Opinion

Why Chinese schools aren’t always the answer

Erna Mahyuni

Native Sabahan Erna is (not) Malay but loves Malay literature. Her hobbies: cats/gaming/blogging at ernamerin.com/Tweeting at @ernamh.

FEB 29 — “I regret sending my son to a Chinese school.”

That was a statement I never expected to hear, especially coming from a Chinese mother. I asked her why and she began telling me about her “gifted” son.

Well, of course I took much of what she said with a pinch of salt as I meet too many parents who think their children are “special.”

She proudly described how her son could recite nursery rhymes by heart at the age of two, read by the age of four-and-a-half and how, of all her children, he was the most precocious. I half-believed her as her son’s much younger siblings (three- and seven-year-olds), though young, spoke English clearly and fluently, demonstrating good recall by singing almost entire pop songs. Seeing as I meet teenagers who aren’t half as articulate, her children were very well-spoken.

But her son’s verbal aptitude changed, she said, after he started Chinese school. He no longer wished to express himself verbally and refused to speak up where once he was very vocal.

“It’s the Chinese (school) system. It’s so regimented!”

In the media and in the comments readers of The Malaysian Insider leave, I keep hearing the refrain about how parents prefer to send their children for “better quality” education than our national schools. To be honest, I didn’t share their sentiments as having met the adult products of Chinese schools, I’ve never been impressed.

For a brief few days, I once attended a Chinese secondary school when I was 13. I hated it. Few of my classmates could speak fluent English and my Chinese classmates were reluctant to interact with me as outside of Mandarin, they could only speak rather broken Malay or English. I ended up hanging out with just two or three other non-Chinese students in my class. Lessons were dull and my English class was painful; I was mentally correcting my English teacher’s grammar in my head — she was that ill-fitted to the subject.

The Chinese schools in this country only provide a better education in respect of preparing students for examinations. But good grades really aren’t everything, parents. School syllabuses aren’t preparing kids for life; they’re preparing them to take exams and (hopefully) get a nice cushy office job where they’ll earn enough to pay off a mortgage, two cars (one for the husband, one for the wife, maybe a car each for the kids in time) and save for their own offspring’s college education.

Why this push to produce scholars when not all children have the aptitude for it? The current school system brainwashes children into believing the only type of career that matters is one that pays you a lot of money to not do a lot of work, preferably in an air-conditioned office.

Meeting parents in my part-time job teaching kids, they tell me they feel their kids aren’t getting well-rounded education at school. The parents who can afford it have the luxury of sending their children for classes in creative writing, speech, drama and music. They know too well that their kids well have an edge later in life by developing better social skills as well as nurturing the innate human need for self-expression.

But what of the poor? Don’t poor children deserve good, well-rounded educations?

Malaysia spends a large percentage of its budget on education, but where does that money go? To expensive kindergartens (hello, PERMATA) and bringing in American Peace Corps volunteers? In the meantime, our standards continue to fall and the income and educational divides continue to widen.

Our current and past education ministers were too busy using their post to curry favour in hope of winning a deputy prime ministership to do their jobs. Perhaps the portfolio should be held by a non-politician in future, as in the last two decades, it’s been obvious that none of our education ministers knew what they were doing.

What is certain, though, is that our children deserve far better than what they’re getting.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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