Let’s assume for a moment that the debate pertaining the existence of vernacular schools is settled — this hypothetical government has decided that it’s time to shut them down. Taking into account the current political climate, how do you think we should go about it?
That was just a thought exercise. But seriously, has anybody really given it much thought? The recent Dong Zong rally puts the issue of vernacular schools back into our national discourse and probably with an amplifier considering the election is supposedly around the corner.
The central issue raised was the failure of the current administration in dealing with the acute shortage of Chinese-educated teachers for the Chinese vernacular schools. It was insinuated that this was part of a larger ploy to force these schools to change their medium of instruction and thus setting off the domino effect of its demise.
This led me to the question that I raised at the beginning. If indeed this were a genuine ploy, I would have to say that it is indeed a very comical strategy. I don’t see how “starving the beast — slowly but surely” could ever work. We know for sure that vernacular schools aren’t merely a formal education system to their proponents, they are a sceptre of cultural identification and perpetuation.
As counterintuitive as it seems, the way to shut down vernacular schools in the long run is first by ensuring that they are treated fairly and allowed to flourish on their own. The reason why we can never make any headway on this subject is because any tightening on vernacular schools is seen as a jab towards a cultural existence. We need to decouple that. And there’s no way we can do it if the proponents keep thinking that there is this sinister ploy lurking behind only to spring up when they are they are most vulnerable.
Also, the proponents of vernacular schools must be convinced that there is a viable alternative out there that not only provides a sound education but also the ability to master their respective mother tongues. And so it is a no-brainer that national schools must step up their game. The tricky part about this is that it must be done in a zero-sum fashion. Meaning that the vernacular schools cannot be perceived as being deprived of something just to prop up the national schools.
The crux of my point is that we can’t discreetly point a gun at someone through our leather jacket and “force” him or her to give us what we want. It could work but it would have caused so much resentment that it could just shatter the very fabric of our social cohesion. Vernacular schools will only be shut down when those who support them think that they can still get the same benefits via national schools. That could best come about through genuine competition between these two sets of schools. Only when we reach that stage of general indifference then the government can step in to enforce an orderly transition.
At this stage, hanky-panky by the state to tilt the game to anybody’s favour just won’t work. Our deputy minister of education nearly got punched! If there is ever a next time, I won’t be surprised if they start throwing lit firecrackers (it shouldn’t be condoned by the way!)
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.